Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Experience the New Experience

Wired has done a great job of presenting both a detailed view of the new "Magic Leap," "mixed reality" technology that's been pulling in huge sums of venture money of late, as well as a fairly comprehensive overview of what's out there now in both virtual and mixed approaches to what will undoubtedly be hot consumer items eventually. The article, "Hyper Vision" is a read that I recommend you take the time to go through. What's coming, along these lines could well be pivotal, assuming, of course a bunch of other bad things don't come along to show us exactly how good nature still is at special effects.

I am always of two minds when it comes to this sort of thing. On the one hand you simply can't have any geek credentials at all if it doesn't excite you to at least some extent. On the other hand, though, is a life worn old voice that reminds me that everything comes as a trade off; usually in ways we can't fully comprehend beforehand, when that first blush of excitement takes the blood away from where its need and makes us dash into the full embrace of whatever the new thing is.

Having read pretty much all of the VR, or MR, fiction ever written I have a keen sense of just how alluring this sort of thing can be. I also toyed with the idea of developing my own version of a VR system; in this case being more of an enhanced simulator than anything else. Think of a centrifuge like they use to train pilots and astronauts with. Then take and put the rotating arm on a vertical shaft, say, at least 30 meters tall so that the rotating arm can traverse up and down along the shaft as needed, while going round and round. Then make the rotating arm itself a traversable horizontal axis so that the modular vehicle cab (detachable so as to accommodate vehicles of any type) can move into, and out of, the center of rotation. And lastly, of course, make that cab be gimbaled 360 degrees in pitch, yaw and roll. Combine that with sufficiently hi res interior display systems inside, and suitably immersive controls and I guarantee you that you would then be left with is a motion simulator that would knock your socks off.

Whether that would be cost effective as a commercial piece of entertainment is another question altogether of course; possibly making it useful only for the military or commercial airlines, but I bring it up now because I never ended up actually wanting to develop it myself (I did try to give it to a certain large software company, when I was there, but they simply ignored the suggestion).

This occurred because of the ambivalence I have come to have for any form of augmented, or completely fabricated, experience systems (a topic I have covered before).

The problem here for me is not that such things would be inherently bad simply because they were engineered experiences. I do, in fact, believe that a great deal of good, and/or utility, may well come from such systems. What I do fear, however, is that they might be made to be so good that the temptation to use them exclusively would become irresistible, and in that will we come to understand just how problematic the tradeoffs already mentioned could become.

As I have said before, experience is experience. In the whole, neither nominally real, or engineered, will necessarily be better, or worse, than the other; either aesthetically or as a practical aspect of living. The main thing that we do need to keep in mind, however, is that both are quite likely to have intrinsic aspects to them that the other does not have. And in that, if we use one to the exclusion of the other, will we risk cutting ourselves off from something very important indeed.

What exactly you might ask? And to that I would have to admit that I don't know exactly what it would be. The thing is, however, it is exactly that kind of ignorance that can kill you, one way or another; especially when we rush to make the assumption that we already know all of what, let's call it natural, experience has to offer; quite an assumption even if we've been immersed in it for so long.

And to illustrate this point I would ask you to consider only one view of how our evolution has forged us into a sensory stance towards natural experience that was never intended, initially, to get all there is to get out of it. This is a a view that has been suggested by people like Robert Ornstein (as in "The Evolution of Consciousness") in talking about how our brains filter out a great deal of what we receive into the higher layers of consciousness. What happens here is that we have a host of what he calls "simpletons" of assessment that were set up to make quick, down and dirty, determinations of occurrence so that muscle memory actions could take place before any potential bad could happen; a circumstance that has certainly provided a good deal of adaptive advantage, but also left us with brains susceptible to all sorts of visual, and auditory, trickery.

The point here is that, even as we have moved quite a bit beyond the pre-social, and into the extensively cooperative social groupings we have now, we have put very little effort into understanding how that filtering may have limited us from fully understanding, or viscerally appreciating, all the energetic exchange that goes on around us; aspects of which may not only be of tremendous emotional, and cognitive enhancement, but also quite fundamentally imperative. Aspects of which, now that industrialization has abstracted, and segmented us out of formerly deep connections with each other, and the natural world, we have begun to feel as vague misgivings to both body and spirit.

So. Bottom line?

Its quite understandable to be excited by these new developments, and to look forward to enjoying them. Just take it all in with some caution. Try to remember that balance in what we do, and how we live, will still be of up most importance. Just as getting lost in the material world of work, money, and all that money can buy, hasn't been all that good for us, or where we live, getting even more lost in the imaginative made effectively real may well not do either any good as well.


The world’s hottest startup isn’t located in Silicon Valley—it’s in suburban Florida. KEVIN KELLY explores what Magic Leap’s mind-bending technology tells us about the future of virtual reality.

See Also:
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The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.
April 21, 2016

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