(inspired by a conversation with Cory Doctorow about how a kid's high-tech rented eyes might be turned toward favored products in the cereal aisle)
At two million dollars outright, of course I couldn't afford to buy eyes for my four-year-old daughter Eva. So, like everyone else whose kids had been blinded by the GuGuBoo Toy company's defective dolls (may its executives rot in bankruptcy Hell), I rented the eyes. What else could I possibly do?
Unlike some parents, I actually read the Eye & Ear Company's contract. So I knew part of what we were in for. If we didn't make the monthly payments, her eyes would shut off. We agreed to binding arbitration. We agreed to a debt-priority clause, to financial liability for eye extraction, to automatic updates. We agreed that from time to time the saccade patterns of her eyes would be subtly adjusted so that her gaze would linger over advertisements from companies that partnered with Eye & Ear Co. We agreed that in the supermarket, Eva's eyes would be gently maneuvered toward the Froot Loops and the M&Ms.
When the updates came in, we always had the legal right to refuse them. We could, hypothetically, turn off Eva's eyes, then have them surgically removed and returned to Eye & Ear Co. Each new rental contract was thus technically voluntary.
When Eva was seven, the new updater threatened shutoff unless we transferred $1000 into a debit account. Her updated eyes contained new software to detect any copyrighted text or images she might see. Instead of buying copyrighted works in the usual way, we agreed to have a small fee deducted from our account for each work Eva viewed. Instead of paying $4.99 for the digital copy of a Dr Seuss book, Eye & Ear would deduct $0.50 each time she read the book. Video games might be free with ads, or $0.05 per play, or $0.10, or even $1.00. Since our finances were tight, we set up parental controls: Eva's eyes required parental permission for any charge over $0.99 or any cumulative charges over $5.00 in a day -- and of course they also blocked any "adult" material. Until we granted approval, blocked or unpaid material was blurred and indecipherable, even if she was just peeking over someone's shoulder at a book or walking past a television in a dentist's lobby.
When Eva was ten, the updater overlaid advertisements in her visual field. It helped keep the rental costs down. (We could have bought out of the ads for an extra $6,000 a year.) The ads never interfered much with Eva's vision -- they just kind of scrolled across the top of her visual field sometimes, Eva told us, or printed themselves onto clouds and the sides of buildings.
By the time Eva was thirteen, I'd finally risen to a managerial position at work, and we could afford the new luxury eyes for her. By adjusting the settings, Eva could see infrared at night. She could zoom in on distant objects. She could bug out her eyes and point them in different directions like some sort of weird animal, to take in a broader field of view. She could also take snapshots and later retrieve them with a subvocalization -- which gave her a great advantage at school over her normal-eyed and cheaper-eyed peers. Installed software could text-search through stored snapshots, solve mathematical equations, and pull relevant information from the internet. When teachers tried to ban such enhancements from the classroom, Eye & Ear fought back, arguing that the technology had become so integral to the children's lives that it couldn't be removed without disabling them. Eye & Ear refused to develop the technology to turn off the enhancement features, and no teacher could realistically prevent a kid from blinking and subvocalizing.
By the time Eva was seventeen it looked like she and the two other kids at her high school with luxury eye rentals would more or less have their choice among elite universities. I refused to believe the rumors about parents intentionally blinding their children so that they too could rent eyes.
When Eva turned twenty, all the updates -- not just the cheap ones -- required that you accept the "acceleration" technology. Companies contracted with Eye & Ear to privilege their messages and materials for faster visual processing. Pepsi paid a hundred million dollars a year so that users' eyes would prioritize resolving Pepsi cans and Pepsi symbols in the visual scene. Coca Cola cans and symbols were "deprioritized" and stayed blurry unless you focused on them for a few seconds. Loading stored images worked similarly. A remembered scene with a Pepsi bottle in it would load almost instantly. One with a Coke bottle would take longer and might start out fuzzy or fragmented.
Eye & Ear started to make glasses for the rest of us, which imitated some of the functions of the implants. Of course they were incredibly useful. Who wouldn't want to take snapshots, see in the dark, zoom into the distance, get internet search and tagging? We all rented whatever versions we could afford, signed the annual terms and conditions, received the updates. We wore them pretty much all day, even in the shower. The glasses beeped alarmingly whenever you took them off, unless you went through a complex shutdown sequence.
When the "Johnson for President" campaign bought an acceleration, the issue went all the way to the Supreme Court. Johnson's campaign had paid Eye & Ear to prioritize the perception of his face and deprioritize the perception of his opponent's face, prioritize the visual resolution and recall of his ads, deprioritize the resolution and recall of his opponent's ads. Eva was now a high-powered lawyer in a New York firm, on the fast track toward partner. She worked for the Johnson campaign, though I wouldn't have thought it was like her. Johnson was so authoritarian, shrill, and right-wing -- or at least it seemed so to me, when I took my glasses off.
Johnson favored immigration restrictions, and his opponent claimed (but never proved) that Eye & Ear implemented an algorithm that highlighted people's differences in skin tone -- making the lights a little lighter, the darks a little darker, the East Asians a bit yellow. Johnson won narrowly, before his opponent's suit about the acceleration had made it through the appeals process. It didn't hit the high court until a month after Johnson's inauguration. Eva helped prepare Johnson's defense. Eight of the nine justices were over eighty years old. They lived stretched lives with enhanced longevity and of course all the best implants. They heard the case through the very best ears.
Possible Cognitive and Cultural Effects of Video Lifelogging (Apr 21, 2016)
Photo: HAL 9000 resurrected by Ram Yoga, doubled.