Sunday, February 17, 2008

THE MOST UNDER-RATED TECHNOLOGY

My vote for the most under-rated technology, the sleeper that's most likely to completely alter the future in 50 years or so, is virtual reality. VR isn't very visible in the consumer market right now. I guess the novelty wore off after it was introduced 15 years ago in video arcades.


The headsets were clunky and the graphics were pretty poor. Back then I thought game companies would go after VR, and they did for a short time, but interest wained.


I like the films about VR: "Lawnmower Man," "Dreamscape," "Vituosity," and "The Matrix." In a way I like Lawnmower man the best, even though it was objectively the worst of the films I mentioned. The other films posited that we'd want virtual reality to mimic real life. Only Lawnmower Man posited that we might prefer to live in artificial, man-made worlds which resemble abstract video games like Mario Brothers.



One day, maybe in our kids' lifetime, quantum computers will give us the power to create whatever worlds we like. Almost certainly a lot of people will prefer VR to the real world. Some might not even feel like eating and may starve to death. If I could fly, if I could reach for things with arms as long as football fields, if I could be an insect or a T-Rex, if I could sleep in a bird's nest or be a fish in a lagoon, if I could have unlimited sex and explore the atomic world by flying through molecules....if I could do all that, maybe I wouldn't want to leave the virtual world either.


On the other hand, maybe reality is the ultimate virtual world. There are so many weird and unpredictable mysteries, even in a leaf. Maybe the more realistic VR gets, the more people will learn to crave and appreciate reality. Who knows?



22 comments:

I.D.R.C. said...

You have at least 6 senses that need to be well stimulated for a truly immersive VR experience. It's a huge obstacle. Add feedback and interaction and it'll probably stay in the movies for the next hundred years or two or three or more. It would much easier to learn cognitive dreaming. you can do that now.

On the other hand we may be able to have powered exoskeleton fights.

I.D.R.C. said...

--Did I say 6 senses? I meant 5, of course, unless we are talking about M. K. Shamalan.

I have 6 --the regular five plus foreboding.

scartoonist said...

Interesting! Maybe now that we're hooked up with ten million talented and eager programmers in India, we can tap the human power needed to have a go at it.

scartoonist
http://floatinglightbulb.blogspot.com/

Mr. Sean said...

As soon as they make glasses & genital stimulators for that 2nd Life thing, it's all over. It'll be worse than cocaine, heroin, weed, Doom, etc... we'll be lost. Virtual Reality is a sickness! Although, remember that early game that had a pterodactyl flying around in it?

Adam said...

Virtual reality is scary. People are so out of touch with real life as it is.

And even though people may not be wearing headsets people are already living virtual lives in online games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. I think the 'gamer' lifestyle is absolutely ridiculous. These games are so much more predictable than real life, there's less risk involved in any of your actions. You screw up real bad in an online game and you have to restart at your last checkpoint.

These games are for people who can't cope with the rules of real life so they escape into a fantasy world where even though you may be battling dragons and ogres things are much kinder and gentler.

These geeks need to log off and go play soccer, or learn how to cook themselves dinner.

David Gale said...

Early CG is really starting to acquire a certain kitschy charm isn't it?

Chloe Cumming said...

I think that last thing you said was very interesting... I was just thinking about that myself having watched a bunch of quite touching youtube videos about people addicted to World of Warcraft.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp3Ojsykf3s&feature=related


You can get sucked into the logic of some nonphysical place, but you know in yourself afterwards that craving that place isn't healthy and it isn't really helping you.

And if you've been playing a role playing game for a while, you begin to compare reality to the logic of the game, and it becomes obvious that reality has the best graphics, the best resolution, the best sensations and the most nonlinear gameplay.

Achieving stuff in reality can be a good deal more unpredictable and complicated, but I think the games have made me think 'how do I get to the next level in my life? How do I obtain the Rune of Berserking... in real life?' Which is an interesting question...

Also I think that when you fantasize about VR and stuff like unlimited sex... it's a bit like having a lucid dream and knowing you can be naughty because no real people are watching you and you're not accountable for your sins against the holographic dream people in your brain. But that's an odd kind of amoral space that might render you a bit of a weirdo after prolonged exposure.

Barbara said...

If anyone embraces it, it probably won't be for a very long time. The Matrix and that one episode of Are you Afraid of the Dark, "The Renegade Virus" taught me to fear virtual reality.

Soos said...

If you follow video games, you'll notice they're actually following the pattern you're describing - trying as hard as they can to be indistinguishable from real life.

I think they only do this as part of a pissing contest with other developers - look, we can make a more realistic tree to shoot at! Meanwhile, the original Super Mario is still more fun to play.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

In your list of Virtual Reality based films, you forgot to mention Brainstorm.

Some Guy said...

>>Meanwhile, the original Super Mario is still more fun to play.

I second that.

Lester Hunt said...

Reality has one thing that VR lacks: it is real. I think Eddie's last point was spot on: in a world with lots of VR, people would begin to crave reality. Maybe they would even start to value pain, grief and such because they are reminders that this is no fantasy we are living.

diego cumplido said...

OH! ... I've been thinking the same thing for a long time. Why didn't I do a post about it! ...

