In the late 20th Century, Japan introduced a computer game about pocket monsters that soon conquered the world. “Collect them all” was the famous saga’s slogan, and its popularity caused mass hysteria not only among kids but also adults. These super-powered creatures became the subject of arguments and discussions, scandals, and controversies. In the ‘90s, it was believed that pokemons were evil because they promoted violence and distracted kids from real life. 20 years later, their opinion remains unchanged: “Pokemons ought to be banned.”
A couple of years ago, Google decided to play a trick and released on April 1 a celebratory video called Pokemon Challenge. People were shown looking for Pokemon in the most unusual places using their smartphones, which at the time seemed like a perfectly innocent activity. Nobody thought anything of it, until the Day X came on July 6, 2016.
The mobile device game titled Pokemon GO grabbed the attention of the entire world by releasing hundreds of pocket monsters into the real world. Sounds like fantasy, doesn’t it? But the Alternative Reality (AR) technology was long trying to break out into the world of the living, though it happened only now.
Initially, the game wasavailable in only three countries: Australia, New Zealand, and the US. But that did not keep users from bypassing the system and downloading Pokemons by other means.
As during the ‘90s, the Gameboy era, the player is supposed to train his charges, interact with other users, and do battle. But if at that time the battlefield was virtual, this time it’s real. In order to find the monster one has to move through one’s own surroundings, ideally looking at what’s under one’s feet. The concept of supplemented reality means that your smartphone’s camera captures the necessary image and enables you to see the Pokemon only by looking at your screen. Naturally, this proved the undoing of many. In the first half hour of Pokemon GO release, one boy fell into a ditch and hurt his leg. There would be more like him.
The world literally went crazy, and the news feeds around the world were choked by Pokemon news. Really, why worry about the real world if Pikachu is just outside the gates of “Private Property” and has to be caught. Monster hunters staring at their smartphones have ventured forth, spreading chaos around them. They get hit by cars, cause accidents, traverse trash dumps, and break into other people’s homes. One Frenchman even infiltrated an Indonesian military base, an Australian pair fell into a spiders’ nest, and these are not isolated incidents. People everywhere are prioritizing virtual reality, thus placing themselves and people around them in danger.
For example, “Russian Railroads” issued a warning to players on its official web site not to enter their sites, while others don’t even issue warning and simply shoot. An inhabitant of Florida opened fire at adolescents who, playing Pokemon GO at night, turned up next to his house. He thought they were preparing a burglary.
It’s only a matter of time before Pokemon will be used for malevolent purposes. The first such indicators are already in evidence. US criminals designated their location as Pokestop, or a site where one can rest and replenish resources, waited there to ambush naïve adolescents. 11 individuals were robbed of their money, smartphones and, most likely, their pride.
The game instantly made enemies in just two weeks after its release. Monsters are not choosing only hard to reach places, but also sacred ones, which also narrowed the circle of supporters.
Pokemon appeared in the vicinity of Krakow, on the territory of the Auschwitz death camp memorial center, at US military cemeteries, and also at the US Holocaust Museum where one monster was gassing his enemies. Museum staff asked visitors not to catch Pokemon at the facility, since such behavior would not be appropriate at an institution dedicated to the victims of Nazism. But not everyone is holding these monsters in disrepute. For example, in Arizona a church serves as a training site for Pokemon hunters. Local priests were not upset and even placed an appropriate sign near the church.
In Russia, the staff of the State GULAG History Museum captured a Pokemon on a photo and uploaded it to Instagram, while a St. Peterburg synagogue gave a student kosher bottle of wine as a reward for catching a monster. Pokemon-mania has captured all layers of society, including celebrities and ordinary mortals. Everyone is trying to make money off the game’s insane popularity, or to draw more people into their spheres of activity. But what if it’s not all as simple as that?
Right now the world is laughing at Trump’s efforts to blacken Hillary by turning her into a Pokemon, while tomorrow Pokemon will be laughing at us.
In our era, when the world is in a grip of an information war no less dangerous than a real one, this phenomenon makes it unlikely it’s just a game. A programmer has already published on a web service the basic Pokemon GO script, enabling Google Maps to slow the locations of all virtual monsters located in the vicinity of specified coordinates. If the mobile app openly provides information to any advanced user, what does it say about intelligence services which are oriented on collecting information and on disrupting countries’ spiritual bonds.
FSB retired Major General Aleksandr Mikhailov, a veteran of Russian secret services, believes that Western intelligence could have come up with the game as a means of collecting information. The app is being used by military personnel and officials, and secret installations may be photographed by smartphone cameras.
“All of that without any compulsion or recruitment. That’s an ideal way to collect data by secret services. Nobody will even pay any attention, since it’s a fashionable form of entertainment.
The game’s technical peculiarities mean its potential for gathering intel are huge, and there is evidence supporting the thesis that was the original intent.
Pokemon GO’s chief developer is Niantic Labs company, which was once a Google start-up engaged in virtual reality work. Its founder, John Hank, is the creator of the Keyhole cartographic project which later became Google Earth. Keyhole was financed by the In-Q-Tel venture capital fund created in 1999 on the CIA’s behest. It’s clear enough why they need high-tech inventions. Using money provided through seeming benefactors, the CIA fund supported innovative technologies in order to be able to conceal its participation, just in case. As we know, Google is highly receptive to US government’s demands, and US citizens have long felt concern about their personal data’s security. It was clear that all that information was not enough for the CIA. They could not penetrate secret facilities, homes, or offices. But now it seems the problem has been solved.
Once you install Pokemon GO, you agree to have data collected and you abandon any future claims. Usually nobody reads the app contract, which is unfortunate. Because it starts like this: “We collaborate with state agencies and private firms. We may share with them any information about you or your child…” While playing the game, you are using the camera, geolocation, gyroscope, and microphone, which means you are practically under a magnifying glass. Running around the city in search of Pokemons, you are enthusiastically filling the gaps in foreign intel services’ knowledge.
In addition to the collection of data, the game opens a range of other possibilities that can make the damage worse.
For example, US pastor Rick Wiles suspects Pokemon in aiding ISIS terrorists. He raised the question, “What if Islamist jihadis have a special app which gives them the locations of Christians?”
It’s also wholly possible similar games will appear later, but instead of catching Pokemon people will be hunting immigrants or Muslims, shooting at them using virtual weapons. All one needs to do is to create a Pokepost or a training facility, gather a bunch of adolescents who don’t care about rules, and voila! It’s done. Mass disorders, inter-ethnic conflict or, even worse, a terrorist attack.
Even today the huge crowds of monster-hunters create significant problems.
In a suburb of Sydney, Australia, more than a thousand people gathered to hunt a rare Pokemon. They made noise, scattered trash, and drank alcohol throughout the night. Local inhabitants couldn’t bear it and started to throw eggs and water bombs at them.
In Seattle, a facebook user published a video showing hundreds of players going on a hunt.
“I honestly thought the case of Central Park in New York and its unique Pokemon was one of a kind. A rethinking is in order…”
Undirected crowds are terrifying, but if someone is pulling at its strings, its more terrifying still.
The Fox TV channel recently published a parody video starring Homer Simpson ignoring his kids and playing Pokemon GO. So far people with a sense of humor believe they are observing mass delusion, since the phenomenon barely concerns them.
The Dutch firm TRNDlabs is promising the upcoming arrival of the Pokedrone, to make the hunts easier, and Nintendo already released a bracelet which vibrates if a monster is nearby. These are useful people tracking and even direction tools. What prevents one from reprogramming the bracelet in order to make their zombie-with-smartphone wearers go where they are supposed to go.
But Pokemon does have its defenders. Usually they have only one argument: it’s a healthy game which makes one leave one’s house and walk. Right.
