Lately, or not so lately, there has been a great amount of buzz around Virtual Reality. However, I would rather not talk about the tech itself -since I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there about that- but rather, I would like to discuss the philosophical side that this form of tech may be bringing into question in decades to come.
In this post, I would like to introduce another buzzword that has been in the tech world for quite some time now. What that word is you may wonder? If you guessed Singularity, you were right. For the people out there reading and seeing this term for the first time, allow me to give you some quick background on this term.
For a long time, this term has been used by mathematicians and physicists. However, more recently in history, Singularity made its way into the tech industry. It is often described as a point in time when technology will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization. In a much simpler way to explain it, Singularity is the point in the future where human life as we know it will be changed beyond possible imagination.
If you have heard of this before, then you know that Singularity mostly revolves around A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). There are many predictions regarding when machines will take control over humanity. In fact, there is a great documentary from the 80’s on this subject. And to clarify, by documentary I mean movie, and by movie a mean Terminator .But let’s not get too distracted here because, if I remember correctly, this post is about V.R., not A.I.
As someone that works at Ruckbau, a company that specializes in Machine learning and path finding software, I’m pretty confident to say, although sorry to disappoint, that machines will not be taking over the world anytime soon. At least for the “first Singularity”. I see more chances of V.R. being the first tipping point in society. Oh, and what is the name of that other late 90’s documentary? You know, the one with Mr. Anderson? Oh yea! The Matrix. Possibly the worst human nightmare as far as technology goes -V.R and A.I combined together. But once again, lets not talk about A.I. and just focus on V.R.
A future where reality is not so real:
We are approaching the foreboding era of having the possibility of implanting chips directly into our brains. Something close to giving your brain the right stimulus to trick you into feeling and seeing things that do not physically exist. With that being said, I don’t want to get into what may or may not be a possibility, but rather discuss what is already a “reality”.
The Oculus Rift headset
Last year I purchased an Oculus Rift headset (second generation), and I got to experience how V.R. really works. Even though the tech is “not there yet”, it is very obvious that it will become more and more refined in the years to come, eventually allowing a full submersive experience. This doesn’t mean you will be able to touch and feel things; however you will be able to stand and walk around a room that can be transformed into infinite possibilities.
Here is the part where the philosophical aspect of the post comes in. It order to describe it best, I will refer to a very simple thought experiment, I like to call- “The Ocean experience”.
To start the thought experiment, we first need to set up a “real” environment. So here we go:
It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon during the summertime. You are provided with a backyard, a beach chair (think- the kind that fully reclines and allows you to even sleep on it if you want to), of course a bucket full of your favorite beer, and your V.R headset. You are also provided with NO time or money to travel to those amazing caribbean beaches that you want to explore so bad.
Now, lets turn your real setup into a “not ‘real’ but very real experience”. You place your bucket full of beer next to your beach chair and now all you have to do is sit, recline and put your V.R. headset on. A few seconds later you are transported to a beautiful, very relaxing caribbean beach.
Are you there? Well, the first answer that comes to mind when you think about it is, no. You are in the middle of your backyard. In spite of your first instincts, I would like you to put more thought into the question and reconsider. Think about this, you are now a few beers deep, and you can feel the heat of that summer sun on your skin. You look around and all you see is ocean, sand, some people nearby and maybe the occasionally seagull. So I ask you again, are you there? Once more, I’m sure you want to answer no. But isn’t it really, at least to some extent (here is where the real debate starts), nothing less than what your brain is able to perceive and process? So how can you tell, until the moment that nature calls and you are in need to take your V.R. set off your head and run to the bathroom, you weren’t “there”.
What’s going to happen when/if that chip implant becomes a “reality”? Then you could create the right stimulus to trick your body to feel the sand in between your toes. You could tell your brain that the smell of grass is actually the smell of ocean.
About a year ago, when I bought my V.R. set, I had an argument with my dad about reality. He kept saying that no matter how “real” it feels, it’s not “reality”. This is where I disagree.
So I would like to ask you this question: If you feel that sand between your toes, you smell the ocean breeze, and you see the ocean -does it matter where you physically are?
Forget about machines taking over humanity. “Smart Machines” created by humans, at least at this point in time, are actually not so ‘Smart’. And it will take another 40 or 50 years before they are somewhat “Smart”. However, I do see a future where you’ll be choosing your own “reality”.
All I can do at this point is just sit here and ponder about the infinite possibilities…