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IEET > Rights > Life > Access > Enablement > Vision > Futurism > Virtuality > Fellows > Evan Selinger

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Augmented-Reality Racism

Evan Selinger
By Evan Selinger
The Atlantic

Posted: Dec 17, 2012

The tech world is brimming with optimism for our augmented-reality future. But what will happen when flawed, prejudiced people get their hands on these tools?

reality filters x4440x.jpg

Racism is ugly to confront, and, like most people, I've got plenty of personal stories. My grandmother, bless her heart, was a wonderful grandmother, but like many Jewish people of her generation, she was incredibly racist, afraid of black people she didn't know. This fear caused her anxiety when she got the urge to go to a favorite restaurant. She loved the food, but, as she would derisively say, so did the schvartze (Yiddish slur for a black person).

What if she didn't have to see the black people at all? This possibility is what worries me about our augmented-reality future, which is (mostly) anticipated with optimism. If grandma had lived to see ubiquitous augmented reality, I suspect she'd put it to dehumanizing use, leaving for the restaurant with her goggles on (a less obtrusive artifact than the Coke bottle glasses she actually wore), programming them to make all dark skinned people look like variations of Larry David and Rhea Pearlman. As Brian Wassom -- who regularly writes on augmented reality -- notes, if apps can "recognize a particular shade of melanin, and replace it with another," racists could one day "live in their own version of...utopia."

You can read the rest of this article by clicking Here.

Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.
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I do understand your concern.  Ideally we will all live in a way that is rich in diversity and we enjoy all of the manifestations of humanity that are available to us.  Yet, most of us do choose to live in ways that reaffirm our assumptions and biases, rather than challenge them.

I wonder if Augmented Reality could help us experience diversity at a deeper level, beyond skin color or speech patterns or whatever external criteria we use to filter people?  Could we get to know people for their ideas and actions instead of those filtering criteria?  Dare I ask, could we get to know people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin?

Then, when the goggles come off, we are faced with the truly enhanced reality that people, good people, loving and lovable people, people with whom we can identify, come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds?

Perhaps that might be a path beyond racism?

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