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Report warns of the dangers if tech which changes the way we see the world



Imagine looking at a plant or a tree, only to see it labelled with its name and classification, or following a virtual assistant through a crowd instead of looking at lines on a map.  

Major companies such as Apple, Meta and Google are investing billions to bring this next wave to consumers, and predict it will replace smartphones as people’s everyday devices of choice.  

But with this brave new world comes dangers and academics are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect on people’s privacy and the sanctity of their personal data if all can be revealed at a glance.   

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A new policy report, launched today from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience has examined the dangers and benefits AM/MR could bring to society.  

The authors say that now is the time for robust strategies to be developed to control how this emerging technology is used, and have urged developers and policymakers to see the bigger picture.   

The Herald: Professor Fiona Macpherson and Professor Ben ColburnProfessor Fiona Macpherson and Professor Ben Colburn (Image: UoG/Martin Sheilds)

More than 50 experts from universities, industry and public policy helped draft th study, which looks at the key areas they predict will be affected by the use of virtual devices.  

Lead author Professor Fiona Macpherson, a philosopher based at the University’s School of Humanities said: “Augmented reality and mixed reality are fast-moving domains. The use of these technologies will be increasingly widespread in coming years.  

“Our project has identified core opportunities, and areas of risk, to enable ethical deployment of these technologies [and] makes specific recommendations for developers, industry, policymakers and research bodies, to guide early intervention and shape the technological trajectory in a way that upholds the key values of privacy, accessibility, autonomy and well-being.” 

The report’s chief concern is that personal information will be put at risk if the technology is taken up en masse, with people losing control of what data can be captured by AR/MR devices. 

Privacy may become a thing of the past unless steps are taken to ensure everyone has control of their digital profile and it is not disseminated without their approval.  

Experts involved in the study forecast the adoption of new mechanisms, such as wearable opt-out tags to allow realistic non-participation in AR/MR data capture. 

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They also stressed the need for better education among the public from an early age to help them navigate and stay secure in an increasingly digital world.  

They also laid out fears over how people would prevent their own identity or image being captured and manipulated when everyone is wearing tech that can scan someone in a second, with the report saying defamation laws may be needed to be updated to prevent this from happening.  

The reports’ authors also stressed the deed to prioritise public education around the autonomy risks of AR/MR manipulation and covert influence, and give users access to the data profiles used to customise their virtual content. 

However, the experts also offered practical advice on how such technology could be taken up by the public and its impact, with thought given to accessibility and the psychological and behavioural impacts of AR/MR technology on users. 

The Herald: Augmented reality changes the way we look at the world Augmented reality changes the way we look at the world (Image: NQ)

The authors called for design of future AR/MR interfaces to be low-cost and universally available, to ensure all segments of society have access to the virtual space being built around it.

Overall, the report lays out six central risk domains for AR/MR – privacy, information accuracy, identity representation, accessibility, autonomy, and wellbeing – and provides tailored recommendations for developers, industry, policymakers and researchers to address. 

Professor Ben Colburn, co-investigator and lead author of the report, said it contains over 20 specific recommendations aimed at getting key stakeholders – developers, industry, policymakers, researchers – to travel in a positive direction for AR/MR’s development from the outset. 

Professor Colburn, a political philosopher at the University’s School of Humanities, added: “We recommend design standards which mark out virtual from real objects, and control for users and third parties over the gathering and use of personal data and their digital identities. 

“We also show that education is central to AR’s positive individual, social and economic potential: information about benefits and risks should be integrated into critical thinking curricula in schools, and into a campaign of digital literacy for adults, focusing on the novel privacy risks involved in familiar activities.” 

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