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Transparent iPads/computer monitors seem to be a staple of sci-fi (Star Wars, some of the new Marvel stuff, Red Notice etc). The screen is always functioning on the side of the Reader, and the opposite side is either the exact same view as the side of the Reader, or backwards. (Reader is the person who is presently using the device)

Why on Earth would my people want something like that developed, given that if gives next-to-zero privacy?

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    $\begingroup$ Where, you mean a control and command centre or in a home office? $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Blue Skin and Glowing Red Eyes its just a fashion trend every one use them so not doing so would so 2030. Ohh and the old ones are no longer produced. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ Eh, this is a move/series trope, because you want to show the actors while reading? $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Apr 3 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ The same reason we want them now... because they’re cool $\endgroup$
    – Dúthomhas
    Apr 3 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ Since questions about character and organizational choices (aka motivations) are prohibited in the help center, I assume that you're specifically asking what technological or application advantages such a screen would have... right? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 3 at 15:14

21 Answers 21

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Because Apple's marketing department says you want them and (by pure coincidence) so do all the ads and influencers on the internet.

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    $\begingroup$ You don't necessarily have to pay Apple to get that style, though. imgur.com/a/AP6M8Tn $\endgroup$
    – cjs
    Apr 3 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ @cjs Standby to the hunted down for Trademark infringement. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Apr 3 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ Regrettably, people are upvoting this because it's humorous and not because it has any value to the OP (see comments to the question). I strongly urge participants to skip this answer and read the rest of them, which better address the OP's needs. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 7 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Mon Marketing is influencing people's decisions. Questions about decisions are prohibited in the help center, which is why I asked for a clarification from the OP. The OP's clarification is that he/she's looking for technological or application advantages. This answer fails that expectation and is consequently hiding answers that are appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 7 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Your wrong. My answer was and is serious. Firstly the original question states that other than transparency there is no technical factors that make these tablets superior to or otherwise more desirable to normal ones. This means that in terms of pure engineering there is literally NO reason for the average consumer to purchase one - unless it's price point is cheaper. And here again nothing in the original post indicates this is the case. Ergo they cost as much or more! Meanwhile Apple spends in excess of USD 3 BILLION dollars a year on marketing. This makes my answer the only logical one $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Apr 7 at 10:20
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It is a heads-up display for augmented reality

That is, it shows real-time data overlaid over the real-world objects you can see through the screen.

While this is of limited usefulness for a fixed screen, its great for a handheld screen - an engineer can focus on a part and get data about its operation, a doctor can focus on a patient and get details of their pathology etc.

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    $\begingroup$ A fixed screen is pretty much the worst possible way to do this though. Almost everything you could ever want an AR overlay for, it's easier to bring the screen to the real-world object. And in the few fictional cases where that happens (The Expanse, for example) it occupies one of your hands, when anything you'd be doing that could use AR is highly likely to also need both hands free to hold things or operate tools. Any AR overlay that doesn't give you a hands-free HUD has extremely limited uses. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 3 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham only if the AR device can be made not bulky, handheld AR is far more useful than NO AR. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 4 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham Handheld AR would still be useful for scanning/doing diagnostics. E.g. acoustic cameras today, used to do things like detect small leaks in pipes, are functionally kind of like handheld AR. $\endgroup$
    – 10762409
    Apr 5 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ @John Already a solved problem - Google Glass already did it. The main reason it failed was cost. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 5 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @10762409 They're limited by the hardware though. The OP is talking about a more general use, I think. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 5 at 7:26
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I gather that present-day LCD monitors are already naturally transparent; we choose to put opaque backings on them because we generally don't want light from behind to interfere with the image. So the sci-fi trope of everybody using transparent screens in the future is rather silly, just a way to make things seem different from the present, and to make it easier for the audience to see what the characters are looking at on their screens.

