The advancement of augmented reality (AR) technology pushes us closer to a universe like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Imagine having your very own J.A.R.V.I.S like Tony Stark or E.D.I.T.H glasses currently in possession of Peter Parker, a world we once thought could only exist in film is slowly transitioning into obtainable objects in the real world.
Whilst it does seem like AR is our future, we must question how it can imbue new meaning into space and its ability to influence relations, whether they be personal or general. Through studying the evolution of AR, it is evident that the technology is highly profitable. In examining Snapchat and Instagram filters, we can explore the impacts of AR on our personal lives and ultimately how they convey bias and reinforce beauty standards. In addition, the recent introduction of a K-pop group with virtual counterparts critically analyses the boundaries as the line between AR and reality is blurred.
There is a difference between virtual reality (VR) and AR. Where in VR, what a person sees is completely replaced and altered with computer generated imagery, AR only modifies a section of the sight. Azuma (2001) defines AR to have three key characteristics:
- Combination of real and virtual world objects in a physical environment
- Runs in real time and is interactive
- Realigns real-world objects with virtual objects
These qualities are not limited to particular technologies, such as the head-mounted display (HMD), first created in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland named the ‘Sword of Damocles’. The original HMD utilised mirrors to present seemingly 3D graphics as the technology in the 1960s was completely mechanical (Pesce, 2016). Ideally, HMDs would be similarly sized to a pair of glasses (Azuma, 2001), however they weren’t exactly fashionable resulting in developers seeking another alternative to release it to the market.
Hand-held technologies like smartphones provided easy access for AR developers to widen their target audience. Despite the 1970s-1990s being relatively popular for AR as they were slowly dipping into business needs, the technology was restricted to labs (Poetker, 2020), clearly not consumer-friendly. Whilst it does seem fashion concerns of the HMDs have seemed to be addressed with the recent launch of Google Glass in 2014 and the Microsoft HoloLens in 2016, the usage of hand-held devices allowed for the subtle yet prompt penetration of AR technology in everyday lives. Without realising, in using Snapchat, Instagram or Tiktok filters, AR technology infiltrates and saturates into our daily lives.
Impacts of AR
Google and Microsoft can still be seen on the forefront for AR innovations, however we might be more familiar with other forms of AR instead. The popular app Snapchat in particular gained massive appeal through the introduction of their Original Lenses in 2015, increasing from 2 billion to 6 billion content views (Moise, 2018). To serve consumer demands, Snapchat in 2016 began updating and rotating filters in order to keep their users from being bored. Originally known for its fun ‘dog filter’ or the ‘puking rainbow’ filter, current filters are known more for their beautifying effect. Airbrushed skin, rounder eyes, thicker and longer eyelashes are amongst the subtler changes created by the filter. Moise writes, “Social media platforms – especially Snapchat – have profited from this aspect of selfie culture that contemporary society has influenced” (2018)
Ahhhhh snapchat made my namesake a filter, yasssssssss 🌟⭐️✨💫 (but that skin-whitening and face-narrowing 😒) pic.twitter.com/Lhw8l8vzmy
— TMM (@mangiferin) January 25, 2016
Moise (2018) further highlights the reinforcement of women’s beauty standards through AR and the racial bias as filters label typically Western facial features as most beautiful. In this instance, as AR technology has been used to promote Eurocentric beauty norms, POC users of Snapchat may experience lower self-esteem and self-confidence. As a result, in 2018, it was observed that Snapchat and Instagram filters were heavily related to plastic surgery decisions, whereby the term ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ was subsequently coined (Mejias and Ramphul, 2018). Using social media platforms, it is easy to disregard the complex creation and psychology companies use, yet as warned by Moise (2018), this “implicit psychology allows for the billion-dollar business to thrive” as they are able to then exploit the insecurities of POC users.
