Digital superstars of a world without privacy, in Greg Pak's "Vision Machine"

What if you could shoot video with your eyeglasses, edit in your head, and add computer-generated imagery? That's the premise of Greg Pak's comic, Vision Machine, debuting at NYCC. He tells us why people are too keen to surrender privacy.

Greg Pak is the creator of one of our favorite indie science fiction films, Robot Stories, as well as the writer of World War Hulk and many other great comics. He's unveiling the first issue of Vision Machine tomorrow at his NYCC panel at 2:30 PM, and giving out free copies on a special USB drive with the logo of Sprout Computers. Here's an exclusive preview of the first seven pages:

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So why is cyberspace everting in Greg Pak's world? We asked him:

Augmented reality is a big theme in science fiction right now, and glasses like the iEye have popped up in a number of other "cyberpunk" works. Were there any other treatments of this theme that you came across which helped inspire you?

The story is actually a variation on an idea I'd had for a jokey short film almost exactly ten years ago. The script was called "A-Bans" and it was a spoof commercial for a technologically cutting-edge pair of glasses for Asian Americans that would make everyone in your POV look Asian — just for making things feel a little more comfortable when you're the only minority in the room. I never made the short, but the idea of a pair of glasses that changes our perception of the world stuck with me.

A year or so later, around the time I was making my feature film "Robot Stories," I was thinking a lot about all different kinds of near future scenarios, and the idea of a variation of A-Bans connected to the internet and complete with data overlays and facial recognition software and instant word searches and everything else popped into my head. I considered doing something like that for the POV of the iPerson robots in the "Machine Love" story of "Robot Stories," but decided in the end that it would overcomplicate that fairly simple story. Oh, and we didn't have the budget for it. ;-)

And then two years ago, Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation approached me about making a comic book that would help independent media makers envision the technological, sociological, and political changes that will transform the field in the next fifty years. The idea of those crazy glasses popped back into my head — but now with the added ability to instantly record anything you can see or imagine and share it with the world — the distillation of all of the pieces of personal technology, social networking, and digital media creation and sharing that's been transforming everything for the past fifteen years or so.

Caprica, obviously, has its own glasses, but they pull you into a cyber-world instead of creating cyber-artifacts in the "real" world.

I actually haven't seen Caprica yet! Shocking, I know, since I wrote so many Battlestar Galactica comics back when. Now you've given me another incentive to catch up.

How do you think pulling cyberspace out into the real world instead of "jacking in" to a cyber-world changes us?

I think it's a big difference — when you have a virtual overlay on the real world, you're still interacting with flesh and blood people; you can just add another layer onto the whole experience. I love the idea that you could have a couple of orcs sitting next to you in a coffee shop and you'd never know it if you're not seeing the world through their virtual skin. (And if you're really interested in that particular scenario, definitely don't miss "Vision Machine" #2.)

Do you think that the metaphor of cyberspace is over now, and we're talking about augmented reality instead of cyberspace now?

I think augmented reality is where it'll go mainstream. Sure, there are millions of people who are immersed in virtual worlds right now that exist entirely in cyberspace. But there are many millions more who don't have the time or interest to create virtual worlds but who would be totally up for a little effortless enhancement of the real world. It's a bit like the difference between someone who wants to build a computer from scratch and someone who really wants a Macbook. For the person who wants to build from scratch, nothing could be more rewarding. But the average person just wants to grab the thing and start using it immediately.

Have you played with any augmented reality applications that exist now, like on Android phones?

I haven't — I've just seen the articles and screenshots. It's kind of funny — a few months before I started seeing those articles, the brilliant Takeshi Miyazawa had done some proof-of-concept art for me for "Vision Machine" to show what the interface might look like. Not so wildly far off from what's out there now!

Digital superstars of a world without privacy, in Greg Pak's "Vision Machine"

It's one of the ongoing lessons of writing near-future science fiction, though — get it done fast if you can, because reality's going to catch up to your story before you can blink.

I love the way that personal oversharing and reduced barriers to entry for creators are the first phase of a process that eventually leads to heightened surveillance. Do you think this is true in general with new technology? First the personal sharing, then the corporate/government Panopticon?

Sure. In some ways, "Vision Machine" is a huge cautionary tale about the critical importance of reading user agreement forms. And yet I myself almost never read 'em. Because I don't have the time or patience to slog through twenty pages of legalese. But we've all given up huge amounts of private information because we want the services and we trust the companies involved not to do anything more pernicious than channel a few targeted ads our way. But even if the Total Information Awareness nightmare scenario never comes to be, it's undeniable that the information's out there and a glitch in the system could expose it to the world. We see that every day with companies losing laptops containing millions of credit card or social security numbers. We're going to be grappling for the rest of our days with untold variations on questions of privacy and surveillance and the ubiquity and permanence of digital records.

Issue #2 of "Vision Machine" is where we start to explore this side of the whole scenario in a lot more detail.

When will issues #2 and 3 be available?

The big plan is to have them come out monthly, so issue #2 should hit in November and #3 in December. The individual issues will come out digitally at Comixology and released into the wild as pdfs. We'll also collect the whole mini and print physical books that will be distributed at special events, comics conventions, and film festivals. Keep on reading gregpak.com and my twitter feed at twitter.com/gregpak for the latest!

And finally, what else are you working on right now? What's coming next?

I'm currently writing the "Incredible Hulks" and co-writing "Chaos War" (with Fred Van Lente) for Marvel. "Chaos War" is a massive event comic in which Hercules and Amadeus Cho lead the gods of Earth against the Chaos King, the greatest threat creation itself has ever faced. "Incredible Hulks" follows the Hulk and a band of his crazy, gamma-powered family and friends as they tackle the kinds of Hulk-sized threats only they could possibly handle. Add 'em to your pull lists, kids!

Oh, and I've contributed another "Rio Chino" story about a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West to "Outlaw Territory," an anthology edited by the phenomenal Michael Woods that's coming out in the next month or so. Sean Chen pencilled "Rio Chino," with inks by Sandu Florea and colors by Chris Sotomayor, and I'm pretty thrilled about it — check out the pretty, pretty page below!

Digital superstars of a world without privacy, in Greg Pak's "Vision Machine"