However, Lenovo just introduced a proof-of-concept laptop with a transparent screen: https://www.dezeen.com/2024/02/28/lenovo-transparent-laptop-thinkbook-mwc

The cited uses for it in the article include augmented reality applications and enabling artists to see their subjects through the screen, but it seems like a very specialized application to me. I'd think it would make more sense to have a screen that could be selectively opaque or transparent depending on your needs. And transparent screens are such a timeworn cliche of "futuristic" design in science fiction that I think it would be wiser to avoid them.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the point about selective opacity, this can actually be done with LCD technology. In fact, it’s exactly what LCD’s do, we just leverage that functionality to selectively hide sub-pixels that are not supposed to be on (or to block reflection in predefined areas of a display if it’s a simple monochrome reflective LCD setup like you would see in a cheap digital watch). $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ In LCDs the backdrop is actually a white luminous panel. The LCD filters out all unwanted colors. Unlike OLEDs that actually produce light. $\endgroup$
    – Florian F
    Apr 4 at 14:45
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As a practical reasons:

1: If we assume you are on some form of Vessel or ship - then all the information on the tablet is already authorized to be viewed by anyone on the vessel.

If you consider an engine room display with various metrics and read-outs, that does not go blank simply because the Chief Engineer is not around.

2: Situational awareness might trump security. If the tablet is displaying information that is not very sensitive, then it may be the case that the trade-off of being able to see through the tablet and to observe what else is going on is more desirable.

3: Situational awareness in reverse. It might be that the information displayed is important to everyone and having everyone able to see it and sanity check that it is valid or that the appropriate course of action is being taken could be advantageous.

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    $\begingroup$ How often does transparency help here though? I can't imagine a case where you'd want a few large transparent displays in the centre of the control room, instead of a lot of dedicated detailed displays around the walls for easier access. Or more likely each person having an assignable workstation where the controls they use most are easily to hand for them, they're duplicated on other people's workstations who also wants to see them, and anyone else can pick up the same controls if they need to. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 3 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham - The example I would use is Fighter Jets having Heads-Up Displays (HUDS) which are essentially the same thing. I grant you that this is a bit far fetched - but I was giving as good as a reason as I could. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ But even early HUDs were helmet-based, overlaying on where the pilot was looking. Certainly that's how they've been since the 80s. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 3 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham except you have the problem of getting people to keep helmets on all day every day. If everyone can carry around their workstation as a handheld and check things in real time, it is more useful. Also a handheld device can do other things besides just being a HUD. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 4 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @John The HUD is in the helmet because they need the helmet, not the other way around! Bluetooth earpieces are completely standard these days, and no delivery driver complains about wearing them all day. Google Glasses weren't much bigger than regular shades, and the reason they failed was almost entirely just price. Making this small and acceptably cheap isn't "futuristic", it's 5-10 years max. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 4 at 16:49
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Holograms

It just looks like a transparent screen, but in reality it's a 2D hologram. Meaning that there is no actual matter at the location of the display.

Society has gotten used to holograms. As such they know they are just as public as it gets, so they know that you don't watch p0rn on it. That's for your private sleeping capsule (where you can have a life-sized hologram right on your ceiling) or your AR contact lenses that project security sensitive information right onto your retina.

Advantages of Holograms

  • Ease of transport: It's much easier to transport tiny hologram emitters / receptors than huge gazillion-inch flat screens!
  • Scalability: Bigger Hologram? Just add a couple more emitters to the current configuration, and voila - twice the size!
  • Robustness: Space is dangerous. Large LCD screens are heavy and might break / come loose during high-G maneuvers. Tiny hologram emitters? No problem. One breaks? Exchange it for an identical one.
  • More locations to set up screens: Holograms are permeable, meaning you could set one up in a doorway or space between desks / consoles / wherever you want! People can just walk through the hologram if they need to (a huge boost for advertisement!)
  • Sharable: Being visible from all sides is not a bug but a feature! More people can interact with 1 screen at the same time that way! Imagine never getting a stiff neck again because some tiny meeting room has a PowerPoint projected onto the wall right behind you! With a hologram, you project it into the middle of the table and everybody can see it without any contortions necessary!
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    $\begingroup$ Or the reverse. Transparent screens are the poor person's holographic display system. $\endgroup$
    – nine tales
    Apr 5 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ cont. Your starship or small business can't afford a fully equipped holographic display table? No problem, here's a large transparent screen panel that everybody can gather together around and discuss. Totally beats a whiteboard. $\endgroup$
    – nine tales
    Apr 5 at 5:47
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First, the technical reason: the glass tablets are just a monomolecular glass slab with a tiny, tiny circuit embedded into it. They are next to indestructible in normal circumstances, do not scratch, break, overheat, are 100% water resistant and impossible to tamper with mechanically.

