Hollywood Movie ‘Auggie’ Explores Our Anxieties About Augmented Reality
The advent of artificially intelligent robots always elicited a great amount of angst among people. But nothing magnified these anxieties like the launch of the movie Terminator which enable us to not just imagine but visualize the kind of dystopian future we might create if we push technology to ‘the limits’.
Since then, there have been many films exploring the same themes such as Interstellar, I, Robot, The Matrix, Short Circuit, The Machine and Her among others.
The newest kid on the block is Auggie. A trailer that was released last week features a man (played by Richard Kind) who has fallen for a female augmented reality companion that has been procedurally-generated by a pair of augmented reality smartglasses known as Auggie.
The procedurally-generated character is not just a visual companion like in the VR and AR experiences already in existence but Auggie is also able to read the wearer’s brain signals and fulfill their subconscious desires.
Auggie is a pair of augmented reality glasses capable of reading the user’s brain signals and then projecting deceptively real companions onto the user’s field of vision.
From its trailer, the movie seems like a cross between Her -where the main character falls in love with an OS that is voiced by Scarlett Johansson- and Unfaithful, a sci-fi thriller on infidelity which stars Diane Lane.
The plot revolves around Felix Greystone who has to begin an early retirement against his will. During his farewell party, he gets a donation of Auggie, the AR glasses capable of accessing his subconscious by performing brain scans and forming virtual companions from these scans that are overlaid on the wearer’s field of vision and which are indistinguishable from real humans.
At first, the pensioner hesitates from engaging these dream virtual female companion but once his wife and daughter are engrossed in their own personal and professional cares and Greystone is feeling lonely, he jumps at the opportunity to put on the AR glasses.
The glasses generate a woman who spends time with Greystone, listening to him. With time, Greystone falls in love with this virtual character and forgets the reality around him which puts him on a confrontational course with both his wife and daughter.
The film displays a technology that is not yet in existence. Even the more advanced augmented reality glasses such as Magic Leap One and HoloLens 2 are still clunky pieces and the development of mind readers is still very much in its infancy. But it portrays a frontier that we might one day cross. Already, the first concepts for life-like augmented reality companions have been created such as Magic Leap’s Mica AI assistant.
Even though this kind of technology is not yet available, the sci-fi film is exploring how such technology may in the future affect society. It asks the philosophical question of what constitutes our “reality” when objects and people in AR are totally indistinguishable from the real, a prospect that we will experience a few years from now. It also explores what happens when humans become over-reliant on technology and whether an intimate relationship with a digital avatar can be regarded as “cheating”.
Auggie may seem quite futuristic but many of its concepts have been underpinned by various real-world technologies, a testament at how far these innovations have come. Magic Leap, for example, is planning to release its AI MICA which is overlaid onto the real world through the Magic Leap One headset. There is also groundbreaking research going on currently on the brain-related interfaces such as that by Neurabe and Neuralink.
Another film that has closely explored that theme’s is Spike Jonze’s Her which was released in 2013 which was about a man who falls in love with Artificial Intelligence.
There are other productions that deal with the theme of Augmented Reality such as Netflix’s Anon, Altered Carbon, Black Mirror (especially in the episodes Playtest), The Entire History of You and White Christmas. There is also the virtual reality film Rose Colored which showcases augmented reality dystopia in 360 degrees.
The film Auggie will launch in US cinemas and as a digital stream on September 20. It’s not known when it will hit cinemas across the globe.