Consider a future soldier with access to the technological augmentation indicated below, and for whom it is reasonable to believe he would spend (while deployed) at least 18 hours a day attached to the augmentation.

Vision, by way of a wholly transparent plate wrapping around the eyes and including periphery, displaying:

  • Enhanced resolution of surrounding terrain.
  • Full, clear day vision regardless the actual conditions (storms, night, etc).
  • Automatic identification including on-call background of people and items in the field of vision.
  • Automatic threat analysis including trusted friend-foe identification.


  • Configurable background noise masking.
  • Automatic volume normalization.
  • Configurable critical noise enhancement.

Question: What adverse effects or any of withdrawl could a soldier expect after prolonged exposure to this augmented reality?

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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest contact lenses rather than a transparent plate because the light of any displayed information would be visible from outside the armor under low light conditions. Being the only person on the battlefield with a glowing head is not conducive to survival. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Enhanced resolution of surrounding terrain." — what would that mean? Effective resolution of the eye is something you can't overcome without going directly to the optical nerve or better brain. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 6, 2017 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think for combat purposes it would work better if the equipment gave a decreased resolution of the terrain - only the important bits would show, especially the farther away he is looking. And with an option of zooming in/enhanced resolution. That way he could concentrate on the important bits: the enemy. I could imagine that flying insects and bunnies hopping around would be edited out of his vision entirely. Also leaves moving from wind and not from people hiding behind them. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ After some very long sessions playing Fallout 3/NV/4 one can end up missing the HUD and the enemy radar. After a long weekend without family home and just my Xbox to keep me company, I distincly remember turning my eyes to the bottom left to check if there aren't enemies nearby or to the right to check how much ammo left I had... while cleaning dishes. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Dec 6, 2017 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters: The problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Dec 6, 2017 at 13:07

9 Answers 9


Just going by the features themselves it would mostly be soreness and an acclimatisation period after coming in and out of gear. Chances are, your ability to see in the dark, cope with sudden bright light and to deal with loud noise, hear quiet noises and deal with a wide band of volume will be reduced for a while. However, I tremble at how much this could exacerbate the psychological trauma that can come with active service. Imagine how it would be for a soldier who comes out of long term deployment in an actual war with some measure of PTSD.

While wearing the gear you can see in the dark, an explosion is just about as loud as it would be in the cinema and your HUD always tells you who is friend or foe. Now you come out of deployment, possibly showing symptoms like hyper-vigilance, insomnia and an exaggerated response to being startled. Suddenly you can't see properly anymore. Every shadow is ten times as scary because you're not used to being unable to see what's in it. The night has turned into a fog of war. Even just a passing motorcycle sounds louder than an artillery shell.

Worst of all, you can't trust anyone anymore. The helpful friend indicator is gone - everyone is just an unknown to you. Are they enemies? Can you ever know? Should you take measures to keep safe?

Maybe you should put on the gear again. Just to have a look if everything is in order. Actually, it's much more comfortable to wear than you first felt back in basic training. There's no reason to really take it off, is there? People are giving you strange looks already, can't get much worse, can it?

And god have mercy on anyone who registers red.

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    $\begingroup$ If the VR equipment showed enemy soldiers with a red outline and friendly units as one would see people normally then without the VR augmentation everyone would seem friendly - this would turn into a learned response the longer it is worn, so in the civilian world, I think everyone would be classed as friendly and even those who aren't would seem like that at first - only after conscious evaluation of their actions could the soldier identify threat. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ True, but outlining the positions of your allies is such a useful function that I have my doubts about the military not using it. And then there's also the factor of how the enemy label is assigned - if that happens in real time we may be in trouble, because something that's suspicious on the battlefield may be harmless in the context of civilian life and vice versa. $\endgroup$
    – Pahlavan
    Dec 6, 2017 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ Well we can flip this around. A special kit for returning soldiers that labels everyone as a friend (or at least neutral) as well as slowly restoring the senses to normal over a period of months degrading night vision etc $\endgroup$
    – Bomaz
    Dec 6, 2017 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Bomaz makes a good point - if used in military applications, is there a civilian version (perhaps with less features/accuracy)? If so, there's a transition available to gradually 'acclimatise' to the civilian version. It's possible PTSD might even be reduced by such a device, as unpleasant things could be 'censored' out. There may be an over-confidence that comes with that though, as danger wouldn't be so obvious. Either way, people find it hard to be without their phones today, so an advanced AR would likely be much harder to be without. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2017 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ I can personally vouch for your assertion that "Suddenly you can't see properly anymore". I experienced the opposite. I ordered the first development version of the Oculus Rift, and used it for about 2 hours the first time. Due to the really low resolution (640x800 per eye), it felt like watching something through a microwave window (with the black grid). When I took off the Rift, the world looked like it was more detailed than it has ever been, really weird. I had adapted to the blocky nature of my surroundings within a few hours and started considereing it as the "norm" for my perception. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Dec 6, 2017 at 13:21

Sensory overload.

In the HUD only things that mattered called for attention. In the civilian world nothing that matters has any tags or information and everything that doesn't does. I've probably ignored 100 advertisements today, but I have no idea because I habitually ignore them. This would be a major problem for soldiers trained to trust a HUD.

"That man has a gun." --Thanks computer.


"you need a new car." --no. I have a fine...

"you need a cold drink." --I don't th...

"you need a video game" --arghh! Wait. Where'd my kid go?

