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Apple’s Vision Pro: a window into a dark future

Tim Cook's new toy is an eyesore

June 8, 2023 - 5:00pm

High-tech is all too often hyped-tech. A keenly-anticipated breakthrough turns out to be a small improvement on last year’s model — or a gimmick that ends up at the back of a living room drawer.

This week’s big product launch from Apple might appear to be the real deal. The Vision Pro headset allows users to immerse themselves in an all-encompassing virtual world, a potential game-changer for entertainment, social media, online retail and just about any activity you undertake using a computer screen.

And yet there’s something uncanny about the Vision Pro. The biggest obstacle to consumer uptake (apart from the hefty price tag) is that you have to strap the thing to your head — an off-putting proposition. Apple’s solution is called “EyeSight” — which creates the illusion that the front panel is transparent, allowing other people to see your eyes. What they’re actually looking at, however, is a second outward-facing screen that displays a real-time image of your eyes. In other words, the device is creating an avatar of your face on your face. 

The creepiness doesn’t end there. Despite what it might display to the outside world, the underlying technology is very interested in the real you — minutely interested, in fact. According to Sterling Crispin, one of the developers who worked on the project, eye movements can be tracked along with other subtle body signals to build up a detailed model of the user’s intended actions — even to the extent of predicting what you’re going to do a moment before you do it. “It’s a crude brain computer interface via the eyes, but very cool,” Crispin says, adding, “I’d take that over invasive brain surgery any day”. Well, yes — but is “neither” an option?

Unfortunately it isn’t, because an intimate connection between human and computer is vital to this technology. Any discrepancy between the movements of the user’s eyes, head or body and the virtual reality in which he or she is immersed spoils the illusion. Indeed, it can induce a kind of motion sickness. A seamless user experience thus requires a device that watches you as intently as you watch it, gathering data to make continual adjustments.

Apple has made privacy a major part of its appeal. But will rival companies be as scrupulous? There’s also the question of who owns the device sitting on your face. It might not be you but, instead, your employer. If the Vision Pro is as good as it’s cracked up to be, then it could allow massive savings to be made by replacing office space and business travel with virtual work environments. Yet, by its very nature, this kind of tech would also allow bosses to monitor every last twitch of their employees’ eyeballs, thus providing information on physical and mental states. Working from home might become a more intrusive experience than the most open of open-plan offices. 

As far back as 2018, I argued that the internet was stagnating and in desperate need of genuine innovation. Five years on, the Vision Pro has arrived and I can’t wait to give it a go. And yet, at the same time, a part of me hopes it ends up right at the back of a drawer.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago

I can wear these while in my iCubicle eating my iBugs.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago

I can wear these while in my iCubicle eating my iBugs.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago

Anyone else thinking about “A Clockwork Orange”? The potential to use this technology and future iterations to manipulate people is staggering. Put these glasses (and a new Musk ‘brain chip’) on any criminal defendant and you can read them like a book. And we won’t stop at ‘reading’ people – eventually the technology will be critical in education (or re-education) and social credit scoring. I’ll bet the developers of the ‘implicit bias’ tests will also find a way to make them into ‘racist detectors’. But let’s not think about that – let’s just focus on how awesome the virtual reality games will be.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

Your last point, reality games, is the lead-in to hook the younger generations so they’re more amenable.

Although in my 60s, i’m planning on living another 30 years or so. Wtf the world will look like in 2050 will be, in equal measure, fascinating and excruciating. Again, in equal measure, i feel both privileged and distraught at living through this period in human history.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

Your last point, reality games, is the lead-in to hook the younger generations so they’re more amenable.

Although in my 60s, i’m planning on living another 30 years or so. Wtf the world will look like in 2050 will be, in equal measure, fascinating and excruciating. Again, in equal measure, i feel both privileged and distraught at living through this period in human history.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago

Anyone else thinking about “A Clockwork Orange”? The potential to use this technology and future iterations to manipulate people is staggering. Put these glasses (and a new Musk ‘brain chip’) on any criminal defendant and you can read them like a book. And we won’t stop at ‘reading’ people – eventually the technology will be critical in education (or re-education) and social credit scoring. I’ll bet the developers of the ‘implicit bias’ tests will also find a way to make them into ‘racist detectors’. But let’s not think about that – let’s just focus on how awesome the virtual reality games will be.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago

Sick Sick People make this new world

Corinthians 13, KJV

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

There is no charity in these things – no humanity.

Emil Castelli
Emil Castelli
1 year ago

Sick Sick People make this new world

Corinthians 13, KJV

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

There is no charity in these things – no humanity.

Caroline Minnear
Caroline Minnear
1 year ago

I think I’ll keep my real eyeballs on my real face looking out into the real world thanks.

Caroline Minnear
Caroline Minnear
1 year ago

I think I’ll keep my real eyeballs on my real face looking out into the real world thanks.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
1 year ago

Just before you can doesn’t mean you should.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
1 year ago

Just before you can doesn’t mean you should.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

No revolution can come from a piece of kit that is over ÂŁ3k during a worldwide recession.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

No revolution can come from a piece of kit that is over ÂŁ3k during a worldwide recession.

james elliott
james elliott
1 year ago

I can’t live in this new world you are proposing.

james elliott
james elliott
1 year ago

I can’t live in this new world you are proposing.

Will K
Will K
1 year ago

To me the key benefit will be the ability to take a 13″ Macbook, throw away the 13″ display, and allow the user to see a virtual 30″ display.

Last edited 1 year ago by Will K
Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  Will K

Actually, that would be quite handy.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  Will K

Actually, that would be quite handy.

Will K
Will K
1 year ago

To me the key benefit will be the ability to take a 13″ Macbook, throw away the 13″ display, and allow the user to see a virtual 30″ display.

Last edited 1 year ago by Will K
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Oooh.. So I can actually ” virtually” sit on a settee in a leounge with my virtual pinkie extended, sip ‘ hearl Grey ( milk in first) , and worry abeout what the neighbours think, without having to go to Guildford, Tunbridge Wells or Seveneoaks?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Oooh.. So I can actually ” virtually” sit on a settee in a leounge with my virtual pinkie extended, sip ‘ hearl Grey ( milk in first) , and worry abeout what the neighbours think, without having to go to Guildford, Tunbridge Wells or Seveneoaks?