VR is Here, Now What? Where Vir­tual Re­al­ity is Head­ing in The Fu­ture

Where Vir­tual Re­al­ity is Head­ing in The Fu­ture



easy to for­get that we live the fu­ture ev­ery day. Merely 15 years ago cell­phones were still con­sid­ered a rar­ity and now they have be­come in­te­grated into al­most all facets of life in the West­ern world while quickly be­com­ing ne­ces­si­ties glob­ally. The im­por­tance of the cell­phone can­not be un­der­stated – it re­mains the be­gin­ning of a mod­ern in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion where in­stead of fac­to­ries, tech­nol­ogy is en­abling the in­di­vid­ual to em­power, ed­u­cate and ex­pand from a sim­ple 4 inch screen. What we take for granted in the West will be the defin­ing, iconic ed­u­ca­tor of the other 80% of the world.

The cell­phone may have launched the new in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion but its agents of dras­tic change will be Vir­tual and Aug­mented Re­al­ity. The phone changed our abil­ity as a species to con­nect in­stantly in an al­most tele­pathic way, VR and AR will evolve that dig­i­tal telepa­thy into an in­tense mind-meld. Al­ready it is pos­si­ble to see the frame­work be­ing laid down to turn vir­tual worlds into per­ma­nent, ev­ery­day as­pects of near-fu­ture hu­man­ity.

Third Life?

Of­ten VR in pop cul­ture is por­trayed as some sort of bas­tardized ver­sion of Half-Life that only nerds, delin­quents and geeks have any sway over. The re­al­ity is that main­stream adopters are be­gin­ning to pick up PlayS­ta­tion and Sam­sung Gear head­sets while a plethora of lower qual­ity but func­tional Google Card­board plat­forms are be­gin­ning to emerge as well. It is likely that the hard­core vs. ca­sual gamer trend of de­mo­graph­ics will con­tinue into the vir­tual world as the tech con­tin­ues to slide into main­stream uses and ap­peal. This means that the space dom­i­nated pre­dom­i­nantly by males will soon be­come the do­main of Gen X, Gen Y and Baby Boomers much like Sec­ond Life did. While it may seem sur­pris­ing, it’s of­ten re­tirees, stay-at-home par­ents, and stu­dents en­gag­ing in so­cial on­line gam­ing (ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle on www.big­fishgames.com) but it is of­ten these same peo­ple that have most dif­fi­culty build­ing new so­cial con­nec­tions in real life.

Con­nect­ing with oth­ers in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions whether they’re down the street or in Dubai has al­lowed pow­er­ful so­cial bonds to be con­structed through the in­ter­net – bonds that will dig even deeper when VR’s vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion be­comes more main­stream. Where Sec­ond Life has of­fered a glimpse into a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of VR, there are many new ex­am­ples of how VR will likely shape the fu­ture of hu­man­ity – at least por­tions of it. What is easy to for­get are peo­ple on the fringes, those with dis­abil­i­ties, suf­fer­ing through old age or los­ing their ca­pa­bil­ity to live the way they want.

San Ju­nipero, the iconic Black Mir­ror episode, brought the def­i­ni­tion of death to ques­tion and en­cour­aged view­ers to ask where the line is be­tween life and death in both the vir­tual and real worlds. As these types of vir­tual con­nec­tions con­tinue to be­come re­al­ity, the depth of de­tail and abil­ity to con­trol the en­vi­ron­ment will dras­ti­cally in­crease, while blur­ring the lines be­tween what is and what isn’t hu­man. If you could visit your long gone par­ents or in­trigu­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and in­ter­act with them as though they were real – would you?

As in­for­ma­tion quickly be­comes one of the big­gest eco­nomic driv­ers on Earth, peo­ple will pay for these types of ex­pe­ri­ences if they’re hy­per-re­al­is­tic.

How Cul­ture is Driving De­mand

The ca­pa­bil­ity to blur the line be­tween re­al­ity and fic­tional re­al­ity is com­ing and faster than any­one ex­pects.

Some be­lieve it is al­ready here. Phys­i­cal aug­ments like elec­tronic con­tacts and em­bed­ded RFID chips are be­ing used by body hack­ers (check out www.dan­ger­ousthings. com) to in­crease per­sonal ef­fi­ciency but many gov­ern­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions still don’t have much guid­ance in how to han­dle this, much less mass con­sumer prod­ucts that will be en­ter­ing mar­kets in the next cou­ple of years – most Amer­i­cans are still pick­ing up their first credit cards with chip tech­nol­ogy.

Re­gard­less, there are many new era tech­nolo­gies be­ing adopted now – Cine­plex is cur­rently rolling out VR ex­pe­ri­ences at a num­ber of their ex­ist­ing com­plexes. The fu­ture for this type of tech will heav­ily lean on ex­pe­ri­ences that ei­ther clients wouldn’t be able to nor­mally en­joy like fly­ing a fighter jet or new ex­pe­ri­ences that sim­ply don’t ex­ist, like ex­pe­ri­enc­ing birth from the per­spec­tive of a baby – that last one is prob­a­bly a su­per niche mar­ket but maybe not.

The in­ter­net has blos­somed into a great con­nec­tor and peo­ple are be­com­ing de­fined more by in­di­vid­ual traits than their col­lec­tive as­so­ci­a­tions. VR pro­duc­ers will in­evitably find de­mand to cre­ate what by nor­mal stan­dards to­day would be strange ex­pe­ri­ences. In the near fu­ture it will be com­mon­place to ex­pe­ri­ence birth or an­swer the big­gest gen­der re­lated ques­tion of all since the dawn of hu­man­ity, what’s it like to be a mem­ber of the op­po­site sex for a day? Ex­plor­ing this type of idea is noth­ing new to the vir­tual world - many peo­ple have used it as a way to cope with their gen­der iden­tity while oth­ers have sim­ply tested the wa­ters to see what it’s like. As wear­ables and im­mer­sion con­tinue to im­prove, this clas­sic ques­tion will be­come eas­ily an­swer­able along with so many oth­ers.

The lines of what a hu­man is or isn’t will con­tinue to blur. Some so­cial sci­en­tists al­ready think we’ve en­tered the next stage of evo­lu­tion through tech­nol­ogy but it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that as far ad­vanced as VR tech can be with the right amount of money, the rest of the world is still pick­ing up cell­phones with tiny screens to sim­ply call their par­ents two towns over. There is no ques­tion that we are ap­proach­ing an­other epoch of hu­man­ity, the ques­tion has now be­come how fast will it be adopted by those in the west and how long will it take for the rest of the world to join these quickly grow­ing vir­tual com­mu­ni­ties?

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