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Virtual Reality: It’s Goofy, But Still Advancing Into the A.I. Grid

Saturday, August 8, 2015 10:42
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21st Century Wire says…

After its sharp rise in the 1990’s, and then its rapid fall in the 2000’s, a lot of people thought that VR was dead. Now its making its way back into the forefront of what’s hot in the Silicon Valley.

220px-Palmer_Luckey_at_SVVR_2014Palmer Luckey (photo, left), the 22-year-old founder of the Silicon Valley firm Oculus VR, said to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, “Why shouldn’t people be able to teleport wherever they want?” 

Well, they can – but only in their minds, and with the help of virtual reality (VR).

Luckey just sold his virtual-reality business to Facebook last year for more than $2 billion.

“A lot of people think that virtual reality’s ultimate conclusion is something like The Matrix,” says Luckey.

But his vision is a world more like that depicted in the recent blockbuster, Inception. Luckey adds here, “The point isn’t to copy the practical realities of the real world,” he says. “It’s to try to do things how we would do them if we didn’t have any physical laws governing how we do them.” People are not “going to use virtual reality to simulate walking around the parking lot.”

More than anything, however, is the dawn of artificial intelligence computing power – combined with holographic technology – that will push VR into its own in the 21st century. Aside from the obvious high-end entertainment apps and gaming, the first real big society-changing apps may actually be in the areas like education and healthcare.

“The school day will disaggregate into a number of learning sessions, some at home, some in the neighborhood, some in pairs, some in larger groups, with different kinds of facilitators,” claimed JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for

Bruce Mehlman, co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance, predicted an end to “one-size-fits-all broadcasting from the front of the room” teaching, while business and economics professor Ed Lyell suggested that teachers will become less talking-head experts, and more “teacher-coach” figures for their students.

Healthcare is a major topic for the report, with its predictions of “continuous health monitoring” through a variety of sensors and personal devices. “Having a personal healthpod you strap yourself into daily will become normal,” suggested Rangaswami.

“You will be able to purchase health-monitoring systems just like you purchase home-security systems,” claimed Google’s chief economist Hal Varian. “Indeed, the home-security system will include health monitoring as a matter of course.” (Source: Business Insider)

Meanwhile, he public and the media are still trying to (literally) get their head around around VR…


The uncomfortable truth about that Time virtual reality cover

The Switch

If you really want to piss off a techie today, bring up Time’s latest cover story on virtual reality. You would think technology enthusiasts would be happy to see virtual reality given a prime spot on the cover of one of America’s most respected news magazines. But then you may see the cover, which features Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey in what could only be described as sort of a (very unflattering) flying squats. The photo is so awkward that it’s spawned a whole slew of doctored pictures trying to explain that odd position, showing Luckey doing everything from riding dinosaurs to surfing.  And even if you don’t want to judge a story by its cover, here are the first two paragraphs:

“Palmer Luckey isn’t like other Silicon Valley nerds. He’s a nerd all right, but not the kind who went to a top-ranked university, wrote brilliant code or studied business plans. He’s cheery and talks in normal sentences that are easy to understand.”

Ouch. Just, ouch.

It’s an understatement to say that it’s not a flattering description, either of Luckey or to the rest of the “Silicon Valley nerds” that article author Joel Klein takes pains to separate him from. (Oculus did not respond to a request for comment on reaction to the Time cover.) As far as back-handed compliments go, it’s a well-crafted one. You probably couldn’t have hit more accurately on the sore spots of the collective “nerd” ego if it had been crowd-sourced from 10,000 of the world’s meanest jocks. “Geek chic,” as a thing, is still pretty new and there’s a definitely a part of the nerd hindbrain that gets defensive about those old stereotypes — even if the smarty-pants kids are now the ones ruling the world. 

So, even though the rest of the article is pretty supportive of virtual reality, you can probably understand why there’s so much anger out there.

The thing is, the oddly bullying tone aside, Time and Klein have hit on what is pretty much exactly virtual reality’s greatest problem — it looks goofy.

Not everyone will look quite this doofy. But you get the idea. (Screengrab from video by Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

I love VR, but it’s really hard to describe its appeal to people who haven’t tried it. Once you try it out, it makes sense — the feeling of being transported somewhere else is pretty amazing. Even realizing that you can turn around and look behind you feels like an entirely new viewing experience. It’s even better being able to play a game with that much freedom. You immediately think of the possibilities for cross-global communication or — as Google has already tried — virtual field trips for kids to places around the world or across time.

But to “get” it, you have to try it. To try it you have to be convinced to do so. And when all you see is someone with a big set of goggles on their face, it’s difficult to see the technology as anything but isolating.

It’s the Segway all over again, or the Google “glasshole” problem, times fifty. In all likelihood, you won’t see people with virtual reality headsets walking down the street — because, you know, the people who do that will probably thin themselves out by way of open manhole covers. But it’s hard to shake dystopian images of a world where this sort of technology disconnects people rather than connects them.

No one wants to be the guy on the beach, oblivious to the world around him, his hands flopping in ways that only make sense in the world inside his head. Even, yes, if that guy sold his company to Facebook for $2 billion. That will be VR’s biggest problem breaking into the wider consumer market, no matter how cool us Kool-Aid drinkers tell the rest of the world it is…

Continue this article at The Switch

21st Century Wire A.I. Files


21st Century Wire is an alternative news agency designed to enlighten, inform and educate readers about world events which are not always covered in the mainstream media.


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