Cartoon: augmented reality headset tells employee he pees too often

Augmented Reality Will Cost You Your Soul

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

The latest big thing in business is the use of augmented reality (AR), which is a technology that allows computerised devices to place data, images and goodness knows what else into your eyes — usually via a kind of high-tech goggles.

Google glass was an example of augmented reality. Wearers of these particularly dorky looking spectacles could read emails, get directions or search up on the person they are talking to and see the information in their field of vision. Google Glass swiftly died, not because the wearers did not like the tool. Rather no one actually wanted to have anything to do with the wearers of the dorky specs. Imagine talking to someone wearing Google Glass and knowing that they might be reading emails, checking your LinkedIn profile or watching a porn video starring someone who looks like you while you pour your heart out. Hardly a delightful conversation scenario, is it?

But, business leaders have realised that AR provides a nifty tool for squeezing even more productivity out of their already overworked employees while monitoring their every action. Tech companies, always keen to exploit an opportunity to exploit people have been quick to develop AR headsets and other tools for use in the workplace.

Turning People into Robots

Describing an AR product made by Ubimax, The Economist writes, "Used in warehouses, for instance, that screen — in combination with technology which tracks workers and parcels — can give an employee instructions on where to go, the fastest route to get there and what to pick up when he arrives, all the while leaving both of his hands free to move boxes around. Ubimax reckons that could bring a 25% improvement in efficiency."

Stop and think about that scenario for a moment and ask yourself, in what way does anything described in that scenario actually need a human being. The computer is making all of the decisions and instructing the employee at every step of the way. Creativity, free will and human dignity are clearly unnecessary.

Now, I am sure the good people at Ubimax have no intention of reducing the human race to being mindless robot helpers. Indeed, I expect they are clever sparks with some brilliant ideas and the best of intentions. But the best intentions of CEOs do not always reflect the best interests of their employees.


Apparently, aeroplane manufacturers have started mounting augmented reality sets to their factory workers' heads. This is a good thing in that workers can see mounting instructions in their field of view while actually mounting the real bits and pieces. The software can even check to ensure the mounting is done properly and, I believe, we can all agree, that anything that discourages aeroplanes from falling apart while in the air is a good thing.

On the other hand, when workers are required to follow detailed instructions and are penalised for veering from these instructions in any way whatsoever, there is no room for creative experimentation and innovation.

Every Move You Make

Another aspect of augmented reality in the workplace, an aspect not much mentioned, is that it can provide an employer with detailed information about every fucking thing every individual AR-enhanced employee does for every fucking moment of the day unless, of course, she takes the AR headset off. So, I can imagine in the near future, employees will be prohibited from removing AR devices during working hours.

The company could easily monitor what the employee looks at, what she does, how often she pees and what she puts in her coffee. With the growing popularity of corporate wellness initiatives, the AR glasses could tell the hungry employee, "we notice that is your second donut this morning. You are not going to reduce your weight that way, fatso."

But the truth is, once people know that their every movement, everything the look at and everything they do is monitored and saved in a database by the company, they will be afraid to do anything untoward. They will allow themselves to become dehydrated rather than risk being accused of peeing too often. They will take fewer coffee breaks and avoid personal conversations with colleagues.

And that will make management happy; it will boost productivity, discourage non-work activities and ensure conformity to corporate behaviour. But it is not a recipe for happiness at work, creative workers or a dignified workplace.

Indeed, I hope and expect the enlightened business leader of the future will shun AR and give workers the freedom to pee privately, chat with colleagues and be normal, human beings.

What do you think?




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