Reflections on a Dystopian Internet of Experiences

“ONE OF THE first things I learned from my recent tour of the synthetic-reality waterfront is that virtual reality is creating the next evolution of the Internet. Today the Internet is a network of information. It contains 60 trillion web pages, remembers 4 zettabytes of data, transmits millions of emails per second, all interconnected by sextillions of transistors. Our lives and work run on this internet of information. But what we are building with artificial reality is an internet of experiences. What you share in VR or MR gear is an experience. What you encounter when you open a magic window in your living room is an experience. What you join in a mixed-reality teleconference is an experience. To a remarkable degree, all these technologically enabled experiences will rapidly intersect and inform one another.”

If you read my dream review, then you are already familiar with the article this quote comes from, The Untold Story of Magic Leap by Kevin Kelly.

When I wrote about it back then–or rather, borrowed from it for my own dream review—-I was referring to it from a purely technical point of view. In my eyes, Kevin Kelly is a great writer.

But this morning as I was making my breakfast, I started thinking about how this article—-and this quote specifically—-are related to my thesis. Kelly writes about the current internet as the internet of data, and predicts that we are moving into an internet of experience. When I read this, I couldn’t have agreed more. But it was only this morning that I realized that this is what my thesis is all about. My desire to re-embody the user is my response to an unfulfilling internet of data, where users are just 2d data points.

It was interesting that I started thinking about this article out of the blue today, but I think it’s the result of two meetings I had yesterday.

First I met with Shawn, then Benny. Shawn and I started off our meeting on a pretty apocalyptic note, I had just finished listening to the Reply All episode (#90) on the W3C’s proposed new standard for video DRM in HTML5, and was feeling pretty bummed about an increasingly closed internet. Shawn and I got to talking about how each new technology comes out with the promise of making us more open and communicative, yet ends up being turned against us, finding ways to silence people, dupe people, and make us less democratic.

I then talked with Benny, and during the conversation got to the nuts and bolts of why I started working on Kinectron in the first place: I find the current connected internet creatively disappointing. I took live web with Shawn last year, and although I love working with connected technology, like the browser, sockets, peer connections, webrtc, Javascript, etc, I find them limiting. The webcam especially bothers me. This is why I’m searching for something else through Kinectron and my thesis research.

I think these two thoughts must have shared some synapses in my sleep last night, because I woke up thinking about an internet of experiences–what does it mean? what does it look like? And then, how can it be used against freedom and democracy?

This got me thinking about the talk by Scout AI at ITP a few weeks ago about how Trump and others used AI and other connected tech tools to spread “alternative facts” and win elections. (Here’s the article they released shortly after the talk)

This all got me wondering, if we are moving from an internet of data to an internet of experiences, how will those experiences be used by un-democratic forces to control and manipulate us?

I’m don’t want this question to derail my thesis, but I would like to do some more research into the internet of experiences and possibly talk to Scout about speculative journalism and the dystopian possibilities of an internet of experience.