Apple has just released Vision Pro, a virtual-reality headset that ushers in a new era of spatial computing. It claims to blend the real and digital worlds, so users can interact in both simultaneously. Apple CEO Tim Cook says it is the company’s most ambitious product to date. Indeed, it is powerfully seductive but comes at a high price, and I don’t mean monetarily.
Imagined objects and experiences, like a ball game, an animated “Jurrasic Park” dinosaur, a new sofa for the living room, a video of a baby’s first birthday, a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, or anything else one can dream of, are projected virtually in space in front of you, as big as or bigger than life.
Surround sound is embedded into the experience so one can enjoy movies, music videos, FaceTime calls, Zoom meetings, or take a meditative mindfulness break through sight and sound. It puts the capabilities of the computer screen and its apps before you anywhere and is controlled with a click of the fingers, voice command, or the blink of an eye.
Vision Pro is touted as having applications in educational settings and also promises a new way to work or, at least, pretend you’re doing so. It takes dictation and displays an on-screen keyboard controlled by staring at the letters and pinching your fingers or virtually touching the keys in front of you. To get real work done, it must be synced with a Mac device where Vision Pro acts as a virtual monitor.
Apple promises it will “transform how people work, collaborate, collect, relive memories and enjoy entertainment” with its “revolutionary and magical user interface.” Seeing is believing, so here is a guided tour.
Virtual Reality Made Real
Apple has many enthralled with Vision Pro’s potential. It’s a giant leap ahead of similar virtual reality (VR) headsets on the market, such as Meta Quest, Vive, and Oculus, in both capability and price at $3,500. Competing models range from $250 at the low end to around $1,000 at the high.
And as with all technology advancements, it will likely catch on after newer versions at lower prices come out. Bloomberg reported Apple expects to sell 900,000 units in its first year, as compared with more than 200 million iPhones it sells.
Despite Apple’s huge investment in developing the Apple Vision Pro — some 500 patents went into its making — and the truly revolutionary technology built-in, it is a novelty tech gadget that will primarily appeal to early adopters, unlike other Apple innovations, such as the iPhone and Apple Watch that made a real difference in people’s lives.
Playing With Our Minds
The Apple Vision Pro effectively puts an artificial interface between the user and the real world. It filters what comes in and engages three of our five senses: sight, sound, and touch through the finger-pinching action.
God gave us our senses so we could interact in the natural world He created. Vision Pro thoroughly disrupts that. Cook calls it augmented reality, where our biological limitations are enhanced through computer-generated information and inputs.
And while Cook has expressed concern about the isolating potential of virtual reality (VR) headsets, by changing the descriptor to augmented reality (AR), he overcomes it. “[AR] gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things — visually — for both of us to see. Maybe it’s something we’re talking about, maybe it’s someone else here who’s not here present but who can be made to appear to be present,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Apple and its many corporate partners envision the entire family outfitted with individual headsets so that they can lounge together in the living room after dinner with dad catching up on work, mom shopping, and the kids tuned into their favorite games, movies, or videos. But that is not how it will play out. Each will retreat to their own separate realities.
Numerous studies have found that technology has led to increased personal isolation, resulting in stress, depression, and anxiety. And these negative feelings tend to feed on themselves and cause people to withdraw more.
In Japan, it is called hikikomori, acute social withdrawal, and the Japanese Cabinet Office reports some 1.5 million of its citizens are suffering from it, most especially young men, just the demographic of early-adopting gamers and tech-enthusiasts Apple is undoubtedly targeting.
The National Institutes of Health warns that the hikikomori trend is spreading, aided and abetted by technology. It can also take the form of the “introvert economy,” as described by Manhattan Institute’s Allison Schrager, which is characterized by young people going out and engaging less socially. It’s created an epidemic of loneliness. Harvard reported some 36 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of young adults, are experiencing “serious loneliness.”
Among all the other tech devices at hand, Apple Vision Pro is even more isolating since nobody else sees what you see or experiences what you experience. Even when making a FaceTime or Zoom call, AI-generated personas interact on the call, not the real you.
Culturally, socially, and spiritually, we are inching toward the realization that the late biologist E.O. Wilson warned of: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
Apple Vision Pro is a sign of the times of how quickly “god in the machine” artificial intelligence is advancing. It’s one small step toward the melding of the human brain with digital computing power controlled by tech, entertainment, and corporate overlords. Vision Pro is like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden that was pleasant to the eye and desired “to make one wise.”
Slipping in AI Undercover
Apple is marketing Vision Pro as a spatial computing device, not an integration of AI into our lives, which makes AI-generated virtual reality seemingly innocuous and entertaining. It opens a back door for AI and the corporate powers-that-be to gain more control, as Aldous Huxley warned in his 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World, “People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
It’s not hyperbolic to say there’s danger in the Apple Vision Pro. It’s like gateway drugs that drug pushers use to hook people and build on the growing demand for their addictive products. Researchers have already identified the harmful effects of social media addiction. How much more addictive is a virtual reality device such as the Apple Vision Pro that manipulates our senses in much the same way as a hallucinogenic drug?
Former Apple marketing executive Michael Gartenberg told Bloomberg, it could be “one of the great tech flops of all time.” And the company has had some flops before it. But Apple has packed so many bells and whistles into it and partnered with such powerful corporations that it will be irresistible to many consumers, so our sleepwalk into an AI-controlled future accelerates.