The mirrors of the near future

From the very early days of this project I was planning to write not only about ‘old mirrors’. In fact, even the very manifesto of this blog  is titled Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Future – and yep up until now I wrote no single post that would explicitly deal with the F-word.

Oh, well, once in while the future comes to the present, and in the context of this blog this means that I will start writing about the ‘future mirrors’ too. Speaking strictly, I would have to write about the ‘representation of the future mirrors in the art of the future’. And then ideally I would need to intertwine these ‘future ideas’ with the ones of the past, and to see how they mirror each other… but that’s a bit too multilayered simulacrum to chew from the very start.

I will begin with something more simple, perhaps, even if to simply signal that ‘I am on a future, too!’

Right, to the point. The image similar to the above one could also appear in your own browser if you will enter ‘Future Mirror’ in the Google Image Search. Many of these images are links to various projects exploring the issue of ‘future mirror’, and some of them are pictures of working prototypes, and even actual gadgets (which, by the way, also means that they are not exactly the mirrors of the ‘future’, but rather of the ‘now’, even if ‘cutting-edge now’.

Some of these projects I know better than other, and in some of them I even participated, albeit collaterally. I can’t present here any coherent story about them now, the Big Picture of the future mirrors, even if I would love to have it. There are simply too many of them, and the number is growing, and there is now to overview even the most famous projects on one go.  But I also know that if will start, then sooner or later this Big Picture will start emerging.

Therefore, for now I would play a Hegelian trick, and tell a short story about the most recent project of that kind, in the hope that it will manifest many of the features of the earlier efforts, and even in the brighter way then these projects could do themselves.

The project I want to talk is indeed very new, it was presented to a broad public less than a month ago, during the lastConsumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas (though some earlier demonstrations had been shown in November 2014).

The CES is a very bombastic show, where all major players strive to show their latest gadgets, of the future, of course (the slogan of this edition was ‘The Future is Here, and Now!’ (we actually already now the slogan of the next show, to be held in 2016: Future=Delivered; copyrighters are restless).

Back to the ‘mirror of the future’. This time it was presented by Panasonic, and looks like that:

One immediate observation that is not really clear how this mirror looked like, and what exactly it was capable to do. I guess, it is not only because of the enigmatic pictures, similar to many ‘mirrors of the future’, this one also required a special guide who would explain its ‘way of mirroring’.

Fortunately, there exist less enigmatic pictures of this mirror, too:

Here the form-factor of the mirror is more recognisable. In essence, it does look like a conventional make-up mirror, say, in a beauty salon or a hair-dress studio.

Just to provided a reference, today a conventional make-up mirror looks like this one:

To be honest, I don’t know the history of these mirrors. I assume they appeared in the beginning of 20th century, perhaps as late as 1920s. I believe I have already seen these mirrors in the dressing rooms of Hollywood actresses in the 1930s, but I can’t say when they migrated in the visual art.  One more topic to study.

There are not so many side light sources on the Panasonic mirror, but it has a lot of other interesting things embedded into its design. Small problem is that I didn’t find any decent description of this mirrors, even on the company website, and as a result I am not even fully sure if it is a display (I believe it is) or a real mirror with additional projections on it.  Whatever the actual technology of the surface, the system also has a set of sensing capacities too, including cameras and, I guess, some other sensors as well.

Having all these technologies available, the ‘mirror’ can do many amazing things. For examples, one can see not only the real reflections, but also many ‘imaginary’, possible portraits of herself, such as wearing different make-up, or having different forms and colours of one’s eyebrows or lips. Moreover, all these things can be presented in different light conditions, for instance, how your face would look in office light or on a street.

In short, the mirrors becomes not an accurate and trustworthy reflector of reality, but an (inter)active simulator of various imaginary possibilities. It is not about showing an actual you, but potential you, yourself in one of the possible futures.

And people are seemingly enjoying these games with the possible futures of themselves, sometimes quite radical ones. As I can see from the pictures available on the internet, various gender transformations were one of the most popular alternative futures people liked to play with.

At some point it’s easier to see all these features, rather than to read about them. There are few videos available, and I selected one less raffish.

