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;)

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