November 1, 2018 Lachlan

The Virtual Future

Perhaps you have seen the video “HYPER-REALITY” by the incredibly talented Keiichi Matsuda. If you have not I highly recommend checking it out below. Keiichi’s description of the piece is as follows: “Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.” It depicts a dystopian world, where the virtual world i by corporations to infiltrate into everyday life to an unsettling degree.

Most can agree that this paints a bleak future for this technology, but it doesn’t have to work this way. In fact, several of the features displayed in HYPER-REALITY would actually be incredibly useful, as long as the ads could be toned down (or removed completely – one must wonder why she doesn’t install an adblocker with that much clutter in her way). For example, having a GoogleMaps like direction system that gave you pop up directions would be very handy. A shopping list that remained in your field of vision while in the shops would certainly be an improvement on constantly checking your phone. The following video displays what would be a neat & helpful unobtrusive feature to compliment menus:

There are lots of ways immersive technologies like VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) are emerging as tools for humanity that show great promise (wondering what’s the difference between VR & AR? Click here). Like all scientific advancements, however, it can be utilised for great good, or great evil. This technology promises to both fundamentally redefine how we see, think and interact with the world around us, and to help us connect with the people within it. It offers us means to help solve some of the human races growing problems and will even cause us to question the very nature of reality or what it means for something to be ‘real’.

Our first blog post from Virtual Dream is going to take a look at how immersive technologies are already beginning to have an impact on the world, as well as take a look at where this is all heading.

Welcome to the Virtual Future.

Some may doubt the ability for this technology to revolutionise our lives, but the truth is the majority of readers have already gone through at least one similar technological revolution in their lifetime. You had the rise of personal computers and soon after the widespread adoption of smartphones, which are basically just smaller, more mobile computers. While we take them for granted now in our personal life, just 30 years ago neither of these technologies were available to the average consumer. Goldman Sachs predicts that VR & AR headsets have the potential to become the next big computing platform, potentially replacing or merging with PC’s and phones to form the new medium for interacting with technology. Although there is no real consensus on what the size of the market will be like in the next few years, analysts agree it will easily be a multi billion dollar industry and big tech companies are paying attention. Facebook, Google, AmazonApple, Microsoft, Intel, AMDHTC, Samsung, Sony, Xiaomi, Autodesk. These are just some corporations that are seeing the potential of VR/AR and are investing heavily – either by creating their own products or through acquiring other companies that are.

“OK,” you might be saying, “so there is a lot of hype around VR & AR… but how will it actually change my life? More to the point, how is it being used now?” Here are some examples of how VR/AR has applications in Education, Tourism, Healthcare, Business, Film & Media, RetailPsychology, Journalism, Automotive Industry, EventsSports, Product Design, Architecture, Real Estate, Aerospace and Marketing. To name just a few. What we see today is really just the tip of the ever-growing iceberg as every year the technology advances, prices of consumer devices fall and more VR & AR projects are completed. There are very few industries that will not be able to benefit from the addition of VR/AR in some level of their operation. So what gives these new mediums so much potential? What are the key benefits that they will confer to humanity as we progress forward? Well, first of all they will grant us…

Increased Availability of Information

You thought the internet was good at improving our ability to access information? Well how about the internet at your fingertips? No, not with a smart phone – that’s so early 21st century. When combined with a virtual assistant like Siri, you could ask a question, get the results displayed as a pop up window at hands reach and then scroll through the article with intuitive controls, like flicking your finger up or down. While the internet has its bad side, it has also managed to connect humanity together and to allow information to flow freely like never before – something that has immensely improved the quality of life of billions of people. Integrating VR & AR with this flow of information and allowing us to interact with it more readily – and in a manner that we can more easily utilise – is surely something to be celebrated.

Decentralisation

Or more specifically: delocalisation. Is this a word? I’m going to go with a tentative: yes, maybe, I’m not sure, but you get what I mean anyway. Or maybe you don’t and this is where I have to explain what it means. Either through VR or with AR, we will reach the point in which people will be able to effectively communicate with each other across the globe in a manner that will be almost the same as if you were actually there (of course we will reach a point in which VR experiences will be indistinguishable from reality, but I’m getting ahead of myself). When this point is reached, it opens up many exciting opportunities for organisations & individuals. Companies would be able to have employees working together ‘in person’, from across the globe. Specialists could work from the comfort of their home. Shopping could be completed without having to leave the house. Universities and schools could be attended no matter how far away you were. You could meetup with your friends regardless of where they lived. An added benefit of this is a reduction in the need to travel, which helps with both traffic congestion and reducing our environmental impact. One way this could all be accomplished is through constructing and meeting in…

Virtual Spaces

As VR technology advances to the point where it facilitates easy and realistic communication with others, there will be a rise in the construction of virtual spaces – places that are completely virtual for users to meet and communicate in. Virtual cafes, virtual offices, virtual universities, virtual gyms, virtual meditation. Virtual shops that allow you the option of trying on a far wider range of clothing than a physical store could ever hold. The possibilities here really are tremendous and it is very easy to envision entire ‘virtual enterprises’ that live solely in a virtual area.

