Design Fiction Chronicles: Robocop + Pre-Augmented Reality Augmented Reality

An update to the Design Fiction Chronicles. This one will be familiar to most science-fiction film fans out there — RoboCop being assembled and tested in the lab. The curious point-of-view shot — allowing us to see the various moments in which RoboCop is coming into being — sets up the anticipation about what RoboCop looks like. Seeing his point-of-view makes the transition to us assuming the role of the protagonist a bit didactic, but I would guess that this is Paul Verhoeven having good fun with the hubristic lab techs and the generally technofascism he so much seems to loathe in his films (cf. Starship Troopers and Total Recall, for example.)

Why do I blog this? There’s lots to say about this sequence, but what occurs to me right now is the way that the film clearly signals a particular kind of relationship between the engineers and executives. The engineers are willing to do the spectacular technical feats at the behest of the money-and-power grubbing executives, putting these interests in applying some sort of technical instrument and making it real, as opposed to working through the complexitiies of the larger contexts in which these things touch the real, real world. Which to my mind, right now, is a familiar protocol that sounds precisely like what not particularly clear-headed folks are doing with this *Augmented Reality mishegoss. They’re walking around with a *doorknob and trying to find some cool houses that *doorknob might look cool on. What is forgotten, largely, is the house, the neighborhood, the people in the house — and so on. When *doorknob is pushed to the background, thought less of, when it becomes mundane and ordinary to a sufficient degree (all houses have *doorknobs; practically and pragmatically speaking, doorknob-less houses are weird and out of the ordinary) — then you have nothing less to do but focus on the much more curious social practices that people engage in, and therein lie the — whatever *apps (bleech..) or experiences. It’s a source of endless amusement to see demonstrations of *AR where a camera is pointed at a box of cereal flakes and some well-intentioned bus-dev-tech-geek says — *see! this app can show you what’s in the box. It’s cereal flakes, for goodness sake. I’m not saying that pointing at something and opening up that gesture to be freshly inhabited with new signals and symbols and moments of goodness, but don’t start with what the technology can do, especially when it does so so exceptionally poorly. And if I hear about Tube Stop locators one more time, my head is going to explode. If I’m a guy walking around with a fuck-off $500 device I’d rather understand why I can’t (a) read a paper map; (b) ask someone; (c) self-navigate. This seems to be a much more curious social-technical challenge that may actually shape and inform how navigation is understood and works, perhaps with some technical whizzybangery discovered in the process of understanding why people today seem so fascinated with finding the nearest TubeStop, Pub, Taco Truck, &c.

*That’s just me. I’m being snarky this morning largely because I want to find the way to invert these sorts of design discussions and lead first with experiences and practices and histories of what has become *AR rather than start with a silly discussion that begins with – *AR is inevitable; there are billions of devices with screens and cameras and CPUs.* I’ve heard all this before with *Virtual Reality — and it really doesn’t play out well for creating intriguing, engaging, habitable near future worlds.

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