Edward Snowden said he hasn’t played a whole lot of Pokémon Go, but he does believe the augmented reality (AR) game that takes place in the physical world has had a huge impact this year. Its legacy, Snowden said, will go far beyond gaming to affect not just how people see the world but how they see and treat each other.

Snowden shared his thoughts on Tuesday with Real Future senior editor Kashmir Hill at the Real Future Fair in Oakland.

Pokémon Go “gives us ideas and raises possibilities for how this technology could apply in ways that aren’t just for entertainment,” Snowden said.

One day, AR may be able to “tell you how to get to the hospital or a job interview or whatever, but also tell you about your political history, what’s going in the country, who lives where, where a meeting is, where you have influence, what happened here, was there a police killing of an unarmed individual here…”


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One of the reasons Pokémon Go has been so successful, he said, is that it allows people to interact with augmented reality in high-traffic areas without the need for anything more than a smartphone.

AR will go from smartphones to HoloLens to plain eyeglasses, Snowden predicts, and will become an ever-present part of people’s lives. When that happens, people may begin to see each other differently.

The potential use of AR for history, politics, even potential real-world ad-blocking of billboards may be the upside. Downside: As AR matures beyond gaming, Snowden believes augmented reality in the real world could evolve to become a “tyranny of the majority” and could be used for harassment and abuse.

“You realize that you are not just looking at the world in a different way, but you’re relating to it in a different way, and these have very powerful beneficial possibilities that could come out…but also very dark possibilities,” he said.

See Snowden’s remarks in full in the video below.

The perceived dangers represented by Pokémon Go were also addressed this summer at Comic-Con by Snowden biopic director Oliver Stone, who called the game “surveillance capitalism.”

Despite the fact that Snowden cannot physically return to the United States, he joined the event Tuesday and did the entire interview with a Beam Pro, a robot on wheels.

Technology, he said, has reshaped what it means to be a political dissident or whistleblower. Today it’s a robot. In the future you may be able to “meet” whistleblowers and political dissidents in VR or AR.

“We are living through an extraordinarily historic moment. We are witnessing the end of exile as an effective tool of political repression,” Snowden said. “We have this extraordinary revolution in VR tech, and now it’s moving to the next stage of potential, which is augmented reality, and the idea here is that in the coming years, I may not be in a body with wheels. I may not be a body that has a physical presence at all. But despite the fact that you cannot touch it, it may feel even more real.”

Even as he offered predictions about AR, Snowden admitted that nobody — himself included — knows what’s next.

“I don’t think we can say yet if this is going to be a blessing or a curse. What I think we can say is that we are living in a moment of possibility that will allow us to reshape not only the way we relate to technology, but the way we relate to each other. And I think it’s more important than it has ever been, certainly in the most recent decades, that we are aware of what’s occurring in this political moment and we put our hands on the scale to shift it to a relatively brighter future.”

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