Abandoning reality

by Robert Niemand

Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia.orgZukerburg

Reality, or at least our experience of it, may be on the line. In September 2023, CEO Mark Zuckerberg of Meta (Facebook’s new brand) outlined his grand vision of the future. It is one where physical reality—the things and people in our environment—features less and less. He says:

I think not too far from now, you’re going to walk into a room and there are going to be as many holograms of digital things for you to interact with as there are physical objects. … paper, the media, the games, the art, your workstation, any screen. It can all be interactive holograms.1

Humans, too. Whether hanging out with friends or having a business meeting, some will be there in person, others will be holograms, whether avatars or realistic representations. Everyone will feel “as present as everyone else”, he assures us.

The bulletin of the Australian Computer Society responded perceptively:

… imagine how it will feel to take off a [virtual reality] headset and be confronted with a decaying physical reality abandoned for the world inhabited by AI avatars: empty homes, blank walls, and the dust of the past. … . Reality has always been free. Do we really want to cede control of it to a handful of Silicon Valley executives for the sake of convenience, productivity, and “vibrant digital content”?1

Meta has already spent tens of billions on this ‘mixed reality’. But in addition to financial motivation, what drives such a bizarre-seeming quest?

Our societies today are increasingly dominated by the belief that everything—including planets, people, plants, animals, and the laws of science—came about by itself. Specifically, that no external Creator was involved.

Believing that everything is ultimately the result of chance and chaos, and that there is no immutable reference point, will inevitably have real-world consequences. We already saw this in the way our post-modern culture has opposed the idea of objective standards, even to the extent of many denying there are such things as objective, universal truths. (Never mind that the assumption that these exist has underpinned all of science and its benefits to the modern world.)

So perhaps Meta’s quest should not really surprise us. For now, it remains a huge technical challenge, but don’t bet on that lasting forever.

Published: 25 May 2024

References and notes 

  1. Tonkin, C., Mark Zuckerberg wants to erase physical reality. Who needs friends when you have AI holograms? Information Age, ia.acs.org.au, 28 Sep 2023. Return to text.

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