Of course I’m not talking about VR here but our normal everyday existence. It’s a perplexing trip, to be riding through life, observing and poking things. It’s even weirder to do so when you’re in a virtual reality experience and forget for just a moment that what you are experiencing is not real.
Suddenly finding yourself awake in a world, virtual or not, is shocking. Coming round from general anaesthetic after surgery, or being rudely awoken from a deep dream or being inserted into a VR headset can be a shocking and confusing experience for a few moments.
But after awhile you’ll get used to the stream of sensations and earn a sense of calm and balance. Your neocortex will begin to integrate the sensations and your fight or flight mechanism will calm. You’ll feel you are meant to be aware, alive and you can control the world. We call this phenomena ‘Consciousness’ in everyday life, and ’Presence’ in VR.
And this is the definition of Reality being used here. It’s not about describing hard objects that are solid to the touch. And it’s not a scientific viewpoint of the quantum wavefunction collapse. Neither are we interested in using philosophical labels like Idealism which says that Reality is created outward by the mind. The use of the word Reality is more of a casual label for the ongoing internal experience enjoyed by everyday people, and the deep complex forces which shape it.
So far we’ve seen the weird technological mirror of VR allows us to suspend disbelief on a level greater than the best books and films. Though this is a normal pattern in the history of invention.
When each new medium was invented — from films to photos to cave paintings — the same startling effect was shown. Famously the first cinema patrons ran screaming from the flickering sight of a train coming at them on the silver screen. Their minds were just not ready for this level of manipulation. There are records of indigenous tribes being shocked by photographs and claiming it stole their soul and we can only imagine how astoundingly real the paintings on the cave at Lascaux must have been lit by a flickering fire at the time. From these examples we can see that our comprehension of reality increases alongside the technological sophistication of our media.
Our current tools to extend reality are are crude. Right now we are at the rotary phone level of communication with A.R. But it will not take decades to get to a digital reality which blends the real world with a generative one. Moore’s Law and pure financial greed will ensure we go from heavy VR headsets through lightweight eyeglasses into invisible brain interfaces within a generation. Communication, media and society will change just as fast.
The future of Extended Reality is, quite literally, eye-opening. It will change how we live, care, consume, love, learn, work and die.
While V.R. completely replaces the visual world by blanketing it with computer graphics. A.R. instead redefines patches and spaces to be sparsely decorated with generative visual artifacts. Within these spaces the graphics can be used to generate novel experiences and provide some level of utility, beyond gimmick. As A.R. is also a great way of sharing information using natural interfaces — the abstract user interface between man and machine known as the GUI is no longer needed. A.R. allows the linking of information concretely to the real world and direct manipulation of data.
This really does promise a paradigm shift in the way computation will be used and will change the way people think. Once the world is painted with data, once the world itself is cognisant via the application of A.I. and A.R. onto physical things then a new renaissance might be under way.
The world as we know it will have a digital twin — a fork in reality where you can look at the original or improved version.
But at the moment A.R. is mostly used for quick hacks on reality. For example if you want to see what a new car looks like you no longer have to struggle with the dimensions of time and space to physically move your eyeballs to a car showroom. Instead you can see a real-sized, perfect illusion of the car on your own drive right now using Augmented Reality.
It’s a subtle affair, hacking reality. You need to consider the human biological aspects of perception with the physics of reality and hide the the gap with psychological trickery and clever virtual behaviors. When this heady mix comes together the results are shocking.
Imagine the real world was so subtly blended with digital artifacts that it was impossible to tell what was real or not? Sounds like a dream or bad trip? The most valued Mixed Reality company, Magic Leap, raised billions of dollars based on this hope. They created a demo where investors could not easily tell which one of the two cups of coffee on the table was fake. Now consider if the objects around you are created instantly by your own imagination. Think, and it will appear. You can see these objects in your world, walk around and interact with them. What do you start with? A new puppy? A new car? A new city?
Now consider that it will not just be you experiencing Extended Reality, but everyone. We will share thoughts as objects: see the artifacts of other people’s desires left in public spaces like physical graffiti. Not just objects, but ideas: social, political, and religious thoughts floating in space. In the very near future we can expect the dimensions of our humdrum senses to be layered with instant news, social interactions, streaming media, and infinite realities.
A.R. brings anything to you. V.R. brings you to anywhere. Mixed Reality is a term for the blending of these two, in a way that might become more appealing than normal reality. It might become more real than reality. After all if i can look at a potted plant in my office and instantly see its water and nutrient levels floating around it, or I take off the M.R. Glasses and just see the plant — which is the more real, genuine experience?
It is immediately obvious that this Extened Reality can have massive appeal. From being able watch Netflix wherever you look, to being about to visit remote cities, or even transforming your current location back in time 100 years. Then there are more abstract advantages, like being able to see the energy flow of things by looking at them. Being able to see global warming effects overlaid on the clouds. And being able to control AI computing by looking it straight in the eye and talking to it’s avatar.
The terms Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Realities all describe a continuum of experiences where our human sensors, and hence our interior consciousness is being partly stimulated by external, non-natural forces — normally computer generated signals. But when we link up computers to help us — we create a kind of an exo-cortex. A part of our mind outside our bodies that inserts thoughts into our consciousness via digital signals. This dual nature of an Extended Reality — human and artificial minds — is its most powerful aspect. An extended, digital reality helps close the gap between communicating digitally or telepathically, between words and images, between minds and the machines we build.
What we are interested in with Ninjar is helping this technology evolve by pushing away the technical limitations and creating the interface between man, reality and machines.
Update : Read Part 2 in this series to see how Extended Reality changes everything…
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