This fictional short story was written to help visualize our roadmap and the future as we hope it unfolds. It’s a privacy-perserving vision and alternative to the dystopian surveillance capitalist version of AR being built by the likes of Meta, Google, and Niantic.
It is the first story in a series of many, written by guest authors and Auki Labs staff.
How many people does it take to deliver a lightbulb? Anton smiled to himself as he carefully wrapped his used smart lightbulbs to send to his mother. She had finally caved to modernity on her last visit — she quipped that it sure would be nice to have voice controlled lighting in the living room.
Christmas is sorted, Anton had thought to himself, finally finding use for his drawer full of dusty old bulbs long since replaced by smarter, sleeker and nerdier lighting. His new lights were the real deal, and the centerpiece of his home. They weren’t just emitting light, they were sensors in their own right. The built-in ultra-wideband transceivers triangulated amongst themselves and Anton’s various robots, devices and goggles. This allowed the devices to know their precise locations within his home. He even had ambient LiDAR and camera units placed strategically around the apartment to continuously capture the topography of his home, securely and privately stored on the hard drive of his smart home’s central hub. All of this allowed him to wear a pair of AR glasses that didn’t even have a camera of their own. More private that way. They found their position through talking to the transceivers across his home, and accessed a detailed topographic map of his whole domain, rather than what was in his visual field, from the smart hub.
The direct integration with his lighting and topographical data meant that his AR glasses could render matterless items with incredible fidelity, even matching the lighting conditions of his room. It had cost him a pretty penny, to be sure, but now he could walk around his house without worrying about big brother Zuck seeing his partner in the nude.
The answer to the question of how many people it takes to deliver a lightbulb, Anton knew, varied by time of day, your location, and how many Gepek credits you’re willing to burn to get your package to where it needs to be. The delivery industry used to be dominated by unimaginably large corporations, many of which had been in their position of unchallenged hegemony since the days of horse and carriage. Back then, you had to haul your ass to your local shipping center, fill out a form, show your ugly ID, listen to the monotonous voice of some joyless clerk asking you if you wanted to buy insurance, and then wait a good two or three days before the package arrived to the next town over — a drive you could have made yourself in half an hour. This inefficient oligopoly had been broken up over the last few years, as the world quickly came to terms with the simple realization that, chances are, someone is already going.
Now, sending carefully wrapped lightbulbs to your mom was a lot simpler, and Anton was just old enough to be a little bit grateful that he didn’t have to hustle down to the old FedEx office, or god forbid, the dusty old hallways of the national postal service. Anton was a repeat customer. He sends a lot of stuff, got a lot of friends, ain’t got much time. He’d been known to carry a package or two himself, back in the day, when cash was tighter. He had racked up over 9000 credits in the system by now, meaning his packages were sent VIP — insurance included, convenient drop-off, same day delivery or cash back. Anton would announce the destination of his package, and a slew of algorithms with various degrees of sophistication would come together to figure out how to get his package where it needed to go. Since this was an out-of-town delivery to Soblinec, things were bound to get exciting.
“Hey Cinnamon, I want to send these to my mom,” Anton spoke out loud. Cinnamon was his virtual assistant, a matterless fox that quickly materialized in his field of view right next to the neatly packaged gift for his mother. He tapped with one hand right next to the package, and Cinnamon sauntered over to give the appearance of measuring the package, but the illusion was just to appeal to Anton’s human sentimentality. In reality, the optical sensors and cameras carefully placed and hidden across his apartment were constantly updating the topography of his private domain, which was how Cinnamon actually perceived the world. Visual indicators flashed across his glasses as computer vision routines semantically segmented the package, allowing Cinnamon to enter its dimensions into the Gepek delivery request.
“Does the package exceed 500 grams in weight?” The question had appeared as a speech bubble over Cinnamon’s cartoonish fox features, and Anton subtly shook his head.
“Nah, don’t think so, should be fine.”
“Overweight packages may incur a fee, do you wish to proceed?” Anton hesitated for a split second before giving Cinnamon the go-ahead.
He was instructed to bring the package downstairs to his nearest bus stop, where there was a conveniently placed deposit box allocated for his delivery. He would need to leave the package in the box in the next 18 minutes, or the designated pickup wouldn’t work. If he missed that window, some of his hard-earned credits would be burned and his reputation on the network reduced. Not a problem. Anton slipped into his flip-flops, down the elevator, and onto the street.
The package was securely signed into the Gepek box in just under three minutes.
A few minutes later, a passenger riding the tram downtown would pick up the package and take it with her to her destination, where she’d drop it into another Gepek box. She’d get 5 bucks for her trouble, and move on with her day. Once there, the package would be picked up by an autonomous drone that would in turn drop off the package in a special carry-basket that almost one in six cars has mounted on their roofs. A Rimac-made robotaxi had announced that it was going to Soblinec, and made its carry-basket available to the drone. It didn’t matter that the robotaxi wasn’t going to Anton’s mom’s house, as there was already another autonomous drone ready to pick up the package from the robotaxi in transit.
If it wasn’t for the dashboard notifications, the passenger of the robotaxi probably wouldn’t even have noticed the package being dropped off in the carry-basket and then picked up again by another drone just before he arrived where he was going. The drones could do this while the car was moving, positioning themselves relative to the car using the same ultra-wideband triangulation protocols that were in Anton’s lightbulbs and glasses, thanks to a dense city-spanning network of UWB nodes largely owned by a local telco, who had once made its money selling cellphone minutes and internet data to consumers back when people still used phones to interact with the internet. These days, most cellphone carriers made their money on virtual real estate and positioning services, letting apps and robots and AR glasses find their place in the world by bouncing off the myriad nodes they had distributed across the world.
Some carriers had been particularly clever, selling people like Anton gadgets for the home that enabled positioning and persistent AR, while at the same time moonlighting to position other errant robots and apps nearby. In the metaverse era, the infrastructure to own is the positioning grid, and telcos had been quick on the ball. Most homes have at least two positioning devices with enough range to make a few extra cents per day providing positioning to outsiders, and these days you can find a positioning node in pretty much every street lamp, cash register or other what-have-you connected to the power grid. With tens of billions of devices connected to the Aukiverse positioning grid, the calibration fees quickly add up. They say the calibration network will generate a trillion dollars in calibration fees alone by 2035. The peer-to-peer positioning grid anchors everything from Anton’s virtual companion Cinnamon, to self-driving cars, to autonomous delivery drones, to the robot that vacuums Anton’s floor.
So, how many people did it take to deliver a lightbulb? One tram passenger, two drones, two deposit boxes and a robotaxi going about its day with a passenger that’s none the wiser. Total delivery time was just over half an hour, and it only cost Anton 20 bucks and a trip down to the bus stop. Merry Christmas, mom.
-Nils Pihl, 2022