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.
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?