In the video game development industry, there are terms like ‘re-skin’ and ‘cosmetic changes’ which refers to change in the appearance of any object in the game world. I am pretty sure you are familiar with dozen clones of Flappy Bird game. All of them have the same underlying mechanics but have different visuals and aesthetics, that’s it! The exacts the same concept with different looks.
With advances in the field of Augmented and Virtual realities, we are now able to create whole new worlds. Countless companies and startups are working on digitizing one’s being; to create Avatars. These avatars are the manifestation of one’s presence in a digital form. From Apple’s Animoji to Pinscreen, different technologies exist to assist you in creating a digital representation of yourself, with minimum efforts. Some of these techs are fully automated; some of them require more tunings.
Usually, these technologies allow oneself to customize their (digital) appreance; But the real question here is what happens if you allow to “re-skin” everything and everyone! What happens if some third party imposes the (digital) appearance?
One use case that I am particularly interested in is the possible effect of de-biasing these technologies might have. I have witnessed lots of discussion in my life in which the root cause of disagreement wasn’t the “subject” but the person who presents it! Sadly, most people care about who is expressing a concept, rather than the concept itself.
Digital avatars are giving us a great opportunity here to study how people engage in a discussion without having their strong priors toward/against something. We can now alter one’s identity, gender, and even sound without great difficulty. But the golden question here is how these things affect the quality of the discussion itself.
NEO//QAB is a speculative design project by Rilla Khaled (Associate Professor of Concordia University) that introduces the concept of digitally manipulable fabric. This design took its inspiration from multi-cultural countries like Canada and France. Countries with secularism at their roots and with a massive stream of immigration with different cultures and religions. Allowing one person to change the appearance of others for a wide range of purposes is at the root of NEO//QAB. I think this design is neat, but the direction is not exciting. What happens we allow this kind of altering in a non-secular country?
You can learn more about this here