Virtual reality may soon become, well, a reality in daily life

The Nation/Asia News Network

In the movie Surrogates, human beings live in isolation and interact by remote-controlling surrogate robots, who are perfectly good looking, young, healthy and athletic. In Gamer, people have personalities in simulation worlds that are different from their real lives.

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, that futuristic outlook may not be too far away, after all. Virtual reality is, they say, a technology fast approaching a tipping point. Funny-looking headsets have come out, albeit largely in prototypes or with ��primitive�� functions, allowing wearers to enjoy digitally created surroundings or even some simple experiences.

Predictably, the gaming industry is leading the innovations. You might feel like being on a battlefield or in a sporting arena, but that will be just a baby step. If virtual reality is set to be used in training rooms, for pilot or astronaut training, or by the public in general, we would be seeing just the tip of the iceberg in the coming years. As for where it may lead, we have no idea. Some have said new pilots coming out of virtual reality training will immediately fly a plane full of passengers, that soon you will be able to join a party without having to leave your home. You will be able to ��tour�� Venice while still in your Bangkok residence and you won’t be able to tell the difference. And how about a tennis session with Roger Federer? Better still, how about being an athlete yourself and playing in a stadium full of your ��fans��?

There are many reasons why big changes should come sooner rather than later, not least because Facebook is among those who have realized the potential of virtual reality. It’s simply a business and a social game-changer. Of course, it will start with the gaming world, with a lot of new computer games already providing glimpses into how far the technology can go. But soon virtual reality should affect everyone, like the touch-screen smartphones that we so naively assumed only well-to-do people could afford. Moral questions will definitely be raised. If virtual reality is blended with something controversial, like access to other people’s memory like in an even older movie, ��Strange Days,�� alarmists are expected to be out in full force. But technological development has taught us that what we envisage can often happen. Virtual reality may start relatively humbly outside the gaming industry. Facebook, for example, plans to add videos that give viewers a 360-degree view of a scene and enable them to pan left or right. Then Facebook users would be able to share special moments that would make viewers feel as if they were there.

The ��positives�� don’t end there. There are countless possibilities in education. People can ��participate�� in historical moments. Will virtual reality be able to help remote surgery? Technology will, of course, reach that stage. And that raises the question: Will immersion replace books? When you can ��visit�� historical places in Italy instead of just reading about them, what will you choose? Executives from Silicon Valley to Hollywood could soon join hands to provide a new 3D medium that could edge out television, movies and books. What’s driving the virtual reality technology to a tipping point, where something exclusive becomes available for all, which further hastens its improvement and widens its use? According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the driving force is human nature �X never settling for the same old experiences. This facet of human nature will ensure that virtual reality will keep evolving �X even to the point where it wows or scares us.