Vir­tual re­al­ity may soon be­come, well, a re­al­ity in daily life

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

In the movie Sur­ro­gates, hu­man be­ings live in iso­la­tion and in­ter­act by re­mote- con­trol­ling sur­ro­gate ro­bots, who are per­fectly good look­ing, young, healthy and ath­letic. In Gamer, peo­ple have per­son­al­i­ties in sim­u­la­tion worlds that are dif­fer­ent from their real lives.

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, that fu­tur­is­tic out­look may not be too far away, af­ter all. Vir­tual re­al­ity is, they say, a tech­nol­ogy fast ap­proach­ing a tip­ping point. Funny- look­ing head­sets have come out, al­beit largely in pro­to­types or with “prim­i­tive” func­tions, al­low­ing wear­ers to en­joy dig­i­tally cre­ated sur­round­ings or even some sim­ple ex­pe­ri­ences.

Pre­dictably, the gam­ing in­dus­try is lead­ing the in­no­va­tions. You might feel like be­ing on a bat­tle­field or in a sport­ing arena, but that will be just a baby step. If vir­tual re­al­ity is set to be used in train­ing rooms, for pi­lot or as­tro­naut train­ing, or by the public in gen­eral, we would be see­ing just the tip of the ice­berg in the com­ing years. As for where it may lead, we have no idea.

Some have said new pi­lots com­ing out of vir­tual re­al­ity train­ing will im­me­di­ately fly a plane full of pas­sen­gers, that soon you will be able to join a party with­out hav­ing to leave your home. You will be able to “tour” Venice while still in your Bangkok res­i­dence and you won’t be able to tell the dif­fer­ence. And how about a ten­nis ses­sion with Roger Fed­erer? Bet­ter still, how about be­ing an ath­lete your­self and play­ing in a sta­dium full of your “fans”?

There are many rea­sons why big changes should come sooner rather than later, not least be­cause Face­book is among those who have re­al­ized the po­ten­tial of vir­tual re­al­ity. It’s sim­ply a busi­ness and a so­cial game-changer. Of course, it will start with the gam­ing world, with a lot of new com­puter games al­ready pro­vid­ing glimpses into how far the tech­nol­ogy can go. But soon vir­tual re­al­ity should af­fect ev­ery­one, like the touch-screen smartphones that we so naively as­sumed only well-to-do peo­ple could af­ford.

Moral ques­tions will def­i­nitely be raised. If vir­tual re­al­ity is blended with some­thing con­tro­ver­sial, like ac­cess to other peo­ple’s mem­ory like in an even older movie, “Strange Days,” alarmists are ex­pected to be out in full force. But tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment has taught us that what we en­vis­age can of­ten hap­pen.

Vir­tual re­al­ity may start rel­a­tively humbly out­side the gam­ing in­dus­try. Face­book, for ex­am­ple, plans to add videos that give view­ers a 360- de­gree view of a scene and en­able them to pan left or right. Then Face­book users would be able to share spe­cial mo­ments that would make view­ers feel as if they were there.

The “pos­i­tives” don’t end there. There are count­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in ed­u­ca­tion. Peo­ple can “par­tic­i­pate” in his­tor­i­cal mo­ments. Will vir­tual re­al­ity be able to help re­mote surgery? Tech­nol­ogy will, of course, reach that stage. And that raises the ques­tion: Will im­mer­sion re­place books? When you can “visit” his­tor­i­cal places in Italy in­stead of just read­ing about them, what will you choose? Ex­ec­u­tives from Sil­i­con Val­ley to Hol­ly­wood could soon join hands to pro­vide a new 3D medium that could edge out tele­vi­sion, movies and books.

What’s driv­ing the vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy to a tip­ping point, where some­thing ex­clu­sive be­comes avail­able for all, which fur­ther has­tens its im­prove­ment and widens its use? Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ar­ti­cle in the Wash­ing­ton Post, the driv­ing force is hu­man na­ture — never set­tling for the same old ex­pe­ri­ences. This facet of hu­man na­ture will en­sure that vir­tual re­al­ity will keep evolv­ing — even to the point where it wows or scares us.

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