Anonymous said...

There's also the 1983 "Brainstorm", the last film Natalie Wood appears in, co-starring Cliff Robertson and Christopher Walken. It featured a crude device that's a forerunner of virtual reality, with which one character ruined his mind by watching a PG-rated porn loop. The film was shot in 1980 but delayed for release.

nullandvoid said...

i think that the level of "VR" that is found in WOW and second life sufficiant enough already to where it could be considered as compleatly imersive to the brain. If you fool the brain, you dont need to fool all 5 senses.

First off, the gamer wants to be fooled, it really doesn't take much for this imersion of the brain to take place in a "fantasy world." We get the same effect during a movies where we know its fake, yet we can be still moved to tears. cartoons that have heart, even though they are just stacks of drawings. but movies and cartoons only last a few hours, games last until the brain is satisified that something is "accomplished" and so, the gamer goes into these games that dont have a final goal,but a constant feed of new quests and or social networks and obligations, evreything around them in real life shuts down because the brain really thinks these goals are are real as it gets. what happens in the game is real and is just as/if not more/ imporitiant than paying bills/grooming/showers/steady job/ hence an addicts decline in their real life.

so, there is no need to wait for VR glasses or Teledildonics plug-in's for second life. the decline is already happening! hurray!

at least take comfort knowing that the graphics from second life are on the same level as the The Lawnmower Man.

lastangelman said...

I think what many here are not realizing is the ultimate step in VR: an inability to distinguish the virtual world from the real world. The programming and hardware would be plugged into your brain and feeding you info that would fool the cognitive part of your brain into believing the virtual world you are experiencing is the real world. The impulses sent to your brain would the same as stimuli received from your classic sensorial receivers, as well as precog feelings and deja vu and even a sense of hallucination within the VR. This has been described by Philip K Dick in stories as "Minority Report" and "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", translated into popular films "Minority Report" and "Total Recall". When VR tech becomes advanced to such a level, there will be all types of philosophical and social discussions of what is the nature and purpose of reality.

Advanced VR sensation, such as depicted in film "Total Recall", can have other applications besides recreational. They can be essential for mental and physical rehabilitation, testing models and problem solving and educational purposes.
There will always be the sinister factor of misuse, abuse by those wishing to use technology as a means of gaining control or seizing power. Pandora's box is open and we have to be prepared for all the unforeseen uses this technology will unleash.

Right now, as applied to animation, VR is pretty much being sidestepped in favor of creating 3-D CGI depictions of actors. I'm sure there are earlier examples but the one that immediately springs to mind is The Batman character in Batman Forever. Many of the stunts in that film were obviously not Val Kilmer or a stunt person, but one of the first practical uses of CGI technology in big budget entertainment. Robert Zemeckis and Peter Jackson are blazing the path of creating virtual actors giving Oscar worthy performances (Jackson trumps Zemeckis in my personal opinion, his CGI work is almost undetectable. Zemeckis's work reminds me of the humans depicted in the Shrek movies). My guess is the next step is going to be from video gaming world. The Nintendo Wii will probably evolve to holograms players will interact, similar to tennis pro simulation Sharon Stone's character was interacting with in "Total Recall". No doubt, the adult entertainment industry will jump on that trend like Sylvester on Tweety.

I'd more, but I have to leave for work. Good discussion.

Adam said...

There's a problem when you make things too easy for people, you create no incentive for people to evolve or mature.

I'm much better at dealing with other human beings now than I was when I was younger but I know if I spent my nights in a VR fantasy land where I was waited on by servants and blown by a harem of beautiful women, during my days I would be a maladjusted little creep. I wouldn't want to live with myself, but I certainly don't want to live with other people who expect to have all their desires fulfilled with minimal effort.

Some Guy said...

By the way, I think the best filmic portrayal of VR was in Minority Report.

Anyone remember that Power Rangers rip-off show VR Troopers? Or The Real Adventues of Jonny Quest? Or ReBoot? 90s children's TV series were obsessed wiht VR!

Hammerson said...

Fascinating discussion (as always)!
And while you mentioned clunky headsets, take a look at something I drew 8 years ago:

Virtual Stupidity

I guess things haven't really changed that much since then :)

SlashHalen said...

Like everyone said, the closest thing to VR today is WOW. That or just about any video game, mainly 1st person shooters.

On that note, I think video games are the reason why VR isn't thought of so highly today. Ever heard of the Virtual Boy?

http://www.gametrailers.com/player/30755.html
(Kinda long video)
That thing sucked so much ass. I'm pretty sure it's the cause of VRs death.

John A said...

I remember reading a few years ago that the reason virtual reality didn't take off in the early 90s was that it gave a lot of people violent motion sickness. And the Virtual Boy was renowned as a migraine in a box!

the Dave said...

While I doubt that VR would ever replace even more conventional entertainment systems, but I do wish that people would at least consider them as a way to entertain. It's kind of like 3D movies. They were and are pretty awesome, I think even regular features, without "3D Gags," would be a cool alternative. Besides, what says "We are living in the Future" better than big, clunky Virtual Reality helmuts? (Excluding, of course, jet packs and ray guns)