At AD STARS 2021, Publicis Groupe Japan’s Sosuke Koyama and Rish Gopal called on the advertising industry to self-regulate against the ethical dangers of AR
At AD STARS 2021 last week, Sosuke Koyama and Rish Gopal presented a provocative session about the benefits and dangers of Augmented Reality. Sosuke is chief transformation officer at Beacon Tokyo / Publicis Groupe Japan, while Rish is head of content.
Together, they explained how rapid advancements in AR technology will bring incredible perks. But in an era where we now have to fight for concepts like truth and enlightenment, it’s important to understand the potential side effects, too.
“In the future, AR is going to become even more realistic and more accessible. Anything that we see in reality can be manipulated. How virtual do we want our world to be and what are the ethics behind it?” asks Sosuke.
Right now, AR is mostly used for entertainment, but things are about to get real. Thanks to advancements like LIDAR – a laser attachment that is built into the iPhone 12 – we’ll be able to accurately map the real world and position virtual objects there in a highly realistic way.
“The mapping is becoming more realistic, which means the augmented part of reality really doesn’t look fake anymore. Augmented objects will have the perfect ratio, size, lighting – everything – so they are perfectly aligned to reality,” said Sosuke.
This is remarkable, but it’s also worrying for a few reasons. Firstly, aligning virtual objects with the real world requires massive amounts of data. This means platforms and advertisers know so much more about your every move.
Secondly, the advent of AR glasses opens the door to manipulation by covering your field of vision. When the camera becomes your eyes, this tricks your brain into thinking that what you see is reality. In an era of fake news and deep fakes, this rings alarm bells.
“We used to live in a world where we have the Enlightenment, where truth kind of guided us. Now, truth is relative, to a point,” said Sosuke. “With augmented reality, truth can be manipulated to a point where we don’t actually know what truth is anymore. That’s the scary part.”
There is now a word for this, ‘thobbery’, which is defined as ‘the confident reasoning of a person who is not curious about verifying his results’.
“As advertisers, we need to be careful,” warns Rish. “There are opportunities, but there are also dangers to AR/VR. We may need to rethink what we can do to ethically enhance this technology within the advertising industry.”
Of course, the opportunities are exciting, too. The briefs Publicis Groupe Japan receives are already a lot more platform-oriented, and Sosuke and Rish believe it won’t be long before clients will need a “camera strategy” for their purchase funnel. As Snapchat defines it, a camera strategy is a strategy for optimising AR across the whole customer journey: entertainment, utility, consideration, purchase, advocate.
To demonstrate how rapidly this technology is advancing, Sosuke and Rish presented two videos produced by Vice about ‘augmented satiety’. The first video showed that simply by manipulating the size of the food you eat with AR, your brain can be tricked into thinking the food is more filling or delicious than it really is. The second video showed that by using AR to manipulate the look and smell of food, it completely changes the taste.
“That really freaked me out, my first reaction was, ‘holy shit!’” said Rish. “It is a total manipulation of your reality. If using AR can manipulate how much we eat and how things taste, imagine how much misinformation this technology can cause in the real world, especially in the world of politics.”
Sosuke agrees: “Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great technological advancement. But I’m also thinking: what could be the side effects of something like this? My first instinct as an advertiser is, how can I use this technology to support my brands? But I also start thinking about how I’ll have access to all this data, which I can use to manipulate your way of thinking. And this is where ethics starts coming into play.
Advertisers have a huge responsibility to lead the way by using AR ethically.
“It’s our job to really leverage the data, the technology, and use it smartly, and cautiously. So, let’s be responsible,” said Rish.
They ended their talk by calling on the advertising industry to self-regulate.
“There was once a Buddhist monk who said, ‘It’s not about how smart you are. It’s how much you can help people.’ I think that’s a nice way of understanding this stuff. The other thing we probably need to do as an industry is to start regulating ourselves – this is a call to arms for our industry to start self-regulating in this wild, wild west,” said Sosuke.
It’s a discussion we need to have, so let’s get started – sooner rather than later.
Watch ‘Truth in Advertising… In a Platform World’ on demand via www.adstars.org. The AD STARS 2021 Online Festival took place on 25th – 27th August.