The first design rule transcends the individual issues and emphasises the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders in aiming for responsible AR: companies, citizens, knowledge institutes and civil-society organisations. The government should be at the forefront of the search for a liveable hybrid world.
Design rule 1. Make a joint effort to create responsible AR
Data issues, design rules and required actions
AR systems use personal data. This means that they gather information about the location of the AR user, but also about that person’s physical movements, gestures, facial features and behaviour. AR systems also register a variety of data about the environment, not only the location and characteristics of objects, but also data about other AR-users, and even non-users. This is often intimate information from which unique individuals can be identified. The use of AR devices, for example smart glasses with cameras, can therefore threaten the anonymity of people in public and private spaces. Moreover, applications can share the assembled data with third parties without the user’s knowledge.
Besides privacy issues, AR also raises various ownership issues. AR applications can lead to infringements of property rights, or to destruction of private or public property by encouraging people to go to locations that they would not otherwise visit. It is also possible to digitally modify physical property with AR, which raises the question whether virtual spray painting, for example of another person’s house or a public building, is permissible. Another question is whether users have exclusive rights to their own observation or movement profile. Data about facial and eye movements can provide insights into what users observe. These data are useful for AR companies in helping them to create hybrid worlds, but they are also lucrative, because the data can be used to profile and influence users for commercial purposes.
These data issues call for sharper definitions and explicit legal frameworks. How should ownership be defined and regulated in a hybrid environment? Should companies be allowed to process users’ biometric and other ‘intimate’ data, and if so, how?
These questions lead to the three following design rules and required actions:
Design rule 2. Guarantee the privacy of AR users
Design rule 3. Guarantee the anonymity and privacy of non-users
Required action: Until rules have been adopted by the European Commission, the Dutch government should impose a moratorium on the use of AR applications in the public space by which citizens can be identified through biometrics.
Design rule 4. Clarify issues of both physical and virtual ownership in the hybrid world
Required action: The Ministry of Justice and Security should clarify the legal frameworks concerning ownership of virtual objects, particularly in relation to the ownership of humans, including their body.
Manipulation issues, design rules and required actions
An AR device can be seen as a digital prosthesis that digitally modifies our perception of reality. In doing so it influences what we see, hear and feel, and possibly also what we think and do. AR can therefore affect the physical and mental well-being of its users. The technology is developing rapidly and provides increasingly powerful immersive experiences, making it more and more difficult for users to make the distinction between virtual and physical, and between fake and real. Accordingly, parties that develop AR-systems, -platforms or -content are able to determine what a user experiences in steadily more profound ways. This can be useful, in the context of therapies or learning for example, but can also weaken the information position of citizens or even lead to deception.
AR can increase people’s cognitive capacities in many ways. On the work floor the technology can be used to quickly teach employees new skills. However, there is also a potential downside. If AR technology determines precisely when an employee has to perform a particular action, human labour could also be degraded to robotic work. In the entertainment domain, apps such as Snapchat can provide enjoyment, but they also encourage users to create an ideal digital image of themselves. There are therefore concerns that frequent use of AR not only creates the risk of addiction, but can also distort a person’s self-image or even lead to forms of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
In view of these manipulation issues, there is a need for more scientific reflection and public debate on the social significance of AR as a technology that stands between us and reality.
Those issues lead to the following four design rules and necessary actions:
Design rule 5. Protect the mental and physical health of AR users
Required action: The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport should promote research and public debate on the health effects of AR. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science should ensure that attitudes towards AR are covered in the policy on digital literacy.
Design rule 6. Strengthen human capacities in a fair and dignified manner
Design rule 7. Protect people’s cognitive autonomy
Required action: The government should promote research and debate on social standards and values (social etiquette) in the hybrid world.
Design rule 8. Ensure fair power relations in the hybrid world
Required action: The Ministry of Economic Affairs should clarify how the government will guarantee fair relations between companies and between companies and AR users in the AR domain.
Spatial planning issues, design rules and required actions
Because AR links the digital world directly to the physical environment, it also raises issues in relation to spatial planning. AR offers possibilities to digitally redesign the physical environment. That has consequences not only in the hybrid environment as experienced by the user, but also in the physical space and for others present in it. For example, the introduction of Pokémon GO created a situation in which thousands of players of the game were drawn to seaside resort Kijkduin in The Hague, where they caused various forms of nuisance for local residents and damage to the nature.
The digital world with its cookies and trackers is now penetrating into spaces and physical environments that used to be entirely analogue. The digital domain is ‘colonising’ the physical world, as it were, which can lead to further commercialisation – also of public spaces such as nature reserves, beaches or town squares. This could impair the public character and communal nature of those locations.
Because AR has far-reaching consequences for the use of our physical space, it is important for the government to explore how the hybrid world can be designed in a socially responsible manner and what rules are needed to accomplish that.
These issues lead to the following three design rules and necessary actions:
Design rule 9. Give citizens control over their physical-virtual identity
Required action: The Ministry of Justice and Security should clarify what the right to physical integrity means in the context of AR.
Design rule 10. Create public spaces in the hybrid world
Required action: The government should investigate how the public character of the hybrid public space can be guaranteed in the long term.
Design rule 11. Design the hybrid environment in a socially responsible manner
Required action: The government should explore how the hybrid environment can be designed in a socially responsible manner.