Second: display. Since the display is projected not onto, but into the glass slab, it allows for effortless 3D display and interface that has orders of magnitude lower energy requirements than a regular display. This makes the glass tablet essentially a window into VR or AR, not just a cool smartphone.

Cultural: the idea of device privacy died around 2030s anyway, for both sociocultural and political reasons. Everyone is constantly online, and people no longer crave privacy. The last generation that cared for personal privacy were Millenials, and most of them died of old age already! Besides, those who do crave privacy, tended to be troublemakers or even terrorists, and thus opaque tablets are considered sus.

Sharing: finally, the last reason is that modern culture is accustomed to instantly sharing their digital life. It is expected that people share whats on their screen and that others show genuine interest. If you take out your tablet when friends or family are around, you are expected to "flip" them a share-screen anyway, or flip it to a wall-screen for everyone to see. If it is not worth sharing, it is not worth seeing in the first place.

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  • $\begingroup$ People age-out in their forties? $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Escapeddentalpatient. in the unfathomably distant future of 2040s or so, yes. I mean, even today, global culture is essentially the culture of the 12-25 crowd, Millennials are the confused dinosaurs that forgot to go extinct and still use Facebook (!) and everyone older than Millennial is pretty much irrelevant. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ Makes a tragic and depressingly inevitable sort of sense. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 7:08
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Because the devices are multi-functional. A tablet is just one of their functions, being two sides is useful for their other modes.

For example, you can place them on a desk stand and use them as a display, so you could see what was happening without having to turn it around when you're not at your desk, or you could display different things on each side such as having your alerts\notifications displaying on the back while in desk mode, so that you can see them from across the room.

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Do we really need to pay to add expensive backing to all these high-powered devices? Nobody wants it anyway.

Maybe the screen is like a one-way mirror so that it's mostly reflective or at least not transparent from the other end. Maybe the screen is well-designed enough that whatever it's showing only shows up on one side, or at least is only discernible from one side. There's no real privacy concern either way - if you pay close enough attention you can usually tell what someone's looking at on their device whether it's angled towards you or not. And it's not like screens aren't naturally transparent in some cases, or that intentionally-transparent screens aren't a thing - it's been done already.

But you need a reason why all the devices have transparent screens and everything, so barring everyone wanting the new iPhone 31 because it looks futuristic as all hell, just say that the devices have grown in complexity to the point that adding backing takes research to make sure it doesn't interfere with the screen's operation at all. After all, transparent screens are doable but not easy - having something in back to mess with reflections and construction might get painful as the screens get better and better, and it might get expensive, too. The issue then becomes whether having an opaque screen is even economically valid: people want the fancy new transparent screen that lets you see what you're taking a photo of it while you're taking the photo, and it costs a little extra for the people at Apple to add the backing behind the hyper-advanced glascreen. Why even bother?

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysophobia

We already today have a fear of germs and dirt and this can only accelerate in a utopian society to the point of hysteria were touching a unsanitary device would be equal to a public suicide.

So the devices are designed to be sanitized by UV and to display there state of usage "contaminated" by a persons finger - by revealing smudges and spots.

You could blow this fear up to ridiculous proportions and seeing "non-iluminated devices" as contaminated spreaders of the "plagues".

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You don't have privacy in real life, only the illusion of it. Anyone can already see whatever porn you are browsing in your smartphone. They can peek over your shoulder, spy you with high up cameras and drones, or they can simply check your network traffic.

If it's going to be like that, give me a transparent screen any day. It's much easier to do augmented reality that way than with conventional LED screens. Also there is less sunlight reflection this way.

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    $\begingroup$ AR is indeed likely the reason for transparent screens. Just being able to place a screen in front of you to get the serial numbers for the visible components, while still being able to see what you are doing is great to speed things up. It would give a very intuitive way to mark/select components. Now, technically you wouldn't need a transparent screen for this, as a camera would work too, but why go that way, when a clear window gives you infinite pixels. It also functions as a normal window at no power draw when turned off, which is nicer than a black plane too look at. $\endgroup$
    – vinzzz001
    Apr 3 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ Make it world where all walls are transparent too. Why bothering with privacy in this world? $\endgroup$
    – Cœur
    Apr 4 at 22:15
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"Safety" everyone is glued to their devices, they never stop using them. This results in large number of accidents with people walking front of moving things, colliding to other people, tripping over things and bumping to stationary objects. Clearly problem for legislative body is that people don't see those things. Solution is to make every display transparent.

