WDYT? 5/19: Will Virtual Reality Trigger a Dystopia?

We have been promised virtual reality for decades. While devices such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Samsung Gear allow you to play VR games, experience special scenery or watch videos, there doesn’t yet exist the hardware, content and digital infrastructure to name it a breakthrough technology.

Hardware is clunky: Currently, even the best VR headsets are bulky and ugly. They are also relatively expensive. VR hardware will need to become more stylish and cheaper before it can become ubiquitous.

Content is not compelling: Most of the existing VR content is for gamers. If you aren’t into video games, there is no reason for you to care about VR – yet. There will need to be more VR content before VR is ready to become mainstream.

There is also an infrastructure issue: Vibrant VR communities will require a lot of bandwidth to be useable. That means near universal access to broadband connections. It also means the full deployment of 5G wireless technology. We’re getting closer to this point, but we still have a long way to go.

But, what will VR look like when it’s fully mature? Will it resemble the world of Ready Player One? And: What will VR do to us?

I had a dream that VR brought back the old online Second Life community — only it was much more intense and … in VR. It quickly became a true second life for many, and eventually became everyone’s only life. Nobody felt the need to leave their house. Living in an enhanced digital world somehow made us all less human.

Ok, and will this happen?

Even though there are roadblocks to the widespread adoption of VR, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. VR is part of the natural evolution of the internet. Social media changed the web so much that their arrival signaled the birth of the Web 2.0 in 2004 — and we are still in a kind of Web 2.0 world.

VR might launch us into a new Web world. Instead of text chats or Facetime, we will have virtual “in-person” chats with avatars. VR will change ecommerce. You will be able to “handle” the merchandise at places like Amazon. Video games and movies will be different too. These two media will blend together. You won’t watch superhero movies; you will participate in superhero movies. VR will make education more widely available. It will increase the rate of innovation in everything from medicine to engineering – to name just a few possible examples.

Today’s internet will seem as quaint as the days of the radio and the record player once VR becomes widespread.

How might we use VR?

Most people will use VR/AR the way they use their phones and computers know. Siri and Alexa will no longer be limited to your phone, home or tabletop device, there will be a transition from desktop based to standalone mobile VR devices. As AI, AR and VR technology improves, you will have your own personal assistant with an avatar who guides you to whatever you want online (and offline).

Does this mean we will stop coming out of our houses?

If you use past technologies as a guide, we know that especially VR will be problematic for some people. Some people will become more isolated and might never leave the house and others who might become addicted to the wonders VR offers. But, many will find VR increases their ability to meet people out in the real world. A VR business meeting might free up time for people to spend with their families instead of traveling all over the world.

Will VR change humanity? Will we become cyborgs?

A cyborg is a machine augmented human. In many ways, we are already all cyborgs. Aren’t our phones really an artificial memory? We have outsourced a lot of tasks and information that we used to keep in our brains to our phones.

VR headsets with AR components may become even more a part of our culture than phones are today. But, they will not change us as a species. We are the result of millions of years of evolution. Even the most radical technological advancement will not be able to dampen our humanity.

Puh!?

VR won’t change human nature. Like any technology, it might be a tool that can be used or abused. The coming future of VR promises to be exciting and challenging. As humans, it’s the kind of advancement we live for. Wdyt?