Written by - Ron Immink
Jaron Lanier is a cool dude and one of the godfathers of virtual reality. A thinker and an entrepreneur. The book reads like a road trip and reminds me of “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. The type of questions he asks are:
What is left of you when you can change virtually everything about your body and the world?
What will VR do to consciousness and reality?
We are awesome
I don’t know enough about AR, VR or XR, but he strikes me as a voice of reason. Makes you again realise how wondrous and complex we are as human beings. Our skin, our brains, our eyes, our nervous system are way beyond a mix of cameras (eyes), microphones (ears), sensors (skin) and a computer (brain).
Can technology catch up?
It is going to be interesting where exponential developments in math, medicine, physics, journalism, art, cognitive science, government, business, cinema, computer science, biology, neurology, nano, AI, cultural studies, sensor physics, advanced algorithms, industrial product design, aesthetics, etc. is going to bring it, but the impacts are profound. Our human nervous system benefits from hundreds of millions of years of evolution and can tune itself to the quantum limit of reality. Let’s see if technology can catch up.
We are very clever
Jaron thinks that our brains are too clever for that to ever happen. Our eyes, the feedback from our expressions, tongue, taste, muscles, tendons, skin, ears, nose, and the overlap those senses together. Our whole body is a feedback mechanism and we have a long way to go before you can imitate the drop of a snowflake on your skin or the hug of your child.
Music instruments show the way, They provide a haptic channel across centuries and continents, like writing, but less symbolic and far more intimate. The size of the muscle groups you use is deeply connected to the rhythms you’ll tend to play. Not only are instruments the best haptic interfaces yet invented, they are the best interfaces of any kind if what we care about is the potential for mastery and expressiveness. Instruments show what’s possible; how far computer science must go before we can call it even a beginning. How would you record haptics? Can we? Will we?
The impact of VR
What VR does do is get the user involved in a big way with an impact on consciousness, emotions and behaviour. Which has its dangers. In “The Seventh Sense” the author asks would we know if AI had taken over. Control someone’s reality and you control the person. VR could become your Skinner box and your own 3D filter bubble.
What VR can also do is transform you into anything you want to be. It can make you move like a shark, have 2 extra arms, be a giant, whatever. Haptic illusions can create sensations that seem to come from outside the body. Some suggest it has to do with DNA memory of all the animals we were before we became human (think about that!). It is called the phylogenetic tree.
Jason Silva calls VR empathy machines or attention pilots. Maybe VR should not be about simulating reality, really, but about stimulating neural expectations. About noticing experience itself. About a new approach to information. About feeling your consciousness in its pure form. Digital LSD? Lucid dreaming? Dream sharing? VR as instrumentation to explore motor cortex intelligence.
Ways to use VR
VR is amazing at conveying complexity with lucidity. VR is the place where you become a molecule. Where you learn to think like a molecule. Your brain is waiting for the chance. You could use VR to check by breathing in deeply and watching them expand. Same for your beating heart. VR could amplify empathy. People would really see the awfulness of pollution, violence, of war, and would not be able to stomach it.
Utopia. Peace would ensue. We shall see. The more intense a communication technology is, the more intensely it can be used to lie.
Loved it. With references to all the classics, such a “The Manchurian Candidate”,“Lawnmower man”, “Neuromancer”, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, with a few new terms (for me) such as synthetic reality, artificial presence, artificial reality, virtual environments, telepresence, tele-existence, mixed reality and of course cyberspace.