In the end someone mandated them to be transparent. Maybe they got sufficient bribes from critical patent holder. Or it is alternative to unenforceable or unacceptable ban of use in some situation.

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    $\begingroup$ Does the "safety" argument really work, though? The safety issue with people looking at their phones while they walk isn't the opacity of the screen, since it's tiny and the only thing behind it would usually be the sidewalk. Their view of their surroundings isn't blocked, they're just not looking at their surroundings because they're looking downward at the thing in their hands instead. Making the thing in their hands transparent wouldn't change that. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 14:05
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Because of health regulations and recommendations implemented to prevent short-sightedness.

Risk factors include doing work that involves focusing on close objects, greater time spent indoors, urbanization, and a family history of the condition. It is also associated with a high socioeconomic class and higher level of education. Onset is often in school children, with worsening between the ages of 8 and 15.

Health Bureau of EU (Electorate of Utopia) implemented health rating system for all displays. "Transparent displays" (TDs) have been developed that make your eyes focus much further and thus receiving best health rating. Since this issue starts already in early age EU bureaucrats are targeting children. To quote anonymous bureaucrat:

You want your kids to wear glasses every day for the rest of their life or use "TD" only in childhood?

Concerned parents want their kids to use TDs and lead by also using them. Kids being raised with TDs would consider them better than those unhealthy non-transparent devices and consider them standard. Technologically, this answer could be considered with other answers suggesting augmented reality, holograms, ...

Having "TD" does not necessary mean no privacy at all, from other side, image might not be clearly visible due to how this technology works. So while someone could see the videos you are watching, he might not be able to read text on your screen.

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    $\begingroup$ Transparent screen could also work in any light level including full sunlight. so less eye strain. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 4 at 16:39
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It's ultimately your choice, but it all boils down to rule of cool and differentiating their tech from ours. Look, it's see-through! That's not something you see every day!

If you want to have something that gives some semblance of privacy while still being sufficiently advanced, maybe try ultrathin displays with little to no bezel. All the benefits of standard backed displays while looking futuristic. Of course, there is the issue of these devices being fragile and incredibly easy to bend, but you can always just handwave that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, this is the answer. I always thought "see-through" tech in movies was primarily a way to show the viewer what the characters were seeing, and also it's cool. Unless this transparency is relevant to the plot, I don't see how see-through tech would be useful to call out in a book without pictures. But once you have pictures, we are kind of back to "rule of cool." $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 19:09
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Energy efficiency

The LCD can be orders of magnitude more efficient without the backlight. Modern LCDs are not very good in this setup first because of the polarizer that kills more than half of the light and second because you need a place for the circuity anyway, but some examples are found even today.

If the technology develops more in this particular direction, one will have to pay premium in both price and energy for a non-transparent display.

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No screen needed. It seems to be fashionable, because screens are too bulky and heavy, so a holographic projection into the air is a good idea. I take here the example of the star-wars famous projection of the princess delivering the message "Help me Obiwan Kenobe, You're my only hope" The designer has found a way to make the hologram interactive to touch, so no touch screen is needed at all, and building 3D designs can be more intuitive with such interactive holograms. It's almost using the same hand movements as if you are constructing a physical object. Plus, enhancing computer's memory allows you to project an even bigger hologram without changing the screen.

Don't forget that in this setting conventional screens will be used alongside those holographic "screens". The idea is to use the "no-screen projection" when it is more convenient, and to use the conventional screen for a better privacy. You don't want your colleague in front of you to pick the idea you are proposing to your boss and let him take the promotion instead...

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  • Safety: Unlike most modern devices, these gadgets do contain user-serviceable parts inside. People can visually tell which need to be replaced.
    A rather weak explanation when it comes to monitors. This works better for fans and the like.
  • Security: People are afraid that other people might tamper with the device. Transparency prevents that.
    This would be a perfect explanation if there were custom production runs for use in prisons. For other uses, perhaps this prevents customs inspections from taking them apart?
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Minimalism allowed by new technology

Generally if a product can be designed closer to a featureless slab that performs its function as if by magic it will be. We do this already with smartphones.

