Palmer Luckey, the 23 year-old creator of Oculus, sees the immense potential in virtual reality (VR). Facebook also sees this potential, having purchased the start up for $2 billion in 2014. Stop for a second and recognize these are the last moments before virtual reality is part of day-to-day life. We are about to embark on a new era in the Internet Age and, like most advances, have no semblance of the consequences. Will the benefits promised by virtual reality outweigh the very real short falls that are sure to follow?
Virtual reality is cool. There is no doubt about the allure of the unimaginable suddenly existing. A report from Rolling Stone by David Kushner explores VR and Oculus from the outside, in – detailing both the exciting and terrifying. With technology expanding the realms of what is possible at an exponential rate, the past 30 years exploring new heights unlike any age before it, it is my opinion virtual reality seems only the logical next step.
Science fiction has prepared us for this. Standing at the foot of the Swiss Alps, truly experiencing your favorite first-person video game, floating in the deepest darkness of the galaxy (via Oculus “experience” Adrift) – all indicators have pointed toward this world within our own.
“What gives you that next layer of amazingness in VR is that you’re the one in control. You can look left and look right, and your brain gets the feedback it expects,” explains neuroscientist David Eagleman.
Hollywood is licking its lips, consumers are eagerly basting, and perverts are doing exactly what you’d expect (it definitely crossed your mind that this would make porn awesome!). Steven Spielberg, perpetually in full endorsement of new tech-ware, is expected to develop the first film with a virtual reality component – “Ready Player One” – with a whole realm to explore outside of the theater via the goggles. Facebook visualizes conversations and events experienced in virtual reality, without the need to be in the same room. And gamers, well, they stand to revel the most in the alternate universe concept.
“There is a very good chance that we will crave VR,” director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sherry Turkle.
“The brain might adapt to this new environment in a long term way. That’s entirely plausible,” computational neuroscientist Beau Cronin.
The expectation that this innovation, brought to new relevance by a flip-flopped, SoCal garage dweller, is not without its critics is short lived. While the creator of Oculus is excited by the notion of moving toward an alternate space to live “new” life, the scientific community has never been more divided. Some expect an addictive effect where, like the Internet itself, we can no longer get out of bed without constant virtual interaction. Some expect a schizophrenic-like break where we can no loner discern between what is real and what is on the screen. And some expect a dystopian nightmare where humanity is made slave to Oculus, god-king of Earth, bow ye all to its might.
What we know for sure is humans will adapt. But with what new traits will we adapt? And what will that mean for the future? Surely, used in small doses, virtual reality stands to improve our lives and allow us to share experiences we might have otherwise lived without – but “small doses” have never really been words humans live by. There are sure to be virtual gluttons, and we are sure to over-integrate this technology into our infrastructure; new laws, vocabulary, social cues, mannerisms, and, yes, hazards await.
Like Gates and the introduction of the PC, Jobs and the Apple revolution, Zuckerberg and his succession of social media boomers, Luckey has ushered in technology that cannot be stopped. So how will we use it? What will we look like as a people in ten years (possibly sooner)? And will the good outweigh the bad outweigh the downright ugly?
“We should be concerned about what VR is doing to us and what it could be doing to the brain, and if we wear for long term, will we lose the ability to communicate in the real world?” professor at the University of Hamburg Dr. Frank Steinicke.
Time will tell.
Excerpts sourced from “Will Virtual Reality Change Your Life?,” written by David Kushner for Rolling Stone.