News: Netflix Film 'Anon' Paints Dystopian View of Augmented Reality That Obliterates Privacy

Netflix Film 'Anon' Paints Dystopian View of Augmented Reality That Obliterates Privacy

Augmented reality is expected to eventually change everything, and the prevailing view is that those changes will be for the better. The converse view, however, is that the technology will further erode privacy.

A new Netflix film called Anon, starring Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried, takes on the darker side of AR's future.

The film's opening scene is viewed mostly from the point of view of Owen's character, a detective named Sal Frieland. That point of view is inundated with AR overlays via an implant, with practically everyone and everything he sees either identified for him instantaneously or visually augmented with other relevant information.

People's faces (except for one "unknown error," played by Amanda Seyfried) are framed with their name, age, and job title. In the film, he's able to use his AR implant to see make and model of cars on the street, while landmarks are annotated with their architectural design details. In front of one store, virtual models pose as their digital outfits change, while another store window features a watch display with a virtual try-on experience.

Image by Netflix/YouTube

With the premise of the future set, the plot is launched into motion as Frieland enters a police precinct, where he interrogates suspects in a murder case. During each interview, he navigates an AR interface called Ether, a database containing video records. He accesses a classified section of the Ether where he views recorded videos from the victim's point of view, as well as witnesses (one of which is an infant).

That's right. This AR of the future records everything, and police are able to access all of it. The technology can also be used to identify when violent crimes take place, remotely ordering perpetrators to surrender.

But what if the fictional (for now) technology could be compromised? That's where the conflict enters the fray, as Frieland investigates a series of murders where the victim's points of view are hacked and the murderer's own record is scrubbed of identification. As one character says, "This is a nightmare." Seyfried's character, a hacker who can edit and erase AR records and hijack live views, becomes the prime suspect. Her ability to alter reality, as you can imagine, makes her a formidable opponent.

Image by Netflix/YouTube

Netflix has become a one-stop shop for TV and movies with heavy augmented reality themes, including the Black Mirror anthology series and its recent original series Altered Carbon. In Anon, AR is an even more prominent, ever-present plot device in what would otherwise be your run-of-the-mill crime mystery.

Many of the AR examples presented in Anon are available today in terms of applications. For instance, Blippar offers facial recognition, automobile identification, and landmark recognition tools for AR. Similarly, Google Translate can visually convert written and spoken language into the user's native language. And we've already seen virtual try-on experiences from the likes of Kay Jewelers and Swarovski, while department store Zara recently brought AR models to its stores.

From a hardware perspective, though, a headset has yet to emerge to hit true mainstream adoption (much less an AR implant or contact lens). Since smartphones are the typical window to AR at present, the always-on nature of AR painted by Anon has not yet been realized.

Image by Netflix/YouTube

Still, Anon raises valid questions about augmented reality which will need to be answered before it becomes as persistent and as advanced as it is depicted in this film. Namely: How much of our privacy are we willing to sacrifice for convenience via AR? We're already grappling with these questions with current technology, from smartphones to voice-controlled speakers.

The question will be become even more complex when everything we say and do is on the record, and where reality, in terms of what we see and hear, can be revised in AR. Directed by sci-fi veteran Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, S1m0ne), Anon is currently available on Netflix.

Cover image via Netflix/YouTube

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