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Full immersion virtual reality: Where you can be anyone, anywhere, anytime
Remember what it felt like to be a kid on Halloween night? The excitement of putting on a felt costume with a fluffy collar, drawing whiskers on your cheeks, and magically transforming into a lion. Or tying a red cape around your neck, pinning a big “S” to your chest, and becoming Superman -- faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! For one night you could become whoever or whatever you wanted. Anything was possible! But over the years those hidden personalities -- the playful, absurd, larger than life versions of you -- have become muffled. Worn down by the tasks of daily life, inhibitions, and, let’s be honest, fear of being judged.
If you could be anyone for Halloween this year who would you be? A superhero? A rock star? An Olympian? According to Ray, it won’t be long until we will transform ourselves into whomever or whatever we want with the help of full immersion virtual reality (VR). In his book, The Singularity Is Near, Ray says that computers will keep shrinking until they go inside our bodies and brains. In 2030, nanobots (tiny computers the size of red blood cells) will have the ability to travel through our blood streams into our capillaries and interact directly with our biological neurons inside the nervous system, shutting down the signals from our “real” senses and replacing them with the signals from virtual environments. He writes:
“Nanobots will take up positions in close physical proximity to every interneuronal connection coming from our senses… If we want to experience real reality, the nanobots will just stay in position (in the capillaries) and do nothing. If we want to enter virtual reality, they will suppress all of the inputs coming from our actual senses and replace them with the signals that would be appropriate for the virtual environment. Your brain will experience these signals as if they came from your physical body.”
Full immersion virtual reality will go way beyond current VR. First of all, it won’t require funny goggles. And it definitely won't be limited to what you see. It will take over all of your senses. Let’s say you live in the desert and you want to spend an afternoon by the ocean. You will be able to choose any beach out of an infinite number of beaches, real and imaginary. The chosen VR environment will then instruct the nanobots in your brain to turn certain senses on and certain senses off. You will be able to see where the ocean meets the sky, hear the lapping of the waves, feel the cool mist of the water, smell the sea air, and taste the salt on your lips.
Ray writes, “The web will provide a panoply of virtual environments to explore. Some will be re-creations of real places; others will be fanciful environments that have no counterpart in the physical world. Some, indeed, would be impossible perhaps because they violate the laws of physics. We will be able to visit these virtual places and have any kind of interaction with other real, as well as simulated, people (of course, ultimately there won’t be a clear distinction between the two), ranging from business negotiations to sensual encounters.”
Full immersion virtual reality won't be limited to our environments, it will transform us from the inside out. Ray goes on:
“In virtual reality you won’t be restricted to a single personality, since we will be able to change our appearance and effectively become other people. Without altering our physical body (in real reality) we will be able to readily transform our projected body in these three-dimensional virtual environments. We will select different bodies at the same time for different people. So your parents may see you as one person, while your girlfriend will experience you as another….”
While this may sound like a scene from a science fiction movie, it is quite reasonable when you consider the progress we have made over the past 140 years. The telephone, for example, transported our voices around the world for the first time in the late 1800s, allowing us to talk to far-away people as though they were sitting in the same room. That was the first form of auditory virtual reality. Now phone calls are so routine that we don't think twice about them, and more often than not we choose to ignore them (who calls when you can text?!). At the same time, Thomas Edison created the first phonograph that could record and reproduce sound, bringing symphonies out of concert halls and into our homes for the first time. Fast forward one hundred years and Atari introduced us to a virtual world where we could control the fate of a bouncing ball -- Pong. Once a new technology is introduced, we absorb it so quickly that we tend to forget what life was like before it existed. Remember when Zoom was a novelty in early quarantine? That was only a year and a half ago. Today “zooming” is a verb and part of a normal work day. Whether you've grown to love it or hate it, it's easy to forget that we couldn't always wear pajama pants to meetings. As for videogames, we’ve obviously come a long way since Pong. Just the other day I thought I was watching a live basketball game on TV and then realized I was actually watching my son play NBA 2K (true story).
According to Ray's Law of Accelerating Returns, the overall rate of technological progress is currently doubling every decade and the rate of acceleration is itself growing exponentially. This means that the twenty-first century will see 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate. And yet, we often fail to consider this accelerating pace of change.
Imagine what full immersion virtual reality will mean for learning. Regardless of where students are, they will have access to virtual laboratories where experiments will be conducted in chemistry, nuclear physics, and all other scientific fields. Students learning about the Women’s Suffrage Movement will be able to interact with a virtual Susan B. Anthony or even become Susan B. Anthony. Students at any age, from toddlers to adults, will be able to access the best education in the world at any time, from any place.
We will live wherever we want and still be able to work, learn, and play together in virtual spaces. Ultimately, virtual reality will vastly enhance our ability to be creative, explore our passions, and express all of our many personalities.
So, if you or your kids are having trouble deciding on the perfect costume for Halloween, don’t worry. It won’t be long before you will be able to transform yourself far beyond the limitations of physical costumes, makeup, and props. With full immersion virtual reality you will be able to be anyone, anything, on any day, for any reason.
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