Interfacer for Reduction of Discrimination and Harassment


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Recovering Personal Control of Visual Proximity through Virtual Reality


4 Dec 2017 – A range of highly controversial issues can be understood as associated with enforced visual exposure to people of distinctive colour, physiognomy, dress, hair style, and the like. This is evident with respect to discrimination by gender (and otherwise), fashions, multiculturalism, immigration, and sexual harassment. There is a case for recognizing the opportunities offered by virtual reality in this regard, now that widespread release of virtual reality headsets and smartglasses is expected within a year or so, if not in the coming months. The technology is predicted to develop very rapidly thereafter.

The argument here is that such glasses could allow people to reconfigure the visual aspects of people with whom they are confronted — modifying colour, physiognomy, and dress. Hence use of Interfacer — as the proposed name for such a device — beyond the currently constrained functionality of Facebook and Skype, for example. Such recovery of control is already evident to a degree in the use of variously tinted glasses, protective masks (against air pollution, germs), and earphones (to reconfigure the soundscape to which people prefer to be attentive). Virtual reality glasses will be able to perform an equivalent function with respect to the visual environment beyond their foreseen use in exposing people to advertising messages relevant to a local physical environment through which the the user is passing — itself a form of increased harassment, unless blocked.

The concern here is whether such an application can be adapted to respond usefully to the visual dimension of interpersonal harassment and discrimination — the challenge of “in your face” confrontation. A variant of the technology could well be developed for use with personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and applications like Skype — as well as for TV reception. In all these cases the concern is whether the viewer can recover control of the style of the presenter in an environment in which policy increasingly imposes choices which may be far from those preferred.

Just as a viewer is free to change channels, the viewer could be enabled to change the colour, dress, voice, and physical aspects of any presenter or discussant. Such an approach introduces an extra degree of freedom into an increasingly charged complex of policy constraints. The viewer is freed from whatever is perceived as an irritating imposition and the broadcaster is free to make a wider choice of presenters — knowing that viewers will reconfigure them according to their preference. Aspects of these possibilities are already evident in web design and the options for personalization of the browsing experience by the user.

The need for Interfacer is also evident in relation to the emergence of humanoid robots foreseen for the immediate future as performing a variety of service tasks requiring interaction with people, and possibly enabling a strange form of revolution (Forthcoming Major Revolution in Global Dialogue: challenging new world order of interactive communication, 2013). Rather than depending on any particular skilled design of the robot to offer a greater semblance of humanity (constrained by colour, facial features, and the like), people interacting with such robots via virtual reality could clothe and configure them according to preference. This reduces the challenge for the designers of robots — or the human-machine interface — in endeavouring to please the maximum number of people with whom the robot is expected to interact agreeably. Many would obviously be alienated by whatever compromise design choice is made for all.

Some dimensions of the challenge of reconfiguring or reinventing another have already been addressed. The marketing of clothes can already be facilitated by providing a simulation of the client wearing a potential clothing choice. The images of the client and the dress are then merged by software. This approach is extended to some degree to hairstyles and to the potential consequences of cosmetic surgery. Especially intriguing is the design of avatars for use in virtual worlds — a process which can already be explored on the web.

The basic argument for Interfacer is that it reinforces the recognition that triggers for discrimination and harassment are “in the eyes of the beholder”. Enabling the user to reframe what is seen offers a means of avoiding such triggers and recovering a higher degree of personal control of the encounter with others — possibly to be caricatured as providing a set of “high-tech blinkers“. More succinctly, Interfacer offers a means of “internalizing” discrimination — rendering subjective — otherwise experienced as harassment by others through its projection onto them. Ironically, through virtual reality, discrimination could then be said to be “virtualized”.

Expressed otherwise, people have to recover the right to reframe those encountered. They may well have to take responsibility for doing so in an environment characterized by increasingly fake imagery complementing fake news.

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