Have you ever thought about using Snapchat’s filters during sex? Try it! It could really up your role-playing game—you could turn your partner into a Disney princess, a cat, or even a strawberry! As soon as we overcome the turn-off of holding a bulky piece of glass and rare-earth metals between you and your lover, augmented-reality sex could become the next big kink thing.
Augmented reality (AR) uses a technological interface—such as a smartphone or Google Glass-like goggles, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens—to overlay computer-generated images on top of your real vision, fusing a virtual world with your own. Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go have been the two breakout examples of this nascent tech thus far, but Silicon Valley is only just getting started. This technology will soon saturate every part of daily life—including our sex lives.
Since AR overlays whatever virtual images we want to the real world, it will release us from the permanence of our given biological features and allow us to alter our appearance on the fly. When we apply this tech to our most private moments, it will also allow for the quirkiest of our fantasies to become visually real.
This will be an entirely different experience from virtual-reality sex. In VR sex, the totality of your real, intimate experience is replaced by a virtual one. In AR sex, however, your real, intimate experience won’t be replaced—it’ll be enriched and heightened. The realness of the other will still be there—the touch, the emotion, the energy—but you’ll be able to project whatever visuals you wish on top of them. The tech is approaching maturity quickly: You can already create a 3D model of anyone’s face from their photos using photogrammetry software. Coupled with today’s level of facial tracking, you could soon be able to turn your partner into anyone: celebrities, fictional characters, your ex, or even your friend’s cute fiancé.
AR will also bring online dating to the next level. If you’re just looking for a hook-up, why worry about matching with the right person on Tinder when you could just apply whichever facial filter you want to the first person you swipe right on? Porn stars will sell access to detailed models of their faces and bodies, and new privacy laws will emerge to protect celebrities and citizens alike from their digitized forms being hacked and used as aphrodisiacs. “U up?” will become “I got a full-detail Kanye West fbx, 50k+ polygons. Come over?”
It won’t just be about seeing whatever you want to see—once we’re all wearing AR headsets (or contact lenses), you’ll be able to control how other people see you, too. Forget facelifts, implants, or time-consuming make-up contouring: AR will be a cheaper, safer, non-permanent way to enhance your appearance. You’ll be able to overlay your fresh, tanned face from your last holiday for your next date—or why not have a program analyze your potential partner’s taste to determine the best possible cheekbone structure to make them fall for you? Professional dating experts can already assist you in creating a highly rated dating-app profile, so why not let them style your actual appearance, too?
You might not need to date a real human at all. Japan has already bots that replace the uncomfortable compromises of a real-life relationship with the safe, predictable companionship of artificial intelligence, tirelessly supporting you through long work nights, and always giving you love when you need it most.
There will inevitably be a backlash to the AR revolution. A counter-movement will arise, cherishing our biological bodies and arguing that these technologies are just another mask obstructing us from our “true self.”
But this “true self” is often tied to our physical appearance and confines us to fixed societal positions. Concepts like “natural” and “biological” are more often than not exploited as arguments for racism and sexism. The ability to change the appearance of one’s gender, ethnicity, age, and body would provide a temporary alleviation of discrimination in a deeply unfair world. For example, what if you could choose which face to wear for your next job interview? Technology will never solve these deeply ingrained social issues, but as it could allow us much more control over first impressions—and hence more control over how we are positioned within society—it could be used to circumvent oppressive systems.
If this technology one day becomes available to all, we will be freed from our biological restraints. This radically rewrites our visual conception of identity, making the flesh face obsolete as the ultimate signifier of who we are and allowing us to always be whoever we want. As Laboria Cuboniks writes in the Xenofeminist manifesto, “Alienation is the labor of freedom’s construction.”
These AR technologies might initially produce a visually homogenous world as we all strive to look like the same idealized version of beauty, like a real-life version of a Korean beauty contest. But they also carry the potential to produce a vastly more heterogeneous one if we allow ourselves to have some fun. Your morning subway ride could be filled with superheroes, you’d buy your coffee from Skeletor, and make small talk at the stoplights with a weird fusion of Amy Winehouse and Stephen Fry while dodging a dozen smiling Trumps beasts on the street.
But what happens when we turn the tech off? We’ll become our own portraits of Dorian Gray, sparkly and vivid through layers of code, hollow and unrecognizable without it. Will we get so used to augmentation that we’ll become creeped out and put-off by our real faces? When the battery dies and you see your partner’s face for the first time in weeks, gloomy, bleak, and incongruously human—that’s the biggest buzzkill of all.
We’re still waiting for accessible hardware that will beam virtual images straight into our eyes, which will enable this glitchy and chaotic post-real future to manifest. Meanwhile, we might wish to have a look around us, take a walk, and cherish the last period in human history where we still share the same reality.