Geolocation, sex and innovation

During this year’s GikII, I presented a paper exploring some legal issues about augmented reality. We may be in the threshold of a revolution in the way we interact with mobile devices, with geolocation technology becoming more sophisticated, location-aware devices and services are increasingly relevant. The rise of Gowalla, FourSquare and similar sites opens up social media to the geolocation revolution.

There is a lot of room for making exaggerated comments about augmented reality, but anyone who is tuned into technology trends will tell you that there is something big just over the horizon. Having said that, my GikII paper mostly explored fan art and the creation of fan layers. During the question and answer session, one of the topics that was discussed was that one of the first uses of these new technologies would be porn, the deployment of sexy avatars, and the defacing of public spaces with all sort of crude symbols. I must admit that this had not crossed my mind too much, perhaps a display of my own naiveté.

However, just last week I read about Grindr in The Guardian, and a lot of pieces have started falling into place. Grindr is an iPhone app that allows users to use geolocation technology to let each other know that they are available for sexual encounters. Apparently, it has created a huge sexual revolution in the gay scene in some mayor cities, and there are plans to deploy a similar app for the heterosexual market. It is quite a commentary about modern life that sex seems to be driving innovation.

Grindr got me thinking about the potentials and pitfalls of augmented reality driven by sex. Will the sex industry drive geolocation innovation, or will it hinder it as regulators become concerned about potential misuses of the technology? I don’t think we have even started to consider the full implications of these technologies. If parents, teachers and regulators are just beginning to get to grips with sexting and other similar uses of mobile devices, then the appearance of a Grindr-like application for teenagers would completely take everyone unaware.

One thing is for certain, the technology is here. The usual warnings about genies, bottles, boxes and slippery slopes apply.

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