Look into the fu­ture

True vir­tual re­al­ity is fi­nally here.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - MAN AT HIS BEST / MAHB - mahb / dig­i­tal man by Jen­nings brown

my first in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence with vir­tual re­al­ity took place in an apart­ment in Mon­treal. I sat in the cen­tre of a stu­dio packed with speak­ers, cords and in­stru­ments scat­tered on the floor like toys in a day­care. The only other souls in the room were a mu­si­cian—play­ing the pi­ano, singing, smok­ing a cig­a­rette—and his sleep­ing dog. Three quar­ters of the way through the song, I smelled some­thing burn­ing. S**t. I pulled off the head­set and I was sit­ting on my couch in Brook­lyn. My apart­ment was filled with smoke.

I was dis­ap­pointed. Not be­cause I’d ru­ined din­ner, but be­cause Pa­trick Wat­son, the mu­si­cian in the video, wasn’t go­ing to be play­ing any more songs for me. It was a lit­tle tran­scen­dent, sit­ting alone with another man ser­e­nad­ing me while I snooped around his apart­ment. No lag what­so­ever as I looked over my shoul­der at the notes and pho­tos pinned on his wall and his kitchen filled with boxes. I didn’t know how eas­ily my brain could be tricked by my eyes and ears. It was as if my cere­bral cor­tex had been hacked. When I think of the first time I watched Juras­sic Park, I think of the theatre where I saw it, but when I think about the first time I watched Wat­son play, I think back to his apart­ment.

This ex­pe­ri­ence was brought to me by the Sam­sung Gear VR In­no­va­tor Edi­tion head­set (sam­sung.com), the first com­mer­cially avail­able prod­uct to use Ocu­lus Rift tech­nol­ogy. The head­set comes alive when you at­tach the Sam­sung Galaxy Note 4 phone. Through the Note, you can down­load games and videos.

But there is no way I can con­vey to you how real the ex­pe­ri­ence is. Even when I tried de­scrib­ing it to friends—su­perla­tives, wide eyes and wild hand ges­tures in­cluded—they would tell me af­ter try­ing it that I didn’t do it jus­tice. So I en­listed the help of my fam­ily, tak­ing the head­set home over the hol­i­days. But when each per­son took it off, in­stead of de­scrib­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence, he pre­dicted what it could be used for.

My ac­tor cousin thinks it will change movies; you’ll watch some­thing dozens of times, miss­ing things that are be­hind and above you. His brother, who owns a cus­tom-cloth­ing com­pany, said be­cause he has all his clients’ sizes, he could meet them in vir­tual stores and show them new fab­rics and styles. My dad, a den­tist, imag­ined tech­nol­ogy that would al­low doc­tors to see and op­er­ate as tiny avatars embed­ded in a body. My sis­ter, buried in grad-school ap­pli­ca­tions, can’t wait un­til she can at­tend a vir­tual class­room.

“I could end PTSD with this,” said another sis­ter, a clin­i­cal psy­chi­a­trist, ex­plain­ing how sol­diers could re­live ex­pe­ri­ences. And fi­nally, my proud­coun­try-boy cousin put the head­set on and shouted: “Call of Duty is go­ing to be amaz­ing on this bad boy!”

And each of them is right: re­searchers are test­ing VR for ex­po­sure ther­apy. Di­rec­tors Al­fonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro have shown in­ter­est in mak­ing Ocu­lus ex­pe­ri­ences. Soon, Sam­sung will re­lease a 360 de­gree cam­era that will al­low any­one to film VR videos. It won’t be long be­fore you can watch live video from cam­eras through a head­set. Those cam­eras will only get smaller, and head­sets will evolve into glasses that won’t make you look like a jack­ass.

As for me, I think of im­mer­sive sto­ry­telling. The hell with 3-D: this is the be­gin­ning stage of the fi­nal di­men­sion of me­dia. At one point in a hor­ror game, I looked over my shoul­der and saw a hu­man face stretched out like a can­vas on a frame. My space vi­o­lated, I could al­most sense him breath­ing on me. I yelped. I felt like a child. It was ter­ri­fy­ing. And com­pletely ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

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