Real and Virtual Reality

It is human nature to want to experience and escape. From our imaginations to drugs, people have always been searching for ways to try what they normally do not have a chance to. With the advancement of technology, new ways to do this virtually are being offered as the real and virtual worlds become increasingly indistinguishable.

Most of us have now been fooled at some point in our lives by sounds and images that come from virtual worlds. For example, we do things like mistake the sound of a phone ringing on TV for an actual phone and know we cannot always distinguish a computer generated image from the real thing. What will happen as these technologies continue to improve?

Now, actual virtual virtual reality devices still are relatively clumsy head gear people must wear. If the past is any judge though, these devices are likely to improve at an exponential rate and could become the kinds of full-body suits of science fiction sooner than most of us think.

For fans of Star Trek and the holodeck, there is the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago which projects images on the walls and floor of a room. These images are updated by supercomputer for perspective as the user moves through. In doing so, they give the user the illusion of moving through a virtual world.

Perhaps the most futuristic idea is to have a large number of nanorobots positioned in our brains to simulate virtual reality. These nanorobots would monitor and modify the brain’s sensory information to create a full-immersion virtual reality.

If and when these things come to pass, people will have to seriously consider what reality actually is. At first glace, virtual reality appears as different as a TV show from real life, but would it be? For example, when someone touches something, the atoms (themselves mostly empty space) do not actually touch. Our experience of touch actually comes from the electrical singles sent to the brain. Why should electrical signals created by nanorobots for example be any less real than those created in our daily lives now?

Also, as simulators and mental training prove, even virtual and imagined experiences can be very useful for real-world training. Our virtual and real worlds thus already are overlapping.

What is certain is that humanity is heading into a future where the lines between real and virtual will become increasingly blurred. Sooner or later, we will have to decide exactly what this means for the nature of experience itself.

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