Supplemented Reality Technology Background Information
According to Wikipendia, Supplemented Reality is mixed reality created using virtual reality “supplements” generated by computers (with real objects being installed in one’s field of view). Supplemented reality is a popular and promising direction of engineering and technological thought. It is well embedded in sports broadcasting, architecture, navigation, and military technologies. Once perfected, it will appear in other spheres of life.
One might think that the supplemented reality was simply created for games and interaction as its potential is breathtaking. It has been long in use by the military.
However, applications available to date are very costly to develop tools used to, for example, visualize placing a piece of furniture in a real room.
One of the problems lies in the gadgets’ inability to precisely and consistently estimate distance, and therefore judge the scale and size of real-world objects. Tags are used to overcome that limitation, so that the device can orient itself and receive the parameters of the surroundings. There are many options when it comes to assessing distance, from binocular vision to laser rangefinders, but contemporary smartphones and tablets have only a single-lens camera fixed in one direction. Moreover, consistent recognition of real world objects demands significant processing capabilities (Nature required several hundred million years of evolution to overcome that problem) and depends on many factors including the camera’s quality and condition, lighting, color calibration, etc. Therefore at its current stage of development, supplemented reality has not grown beyond technology demonstrators.
This state will not continue indefinitely, since the necessary components are relatively cheap and technologies are in advanced stages of development (and Moore’s Law is still in force), so sooner or later mass produced devices will have the necessary capabilities to erase the border between the virtual and real worlds.
Gathering Open Source Information
The era of Agent 007 spies is over, the bulk of needed information may be acquired using open sources, the huge masses of data which is openly published, which is no longer in the realm of science fiction thanks to the advances in computing power.
One of the first well known cases of valuable intel gathering from open sources was the acquisition by Dmitriy Ivanovich Mendeleyev the formula for smokeless powder production in 1891. Dmitriy Ivanovich, in the course of an “official business visit” to France, where he analyzed open information on railroad shipments to a factory, was able to come up with a sufficiently precise proportion of components. Russian smokeless powder, which represented an improvement over the French original, was tested shortly afterwards.
In our time, the volume of openly available information is greater by orders of magnitude, with each of us generating hundreds of megabytes of data every day simply walking down the street, chatting with friends, not to mention using the internet. IT giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are perfectly capable of extracting personal data on specific users without needing personal data that is the subject of so much controversy. The huge pile of data from various sources makes it possible to know virtually everything about a specific individual.
Pokemon GO is far from being the first game which captured the hearts and minds of millions. The data concerning the actions and behavior of players and user data from, for example, Google, are sufficient to establish a comprehensive individual psychological profile, which would enable specialists to develop “approaches” toward officials or officers. Pokemon GO turns a new page in the gaming industry by introducing mass supplemented reality technology. This in turn makes it possible to collect data not only about the location and device use, but also pictures from the individual camera.
But that doesn’t mean that the contemporary warriors of the invisible front, with their keyboards slung over their shoulders, have it easy.
First of all, high-res pictures, not to mention video streams, represent a serious burden on the average device and network. It’s difficult to send large volume of data even now (naturally, sometimes it is possible, but not reliably so).
Secondly, camera’s field of view is limited, and the analyst has nothing else to go on. Furthermore the picture depends on lighting, quality of the camera, accidental artifacts, etc. Therefore quality data collection requires mass use, with large volume of poor quality data used to establish a high quality mode.
Pokemon GO’s popularity just happens to be an effective way to secure the high volume of data, but it in turn makes covert data collection very difficult.
As stated above, contemporary computing capacity is sufficient to extract the data, and the active involvement of a large number of people opens all manner of possibilities. Do you need a building layout? That’s easy, just send a few “hunters” with cameras and it’s done. Need to see what’s happening at a closed facility? Send a few virtual beasts there, someone’s bound to have a soft heart.
But the above-mentioned operations may be detected (due to their mass nature) which would bring this type of entertainment to an end.