Impacts of Augmented and Virtual Realities

We now start to move from specifics to more general discussion about how all these new digital paths are impacting our sense of self, our view of others and of the world around us. 

First I want to look at the ‘hot’ new technologies of 2015-2022–the immersive, but isolating virtual reality of Oculus Rift (including the Samsung system in my office you can check out) or the augmented reality seen in the Microsoft Hololens 2 vid from weeks ago.

In both cases the goal is to replace the screen-keyboard experience of the phone-tablet-PC with something more portable and more attuned to normal movements such as hand gestures.  Virtual reality systems by definition must be immersive since their goal is to replace visual-audial reality with a digital one.  This has been the dream since Star Trek’s holodeck (see nice Wikipedia entry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodeck]. 

In VR the user is immersed in the digital reality, theoretically with most senses being equally functional as in the real world.  With current technology this consists of a headset/screen and some sort of hand controllers.

As we’ve seen from earlier in the semester many researchers have noted that the brain quickly assumes what it senses is real.  It is quite common for people to get motion sickness or vertigo while in VR headsets.  Despite the attraction of such tech, it remains on the fringe outside of specialty uses.  But a number of companies, most famously Facebook, have sunk huge sums (as in hundreds of millions) into VR in ‘Spaces’ https://youtu.be/PVf3m7e7OKU?t=2 .  Yet each year it never quite shows up or gets traction.  As Yee notes in that vid I just sent out earlier, VR is still very limited even in the gamer world to a very selective audience, and to date there has been no move into social media. 

A good example of VR can be seen in the Steam vid (from 2016) at https://youtu.be/qYfNzhLXYGc?t=4.  Note the isolation from reality.  But as graphics engines become more sophisticated the level of detail has become quite impressive, as seen in this Unreal Engine 4 demo https://youtu.be/KZ9mb3Jylb0?t=3 .  Of course given the fact that the brain will take the relatively poor visuals of Second Life and interpret them as ‘real’, the need for this hyper-realism can be questioned.

In contrast to VR, augmented reality (AR) uses projections to superimpose digital overlays into physical reality.  The Hololens 2 vid from earlier is a good example with a good summary of this technology in the ColdFusion vid https://youtu.be/NwY-6sQDYnk?t=9.  As ColdFusion notes, it is intentionally designed with reality integration as a goal. 

As with VR huge $$$ are being poured into this area and (relatively) robust functional versions have started to show up in 2019 (for a 2018 spin on AR, look at https://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-ar-glasses,review-2804.html . A really chilling view of where this might all go can be seen in Matsuda’s clever short vid “Hyper-Reality” at https://youtu.be/YJg02ivYzSs .  As these AR systems become more functional we end up back at the Microsoft ‘future’ vid we saw before https://youtu.be/w-tFdreZB94?t=6 .  As a thinking exercise, contrast Matsuda’s view of AR with that of Microsoft.

Missing from this drive for new more immersive tech are the potential social-behavioral ramifications.  Try watching the first couple of minutes of Matsuda’s Hyper Reality vid again and this time try to actually place yourself in that world 24/7–note how there’s no ‘opt out’ mode. 

Regardless of which technology becomes popular, the issues we’ve seen all semester of digital dependency will undoubtedly be amplified.  How much of a leap is it from Hololens 2 to some Black Mirror episodes or the Surrogate movie of exactly a decade ago https://youtu.be/UGwQ74cH5O0?t=7 ? See you on the other side?

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