The people of the 1950s often dreamt of the futuristic twenty-first century lifestyle that we would be experiencing after the dawn of the new millennium. Some of them were outlandish, but in a post-war landscape where the Space Race was dominating headlines, nothing seemed impossible.
Well, we may have disappointed our forefathers with regards to the flying cars, teleporters and lunar colonies, but one aspect of retro-futurism that’s coming up in a big way is that of VR: Virtual Reality.
What is Virtual Reality?
If you have to ask this, there’s a strong chance you’ve been living under a rock for a good while. Virtual Reality is a computer technology that replicates an imaginary setting using multiple senses.
While wearing Virtual Reality equipment, one is able to move around this virtual world and interact with it, experiencing sights and sounds as though they were real. It can be extremely convincing; the human brain is quite easy to fool in many ways!
A history of Virtual Reality
Though Virtual Reality had been dreamt of and pondered for decades, it wasn’t until recently that we’ve been able to experience true Virtual Reality.
The first prototype Virtual Reality machine was probably created in 1962. Scientist and cinematographer Morton Heilig produced the Sensorama, a big and bulky device the size and shape of a large arcade game. For the time, it was revolutionary – players experiencing a virtual motorcycle ride felt wind, the engine and even smells along with their 3D view.
As computer technology grew more sophisticated, so too did virtual reality. Video games did their best to harness the emerging technology, but looking back from today’s world of HTC Vives and Oculus Rifts, they are very primitive.
Virtual Reality today
Currently, Virtual Reality is at its absolute peak. The HTC Vive, for example, is a totally immersive computer gaming experience that has had rave reviews from almost everyone who has tried it. The only negative aspect for many people is that it’s so realistic, racing-style games give them motion sickness!
As impressive as Virtual Reality is, most people believe it’s still in its infancy. Most Virtual Reality devices have been just a passing fad, and it’s too early to say if the likes of Vive and Oculus Rift will join discarded pile of one-hit wonders.
However, this latest batch of devices is superior in almost every way to past endeavours, and it’s very likely the technology will be built upon and improved: more realistic, more immersive, more physical; in general, a more convincing virtual world. It’s a thought that’s both amazing and terrifying.
Possible future uses of Virtual Reality
In spite of how awe-inspiring and technologically impressive a setup like the HTC Vive is, it’s very possible that in as little as one or two decades we will look back on it the same way that we currently view the Sensorama: impressive for the time, but ultimately primitive.
Risk-free training for dangerous jobs
As Virtual Reality technology becomes more and more impressive and immersive, the potential for its use as a sort of pseudo on-the-job training method for dangerous professions becomes greater. Soldiers could have their first battlefield experiences in total safety; doctors could perfect their skills on virtual patients instead of putting lives at risk; the possibilities are unimaginable.
Big changes for the adult entertainment industry
We’ll leave this one to your imagination.
A totally immersive online gambling experience
Currently, the main advantage that live casinos have over their online counterparts (an industry estimated to be worth over $40 billion annually) is the social experience and the glitz and glamour of a live casino setting. Well, that could change; already, online casinos offer a “live casino” experience with real live dealers and webcams. Add a Virtual Reality setup into that mix and you won’t need the real thing.
Will schools be a thing of the past?
It’s easy to see how educational institutions could adopt virtual reality to give students a completely immersive learning experience, but beyond that there is scope for the technology to completely eradicate the idea of schools as we know them.
If students can each plug in to their own Virtual Reality kits and communicate in real-time online (a feat that is already possible, of course) then who says they have to all gather in the same building to learn?
The drug of the future?
It’s a scary thought, but not a new one. If Virtual Reality gets to a point where it is realistic enough to be near-indistinguishable (or totally indistinguishable) from actual reality, then it may be abused by people in the same way drugs are today. Intoxication can, for addicts, be a form of escapism, and what better form of escapism is there than a whole new world?
Then again, maybe that’s already happened: who’s to say you’re not in a virtual world right now?
On second thoughts, let’s leave that one to the philosophy students among us.