Estevan Silveira @ Envisioning
What is at stake in Virtual Reality (VR) is sense of lived experience and presence. Now, much has been spoken and thought on this technology domain, and it can be summarized according to two notions; virtuality and immersion.
Philosophically, virtual is a term used to refer to an aspect of reality that is ideal, yet real. If imaginary numbers are real, virtual space must be as well. In other words, the physical world is substituted by a world model, but many of the original forms are preserved. The latter, immersion, implies that virtual realities must isolate the observer from external visual impressions, making use of three-dimensional objects and expanding the observers' perspective into the stereoscopic panorama. The intention is to integrate the observer in an all-around illusion realm, where there is a unity of time and place.
What is expected from the promises of virtual reality, when it comes to therapeutic ends, is that the digital reality metabolized within the hardware serves not as an escape valve from outside, but something which can play an important role for people suffering from anxiety disorders or even physical wounds. Take for example a hospital in east France that is using virtual reality headsets to calm surgery patients, allowing them to enter into natural beauty spots, while harmonising universal aesthetic and local anesthetic, sensory stimulation and sensory negation.
The pandemic revealed that diseases in general must also be combated within the access to information arena. This implies scaling up knowledge of the subjects involved, mostly through science popularization. For this reason, the MVR CSynth Virus Explorer project, commissioned by Goldsmiths, University of London, an interactive virtual reality visualization of Covid-19 and the core of a new protein docking game, is more than welcome. Getting kids to understand how the disease works in a playful way is vital, helping them absorb frictionlessly the moment of unprecedented complexity we are living.
Metaverse and Pluriverse
The manufacture of virtually enhanced physical realities may not be as harmful to society as it seems. The replication of worlds befit operations that, done for real, pose a danger or waste of resources. Avatars, after all, does have God Mode. If we mentioned before the affinities between VR and health, we can do the same with another strategic area that ultimately determine the survival of our species. Taken together, one can associate 3D models that deliver forecasts for entire crops and educational digital platforms that takes local farmers to places where vegetables are cultivated in greenhouses powered by geothermal energy.
The question is: can VR be of any use to those concerned with social justice, the radical equality of all beings, and non-hierarchy? Would it be possible for the metaverse to be oriented by the concept of pluriverse, "a world where many worlds fit", as the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar put it? Could such anthropological concept of coexisting worldviews have entry and acceptance in virtual shared spaces? We hope that there is.
What lies ahead
Remote work is getting more popular. Video conferencing technology has become the standard form of communication and collaboration for far-off employees after the Covid-19 outbreak, and that opens up a window of opportunities. Look at holoportation, a new type of 3D capture technology that allows people in different parts of the world simultaneously connect to team bonding meetings, like they were situated in the same room. In a recent promotional video introducing Microsoft Mesh, developed by the Azure cloud platform, we see two female engineers from different parts of the world changing interpersonal skills on alternative energy projects, a 3D model of a Japanese master teaching kanji to someone far way, and architects leaning over a virtual environment to address the arrangement of CAD objects. Real time transmission of high-quality 3D models of people, unfortunately, is not yet ripe to the general public, both in terms of reconstruction and compression of virtual objects.
The act of foreseeing the future is to conceive a novel standpoint and design the needed steps to get there. Microsoft favors a lot of this as a result of insights hatched in its research subsidiaries. The company revealed just now a technology of volumetric capture of real people within the virtual world of AltspaceVR, allowing virtual reality headset users to experience an unprecedented sense of connection. While the technology behind this type of production is being continually improved, the deliverance of compelling volumetric capture, especially if bundled with game engines, are not that far-fetched. The new techniques scale down the amount of imagery data either via lowering the resolution of the capture, reducing post-processing tasks, or only capturing a certain portion of the bodies. Viewing demos posted online is exciting, but we cannot forget that they are the result of a million dollar production.
Computing approach that allows machines to make sense of the real environment, translating concrete spatial data into the digital realm in real-time. By using machine learning-powered sensors, cameras, machine vision, GPS, and other elements, it is possible to digitize objects and spaces that connect via the cloud, allowing sensors and motors to react to one another, accurately representing the real world digitally. These capabilities are then combined with high-fidelity spatial mapping allowing a computer “coordinator” to control and track objects' movements and interactions as humans navigate through the digital or physical world. Spatial computing currently allows for seamless augmented, mixed and virtual experiences and is being used in medicine, mobility, logistics, mining, architecture, design, training, and so forth.