While technology may still be a decade or so off from full-immersion, visual-auditory virtual reality, online social networks and video games are proving how intense the desire for simulated environments is and how big of a market there will be for artificial representations of reality.
Virtual reality could very well be the next major entertainment industry of the 21st century. As computer technology advances and the processing power necessary for full-blown VR becomes widespread, expect to see some major changes to business as usual:
Be at the office, while working from home. Forget dragging your bloated hung-over liver into the office after a weekend of binge drinking. In the coming decades, if your sociopathic boss calls a Monday morning meeting he or she will probably be doing it in a virtual conference room, where information and ideas will be exchanged through tall, blue alien avatars with nice thighs and lightning fast digital cloud computing.
Skype times a thousand. Catching up with old, needy friends or family members won’t be done on stale, two-dimensional screens any longer. Users of advanced VR will pick avatars and tap into ‘rooms’ shared by as many people as they want. As the modeling technology grows, depictions of physical likenesses will get better and better, as will haptic interfaces that allow for realistic physical sensations like touch, smell, and sound. Awful, emotionally damaging family gatherings will be a lot less stressful and if you don’t want mom and dad to find out about that piercing or tramp stamp you can just omit it from your avatar.
Major contributions to science. Virtual reality environments are already proving to be extremely useful and illustrative in the study of diseases like Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders. As scientists gain the ability to work with theoretical models in hands-on simulations, expect major advancements in medicine, astronomy, and virtually every other field of science.
“It’s like you’re really there!” Virtual reality will not only be a major boon for the entertainment industry, it will be extremely useful to perennially underpaid educators. A day at school will be like going to a movie, except actually being in the movie. Imagine how a child’s interest in biology, chemistry, or computer engineering will grow when they can enter cells and circuits and analyze their components in person. So much for textbooks—the universe itself will be the instructor. Imagine The Fantastic Voyage without the danger of being neutralized by a rogue white blood cell.
New industry=new job markets. While some jobs may be slowly become extinct, new jobs will arise as the demand for advanced VR grows. Companies will need new designers and a panoply of creative software engineers and cognitive scientists to help bridge the gap between physical reality and simulated environments. Expect the VR industry to become the mobile app rage of the 2020s and 2030s.
VR has a ways to go before it’s omnipresent, but who would have thought that the Internet would become such an indispensable part of our moment-to-moment lives? As utility and computer processing power converge, virtual reality will come to be just as invaluable to society as the web is now.
Article paid for by The Virtual Reality Corporation, a subsidiary of Google and Future China.
In the throes of my passion about virtual reality, I finally watched the sci-fi film The Thirteenth Floor last night. I don’t know why it took me so long—fortunately, I was not disappointed. Though I was hoping for a bit more of a subversive ending—such as the confounding conclusion to Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, which leaves the viewer still wondering about the nature of reality—this movie explores the idea of simulated worlds in a way that few films have.
In the Thirteenth Floor, the investigation of the murder of a man developing a revolutionary virtual reality machine turns up the disturbing truth that ‘users,’ or people from our world, are tapping in to inhabit virtual characters for nefarious reasons. Ultimately, we learn a far more disturbing truth about the nature of our ‘world’ and who might be tapping in to inhabit us.
For a moment this movie started to head in a direction that I’m interested in taking in my upcoming stories, which is the idea that virtual reality can bleed into the real world and change the nature of real ‘reality.’ I’ve already explored this a bit in a short story I wrote called “Beta,” which aesthetically and thematically is kind of the combination of Ender’s Game and Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia.
In my short story “Harold the House” (part of my sci-fi collection I hope to turn into an e-book, for which I’m currently launching an IndieGoGo campaign), I take a more practical approach to virtual reality. In “Harold,” virtual reality is part of the interconnection between artificial intelligence and humans. AI houses basically act as our maids/personal assistants/lovers, and configure virtual reality environments to keep us satiated. In this world, it is not so much virtual reality that begins to bleed into reality, but the power of AI, which begins embedding subversive messages into our subconscious.
In a forthcoming YA novel I’m outlining, called booKWorm, I’ll be exploring the idea of virtual reality as a way to actually warp physical reality—and even history—itself.
In future posts I’ll be delving more into where we are right now with virtual reality as a consumer item.