WE OFTEN GET ASKED "ARE YOU CREATING THE MATRIX?"
“You are making Virtual Reality, right? So are you building the Matrix?” - A question I get frequently from friends and journalists, when I explain what I work with. Which makes me actually think, that people have real fear of emerging technologies taking over their senses and blending the boundaries between the real and the virtual.
But how realistic is this fear? Is the technology there yet? How long will it take for a virtual impression to be comparable to a real-life experience? Is there any formula to predict when it will actually happen? Most likely not, but the concern is valid.
First it was vinyl record and the radio, then the television, black-and-white, then colour. Later it was the CGI, the 1st person shooter games, the MMORPGs, virtual worlds like Second Life, World of Warcraft, MeetMe and Moove. Today we have Kinect, Oculus Rift, force feedback interface for video gaming and digital scent generator. So what is tomorrow? Are we one step away from the Matrix and Avatar? The answer is Yes, and No.
The two keys of virtual reality experience applications are immersion and interaction. The available components of technology are going to keep improving at a predictable rate. They can already provide digitally created impulses to your eyes, skin, motion, hearing and smelling. Interaction is achieved through a variety of multisensory channels (hearing, sight, touch, and smell), permitting the user to interact with the virtual world in real time. Virtual environments are already highly interactive. A community of Polish, German and Russian online flight simulator players are re-playing famous WW2 air campaigns and combats in real time. Besides the multi-panel screens which are soon to be replaced by VR headsets, the force feedback controllers and chairs, some have created an actual flight cabin in their home garage to make the experience more realistic. And to max the experience out, underneath the reproduction of actual WW2 uniforms they are wearing for the combat sessions, they use small electrodes on their skin attached to a computer interface, which generates electric shocks of various strength on various parts of their body to simulate fire received from enemy aircraft.
You can already control the motion if a life-size humanoid robot - an avatar if you wish - by just wearing a motion capture suit and being thousand miles away from it, and potentially get all or most of the feedback to your senses, that it would experience if it was a human. Technically, you could run a marathon, climb Mount Everest or free-dive to the bottom of the sea without even being there. The experience can be virtually created, recorded, or live transmitted through a device that captures image, sound - or even scent, temperature, physical impulse, skin surface tension.
In the very near future - and by this I mean in a year or two - some people will have the availability to choose to having virtual sex with a 3D avatar with the help of a fully responsive robotic assistant. The adult industry is working on facilitating an online community whose users are able to touch each other using various supported haptic devices, regardless of where they are in the world, from across a room to across an ocean. Virtual reality interface devices getting developed in the reorganization of neural networks in the brain of patients with neurological diseases.
So is the Matrix having you already? Not quite yet. The experience, immersion and interaction is getting better and better, but you can still tell the difference between the real and the virtual. Most importantly: it is your choice to be in it, you can always just press the button and stop it all. And as long as this key element, there should be no fear to use it for your own benefit, or develop it for the benefit of others.