Google Glass could one day enable some pretty incredible augmented reality apps. Its camera might recognize a person’s face, then scour the Internet for information about him or her, beaming that back to you in real time. It’s neat stuff for sure, but as this concept demo from Israeli software developer Infinity AR shows us (completely unintentionally): automatically digging up too much information about someone else can be downright creepy.
Flip ahead to 1:35, and you’ll watch as a hypothetical Glass wearer meets a pretty bartender. Her Facebook profile pops up immediately (unto itself, a pretty reasonable interaction!), but it's accompanied by a fast fact about her: She’s a Gemini.
“You don’t happen to be a Gemini, do you?” he asks, prompted by the machine.
“...how did you know that,” she responds, already smitten.
Then things heat up as the man’s headset goes into full-out voice analyzer mode, measuring her interest in him in real time. Eventually, and not to spoil things, he friends her on Facebook, invites her over to his house, and gives her wine--Sauvignon Blanc, her favorite. You could cut the date rapey tension with a knife.
It’s just an all-around disturbingly conceived, acted, and presented concept video by Infinity AR, but objectively--if you could sidestep the chilling privacy concerns--you could classify it as good design. Each interaction was seamless and automatic, and they enabled the wearer’s end goal, to romance a hot bartender. A lot of us want to romance hot bartenders! And the core experience of Facebook stalking is borderline universal (just admit it). Yet most of us would agree, something is different here, when stalking is so automatic and in real time, rather than a ritual people perform when they get home drunk from the bar after meeting someone they like.
Infinity AR’s mistake--and what makes this ad feel branded more like Dexter than Match.com--is that the interface is too overt. In fact, it’s downright conspiratorial as the Internet serves as this guy’s wingman, digging through a woman’s interest like prey, plunging it into the uncanny valley of big data, when artificial intelligence is too smart and too well-informed, and it can cater to our wants and needs too well for our own comfort.
How could designers intervene, helping us meet, greet, and potentially fall in love with a little bit less of a 10 out of 10 predatory vibe? Let’s consider some possibilities around that moment in the video where the two future lovers meet: The Facebook look up.
I. The software pulls up the bartender’s profile, without the fast fact or voice analysis.
Assumably, if he sees the Facebook profile of everyone he meets, it’s just a 3/10 on the creep scale--baseline human creep. But say this happens only for some people he meets--like those he was likely to find attractive because, historically, other guys matching his demographic had a tendency to Facebook stalk her. It’s a 9/10 on the creep scale. So I'm going to average this one out.
Creep factor: 6/10
II. The software doesn't display the bartender’s profile, until the guy gets home.
In this scenario, maybe the software notices he's extra interested in her--the tone of his voice, his elevated heart rate, or his historical dating interest in brunettes--and so when he gets home, and might normally Google her, the system automatically pulls up her information and has it waiting. Huge creep factor, because his intent is just too obvious.
Creep factor: 8/10
III. The software doesn’t display the bartender’s profile, until he gets home...along with four random other people he interacted with that night.
This is what I consider the willfully naive solution, one in which the software has all the knowledge of example two, but designers mask this creepy customization by burying the user's obvious pick among some relative randoms. In this sense, the software would still offer an easy, one-click shortcut for our protagonist to Facebook stalk his bartender, but a larger presented sample size would hide the computer's uncanny knowledge of his romantic intentions. Basically, even though algorithms recognize the protagonist's attraction to this one woman, the computer plays dumb. And by playing dumb, the computer doesn't tip its hand, revealing that the user's preferences are predictable or obvious.
Creep factor: 3/10
Whether or not you like these specific alternatives at all--they're still invasive, the creep is merely swept under the rug--they’re meant to make a point, that in the future, designers will be facing the creep factor of readily available data (be it macro data trends or micro data from sensors on your person), and they will be forced to do one of two things:
And while there is certainly a market for Infinity AR’s hypothetical dating app, there’s no reason that interfaces have to be so overt to coax us into using them, to keep relying on them, and keep feeding them our precious data. In fact, I imagine there will be massive resistance to such invasive augmented reality tools. PG-13 rated movies gross more than the NC-17 films for a reason: We may all be bartender-hungry monsters, but we do love the illusion of our own decency.
[Hat tip: Fwd]