The one above is a very short film, less than a minute, and it provides first impressions, and the next is a longer, 3-min clip made by Panasonic itself. The films not only presents various features of the system, but also reveal the company’s assumptions about the future of beauty.

At some point (~40-50 sec) the demonstrator explains the ‘mirror’ can detect the slightest defects of your skin (e.g., clogged pores); and it just happens to be that the company has a (nano) solution exactly for that problem! What a coincidence!

The mirror thus becomes not only a smart, but neutral simulator of the possible futures, but an active agency that is capable to shape them, promoting some while discouraging others. As every other analyst, the mirror pretends to be ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’, yet (as any other analyst) has its own biases and preferred futures.  The first question should be, of course, who is behind these advices, cui bono, but it’s exactly the question that any commercial demonstration tries to omit or even suppress first.

In one of the numerous review of this mirror the author suggest an interesting historical parallel: “[Panasonic’s] “futuristic magic mirror way more terrifying than that disembodied mask f​rom Snow White”, says Kaleigh Rogers from Motherboard. She also provides a link to a fragment of the famous Disney’s musical ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ where we can see this bodyless mask (from ~30 sec):

This story, of the Snow White and her (or rather the Queen’s) mirror is a long due and still not told in this blog. The magical mirrors from various fairy-tails are as indicative artifacts in understanding cultural attitudes toward mirrors in different times as many of the art mirrors I am writing about here. In fact, many of the ‘art mirrors’ had been deeply impacted by the stories about fantasy mirrors; the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ rhyme is perhaps the most frequently used title of the artworks depicting mirrors.

By the way, the same refrain is also used in many review of the Panasonic’s mirror. Which is very ironic, of course, since the mirror in this story did expressed independence and neutrality of its judgements, and unfortunately paid a heavy price for that; it was smashed by the Queen:

To be honest, I expect that the mirror from Panasonic will pays its tall. Perhaps not in such a luddite form, but the device itself and the services that will be supporting it will most likely face a lot of issues when landed on the existing cultural landscapes.

The fact that this system will have to move beyond a mere gadget is pronounced by the company itself. Currently the devices is presented as a typical business-to-business solution, aimed at professional vendors (shops or beauty salons). There are no plans to launch the sales to the so called end-(mirror)-users, and in any case, all commercial plans a very vague at this point.

By now the device is seen more as an opportunity to make an interesting selfie:

More elaborate analysis of the commercial perspectives of such a mirror, and what are the chances of its acceptance and success in the near future are beyond the scope of this blog (I tend to answer to these questions in my professional work, and usually paid for that). It’s very likely, in fact, that there are no commercial plans for such a product at all, and the company is using it as a ‘future probe’ of some sort, testing the reaction of both people and business partners on the very opportunity to apply the smart systems in this domain.

But even without any elaborate analysis of their commercial sides, I would like to start collecting here similar projects of the ‘future mirrors’, and how the society reacts on them now. Below is a compilation of words most frequently attributed to this Panasonic mirror in various reviews I found. Not statistically relevant, it still gives the first impression of how such a mirror is perceived.

***

In an ideal world I would love to have here a more comprehensive overview of the similar projects. The mirror from Panasonic was not the first, and I am sure won’t be the last of this kind. The collage I started this posing from shows only a fraction of the examples of various ‘mirrors of the future’ created by both large corporations and small start-ups during the last decade. Some of them made bigger media splashes then other when they appeared, but nearly all of the ceased to exist by now; it is unlikely that any reader of this blog has one of those techno-mirrors in her home.

Plus, these are not ‘art mirrors’, of course, at least not yet. These are ‘mirrors’ themselves, and although I am also trying to track the history of the technology too, I am mostly after how the technology is reflected in art. To be in line with my scope, I have to collect the examples of the ‘mirrors in future art’ (or even ‘future mirrors in future art’), and for that purpose to search in sci-fi (literature or better films). Interestingly, but I can’t remember any remarkable mirrors described in any of those (perhaps even more interesting that I can’t remember the examples of any ‘future art’ in these pieces too).

Another option is if any of these techno-mirrors would be employed by contemporary artists, in their installations or creations. More things to do!

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