Reason for a New Age

Technologies that are Going to Change the World – Virtual Reality

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/10/24


If you consider it through, nearly all possessions in the world today are unnecessary. We don’t particularly need cars to live; we don’t particularly need clothes; don’t need chairs, telephones, convention centers, etc. Really all we need is food and shelter. But more importantly is to note that basically all of that other stuff doesn’t need to be real.

If I meet with someone at work, I would rather do it in person because I can physically see them and read their facial and body language. Since they probably work in the same building as me, it’s no great onus to meet up and talk stuff over. As a manager, I would rather be able to see my employees in their chairs, working away. I’d like to be able to walk up behind them and see if they’ve got things that look like work on their computer screen, or are simply goofing off and playing games.

But if we are all living in a virtual world that has chairs, computer monitors, and meeting rooms, and if the reactions of my avatar match up to my own reactions and it shares my voice, then there is no particular advantage to doing business in the real world. I can meet with people “in person”. I can look over my employees’ shoulders. Those people need not be anywhere geographically near. I can hold face-to-face meetings with people all around the world, without ever physically getting out of bed.

In a virtual world, if I want to blare the music of my favorite band in full 3D sound, not only can I do it, but I don’t need to carry anything with me to accomplish it, and no one else will be able to hear the music but me. If I want to fly through the air like Superman, I can do that. If I want to look like a giant humanoid fox, that’s entirely possible — and no one will think it’s the least strange at work since most of them won’t look particularly human either. Movies won’t just be in 3D, but I’ll be able to walk among the actors as they perform their scenes.

Meanwhile, in the real world, there’s really no reason for anyone to meet face to face except perhaps to date. There’s no need to ship around massive quantities of mail and metal and oil, because nearly all possessions are virtual and people rarely have to travel. There’s no reason to have a house larger than necessary for your kitchen and VR chair, since you’ll have a mansion of massive size in the virtual world.

If you think about it, you’ll notice that the poorest of today have access to possessions and technology that outstrip the wealthiest of a hundred years ago. There are really only two places where no matter how far technology goes that the wealthy have been able to maintain a monopoly. The wealthy have always had more land and they have always had more people working for them. Employees (aka servants) and land were the only two things (which I can think of) that couldn’t be mass produced as products. With virtual reality, at least one of those goes away. People won’t be interested in showing off their massive house, they’ll have to do like they do with their iPod and show that they have the newest coolest version of the iMansion.

Of course, there will still be some amount of real world traffic, real world trade, etc. Most notably, the manufacture and distribution of food will be an industry that will in no way be affected by the move from real goods to virtual. But office buildings will disappear, the number of roads, the number of shipping liners, toy stores, furniture stores, will all decrease massively. Where Ikea used to make real world furniture, in the future they will simply design virtual furniture that can plopped in at need, existing as nothing but data in a hard drive somewhere. Who knows if furniture will even still be used, as the laws of physics go out the window?

In the real world, we are limited by physics. We can’t fly, we can’t each have our own planet to claim as our own, and we can’t travel to Australia in a split second. When we can toss those rules out — at least so far as we are concerned in our daily lives — a vast, unforeseeable array of options opens up. Whereas vat-grown produce only changes the economy, virtual reality really will change the way that we experience and interact with the world at a fundamental level.

And when travel is instantaneous and all land effectively infinite, where do national borders go? By the time anyone thinks to erect virtual borderlines, I suspect that it will be too late. There will already be masses of large organizations employing people from all around the world, and which are so powerful that it would be unreasonable to try and unravel it all. Personally, I would say that the internet has already started this process — so long as any two people speak the same language, the difference between 100 miles and 6000 is inconsequential. By the time legal boundaries become an issue, you’ve already got geographically diverse people as best friends, lovers, or business partners. Eventually, our nationalities might not be France, Germany, and the US but rather Facebook, MySpace, and Second Life, with full government, taxes, and all the other trappings. Practically speaking, what will actually happen as the world begins to ignore boundaries and the world turns virtual, I can’t begin to imagine. We can only hope that it doesn’t start a war.

Almost certainly, though, this is the future.

The main question, leading up to that point, is whether something like Second Life will be enough to start the process, or if it will have to wait until — for example — we are so proficient at genetic modification that we can inject a baby with some gene therapy cocktail which causes his body to grow and maintain WiFi transmitters powered by food, to allow electronic signals to overwrite visual data from his eyes, and to interface into his nervous system to transmit data out onto the net, and so on.

Personally, I think that the process will start sooner rather than later. While Second Life won’t start the large move of business to virtual reality, it shouldn’t be too long before someone develops software that does reasonably well simulate a workplace environment from which real business could be done — like the ability to look over workers’ shoulders. As soon as that software comes into being and employers notice that they can run their business for half the infrastructure cost, the path is unavoidable. All business which can will move to this model, and all of the fancy extras like flying and fancy avatars will come rushing in behind.

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