What Apple vs. FBI Means for VR

It's the year 2025 - we're all walking around with technogoggles on our heads, living in a mixture of virtual reality and real reality. Welcome to the future. It will be a golden one. That is, if walls in the digital garden are in place.

You see, there's a lot more at stake in the Apple vs. FBI debate than government access to your phone data. I'm no legal expert, but I am familiar with the concept of legal precedent -- decisions made today affect the future, often for decades. We're still feeling the repercussions of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, after all. But if this decision (or lack of decision) and others like it create gaps in the digital fortress, everyone is at risk -- a risk that we can foolishly underestimate looking at the technology of the present.

It is common belief today that our future world will look like Minority Report or Terminator 2. Information will be environmental, all around us. We will augment our vision to allow the mixing of digital and real objects. And eventually, all this will be reduced to a brain-machine interface that reads our minds, allowing us to interact with other humans, machines and the world in fantastical ways. Perhaps this will culminate in Matrix-style computer-simulated living.

Those who have read my prior posts know that I don't find it easy to swallow sci-fi visions of the future wholesale. Tech moves in mysterious ways, and at its best surprises everyone. However I see enough evidence to anticipate this trend: In the future, the lines between reality, the internet, and our thoughts will fade away.

This is where Apple comes in. By deciding to encrypt all data that is stored on all iPhones moving forward, Apple put a big solid wall in this ecosystem. While it turns out the feds may be able to crack it, I hope and expect in the future Apple will make even more solid walls. Their engineers, after all, are willing to give up their livelihood for our security. Why is this so important to them?

I believe Apple's engineers are motivated, not by money but more by a noble cause to protect. I don't know anyone on the Apple team, but I've known plenty of security geeks who run on this kind of fuel. Yes, I know -- hard to believe -- not everyone in the US today is driven by greed.

The walls that are being built by Apple and others in the security community are absolutely essential to prevent a most nightmarish future that only gets more scary as VR and other technologies begin to mediate the relationship between our minds/selves and the outside world. In this future world, without adequate protection the government doesn't just check your email -- it is reading your mind. The result makes the citizens of Orwell's 1984 appear to be living in some kind of anarchist free state.

This is not a debate about the benevolence of the US government. There are plenty of other bad actors -- many are talking today about the risk of outsized artificial intelligence. That AI needs to affect the world in some fashion. And mathematically impassable walls, like the one that Apple has set up on the iPhone, are perhaps the only thing that could limit the power of such an AI.

We don't need crazy AI for this risk to be very real. Short-term I am far more worried about hostile governments, rando hackers, and terrorist organizations themselves wreaking havoc if our digital security is weak. By opening a crack in the wall for the government, these other bad actors can get through.

Let's imagine for a moment the kinds of things such hackery could accomplish if we're all living in the metaverse. I could be sitting on the sidewalk having coffee while an army of drones sweeps in, artfully cloaked by my technogoggles. I could have an interaction with an entity that appears to be a loved one -- who I would certainly listen to and help, not realizing they are an artificial manifestation. I could think I was flying to Dallas, only to wake up in Beirut. I could believe I was playing a computer game, only to realize that my own intelligence is being used to fight someone who's not my enemy.

I'm not writing this post to stoke up waves of fear. I see these nightmare scenarios as unlikely. The digital safety we have today is no accident. Computer security professionals have created solid wall after solid wall. Did you notice that "http" became "https" for most major sites? The work of invisible computer security professionals, laboring away to keep us all safe.

In the future world of VR, we will need good security even more than we do today. Solid walls like the data-level encryption Apple is fighting for become much more important as technology advances. If you're excited about living in the metaverse, controlling a computer with your brain, and all these marvelous things of the future, act now to keep that future safe. As tech links computers more tightly to our senses, we need more of this kind of behavior from major tech companies like Apple standing firm on lines of security. Here's hoping that fear of this nightmare world motivates us all to keep unbreakable walls in place.