MIT’s Fluid Interfaces group debuted a prototype device at TED a few weeks ago, dubbed the “Sixth Sense” device. And what is that sixth sense? Divination? Telekenesis? Spidey?!
No! It’s the internet! That’s awes…wait, what? The internet is a sense now? I was barely beginning to accept it as a sort of encyclopedia of depravity, and now it’s evolved into a sense? Well, apparently so. Previously, you could ‘hear’ a tree falling in the woods, ‘smell’ a rose, and ‘see’ a sunset, but now you can ‘internet’ something – which I assume means you can either spontaneously generate fan-art porn about it, render misspelled captions beneath it, or maybe just crudely Photoshop it into 9/11.
But enough mockery, let’s hear some facts before passing judgment on a potentially awesome gadget: The device in question hangs on a lanyard around the user’s neck, and is basically just an internet-enabled mini-PC equipped with motion recognition software and a webcam. The “sense” the device imbues refers to the ability to search and aggregate information in response to real world surroundings. For example, say you’re in an electronics store looking at televisions: The device would recognize either the RFID or barcode in the item and search the internet for comparative prices, reviews, or any other relevant information. Or say you’re meeting somebody for the first time: The device could pull up their contact information, professional data, or even their website address. It’s operated by hand gestures read through the webcam – make a ‘frame’ gesture to take a picture, draw a circle in the air to highlight something -and the device then projects the information onto the object or person in question as you interact.
So…that’s fucking rad at first glance. It’s like a video game HUD for real life…except instead of displaying health and ammo, it displays stuff like the price of gas nearest you, or upcoming appointments, or newly announced sales in the area, or well, still ammo stores, I guess, depending on how much you hate the government and whether or not you live in Idaho.
But there’s a catch, and it’s all in the AI: What, exactly, counts as “relevant data to be displayed?”
You’re looking at a book and, logically, the device brings up some reviews which – thanks to the failing American education system and the general emerging global pandemic of dickheads who vomit up their ill-informed beliefs like they’ve just discovered what an opinion is – are likely to be filled with unprovoked vitriol, off-topic rants by crazy shut-ins, and other such staples of internet discourse. And if it references any consumer review sites, well then literally every object you see will have the word “first!!1!” displayed on it, probably followed by one of those seven-hundred word diatribes about the “conspiracy of faggots,” left by homophobic holocaust deniers on everything from World War II history sites to the Amazon reviews of Marley and Me. But even assuming it is bringing up relevant information, how much of what you do on the internet would you want displayed on your shirt while people converse with you?
I just googled my own name, and here are a few examples of what would be projected on my chest if I was talking to somebody wearing said device:
“Right wing fears about Obama. Scientific discoveries threatening your penis. GTA IV: 5 reasons Robert Brockway is a piece of shit. Robert Brockway, genius political satirst? More like typical asshole libtard.”
And so forth. So, is this information relevant? Of course it is; it’s largely in response to things I’ve written, excerpts from my articles, or regarding people with the same name as me. However, unless it’s pulling up the entire article and the context it appeared in along with those responses and comments, you’re only going to see random sentences containing my name, most of which are implying that I am some sort of mentally deficient, communist transvestite who sexually services the liberal elite in order to advance my anti-video game agenda.
Which isn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d wear on a T-shirt, much less stuff I’d want projected in bold, glowing text on the walls of every establishment I enter. The internet has a few things to say about how great and impressive things are, and a whole fuck-ton to say about how things are fucktards and shitwhores. It’s just a fact: Assholes are a whole lot louder than polite, well-adjusted folk. The kingdom of the Internet is ruled by the iron fist of dickish illiteracy. A device harnessing and aggregating all of that information is going to help you 10% of the time, provide off-topic, keyword-manipulating pornography 30% of the time, and inform you in disparaging terms about the fail to win ratio of every single object within your sightline the other 60%.
I’ll totally still buy one of these things if they came out – because I want to live in Blade Runner so bad I can taste it – I’m just not necessarily looking forward to finding out that my ’05 Kia Optima is the flagship car for “chinkfags,” my girlfriend is “not pleaced wit yr sexrocket bedtime v1agra,” and my adorable six-year old niece is, in fact, just “anoter newb tard uggo in training.”