One of the primary reasons we don't have see-through screens with no bezels in common use today is that we don't have display technologies that can create a consistent black and white and be transparent. We can build them, and they are bad. A display technology that allows black pixels to block light from the back environment and colored pixels to emit light independent of the back environment, and do both with enough contrast would be used.

If we could build this and have it not be terrible we would, just to look cool.

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While I don't have an answer for why, really, I do have a modern-day parallel -- several of the default themes for the MacOS Terminal program use a transparent or translucent background so that users can see what is behind the window they are typing in.

I can see a few use cases for this (transcribing or describing what is behind the active window) but mostly I consider it a distracting nuisance and don't use such settings.

Yet someone considered it a useful and important enough feature to have it be one of the default settings for the program.

Maybe for people of the future who parallel process information sources even more than today's screen addicts, the real question is "why would anyone use a device that forces users to narrow their attention (and field of view) to one thing at a time?"

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Situational awareness!

Opaque screens block the view. Now yes, if you are looking at the screen, you most probably do not want to see what's beyond in the moment.

But being unforgivingly opaque, you now have to put it to the side if you want to so much as take a glance. Or get up from the chair, lean over, etc.

Transparent screens solve that problem. For an office room or a mission room where live communication is important. Having such screen can help better interaction and communication.

Real life entertainment parallel

Consider noise-cancelling headphones. They block your input to external sound, while giving your hearing privacy and a better experience. But not everyone needs or prefers them. Sometimes you are fine with turning the radio on, or music player with speakers, and letting everyone hear.

You get to listen to the music, while also being alert to your cat jumping on the table about to do dome mischief.

Similarly, large transparent screens help your society not recede into pockets of uncontactable lonely people. People are more present, aware and responsive. Whilst being able to enjoy larger, lighter screens.

Release valve

Btw, it's not that there is no privacy. Someone that does want to not be disturbed, or hide what they are seeing, can just set the option to make the back of the glass opaque. This of course also means you can't see through the screen. Hence, it's used only temporarily.

Also, this requires changing the back of the screen independently of the front, so screens with this capability are more expensive.

Novum

Have you considered partially transparent screens? Not translucent. I mean, let's say a section of the screen can be made opaque from the back for sensitive content. Imagine it as black redaction rectangles/circles like mini opaque screens on the larger screen.

This would allow your people to have both advantages of clear screen while also keeping things that are for your own eyes private.

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Are you looking for serious reasons why yes, for it to be yes, or discussing why yes or no?

Why yes? Because transparent looks cool and it could be a fad. They could argue over it like we do now.

Why no? Because it's dumb and impractical, and the sooner they abandon this silly idea, the better.

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    $\begingroup$ The only reason they exist in scifi is for cinematic reasons... besides looking cool, its so you can get a shot of the character's face while also showing the nature of display that they're looking at. Otherwise you have to keep switching between face and over the shoulder shots. $\endgroup$
    – user46053
    Apr 3 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @user46053 make it a world with many journalists/vloggers/cameramen/police, and they lobbied to make all screens transparent by law. $\endgroup$
    – Cœur
    Apr 4 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @user46053 Perhaps this could be useful irl too. So many reception counters could do well with a transparent screen and a well-designed interface. Think food places (Mc Donald's), hotel reception, airline or film ticket counters. Helping both parties see each other and the status of the order/query together. $\endgroup$
    – nine tales
    Apr 5 at 5:30
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Monopolies have made privacy so expensive that very few can afford it.

Already now, some businesses have realised that it's profitable to make a product that has a free version without privacy and a premium version where you get privacy for an extra charge. Look at Ideogram AI or Artbreeder, for example. These are AI image generation tools. They have a free plan but if you use that, all images you generate are public. To be able to make images that you generate private, you have to pay for a subscription. I think there are no technical reasons why a private account costs more money than a public account. The company asks money for the private account just because they can. This setup is also beneficial for the company owning the service in that free plan users keep generating new public content for their website, so visitors always have a lot of new content made by other people to look at.

This kind of approach for monetising a service taken to an extreme by a monopoly could lead to a world where you have super cheap or even free transparent monitors/tablets. And non-transparent ones exist but they are super expensive, so hardly anyone owns those. If most people own transparent monitors/tablets, this can also make people using non-transparent ones look like weirdos ("Why did this guy pay so much for a non-transparent screen? What does he have to hide?")

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