Enhanced Training

What’s the best way to learn to shoot a free throw in basketball? Is it:

A) Read a book on the theory of shooting a free throw.

B) Watch a video of someone shooting a free throw.

C) Have someone tell you how to shoot a free throw.

D) Shoot a free throw with a coach.

.

For the majority of people, the answer would be D. We are visual creatures, but we are also creatures of movement. We learn best by actually practising the skills we want to develop and through building our muscle memory. In this, VR/AR offers several unique advantages for enhancing learning. VR/AR allows for the training of dangerous skills in a simulated environment, allowing people to learn in a safe way. It can also be used to simulate scenarios which are costly to set up in real life or are uncommon (like teaching disaster response for emergency personnel). Additionally, with VR/AR you can view things from angles and size scales you would never have access to normally – like watching a virus fly by your head to infect a healthy cell. Finally, VR/AR training scenarios are highly cost and time efficient as instead of having to repeatably allocate staff to training new recruits, one learning program is created which is reused. There is a lot to like with VR/AR education and I expect that very quickly we will begin to see it being used to complement traditional training and education, much like the internet and computers did in their own time.

Promoting Empathy & Connection

“Experiences are what define us as humans, so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something,”

This is a quote from Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication and co-author of a scientific paper that was conducted at Stanford. They found that VR is a great tool for fostering empathy – specifically for the homeless in this test. When you walk a mile in somebody’s shoe it is much easier to feel empathy for them, which is exactly what VR can do by establishing a realistic feeling of presence in the virtual world. There has been some other research conducted on increasing empathy and building social connections with others using VR and the results are promising. The technology could be an incredible way to communicate with others in ways that we haven’t even begun to imagine.

So it is clear that immersive technologies are the future, and that future could be very bright indeed if we use this technology correctly. However, the above applications only deal with the somewhat near future. What happens when all your senses are completely immersed in the virtual world? When the visuals have advanced so far they look like real life? When you can feel the texture of a virtual tree? When you can smell the fresh wind of the forest? This is the point in which the boundaries between reality and the ‘real world’ begin to break down. This is Virtual Reality in…

T H E   F A R   F U T U R E

This is when things start to get weird. The thing is, we don’t need to build some super perfect 1:1 recreation of reality to reach this point. We just need to design a VR system that is just good enough to trick our monkey minds into believing we are in the real world. Our senses are limited and once we hit that limit we will be unable to distinguish the real world from the virtual world. At this point, what is ‘the real world’? When you can’t tell the difference, does it matter if something is ‘real’ or virtual? Should we continue to place value on ‘real’ experiences? Why? A reasonable argument is that we should value the ‘real world’ as we are physical creatures and without our body our experience ends, so it makes sense to care more about the ‘real world’. All bets are off, however, if we reach a point in which we develop the ability to upload consciousness to the internet/ a computer. This would elevate us to the realm of immortal gods, rather than just virtual gods. Because in a virtual future in which a virtual reality feels like the ‘true reality’, anything becomes possible:

  • Feel like flying around at roughly the speed of light? Cliché, but for a reason: go for it.
  • Stroll through Rome in the height of its power? No worries.
  • Party down with thousands of guests in zero gravity on the event horizon of a black hole? Yup.
  • Epic magically infused cataclysmic duels that end up annihilating the entire planet? We can make another one, carry on.
  • Want to craft a vast world and populate it with beings you design? Overdone, but sure you can do that.

This virtual future might seem terrifying to some, but to others it might seem awe-inspiring – perhaps impossibly so. Maybe we will never reach this point, but if the technology keeps advancing (which it has a darned habit of doing) then it does seem like eventually we will reach this point. Personally, I look forward to a virtual future. This kind of technology would unshackle us from our physical constraints, it would let us express our true creativity and liberate us to pursue whatever we chose to apply ourselves to. We could do whatever we want, with whoever we want, in a universe unbounded in potentiality.

We could craft our own reality, and our dreams would become our reality.

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