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting insight. Are you saying a soldier conditioned in the way I described might become highly suseptible to advertising? That would make a pretty good story twist.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH exactly. Paying attention to bright colors and acting on that info quickly would be survival traits in a soldier. But that same behavior means you buy 50 dollars of lotto tickets, cigarettes and sugar when you try to buy gas. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Dec 7, 2017 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for an interesting point I wouldn't have thought of. Although if the soldier had internet access in their free time this effect would probably be reduced. $\endgroup$
    – Pahlavan
    Dec 7, 2017 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Pahlavan also if patrolling cities was an expected duty. But it's a could. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Dec 7, 2017 at 17:23

I'd expect soldiers top have similar effects to astronauts being used to zero gravity after coming back to earth, basically, expecting the same effects when not using the AR:

  • Not understanding why he can't see in the dark
  • Being unable to recognize team members without the identification box
  • Being too disoriented by the background noise
  • Expecting to hear footsteps in the rain 100 meters away
  • Loud noises can cause headaches
  • Can't determine the source of the fire by sound, not hearing bullets whizzing by.

The augmentation is primarily sensory. The heightened sense of perception in a combat zone will induce a greater probability of soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During deployment, for example, on patrol and especially they are likely to suffer from headaches and earaches. Firstly, due to wearing the augmentation technology, and secondly, due to the sensory overload they will experience.

However, since these are future soldiers, it is possible the augmentation will be able to adjust itself to meet the comfort needs of its users. Sufficiently light and non-obtrusive devices that do not induce sensory overload could make the soldiers' lot a happier one.

But the risk of PTSD will remain as the soldiers will still experience a heightened perception of combat and all its gruesome consequences in intimate detail.


Frustration would probably be the worst after-effect of extended exposure to augmented reality. Not being able to see as clearly as you are used to in twilight conditions, or being unable to make out someone's mumbled speech.

You might also find yourself whispering to yourself; sub-audibly requesting armor features such as facial recognition and tactical information. People might start thinking that you're a little bit crazy.


The soldiers would experience the similar problems to those of ordinary soldiers except that any physical injury would be absent.

Although any soldier waring the VR would know intellectually that he or she was physically safe, the subconscious reactive parts of the brain would not, it would be fooled by the VR. So it would still be possible to suffer from a range of mental problems caused by stress.

There is also the possibility of some very unpleasant visual experiences if the enemy and/or civilians get mixed up with high explosives. So post-traumatic stress syndrome would still be a problem.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an augmented reality, not a virtual reality. The soldiers are live on a battlefield. The bullet will hurt. The gore to your left really was your friend. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:25

Regular withdrawal syndromes aside (headache, tunnel vision etc.), they would likely experience visions of still wearing the augment.

Seeing threat indicators where there are none

Feeling the rain and wind of bad weather conditions while sitting on a warm beach

Just like ghost pain in lost limbs, the brain tries to make up for what it has lost. Especially when the brain gets tired and falls back on routine.

  • $\begingroup$ Except that phantom limb syndrome isn't the brain trying to make up for what it has lost. It's very much a result of nerve signals being misinterpreted -- exactly which signals and how is still a matter of debate. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Dec 6, 2017 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark, you're correct, but let's not set aside Firelynx's insight too quickly. I can imagine the human brain becoming adept at predicting the augmentation's assesments. I can even imagine soldiers becoming proud of being "as good as my battlecomp!" If that's the case, then while visions might not actually happen, jumping to some deadly conclusions might. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ Ask anyone who has played AvP as Alien if they ever saw jaws appearing when looking at someones head. I know I'm not alone in this $\endgroup$
    – firelynx
    Dec 7, 2017 at 9:42

Aside from some possible physical discomfort due to eye strain, there's no reason to expect "withdrawal" any more than people spending a day gaming with much of the features you indicate would suddenly suffer symptoms going out and looking at the world where everyone doesn't have convenient tags over their heads.

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    $\begingroup$ FWIW - I used to play Burnout (driving game) at a friend's house and then drive home. I could genuinely feel a mental tug towards driving like the game (not advisable). I think it's easy to underestimate the impact that playing a game continuously would have on someone's perception of real reality $\endgroup$
    – Dancrumb
    Dec 6, 2017 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ Also, please remember that you're comparing a day of gaming to an extended period of active combat (months) using the devices for 18 hours a day. Habits are formed after only a couple of weeks. Wouldn't that alone cause problems? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:29

I can give an alternative view answer based on personal (well, near-personal) experiance.

Someone close to me is a teacher, and one of the kids they teach is a child who went nearly completely deaf suddenly over christmas last year. Child X (as we should call them) is extremely averse to loud noises at present and detests going out to play at break and lunch time, because X is not used to filtering the noise out. X would prefer to stay inside in the quiet, as X is used to doing when X is at home, where they often go without their hearing aids. ITs got to the point where he'll be "naughty" just so he doesn't have to go outside.

So in your story, soldiers have augmented senses that allow them to see in the dark, enhance what they want to hear, and filter what they don't.

Suddenly all that is taken away. Noises that the augment buddy would remove, suddenly don't go away. That noisy hubbub in the shopping centre becomes deafening, simultaneously whilst they are nearly deaf to noises they want to hear. The sunlight as they come out of a dark room on a summers day blinds them momentarily.

Functionally, anything other than allowing them to wean off would create massive PTSD and mental health issues for the soldiers, particularly given the paranoia of no longer easily seeing "friend" vs "Foe". Assuming that such augments are not just military tech, it would likely result in specialist doctors who adjust the sensitivity of the tech to ease them back into daily life. As in many treatments, not all soldiers may react well to this. Some may continue to need low light vision, others the filtering senses. This would be an important point - not everybody reacts in the same way to trauma or recovers in the same way.


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