What is augmented reality?

March 8, 2019

Imagine a world where you see the price of any item hovering above it or even someone’s personal information in a menu beside their head as you meet for lunch. You would never forget a name or a birthday. These are examples of augmented reality (AR). AR is a new tool that utilizes various forms of artificial intelligence (AI) to capture and process data from a host of cameras to reconstruct our homes, offices, and public spaces in the digital space.

The uses of AR go far beyond games like the popular Pokemon Go, and into the most personal spaces of our lives. Many companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are already working on wearable technology, i.e., AR headsets that are sleek and seek to blend in with everyday life. There are countless startups throughout the world, especially in China and the U.S., who are seeking to be the first to capitalize on this revolution.

The mirrorworld

You probably already have access to AR, also know as a “mirrorworld,” through your smartphone, but soon your glasses might give you a new way to look at the world around you. Mirrorworld is a term popularized by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter to describe a new dimension or layer of the physical world that we are currently building online. The digital world mirrors the physical world that you interact with each day, but it also provides new features and the ability for you to manipulation your surroundings.

The goal of the technology is to usher in a new way of interacting with the world where you have constant access to information without the need to pick up your phone or tablet. The world of the internet merges with the physical world to open up what many are calling a new dimension to reality. Recently, even the behemoth General Electric recast itself as a “digital industrial company,” which it defines as “the merging of the physical and digital world.” This merging is at the heart of AR.

A (new) world

Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WIRED, writes in a cover story for the magazine about this mirrorworld and how AR will fundamentally change how we interact with one another. He describes the web as the first digital platform where the world’s information was digitized, social media as the second where people were digitized, and how AR is the third platform that will complete the digitization of the physical world.

Using some of the new features of your smartphone gives glimpses into this mirrorworld. Amazon and Wayfair incorporated the technology into their apps, allowing you to place an item, such as a piece of furniture or a toy, in your home to see how it would look. You might decide that the rug you liked was too large as you walk around in real-time, so the app will recommend a different version, creating myriad marketing and sales opportunities. Sally Huang, head of visual technologies at Houzz, said, “It's about helping people overcome the imagination gap when it comes to purchasing furniture online."

How does it work?

Simply put, AR technology works by utilizing cameras to recreate the world around us, albeit digitally. We use cameras every day to capture all sorts of video content. AI takes uses this video and image data to analyze and distinguish between objects, such as your living room furniture and your dog. Once this data is processed, a map is created that allows objects to be digitally placed in real time into your home, office, or yard.

This is similar to how self-driving car technology functions, enabling a robot to interact with the surrounding environment. AI drives the ability of these AR devices to be functional for everyday users. As I have written previously, this is yet another way that AI is propelling so much of the technological development in our world today.

What does AR mean for you?

Like any piece of technology, there are tangible benefits for users. Having information at a moment’s notice can allow us to make better decisions. AR is already revolutionizing the way that we work by giving remote workers digital offices with countless screens and allowing them to be more connected. This technology can also be used in manufacturing by virtually showing repair manuals or displaying expert help. It can also be used in medicine to give doctors and nurses additional information in surgery or routine medical care. Access to this data could change the way we interact with one another.

But there will be downsides and abuses of the technology for sinful gain as well. Recently, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella had to defend his company’s partnership with the Department of Defense to develop AR HoloLens technology for the training and development of soldiers. Many at the company raised concerns about how this technology could be used in weapon systems, saying that they didn’t want to participate in lethal weapon development. AR will soon be incorporated into every area of our lives, whether we are prepared or not.

One of the issues that needs to be talked about more is the ubiquity of pornography and how AR will deepen the lie of temporary sexual fulfillment. This will continue to destroy our real-world relationships. Virtual reality (VR) has already begun to do this; while VR porn transports you to your neighbor’s bedroom to fulfill your fantasies, AR will transport your neighbor into your bedroom, exacerbating the controlling and self-gratifying nature of pornography. In a world already saturated with pornography, AR will combine the effects of AI and VR in ways that we can’t imagine.

The mirrorworld of AR is here and is going to revolutionize the way we interact with the world and one another. As Christians, we must pursue all technological development through the framework of wisdom. Our calling is to prepare well so that we can proclaim that no amount of technology will usher in a utopian future of pure ecstasy, nor will it fundamentally change anything about human nature. If we use this technology wisely, we will be able to love our neighbor better rather exploiting them for personal gain.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24