Trending / World

How the Rise of Virtual Reality Poses Both Challenges and Possibilities for Humankind

For years, proponents of virtual reality have proclaimed that the immersive technology – which uses headsets to transport humans into virtual worlds – has life-changing potential. The VR revolution has been a long time coming. Technology companies have been hyping VR devices for the last thirty years. You may not remember the Sega VR, Nintendo Virtual Boy or the Virtuality Arcade games, but each arrived with great fanfare and then petered out. Virtual reality advocates were fairly quiet from 1998 until 2012, when the Oculus Rift started raising money, which has been heralded as the greatest VR system of all time. Is this the year when VR finally catches on in a meaningful way? Or will Oculus Rift and its competitors find themselves mostly limited to the video gaming arena?

Oculus Rift wants to be the first to answer these questions. The $600 Oculus Rift arrives at a time when some of the most powerful companies in the world – including Facebook – are making huge investments in the technology. Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of Rift was heralded as a new day for VR. Facebook has billions of users, which gives Oculus Rift a huge and global platform to play with. Sony PlayStation VR and and HTC’s Vive are also entering the fray with slightly less expensive headsets. Meanwhile, Google is holding down the other end of the market, with $29.00 sets called Google Cardboard.

The biggest initial barrier to mainstream acceptance of VR is the PC. Nvidia said that it believes only about 13 million PCs have the graphical welly to present the VR experience. That’s fewer than 1% of the PCs in use around the world. That is expected to change during the next decade, as many upgrade their devices.

One trick VR has up its sleeve is the device you carry in your pocket: the smartphone. YouTube and Facebook are already promoting 360-degree videos that give you the ability to move around and experience the world. Data about the prominence of mobile devices suggests that many people will watch these videos on their smartphones using VR headsets.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes the VR revolution will have a much bigger impact on human life than it will on video games. He and Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey believe VR can transform education by taking kids to field trips to places they could not otherwise go (like Africa or Paris), giving them experiences (such as the Apollo 11 moon landing) they could never have. Documentary filmmakers are also brainstorming about the power of the medium to immerse people more fully in the lives of its subjects.

The technology theoretically has the power to change many aspects of human life. But other questions regarding its rollout – whether consumers will truly enjoy these experiences and want more, and what VR does to people physically and psychically– are more difficult to answer. In addition to issues like motion-sickness and headaches, researchers are concerned about what VR will do to the brain. Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson wonders how experiencing violent things through VR will impact a person in the real world. Bailenson thinks it may change the way people interact with each other. Google-funded lab Magic Leap also expressed concerns about stereoscopic 3D headsets, suggesting they may actually create permanent neurologic deficits.

Many consumers are already distracted and absorbed by their mobile devices. Imagine a world where they can enter an even more immersive environment that competes for attention with the person’s real world. The implications could be profoundly negative. Still, others believe that the VR experience does not necessarily need to be negative or damaging to human interaction. In theory, people could end up interacting even more on the VR plane.

The early reviews on Oculus Rift are positive about the way the device fits over your face and how the games work on PCs that are advanced enough to run them. However, reviewers have reported feeling isolated, being unable to hear other people who enter the physical space, and needing quite a bit of space around them in order to feel comfortable moving around. In short, VR is still a disorienting experience that will take a little time to get used to.

As for the bigger philosophical questions about VR’s upcoming heyday, only time will tell whether the technology has a profound impact on areas of life outside the game room.

3 Comments

  1. Keenan says:

    this is really fascinating. i admit it’s a bit scary to think of another technology to be obsessed by

  2. GamerReady says:

    I don’t know about this, it looks super awesome in gaming though

  3. Horton Hears says:

    Not sure we need another screen to look at. Not sure it will catch on either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*