Augmented Reality

Mark Zuckerberg's cultivation of virtual reality with platforms bought for billions ($2 billion, Oculus VR) in order to make billions and to please billions drew these words from the FB entrepreneur: "One day we believe this kind of immersive virtual and augmented reality will become part of daily life for billions of people."

The term "augmented" would not have been employed by the inhabitants of Plato's Cave, who mistook images cast by fire on a wall as reality, "in the prison-house of sight," but Zuckerberg's assessment of this "reality" -- "You feel you're actually present in another place with other people" -- presumably occurred to Plato in that little story in The Republic: "To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images" and "Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him."

Oh well. One observer's "augmentation" is another's hallucination -- as users of psychotropic drugs and breast implants might confirm. Since we know so little about our own brains -- an experiment in "augmenting" illusion, giving primacy to our sense of sight (in some ways our most "authoritative" sense, but also a sense easily manipulated) may only prove that people want more special effects with their breakfast cereal.

Illusion has always made for good business and when tied to our obsessive ongoing fetishization of technology -- it may speak to the happy "billions" that Mark Zuckerberg foresees in his retinal-projected future.

The term "augmented reality" is cheerfully arrogant and inaccurate but fits perfectly into a world where business uses its "story-making tools" to erode our sense of reality with "native" news ("feels like natural content"!) imbedded in (these days) our once-staunchly editorially-independent newspapers -- TIME, The Atlantic -- even the New York Times.

Thus we might ask ourselves (we happy billions) why there has been no boosterish information about pharmaceutical companies embedded in the news regarding the potential pandemic threat of the Ebola virus? Why no celebration of a new knockout drug to combat this killer virus?

I'm just one of the billions (ok, make that scores) who fancy myself capable of sniffing out the "real reality" behind the headlines (using the olfactory sense -- that old "nose for news" reporter's tool) -- that reveals a real stink of questionable business practices.

The New York Times reported recently that the major pharmaceutical companies have not invested in "innovation" in creating new drugs since the 1980s. The new century seems not "conducive to creating the highest levels of public health" according to an expert quoted in the Times.

What does this mean? It appears that, despite that fact that drug-resistant bacteria have made the old antibiotics of the '80's obsolete, the pace of new antibiotic development by these mega-companies has slowed sharply.

However, the Times also recently ran a story with a headline that "Strong Sales of Hepatitis C Drug Put It on Pace to Become a Blockbuster" -- a story about the new hepatitis drug Sovaldi which costs $1,000 a pill, as marketed by the company Gilead Sciences.

Now let's "augment" our sniff test with a bit of inquiry. Why would the pharmaceutical companies invest in developing one type of drug over another?

Smell a rat? On what do these big pharma corporations make the biggest profit? Long-term diseases, of course! Cancers, hepatitis, blood pressure meds (in fact, the FDA just approved a new Gilead drug called Zydelig to treat three types of blood cancers).

Antibiotics treat short-term infections, they do not represent steady big pay-out profits. So, despite the fact that there's a growing roster of deadly bacterial diseases threatening the population, solidly resistant to the "old" antibiotics -- big pharmaceutical companies are not exactly rushing to our defense.

Does a mega-corporation care about about your health? Please.

Then there's the question of the possibly-spreading Ebola virus -- for which there is neither cure nor vaccine. The London Daily Mail reported that the U.S. has four drugs "in development" that may possibly arrest the deadly virus -- but also noted that "researchers say it is difficult to generate funding" for this research. But it's in no way difficult to "generate funding" for the blockbuster pills now is it?

Right. So what's the conclusion of this nosing around -- as we "augment" the news? There are two very different futures in view if we put on thinking caps instead of rose-colored glasses (yes, two outdated yet apt terms.)

A corporation might be content to sit by and watch thousands die in a pandemic -- while debating the cost-effectiveness of a life-saving drug.

But still, there's a chance that we billions may die happy, wearing those head-sets and glasses that big tech-businesses so eagerly generate funding to develop for us. However, I'd advise refraining from reading Plato on the Cave -- not that I should worry. Speaking of the "augmentation" of knowledge... nobody really reads anymore, do they?