Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Will Virtual Reality Look Like in the Future?

"In the slums of the future, virtual reality junkies satisfy their violent impulses in online entertainment. An expert player discovers that the line between games and reality is starting to fade away. 3DAR’s latest short film explores the frightening potential of our next technological revolution. Behind the scenes coming soon! Stay connected, but not too much ;)"

Commentary by Louis Shalako

What does the future of virtual reality look like?

It’s a complex question and one well worth asking.

But when the cat is scratching at the door to come in and it looks like a Pokemon, that would be one logical outcome for those with the desire and the cost of admission to a whole new world, one that is an artificial overlay on all that is real.

In Vernor Vinge’s award-winning Rainbow’s End, people wear ‘augmented reality’ glasses and other hardware, which allows them to superimpose whatever gloss they want upon their present surroundings. In a case like that, one person might live in a perpetual Disneyland, while another might prefer a world where every person or object is modeled on the Flinstones. If you like Clint Eastwood and scenes of people on horseback riding across the Painted Desert, you will be able to superimpose that sort of thing onto your present circumstances. A really good system would give everyone a western drawl. 

You could take a really interesting vacation and never even have to leave home.

In a world of increasingly grim inequalities, virtual reality might mean that whatever shoes you’re wearing look like Guccis rather than a ratty old pair of runners, long since due for replacement. When you take off the goggs or shut down the implant, reality comes back. 

But then, reality has always been perception--and now we will be able to control those perceptions a little better than we could before.

In a proper game-space, where all the machines, ‘wearables’ or implants even, would all be talking to each other, how we present ourselves to others would be a matter of choice, (just as it is to some degree now). The other person, similarly-equipped, may see that we are wearing Gucci footwear when really, we’re not.

People of all ages are sort of living in the Pokemon Go world now. They’re not even wearing special goggles. They seem intent enough on the relatively small screens on their smart-phones, to the extent that they’re stepping out in front of buses and falling off cliffs already.

They’re walking around with their faces down and their attention elsewhere. Virtual reality might be somewhat less dangerous because it will be totally immersive. In this virtual future, a person might choose to have city buses appear as charging rhinos. In a virtual world, one would hope that peripheral vision would be roughly as good as our own natural vision. The odds are that we won’t be stepping out in front too many charging rhinos, chugging diesel fumes and squealing the brakes, going down Main Street U.S.A. anytime soon. Let’s hope not, anyways.

Virtual reality is not just for fun and games. Scientists will use virtual reality in a number of ways.

Sensorama, 1950s. Photo Minecraftsyco, (Wiki.)
A robot equipped with enough sensors will be able to show all angles as it enters a nuclear reactor facility under meltdown and show outside observers exactly what’s going on in there.

Observers will be able to slip on a headset and look up, down, all around at no risk to themselves.

With improved medical imaging systems, a surgeon might be able to ‘make himself really small’ with virtual reality. They will be able to stand beside a tumour deep inside the brain and direct laser beams, micro-scalpels, or a small cluster of nano-bots to more accurately excise a tumor for example.

Soldiers will train on virtual reality renditions of sensitive targets without having to build an expensive, and rather insecure mock-up, which will become increasingly difficult to hide or camouflage from space-based observation as time goes on.

I have minimal experience with virtual reality. A few years ago, a buddy had a set of FatShark goggles and a camera aboard a model airplane. The aircraft was equipped with a video transmitter, and he had an antenna and recording unit on the ground, with the goggles plugged into the system.

He could fly the plane from the point of view of the aircraft itself—the only real complication being that when he swiveled or panned the camera, tilted it up or down or whatever, it was easy to lose that centred, forward view. The field of view was also quite small. There was a learning curve and it involved not just adrenalin, but some disorientation as well. The field of view is limited, but makers are continually improving the product. When you move your head inside of a proper game-space, the view changes, just like in real life.

I was wearing the goggles when he finally brought it in for a landing. With the ground, real enough, coming up at me, I literally braced my feet for impact and tottered back and forth, heart pounding, as the machine hit the grass.

It’s also pretty amazing when the plane is rolled, looped or spun. Reality, or a real model airplane flying in a real atmosphere, isn’t even really necessary to the equation. There is nothing real about World of Warcraft. People become totally immersed in a violent and convincing rendition of a battlefield. There is the sound and the fury, the flinch as a spear or sword comes at the player. The only thing lacking is blood, but there might even be some real fear in there, once a player has really let go of their external circumstances.

In terms of history, and many other applications, VR might be a useful teaching tool or a 
learning experience.

It’s real enough, or it certainly could be and the peaceful uses of virtual or augmented reality are presently being explored. It may be possible to plug directly into the brain, in which case the deaf might hear and the blind might see, a case of a parallel technologies, based on many of the same principles as VR. The real difficulty there is the brain/electronic interface, another problem that science and manufacturers are working on.

In the future, virtual reality, like all tools designed and built by humans, will be weaponized.

It will be used to save lives, to improve lives, and ultimately, no doubt used to take life as well.

As for the author, I have to get back to the game. Them other dogs are beating me at poker (again) and I need to sting somebody for cab fare at the very least.


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