virtual reality is going social THE SOCIALISTS: A POV WHITEPAPER

TLDR: Virtual reality gear — headsets, handsets, bodysuits and apps — is dropping in price and improving in quality. Facebook, Google and VCs are racing to invest in systems that merge our digital and physical worlds. The big surprise is all of this “VR” will revolutionize social networking.

A few years ago in Businessweek we predicted that someday you’ll have an “eternity app,” a digital clone of your intellect and persona modeled off of the 10,000 tweets and 30,000 Facebook posts you’ll leave behind. If the tone and insights from your mind, culled from social media datasets, were combined with voice recognition and AI simulated responses (hello, Siri!), you could actually send in “the other you” to have conversations. Add in a 3-D virtual model of your face, and you could talk away forever. Virtual reality could replicate anyone ... including you.

Now, virtual reality has arrived. At SXSW this year, such science-fiction forecasts about artificial intelligence sprang up again on numerous panels from the people who are making it a reality. Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine and a luminary on the future of technology, gave a keynote proclaiming virtual reality will be bigger than many realize—with a subcategory called “mixed reality,” in which the image of a robot or human or something is projected into the visual of a real space via headsets.

Imagine looking through translucent lens at a room, with a projection of a holographic figure sitting next to real people, carrying on a conversation. That realistic image could be a virtual avatar, or the projection of a real colleague beamed in from the other side of the United States, or a cartoon animated avatar. Data, spreadsheets, images and people will all float before you ... while they aren't really there.

Prognosticators suggest the intimate nature of virtual reality will lead rapidly to social media applications—because if you can connect with any moving images instantly in a 3D environment, who better to pull in than people?

Microsoft’s HoloLens is one product bringing virtual reality into the social media world. MIT Technology Review recently noted that the $3,000 VR headset, weighing in at 1.3 pounds, still feels a bit dopey — but the combination of viewing real physical surroundings and digital, virtual-reality overlays, is perfect for social interactions.

Zap, bang, boom. Virtual lasers cry for social.

The effects are startling. Microsoft gave HoloLens demos at its developer conference in San Francisco this year showing how users could virtually interact with other users, such as sharing “Poly” hovering avatar assistants to do things in space, and toss virtual balls at each other. Other demos show virtual laser-beams firing from users' hands.

If you can zap anything with virtual laser beams, you just know you'll want to play games with your friends.

This is just an early demonstration of how these big, black goggles can facilitate human-to-human interaction, but the applications in social media are nearly endless. Imagine the ability to beam yourself into a physical room or space next to anyone on the planet, so your virtual presence could carry on a conversation. Now, imagine your ability to pull someone else into your room. Finally, realize that thanks to AI and advances in animation, that “person” can be the simulated, moving avatar of anyone you want – Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johannson, Donald Trump, Barack Obama – to carry on a virtual conversation, flirtation, or argument.

Yes, we know. The porn industry is already exploring applications.

Google and Facebook are investing big in VR.

There is huge momentum behind VR merging with social. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion, betting that virtual reality is the future of social media. In December 2015, market research group TrendForce projected the virtual reality market would hit $70 billion, with 70% of that coming from VR software sales and just 30% from hardware.

Google, which recently shuttered its Google Glass google experiment, still invested in Magic Leap, a company that specializes in combining virtual images with real images, or what technologists call “Mixed Reality.” In February, Magic Leap landed a whopping $793 million in funding in what might be the biggest venture capital round in history. Few knew exactly what Magic Leap’s hardware and software actually do; the company hired science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as its “Chief Futurist,” to give you an idea of the vision behind it.

In April, Kevin Kelly wrote a compelling profile in Wired magazine about Magic Leap—revealing the technology is an enhancement of Google Glass that projects high-definition 3-D objects into the reality you see around you. When wearing the clear glasses, you see both the real world and also virtual images overlaid on that space. The technology is so good, workers at Magic Leap's headquarters don't use computer monitors; instead, they wear the glasses, which beam the image of high-def monitors floating on desks before them. In one future scenario, Magic Leap could destroy the monitor and TV hardware industries—because why buy a flat-screen TV if your glasses can make one appear on any wall around you?

All signs point to the groundbreaking visuals of VR headsets revolutionizing media, as consumers rush in for the, well, rush. Wired recently noted:

"Many believe Magic Leap’s technology—along with a handful of competing virtual and augmented reality products—will usher in a sea change in how we use computers. By placing sensors everywhere and processing the volumes of data they produce, it’s possible to create better immersive environments and believable layers of digital images on top of the physical world."

The world has already gone social. Soon, virtual reality screens and goggles will provide unfettered creativity in how humans can network with each other … if they interact with real humans at all.

Created By
Ben Kunz

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