The continued development of Snapchat’s lenses tells individuals who don’t fit into society’s ideas of being beautiful that if you don’t look like the filters, you need to use the filters in order to fit in. There is a carefully handcrafted array for you to select from, but in order to be beautiful, you must choose and use one. – Tatiana Ivy Moise, 2018
Black Mirror Alive
The finale episode of series 5 is eerily mirrored by an upcoming K-pop girl group named Aespa, recently receiving mixed reactions as the four members of the group will similarly have virtual counterparts that fans are able to interact with. In the Black Mirror episode, Ashley O is a famous popstar known for her optimistic and cheery disposition however this is simply a charade cultivated by her aunt and manager, Catherine Ortiz. In an attempt to exploit Ashley’s fame and musical abilities, her aunt produces robotic clones named Ashley Too and later tries replace her completely through the hologram Ashley Eternal. Even though the episode mostly involved the AI robot Ashley Too, the technology is there for Ashley Eternal to be sold to her many fans.
This concept no longer resides in the realm of sci-fi film as the entertainment company managing Aespa aims to do something similar. The video below showcases the member Karina and her AI double æ-Karina, however æ-Karina is more than just a digitalised version of human Karina. According to the video the managements intends for human Karina to communicate with æ-Karina as a completely separate being as they text to each other through an app SYNK and æ-Karina even joins an Instagram Live.
Dunn’s analysis (2019) of the Ashley O episode questions, “Can a Robot be a friend?” and how exactly AI-powered mechanics aim to attempt emulate human emotions and socialise with humans. He also muses how these technologies can be marketed as substitute friends and the effects they may have especially on vulnerable teens, forcing us to ask ourselves, “whether a robot can really be our friend, that is to say, the sort of friend we really want.” (2019, p. 261)
In addition to questioning the effectiveness of a digital companion, the consumer’s emotions are similarly exploited by companies. Scattered amongst the controversy of the new girl group, fans have brought up the ethics of the use of AR in marketing as well as psychological and social implications.
Interactions with AR or mixed reality technologies have the ability to influence and shape emotional, cognitive and behavioural changes (Slater, 2020), which is a possible consequence in regards to the rise of Aespa’s digital members. Potentially, if technologies using celebrities personalities continues, this could result in social isolation or simply a general preference of interacting virtually with other individuals. This is already a prominent issue in Japan as ‘hikkikomori‘ otherwise known as shut-ins are already a rising population.
Similarly there are also privacy concerns as personal data is acquired by the company. The digital creation of Aespa, brings out concerns regarding right to their identity as supposedly their company is creating a virtual reality hotel.
oh my god the smtown building in changwon will have a “virtual reality hotel” wherein fans can experience staying in the same space/room as their favorite idols 🤯 pic.twitter.com/EpZFsptVLy
— maria (@ohsenh) May 20, 2020
However, as mixed reality technologies are still relatively new, a social norm has not yet been constructed. Social norms are helpful as they determine how products are released, for example, if the product is particularly addictive and dangerous (such as cigarettes and alcohol), companies are hesitant in providing the product regularly (Slater, 2020).
Ultimately, it is in our power to update and critique new technologies as AR/VR are our future. We must constantly question if mixed reality technologies cross the line, and if so, when do we transcend beyond our reality into the virtual dimension.
Dunn, G. (2019). Empathy, Emulation and Ashely Too. In Black Mirror and Philosophy: Dark Reflections. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Moise, T., & Bryant, H. (2018). Snap Out of It: The Implicit Bias Behind Snapchat Filters (Professor). Wellesy College.
Pesce, M. (2016). Virtual Reality From 1990 to 2040. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfaYO6o5f40
Poetker, B. (2019). A Brief History of Augmented Reality (+Future Trends & Impact). Retrieved 30 October 2020, from https://learn.g2.com/history-of-augmented-reality
R. Azuma, Y. Baillot, R. Behringer, S. Feiner, S. Julier and B. MacIntyre. (2001). Recent advances in augmented reality in IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications.
Ramphul, K., & Mejias, S. G. (2018). Is “Snapchat Dysmorphia” a Real Issue?. Cureus, 10(3), e2263. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.2263
Slater M, Gonzalez-Liencres C, Haggard P, Vinkers C, Gregory-Clarke R, Jelley S, Watson Z, Breen G, Schwarz R, Steptoe W, Szostak D, Halan S, Fox D and Silver J. (2020). The Ethics of Realism in Virtual and Augmented Reality. Front. Virtual Real. doi: 10.3389/frvir.2020.00001