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Monday, April 11, 2016

[Op-Ed] Is virtual reality more than just a fad?

I had a chance recently to experience the Samsung Gear VR (by Oculus) and there were some really cool things about it.  In 15 minutes, I had a chance to view several cities in Jordan and watch the first part of the movie "The Perfect Storm" while in a virtual home theater - while doing all of this, my brain was almost tricked into thinking it was real.  Of course, my first thought went to "is this the first step towards a real life Matrix?"  Probably not...but maybe its time we talk about whether virtual reality (VR) is just a fad of the moment, or if its something that's here to stay.
Virtual reality isn't really new.  You could even say that 3-D films have been attempting to augment reality for a while now, and not well until very recently.  The idea of virtual reality has been prominent on the big screen as well as in the theater, from the aforementioned Matrix to Avatar.  Even video games like Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft whisk the user away from their normal world and into a virtual one that is far, far different than the one we're used to.  The concept of a virtual reality isn't new, in fact its as old as the human imagination (if you think about it) - but the latest incarnation of this concept is much closer to what we've seen in the movies.  VR machines like the Samsung Gear VR by Oculus attempts to immerse the wearer in the world of their choosing,  Newer sets include both audio (and in some instances, even tactile) input as well as the visual.  We're talking way beyond the 3D experience here...we are talking a full blown immersive experience (even if its still in its infancy)

The VR revolution has barely begun, and yet - we have a different kind of "revolution" as well - namely, the New ride at Six Flags in Southern California.  This is taking VR to a new level.  Riders are not only getting a traditional roller coaster of years past, but also being taken along for a visual experience while they fight a battle with aliens, spaceships, and jet fighters.  The ride is very new (and honestly I won't be on it, as it's the kind of nausea inducing thing just isn't my bag, baby) but I can see where loads of folks would be lining up to give this is whirl.  Why just ride a boring old roller coaster?

I know what you're thinking...as I asked above, are these the first steps towards the human race moving towards a real life Matrix like scenario?  And the answer is a bit more complicated than just a "yes" or "no."  Are robots going to use this technology to turn us into human batteries?  Probably not.  But a lot of the themes from the Keanu Reeves classic are ringing true here.  Can VR take us to places that we otherwise wouldn't be able to go?  Can we become the master of our destiny, even if that destiny isn't in what we consider the "real world?"  And what is real anyway?  The "R" in VR does stand for reality, doesn't it?  As has happened in the past, there are people who will view this new VR environment as being superior to their current real world circumstances, and spend more and more time in that, instead of being present in the here and now material world.  Stories like this one from last year show the powerful hold that online virtual realities can have on those people who are unhappy with the rest of their worldly circumstances.

Is the new trend of VR devices cool?  Yeah, sure.  I got a chance to tour Petra and other parts of Jordan I'll never get a chance to see in real life.  But like many other of our favorites pieces of technology, it has the potential to be abused, perhaps even in ways we cannot foresee yet.  Is VR a fad?  My opinion is no, no its not.  I'm guessing its something that will become more and more present in our every day lives as time passes.  From amusement park rides and digital home tours, to whatever is next, the reality is that virtual reality is here to stay.

1 comment:

  1. The concepts behind virtual reality are based upon theories about a long held human desire to escape the boundaries of the ‘real world’ by embracing cyberspace. Once there we can interact with this virtual environment in a more naturalistic manner which will generate new forms of human-machine interaction (HMI).

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