Monday, February 22, 2016

When worlds collide: The real meets the virtual

I often comment in my classes that the way humans will live in advanced economies towards the end of this century will be practically unrecognizable to those who lived and died in the early twentieth century.  "It will be a sci-fi life to somebody from a mere hundred years ago" I tell them.

Even now it is a sci-fi world in which we live.  We mutter into the air (into our cellphones) and we get an echo from somebody who is somewhere else on this planet.  We are even able to see them.  This will be way freakier an experience to a time traveler from 1816 than was the cliched cigarette lighter to the remote tribes in Hollywood movies.

The cellphone conversation and image is virtual.  Our lives are increasingly virtual.  And these virtual and real worlds are going to merge even more, which is what all the big companies are betting on.
Mark Zuckerberg, who made a surprise appearance Sunday at Samsung's Mobile World Congress press conference to promote VR, believes virtual reality is the next major computing platform after mobile devices to bring together family and friends on the other side of the country or the world.
Zuckerberg wants to capture and share his daughter's first steps using virtual reality.
“Pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re just there, right there in person,” Zuckerberg said Sunday.
Even now, we live so much of our lives "as if you’re just there, right there in person."  Television boasts about how you get to experience entertainment events "as if you’re just there, right there in person."  Skype is no different. The examples are endless. So, hey, the logical step in this for VR--Virtual Reality.
"They put on headset. You put on a headset. And you can be teleported anywhere you want in the world. It can be fishing. It can be at the zoo. It can be at the museum. It can be in your living room," Facebook's chief technology officer Michael Schroepfer told USA TODAY last year. "After about a minute, it really does feel like that person is there even though they are 1,000 miles away."
The next logical step in the ongoing battle of proxy over proximity, which is one of the themes that I have often explored here.  Proxy is winning big time.

It is bizarre, however, when life is completely redefined in ways that words begin to mean something else altogether.  Consider this, for instance:
“What people care about,” Zuckerberg says, sitting just down the hall from Facebook’s VR room, “is interacting with another person.”
Seriously?  People care to interact with another person so much that they prefer to do that not in the real world with people in flesh and blood but in the virtual world?

Of course, Facebook is not the only one rushing towards this brave new virtual world:
In October 2014, Google led a $500 million investment in the augmented-reality startup Magic Leap, a cousin of Oculus-style virtual reality. The following January, Microsoft unveiled its own augmented reality headset, the Hololens. All the while, Google was building its own VR effort from scratch, not only offering a cardboard headset that could deliver VR via your smartphone, but secretly building more advanced hardware. And now, it seems, Apple is doing much the same.
Brendan Iribe, who is the CEO of Oculus, is confident about the direction:
if you look back at the history of most new big technology breakthroughs, there is some element of controversy around what impact is it going to have. Whether it was books or computers or mobile devices. Now it’s virtual reality. I’m really confident that it’s part of the natural concern around new technology, and that VR will become a very big part of everybody’s life in the future.
I can't wait to get the hell out of here before VR completely redefines what it means to be human and what it means to belong to humanity;)


Ramesh said...

Oh come on. I was nodding my head till I came to your last line. You - who is tweeting all the time about how you got up on the left side of the bed is complaining about the virtual world ???

Just like every other invention, this will add to the human dimension; not eliminate it. As Anne and I have said repeatedly before, the colours of a rainbow, the smell of a rose, the gurgle of a baby and the sight of a pretty/handsome girl/boy (ha ha) will always define humanness. Take the good of the virtual world and discard what doesn't appeal. That's why I refuse to reply to the @congoboy :):)

Anne in Salem said...

I agree with Ramesh (how many times have I typed that?). VR will add to the human dimension. This will not replace face to face interaction because no one will use it as a substitute for walking across the street to say hi or meeting for coffee. This will replace airline tickets because people will use it rather than traveling. Grandparents will "attend" grandchildren's soccer games on the other side of the continent. Another example: my mother is in a nursing home and will not be able to attend her oldest grandchild's college graduation. You better believe I would jump at the chance to have her "there" if I could. (Of course, I'd have to ask my children to hook up and run the thing because I wouldn't have a clue!) Businesses will use it in unexpected ways. And just wait until the teenagers get hold of it and mine every possible use.

Given your frequent admonition to consider how technology and other advances will affect humans and what it means to be human, I'd think you'd be jumping for joy at Iribe's comment. Though it is a short answer to a specific question, it appears he has considered your concerns.

Mike Hoth said...

VR will join either 3D or Google Glass in the end. 3D was supposed to be the biggest thing when it came out decades ago, and while it has become the "big new thing" again I'm waiting for it to die out once again. Google Glass was supposed to be that great new invention everybody would want and all of us would get, but it (and the Segway, remember those?) wasn't worth the price tag and wasn't worth the trouble of using due to its many limitations.

I don't care how much VR can make it look like I'm at the beach, it can't make me FEEL like I'm there sitting on the sand or inhaling salt air. It's a gimmick that can't, and therefore won't, replace the real thing.

Sriram Khé said...

You folks enjoy the VR ... I will be happy to be on my way out. If you are immensely pleased with how VR will complement the human condition, then I suppose you are also extremely pleased with how the virtual "friendship" of Facebook has strengthened friendship!

Yes, this is not the first time VR is talked about. One of the essays that I linked to also refers to how it has been hyped up in the past, and about Google Glass too. But, that is like saying that the smartphone idea was hyped up twenty years ago and how it didn't work then. The computing power has finally caught up with where the VR imagination was.

BTW, if it interests you folks, as with how the porn industry played quite some role in the early days of the web and e-commerce, well, the industry is working on VR porn. This report on the recently concluded industry expo in Vegas is not impressed: