Face Computers Are Coming. Now What?

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If the tech predictions pan out, we’ll soon be wearing computers on our faces and plugging into immersive realms of virtual people and places, perhaps blended with the real world around us.

(I don’t want to use the buzzword “metaverse” here, because ugh. This term from science fiction has been applied to anything and everything that we should just call the internet. But that’s partly what I’m talking about.)

I am both apprehensive and excited about the potential next generation of technologies that may further blur the lines between computers and us, and between online and real life. I can get into the idea of glasses that let me scroll restaurant menu items and feel as if the sizzling burger is in front of me, or into headgear that lets me exercise next to a virtual lake in Patagonia.

No one can predict how long it might take this imagined future of the internet to come true and go mainstream, if it ever does. But if computers on our faces and more lifelike digital realities are coming for us, let’s start thinking through the implications now.

I don’t have a fleshed out good humans’ guidebook for the metaverse. (Ugh, that word again.) But I know that instead of letting Mark Zuckerberg or the Apple chief executive Tim Cook decide on the etiquette, ethics, norms, rewards and risks of our potential brave new world of technology, we need to do it.

How we use technology shouldn’t be left to the companies that dream up electronics and software. It should be up to us, individually and collectively. That can happen by deliberate thought and careful design, or by the lack of it.

I’m writing this now because Apple reportedly plans to introduce its first computers for the face in the next year or so.

Apple appears to imagine that its face computers — similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens, Snap’s experimental Spectacles or the failed Google Glass — will blend virtual images with the world around us, sometimes called “augmented reality.” Imagine watching a fix-it video of a car engine while a guide overlays diagrams on the fan belt that you’re trying to repair.

Apple has a reputation…