Are PayPal's AI Glasses Harmful?

The science behind whether or not technology like PayPal's new AI glasses are detrimental to the public.

Leah Zitter
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In 2016, PayPal patented an AR device called “Augmented Reality View of Product Instructions” to bypass store checkout. As you pass items you like in stores, you can put on your PayPal augmented reality (AR) glasses and they’ll show you all details related to the item like its cost, payment options, item availability, return policy, and so forth.

That same device has a pop-up AR menu that taps into your PayPal account, pays for the purchase, snaps a picture of the purchase, and sends all details of your commodity to a certain division in the store. In short, what this innovation helps you do is hook items on the spot just by looking at the product without ever having to whip out your credit card.

The lawnmower in Home Depot? Snap, you’ve got it! The Calvin Klein spotted yellow jeans displayed on a Marshall’s mannequin? Order it via PayPal and storekeepers will deliver the item to your condo within hours. You can go further by walking down the street and shopping simply by looking at items in the window display, never needing to step foot into the store.

You could also purchase movie tickets just by looking at a movie poster, or hire workers to recreate stuff you like in passing, all from the same app. For example, say you see a piece of art you like in a museum, you can commission your local art store to dye it on your shirt, all while looking at the picture.

PayPal’s AI Glasses and your Mood

The idea of an AR/VR shopping experience isn’t exactly new. Companies like eBay and Alibaba both have VR shops, while IKEA, Amazon, and other shopping apps allow customers to preview products in AR. PayPal goes a step further by programming the AR to let you buy the item just by looking at it, then paying for it through your PayPal account.

Until now, Paypal has mostly dallied with ecommerce. This is the first time the popular online payment platform will enter brick-and-mortar premises. With today’s obsession for instant gratification, they may very well end up making a profit. Does shopping boost happiness? To a certain extent, yes.

In a surprising article published by Psychological Science, it was argued that as long as purchases reflect your personality, you're happier buying them. Of the 600 people questioned, the happiest consumers seemed to be those who spent more on services or things in sync with their personalities.

For instance, an outgoing person loved to blow his money at the pub while an introvert was happier spending their money on books. The phrase ”money can’t buy happiness” comes with caveats. Richer countries are happier than poorer ones (provided they have no political or sociological problems).

Richer people in those countries are also happier than poorer citizens, with richness and poverty being relative and poverty measured on the far end of the spectrum. This is known as the Easterlin paradox. Again, there are caveats.

“I work bloody hard for my money,” a car mechanic told told me, “but don't have a significant disposable income. So when I do have disposable income I want to spend that on stuff that will make my life better, and that makes me happy. For example, my car didn't have satellite navigation. My work meant that I needed a sophisticated live traffic system which redirects me to avoid traffic. Now I'm frugal so I don't like spending money, but when I got that seven inch GPS Navigation Navigator I felt so much better!”

Compare this story to someone who has wads of cash and buys the latest gizmo or gadget whenever the fancy hits them. My car mechanic would feel far more delight from his purchase, wouldn't you agree?

Buying, or Self-Gratification?

Another factor centers around the mood you’re in when you want something. Typically when we want something, we want it immediately otherwise we feel sad, frizzled, down-in-the-teeth.

In Paul Roberts’ 2014 book, The Impulse Society, which was lauded by reviewers as epoch-changing, Roberts noted that the technology and affluence that’s “let us reach our goals with a speed and efficiency unimaginable even a generation ago” is far from milk, honey and gold.

“Companies now reflexively maximise short-term gain at the expense of long-term success. Politicians resort with ever-greater speed to nasty campaign tactics, and can count on their damaging claims to spread before the facts catch up with them. Consumers engage in serial over-indulgence and pursue instant gratification of every whim with speed and greed. The costs of living this way are substantial: financial volatility, health epidemics, environmental exhaustion and political paralysis, to say nothing of a growing, gnawing dissatisfaction.”

In other words, self-gratification is crack. It’s addiction. It’s a habit that as brain science shows becomes tougher to eviscerate as the practice continues. Patience was long considered a virtue, but it seems more like an anachronism today. The trendy term is “convenience shopping” that makes PayPal’s look-and-buy economy attractive.

The Need for Self-Discipline

If you sought a great life and were to choose one habit to work on, what would it be? For Brian Tracy, famous self-development author of 70 books and growing, the question is a non-sequitur. “Just as self-discipline is the key to success,” he writes in his book, “the lack of self-discipline is the major cause of failure, frustration, underachievement and unhappiness in life. It causes us to make excuses and sell ourselves short.”

Tapping on that PayPal app whenever your mood strikes you is nothing more than self-gratification. It caters to our moods and pleasures, such as reeling in whatever we want when we want it, regardless of our budgets and long-term plans. Short-term gain can cause long-term pain, and that’s why PayPal’s AI glasses may unintentionally harm everyone who uses them.