What Will the Spring of Technology Bring? Part 2 — Virtual Humanby@nikovasan
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What Will the Spring of Technology Bring? Part 2 — Virtual Human

by Anna SannikovaApril 17th, 2024
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A lot is being invested in the field of augmented reality, its improvement is being actively pursued, and it is expected to grow rapidly.
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Predictions, dreams, and fortune-telling about the day after tomorrow in IT and beyond.

Winter is the traditional time to try to predict in which direction technology will move and develop during the coming year. But why limit ourselves to such a short period of time? Let's try to go into “futurology and short-range sci-fi mode” and attempt to decipher the signals that our present is sending to the future. We’ll focus on, let's say, the next five to ten years. Particularly since we, thanks to breakthroughs in the practical application of artificial intelligence, have once again entered a fascinating "Spring of Technology" period.

Diving into the world of extended reality (XR) - as everything related to virtual, augmented, and mixed reality is commonly called - begins with a look at the money involved. According to research, the XR market, $22.26 billion in 2022, will exceed $100 billion by 2026. Let’s just talk about virtual reality (VR), where the VR market was worth $15.8 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow to $22 billion in just two years. If we look at the issue more broadly, the figures will be more impressive. The total revenue in the meta-universe (or rather, meta-universes) market will exceed $44 billion in 2022 and will reach almost $500 billion by 2030.

However, in order to realize that augmented reality has gone beyond experiments and exhibition demonstrations, it is enough to look at the brands that are now making VR-headsets. Apple, Sony, Meta - these whales of the IT ocean would not invest billions in a direction that they do not consider promising. At the same time, it is worth considering that the active participation of industry leaders in the development of virtual reality works to accelerate progress in this direction, forcing smaller developers and manufacturers to join them.

To put it simply - a lot is being invested in the field of augmented reality, its improvement is being actively pursued, and it is expected to grow rapidly - more than a tenfold increase in the next 7-8 years. All this, together with substantive breakthroughs in the field of AI development and implementation, allows us to make a fairly confident prediction that a meta-universe based on virtual reality (primarily virtual reality) will replace the Internet, as we now know it, by 2030.

Escape or travel?

But why do we need virtual reality and a meta-universe at all? What's wrong with the reality - let's call it, for simplicity's sake, “basic” - in which we now live? The rather traditional cyberpunk answer is a desire to escape from the dissatisfaction, routine, fear, and boredom of everyday life. It’s a desire to find one's own magic wardrobe, the doors of which open into a personalized Narnia.

Let us not argue with this statement, although it seems too pessimistic a view to us. Surely there will be people for whom the main motive for going to virtuality will be to escape from reality. After all, there have always been and will always be people who prefer fictional worlds to human society, be it figures on a board or characters in a book. But their existence is by no means a reason to abandon the development of technology. In any case, the "escapees" will be a minority.

The majority will rush to conquer the vastness of virtual reality in the meta-universe for the same reasons people throughout history have discovered and explored new spaces and territories, and also why people have always traveled. We are curious and inquisitive. We are interested in learning new things, seeing new things, and having new experiences. XR in general and VR in particular will enable us to do this more often and faster. To visit tourist attractions, it will be enough to dive into virtuality. And, we will be able to visit, for example, the Giza Plateau with the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, and thanks to our virtual time machine, to visit in the past, when these ancient monuments still amazed people with all their original splendor.

VR will open up fundamentally new opportunities for people to travel, play, and seek adventure. And people will desire not to simply escape from reality, but to expand it. We did not mention a time machine by accident. Let's try to use it and look into our near future, when the meta-universe and augmented reality will become as familiar as basic reality and the Internet are today.

Illustration created with Bing

What will it look like?

To begin with, there will be no hard division between basic reality and virtual reality. With the help of mobile VR-headsets connected to our smartphones we will see the basic reality supplemented with elements of augmented reality - depending on the chosen settings and preferences. If you like, it could be your current desktop, complete with all of its icons. And through the manipulation of these elements, or with the help of simple voice commands, we will enter that virtual reality in the part of the meta-universe which we need at that moment. For example, our office. Or our personal virtual memory palace. Searching will be done in a similar way. Imagine an AI guide that processes your request and opens doors to where you want to go - whether it's Neil Armstrong's moon landing site or the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck.

