"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Virtual Reality

A very interesting article from the NYT on personal avatars – the time is soon coming when the virtual reality of ourselves, our avatar, will be itself reality.
The article states:
…Psychologists point to three developments (which are key to virtual reality): the Microsoft Kinect tracking system for the Xbox, the Nintendo 3DS gaming device, and the triumph on “Jeopardy” of I.B.M.’s Watson computer.  “These three events have been paradigm-shifting for avatar conferences….”
In 1973 I wrote a bad novel based on a great idea – virtual reality.  My thesis (you can see already why it was a bad novel) was that when the interface between the brain and the computer became complete, the virtual world would replace the real world.  I made some assumptions: First, American culture was already culturally virtual.  In a new housing development in Austin, Texas, there were Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, Venetian, houses.  Nothing Texan, organic, simple.  Today, these McMansions are common in every city (Potomac, Maryland near DC is a good example).  Second, I assumed that no one really preferred the real over the virtual. Indian audiences at the Hindi cinema in Bombay were glued to their seats – after having been transported to a virtual world so appealing and so romantically different from their own, they could not leave.  And third, I assumed that given the chance to live in a virtual world where one could pick one’s life, regardless of the cultural and genetic hands that were dealt, he/she would always do so.
The technological advances I envisaged was the eventual hooking up of mind to computer; by so doing linking every mind to every other mind; and by providing almost limitless virtual environments from which to choose in which two minds – people – could interact.  Imagine this: your mind (via electronic patterning, DNA manipulation, biochemistry, whatever) is linked to your computer, and your computer – as it is now, but multiplied by a million times or more – has all of history, literature, art, environment, sex, you name it, at your disposal.   Now imagine what you would do with this: walk hand in hand with your beloved, selected out of a billion choices, through the gardens at Versailles; or, make love in the Tuileries; or eat a five star meal at Lutece.
Would you not choose this over your present life?  Of course you would.  And would you “always know it was not real” and therefore the experience diminished? Perhaps at the beginning, yes, but not once it became real.
I am sure this will come to pass; and I have delighted in seeing my 1973 prophecy come truer and truer.  It won’t be long before this mind-computer interface will be complete and that the virtual games of today become the super-virtual worlds of tomorrow; and then it will be a short step to the vision I have outlined above.
Oh, my novel.  Still have it gathering dust on the floor beneath my back issues of Wine Spectator.  It ended with the world as we know it ending – everyone finally plugged into a truly worldwide web, and becoming one virtual world.

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