We Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
David L. Heiserman
in the late 1950s or 60s, I outfitted a small round washtub with a
crude, mechanical image scanning device. Slipping the tub over my head
and resting the rim on my shoulders, I tried projecting an images all
the way around the inside of the tub, thus giving the impression of
being immersed in the subject of the image. It was a crude device that
didn't really work. But it was my idea of virtual-reality imaging about
a half century before someone really got a commercial version working.
You probably aware that one of the hottest items in today's consumer
high-tech world is the virtual-reality gadget. No doubt, there is a lot
of military, and hush-hush commercial VR research going on. But when you
get down to the core of present-day VR, it is simply an application of
current imaging technology with touch, motion, and audio transducers
thrown in for good measure. VR technology, as it exists today is, in
principle, no different from my crude experiment in the past century.
The technology that defines VR of the future will not be digital imaging,
etc.. It will evolve from research now underway in cognitive psychology.
Nerve impulses traveling from our sensory organs to the brain are merely
data ... they have no inherent meaning. It is the brain that attempts to
interpret and organize the signals, creating a conscious impression of
"reality." VR of the future--perhaps a rather near future--will
hack the sensory nervous system and feed virtual data directly to the brain. The user will
not be able to distinguish this kind of VR from actual reality--more
like something we see in some science-fiction films such as:
Informally presented, the classic Turing Test for artificial
intelligence says that we know we've arrived when it's impossible to
tell the difference between conversing with a person and an AI machine.
The parallel version of the Turing Test for virtual reality says that we
know we have arrived when it's impossible to tell the difference between
the artificial reality and the real world. Until that time arrives, we
should respect the higher definition of AI for a time when it passes the
test. The experience of today's imagining technology might be
breathtaking at first, but it isn't the level of reality that carries us
into another plane of existence.
Let's set the bar much higher on the definition of VR. We must not limit
our imagination and technical creativity to something that is little
more than high-tech View-Master®.