Though it may disappoint fans of the Matrix universe, there will be no baths of disgusting nutrient solution or creepy connectors and shunts in your head and body. In all likelihood, VR headsets of the future will not be very different from the goggles and gloves we use today.

This is a point worth dwelling on in more detail. The development of VR-headsets is going in two directions. We will conditionally call them “obvious” and “promising”. The obvious direction is equipping a person with similar variations of  standard clothes and accessories that will enable them to see, hear, and feel virtual reality. In other words, helmets, glasses, gloves, and suits that transmit tactile sensations and other sensory input. Accordingly, the depth of immersion will directly depend on the device’s level of sophistication. This would require users to put on goggles to experience one sensation. Add headphones - a second sensation. Add gloves - a third sensation. If you are brave enough to put on a full suit - a fourth sensation, at minimum. Apparently, during the first stage of creating and perfecting virtual reality and the meta-universe we will have to be satisfied with such devices.

An alternative to these “obvious” devices are more “promising” VR headsets that incorporate neurointerfaces, which directly exchange signals between the brain and a virtual environment. The creation of such devices will give users the opportunity to experience sensations in virtuality that are indistinguishable from those experienced in “basic” reality.  Users would also be able to customize them and adjust the degree of immersion to their liking. In other words, in the future one small device will be enough to interact with the virtual world. For example, glasses or (to dream, oh, to dream) a coin-sized headset that could be simply stuck to your temple.

But back to the meta-universe itself. Of course, the possibilities of augmented reality extend far beyond leisure. Although, knowing human nature, there can be no doubt, virtual games and entertainment will occupy a large, perhaps even a huge part of the meta-universe. There is no doubt that the meta-universe will spawn new forms of art. For example, movies and TV series, in which everyone can become involved in the plot as a background character, or even become the protagonist.

The meta-universe will be no less important as a social platform. There we will meet friends, become acquainted with others, and socialize - in short, we will do everything we do now on social networks. But these activities will be elevated exponentially, at least to some degree. It is difficult to even imagine what social communication formats and platforms will be created by the masters of virtual world construction. One thing is certain - we will not only communicate with people. Some of our virtual friends and acquaintances will be entities that are based on artificial intelligence. First, consider the embodiment of both historical and literary characters. Who would refuse to cross swords with Dumas' Musketeers or lightsabers with Jedi Masters from the Star Wars universe? Who could resist attending a psychoanalysis session with Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung? Care to flirt with Marilyn Monroe or Clark Gable? Play a game of chess with Bobby Fischer? Talk about the eternal with Mahatma Gandhi? Discuss the finer points of art with Leonardo da Vinci? We haven’t even mentioned the possibility of creating virtual friends and romantic partners to your own specific taste.

But the real revolution will take place in work, business, and education. Most offices, educational institutions, and retail facilities will move to virtual reality. Why spend money on building or renting an office and waste employees' time traveling to their workplace when you can create a virtual office of any size and quality in the meta-universe? And retailers will not have to settle for just any storefront. Virtual stores with virtual copies of goods and AI sellers will become the most common type of retail space. Augmented reality will allow students to learn in Hogwarts, the Alexandrian Museum, or Plato's Academy. With the meta-universe it will be possible to organize exhibitions, conferences, concerts, or coaching programs on virtual platforms of any size and with any number of spectators.

Classic advertising and promotional content like presentations, unboxings, or influencer videos will be a thing of the past. Why would you need that when any product can be "seen" and "felt" in virtuality? Instead of watching a presentation of, say, a car, you can instead take a test drive on any highway in the world, whenever you want. Instead of watching a commercial for a new line of clothes and accessories - your virtual doppleganger can try on a virtual outfit. Instead of reading an advertising brochure for a resort - why not spend a couple of hours in its virtual copy?

We don't think we would be wrong to say that in the not too distant future, most people will be working in augmented reality. They will be accompanied by numerous AI assistants and helpers of various kinds. Somewhere among these will be our Pitch Avatar, which will have grown up by then.

It is clear, though, that business will not completely leave “basic” reality. This is because we can not leave it. There will always be a need for supermarkets, restaurants, beauty salons, factories, farms, and other physical locations. But most industries and businesses will be  predominantly automated and robotic. After all, it is obvious that augmented reality’s effective existence will require highly developed artificial intelligence. And this, in turn, will lead to the emergence of very advanced robots. But we will talk about robots of the future in the next chapter of our future-fantasy.

The article was created in collaboration with Andriy Tkachenko.