Artificial realities: The division of body and mind will be our future


"Synthetic", artificially generated experiences could soon be as real as physical ones. But what are the consequences? - A thought experiment on the future of consumption.

This text is based on an excerpt from the study "The End of Consumption as We Know It – When data makes retail superfluous” published by the GDI in 2019 in cooperation with KPMG Germany. Download here.

Augmented Reality: familiar from Pokémon Go. Virtual Reality: we experience this in eyeglasses like Oculus. In terms of computer-brain interfaces, nanotechnologists are currently working on it. Thinking ahead, our experiences are becoming increasingly virtual - and may eventually be disconnected from the physical world. Body and mind are increasingly separated and experiences " synthesised ", so we can share them with peers.

The market for experiences will explode. There will be endless opportunities to experience new things or even sample new lives.

For both individual and society, managing interconnected brains and extended realities will become increasingly complicated. When people have a direct, wireless brain-computer interface, how will they decide who, which thoughts, and what experiences to allow into their heads?

In order to navigate these multiple realities and discover meaningful experiences, people will need tools like browsers, search engines, or story design services. And when experiences can be decomposed and broken down into individual thoughts, they will need systems that glue the fragments back together again.

decomposition of food

As with other technical revolutions, transition to the synthetic era poses three serious risks.

Confusion: The perception of alternative realities – the original and its copies – is becoming complicated. Who is the “old analog me” if the “new virtual me” has a better, happier life? Is the original me responsible if the copy goes astray or suffers hardship?

Manipulation: Whoever controls the data flow can use this power to control thoughts. Think of the cyberpunk cult film, “The Matrix.” You take the red pill and find out the truth about the Matrix controlled by intelligent machines. You take the blue pill and wake up back in your normal life.

Navigation: It is never easy to differentiate between alternative realities and to move between them. The multiplication of alternative reality options drastically increases the degree of difficulty. How will we cope with these realities?

For this new world, we will need navigation systems to tell us what reality we are in at the moment. Political, economic and social instruments that counteract abuse of power must be developed. And legal norms for the responsibility of digital identities will be needed. Whether there is cause for concern depends on how we respond to the risks.