Ada is co-chair of the W3C Immersive Web Groups, bringing WebXR to the web. She is also Developer Advocate for the Web Browser at Samsung Internet. Our conversation fairly quickly spiralled off course, but explored interesting topics including ethics and the metaverse.
Ada is at the forefront of progressive web technologies, and her insights are incredibly interesting to anyone who spends time contemplating what the future might look like!
Ada, explain what you do and what you care about
I’m Ada Rose-Cannon, I work for the web browser, Samsung Internet. Samsung internet is a browser that’s focused on privacy and security.
I also am a co-chair of the W3C immersive web groups. And these are the groups that are focused on WebXR, the groups that bring augmented reality and virtual reality to the web. So that’s really my area of expertise.
How do you personally go about explaining the importance of online accessibility to someone who’d never even considered it?
Well, I think for me, explaining accessibility to people depends very much on who I’m speaking to. Because if we’re speaking to someone who I think is a good person who gives a shit about other people- (I can swear right? I’ll try and keep good language anyway.)
So if someone seems like a good person, then they’ll understand that excluding people from the products we build is just really not a nice thing to do and we should do better.
If I was speaking to a business person who seems like a bit of an ass that only cares about money and doesn’t care about the users at all, then I’m usually explaining something like, hey, if you make something accessible, it’s good for all your customers, not just those with accessibility needs. And so you will get better engagement.
How do you think the internet will change over the next ten years, and what specific features or habits that exist now, do you hope will be seen as from that time?
Oh, this is actually a good question. So I’m going to answer, how do I think the World Wide Web will exist in the next ten years, because that’s more where I focus. I think the internet will probably stay largely the same. Aside from, there will be some large architectural changes due to 5G, people continue pushing more stuff up to the edge. But the way the internet will change probably won’t affect many users apart from the engineers working on it.
But the web, I think, will change significantly. Maybe for the worse, maybe for the better. So, for one, I hope in ten years we still have the web. I like it, I think it’s good. It’s about 30 years old. I hope it makes it to 40. Things are looking a bit dire at the moment.
I’m hoping we’re in a low spot where people are realizing the damage that’s being done to humanity and to the web as a whole via these huge, siloed platforms like Facebook. And that people start to break things out a bit more and reclaim the Web for themselves and for the individual, rather than the web for corporations. The less value the web has, the less people are willing to invest in it.
There’s less need for web developers and the whole thing kind of spirals downwards until something replaces that. And the replacement for the web will probably not be some open decentralized platform, but will be something owned by a big corporation that is still doing all the nasty stuff but now you don’t have a choice.
What might that be, do you think? The first thing I think of when you say that, is Zuckerberg’s metaverse or something, is that too early?
Precisely, yes. I’ve been talking about this a little bit recently. So for those of you who aren’t in the weird AR/VR/XR community, the concept of a metaverse comes from dystopian science fiction novels of some big virtual world where people still live their lives. So it’s a little bit like the web, except a combination of immersive technology placed on top. So a physical store could have an augmented reality store that lies on top, or a virtual reality store that’s purely in the web or bought purely online.
So the modern concept of the metaverse is a real thing that people are trying to build. It’s basically any kind of technology that allows people to combine experiences from multiple creators in a single space, and there’s a lot of companies that want to be like the Metaverse platform.
So, for example, what Facebook is trying to do. If everything goes well, in ten years when immersive hardware is a lot more normal because I think there’s a lot of companies working on immersive hardware right now. And there’s a lot of AR headsets in particular being announced at the moment. Two have been announced, one of the newest VR headsets and a new AR headset just announced recently that the AR/VR ecosystem is far from dead.
So, yeah, it’s going to be weird, whether we have AR glasses or projectors or depth based displays, these are all things that can be part of new styles of hardware, which people aren’t used to. From 2004 to 2014, we saw the rise of the mobile internet and mobile rising from an almost unused way to access the web to the predominant way people access the web.
I think we’re probably going to see something similar between 2024 in 2034. And if that happens, the web’s going to look very, very different. But hopefully the web that we know today will still exist and still work on all of the new hardware, just like the web from 2001, still works on mobile phones today.
What do you think the main dangers are in terms of inaccessible, unfair or not ethical? And what do you think people in certain positions can do to try and do their part in making sure that the future worlds are as fair and welcoming as possible?
So I think a lot of immersive technology at the moment isn’t made to be accessible out of the box. That’s a hard problem to solve and I think that’s really important.
I also think a lot of the risks with neuromoter technologies is you have the ability to to consume huge amounts of information because you require a huge amount of information to do immersive technology well.
So, you know someone’s height, you know what kind of stuff they’re looking at, the way they move. You can work out a huge amount about someone through this kind of thing, and so a lot of the problems we’re trying to solve in the immersive web groups and W3C is making immersive technology safe for users as well as good.
I kind of trust experiences that go through a web browser a lot more because the web browser is there to try and keep me safe. And I worry that if the future of the web or the future of web-like things is via native applications running on the headset, then that layer of safety has been removed.
Yeah, the application might just record your environment at all times to send it up to, for example, spot products in your environment to send it to marketing companies, because that’s extremely valuable information for them at the cost of your privacy. I think some people might view that as, “Hey, they’re giving me this game for free and then in exchange, it’s OK for me to let them look in my house.”
But I think that cost is a little too high. And so I think there’s definitely an optimistic view of what the future can be, whether technology that people own protects them rather than is something that tries to make a profit off of them. If you buy a product and it’s tracking you in order to make money off you, the thing you bought isn’t the product, you’re the product.