Facebook recently bought a Virtual Reality headset company (Oculus) for 2 Billion dollars. There is outrage within the VR community who essentially funded this company’s development through crowd funding. They miss the point.
Jaron Lanier coined the term “virtual reality” over twenty years ago (when VR was in vogue). He has expressed many times that VR would only begin to deliver its promise once the technology caught up. He also said that VR was significant in the sense that it could change people’s relationship to their own bodies and their immediate environment. For Lanier, VR is not so much about creating imaginary worlds, as it is re-modulating our experience of the world. VRML (which died in the 90s?) delivered on a static computer screen entirely misses the point. The Oculus Rift, however, totally nails the point. With technologically realised tiny latencies …. it manages to perceptually convince that one is in another world. It convinces the body … see here (this man falls over):
Place that ability into the hands of a business that has pervasive control in our social worlds … and whose control is not necessarily “bad” but is clearly only really interested in generating profits … and there are some potentially hairy outcomes that we need to consider.
How will Facebook attempt to ‘virtualise’ our social existence?
The movie “The Matrix” didn’t explicitly consider the manufacture of virtual realities aimed at serving the banalities of commercial interests.
Here’s another collection of VR’s renewed ability (through the Oculus Rift) to take control of our perceptual faculties. I wonder if some day we will look at these videos and find them a little less funny: