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Edward Snowden on Pokémon Go, freedom, and the future of augmented reality

Real Future senior editor Kashmir Hill speaks with Edward Snowden via Beam Pro robot at the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland

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, and affect not just how people see the world but how they see and treat each other.

Snowden shared his thoughts 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,” he 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.”

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 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 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 of them 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 he cannot come back to the United States, Snowden joined the event Tuesday and did the entire interview Tuesday 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 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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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.