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Pokemon Go: Why augmented reality is a very real threat

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By: Jeffrey Newholm

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” These were the wise words of the New Testament’s St. Paul.

When children grow into adulthood, they leave behind trivial interests and hobbies. For kids growing up in the ‘90s, such hobbies included catching black-and-white Pokemon on minuscule Game Boy screens. But with the debut of Pokemon Go, adults of all ages are now reliving their childhood fantasies.

Pokemon Go is an engaging smartphone app that allows players to catch Pokemon in the real world. Players can visit gyms and Pokestops and throw Pokeballs to catch their pocket monsters. It’s an engaging game, but it’s still fictitious. And yet some players have gotten into very real trouble. Drivers have careened into crashes while paying too much attention to phones.

The National Holocaust Museum had to inform guests lacking common decency not to play the game on museum grounds. But it’s easy to dismiss the game as a silly fad due to be soon forgotten. And in and of itself this is a properly dismissive conclusion. But the technology behind this game, augmented reality, could have very serious consequences if left unchecked.

The line between fantasy and reality could be blurred beyond the point of recognition.

Catching Pokemon may seem silly and innocuous. But several authors have foreseen consequences of this technology that could have deleteriously life-altering consequences. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, one of the inventions of the nefarious company North Central Positronics is SimSex.

SimSex allows gentlemen to experience sexual intercourse with any number of beautiful and famous women without sex’s usual risks. If such a thing were to be introduced in an age of decreased interest in Christian morals, birth rates could take a serious plunge. Fictitious sex with a supermodel may prove to be much more appealing than actual baby-making. And the worst-case-scenario for augmented reality truly is worst-case.

Adolescent-geared author D.J. MacHale envisioned such a frightening scenario in his Pendragon fantasy series.

In one of Bobby Pendragon’s many adventures, he stumbles upon a race on the path to extinction. In The Reality Bug, engineers have invented a grand apparatus that allows humans to live out their fantasy lives. With the machine taking care of all of one’s bodily functions, most people spend their whole lives in “jumps” where one’s every desire is met.

This machine, LifeLight, represents the ultimate accomplishment of man’s inventive nature. But with LifeLight offering the perfect alternative to real life, Pendragon knows that for the sake of humanity’s future the machine must be destroyed.

Perhaps one fails to see the issue with augmented reality. If this technology allows our utopian visions to be finally fulfilled, is this not something to celebrate? But the concern is two-fold. First, a fictitious pleasure is one that feels fundamentally cheapened. Games such as Madden offer a simulation of success in sports, but any athlete can attest an actual hard-fought victory is much more fulfilling.

Second, if people were to abandon their responsibilities for the sake of these games, like the citizens Pendragon meets, our obligation to future generations could be abandoned. Millions of people will suffer a fate worse than death: they will never get the opportunity to live in the first place. Tragically, Pendragon’s efforts in The Reality Bug are unsuccessful. By the end of the book even most of the engineers abandon their posts to live out their revelries. But thankfully there’s still plenty of time for planet earth.

As augmented reality quickly becomes more advanced, it behooves Americans to use their tools responsibly.

Pokemon Go is a fun game, but it’s still just a game. In our ever-more sophisticated flights of fantasy, the difference between fact and fiction must never become completely erased. The very future of modern civilization could depend on it.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com