Future object permanence

When you were a small child you learned about object permanence: Even when you are not looking at an object, it continues to exist. If you put your teddy bear on a particular shelf in your closet before you leave for school, it will still be there when you return.

When we are all wearing mixed reality glasses (or contact lenses or implants) object permanence for many things won’t be a necessity. More and more of the “built world” we see around us will be virtual constructs, unconstrained by the laws of physics and inertia.

Yet we may choose to impose a virtual object permanence anyway. When we place a virtual object in a particular place in the physical world, we might wish to impose constraints upon that object’s behavior, so that it stays where we have put it.

To me the question of how much — or even whether — we will do this, in the long run, is quite deep. It comes down to the following question: Is object permanence an intrinsic feature of our biological human brain, or is it simply an adaptation that our brain makes in childhood in response to encountering the physical world?

If the latter case is true, that increases the possibilities for a mixed reality future. If object permanence is not an intrinsic feature of our human brain, we may end up evolving as a social species to replace it with something far more fluid and flexible.

Of course children will still want to find their teddy bear when they get home from school. But in the future, maybe they will just Google it.

2 Responses to “Future object permanence”

  1. I’ve been thinking A LOT about the developmental implications of mixed reality for future generations. The interesting thing about object permanence is also that it is the precursor not only to a bunch of stuff we learn about the PHYSICAL world, but much more importantly (at least for me) is that it’s fundamental to loads of social learning we do. On top of object permanence we build the capacity for predicting our social world (or not, if it’s not very predictable). It forms the foundation of separation distress, shared perspective-taking, theory of mind, and so on. So… googling for your teddy bear would be kind of awesome. But what about when you google for your mom when you’re scared at night and she doesn’t come. Or she DOES come, but it’s her avatar… because she’s at work. And 4 years later, equipped with a theory of mind, you realize that the woman who is picking you up when you just fell is much less patient, kind, and sympathetic than the woman who’s been comforting you at bedtime? Will parents be able to send their best predictable, soothing and sensitive selves in avatar form to their babies, to make sure they develop a secure attachment? So much to think about…

  2. admin says:

    Very good point!

    I think you are ahead of me in your thinking about this. From my understanding of the current state of Machine Learning, it will be a while before we can make an A.I. version of mommy that a child’s theory of mind would confuse with the real thing.

    Of course it’s still only 2018. Who knows what advances we may see in A.I. over the coming decade.

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