Virtual worlds Require Better Tools
When we interact with the world around us, how do we do it? Do we press soft foot soles to the floor, feeling the cold flow up our legs? Bend over the fridge, wiping the hair out of our eyes as we do so, smelling the mix of meats and cheeses within?
Or do we interact with a keyboard, and a mouse?
The disparity is startling.
Just how do we interact with a virtual world? There has to be something better than keyboard and mouse. The logical answer is with voice, and our actual body movements. The only problem is that cuts out the vast majority of those who stand to benefit from VR the most: Those individuals whose physical forms are either undesirable, or simply do not work.
Futurists quickly point to the obvious answer of direct brain interface, interfacing our thoughts with the simulation. That is ideal, but, reluctantly we have to admit that is decades of, in anything like full body reliability.
There is an emerging critical issue of how we interface with vast datasets now, as increasingly, raw data is infused with additional layers, of optional information, adding or changing complexity on a whim. Complexity so vast can only be fully understood by rendering it into a 3D format, becoming a landscape through which we can move, experience, and understand.
This use of VR to understand complex data, and extrude viable life-worlds out of it, both deliberately and by unanticipated emergence has been gathering pace since the 1990s, and is moving forwards with unprecedented swiftness. VR Gameworlds have used gamepads and joysticks for decades now, trying to add in extra means of input; interfaces both ergonomic and intuitive. They are not enough, not to cope with increasing data overload.
We are rapidly closing in on the Metaverse concept: a complete, inseparable melding of computer-created environments, both stand alone and shared, intertwining symbiotically with real-time data from non-immersive Internet-based services. This new form of existence, in turn wrapped around and flowing through streaming data from the world outside, until all jumble together in one flowing whole. Identity is becoming a fluid concept, and purely physical spaces are in the very beginnings of ceasing to matter. Ceasing that is, to all but core governmental authorities - those who have only just embraced plasma monitor screens; stuck in perpetual flatland.
Even they are picking up the pace, playing the catch-up game. Even they are not immune.
Both government, and big business ignores the ever more crystalline march of these long-term trends towards immersion and visualisation in 3D form at their peril. Virtual Reality and Augmented reality systems have been growing for forty years, since the late 1960s, when the "sword of Damocles" and the Sensorama first appeared. The field has surfaced many times since then; some innovations sticking, ways of helping business manage assets far more efficiently; ways of making profit margins double, then triple as data is more easily understood.
They peak and trough like any industry. There have been a half-dozen such periods when the groundbreaking technologies of VR and AR rear their heads, only to be beaten back down; out of the public eye by limitations in technology. The mid 90s 'bubble burst' simply being the most recent and greatest to date. The technology never stops, it never sleeps, and we are entering another time of emergence. Another period when VR and AR buzzwords are all around, and, the technology is mature enough to support them.
As these virtual environments proliferate, those of us who use them, build them, work and play within them; will increasingly smack into hardware limitations. 3D accelerator systems, and computer CPUs, both of which operate under Moore's law, are relentlessly pounding some of the basic ones, such as the sheer, raw processing power to run them.
However that is not enough. Immersive spaces demand immersive movement, immersive interaction. Thus, if we are to sustain the current level of integration and growth of virtual environments, better tools than the mouse and keyboard, are going to have to become commonplace.
We will not get from where we are, to brain-machine interfaces in a single leap, but the changes are beginning, even now.