Sight: The Implications of Virtual Reality

There has been a lot of noise recently surronding the prospects of virtual reality. With Google Glasses being showcased last month at the Google I/O conference, it seems - at the least -augmented reality is closer than any would have predicted; but legitimate virtual reality is still an idea looming in the minds of many. A couple of cases this week at Singularity University highlighted this fact. The first was the release of Ray Kurzweil's documentary, covering his book of the same name, The Singularity is Near. Kurzweil visited us this week for a few days and, in seeing his film and discussing it with him afterwards, we gained a glimpse of how he envisions the future of virtual reality playing out. The documentary covers many of the trends he outlines in the book such as the acceleration of biotech, nanotech and AI, but he additionally creates a fictional story in the documentary to explore the idea of a seemingly conscious bot within a virtual world. Named Ramona, a series of circumstances paint a picture of her evolution as an artificial intelligent being, and she ultimately ends up in the midst of a Turing Test to decide whether or not she should be considered "human." I won't spoil the conclusion as to whether or not she passes the test, but you can see by the trailer that Mr. Kurzweil foresees a day where artificial beings will be both autonomous and introspective.

The second Virtual Reality conversation was with Phillip Rosedale, creator of Second Life. The online, 3-Dimensional environment has around a million active users playing around in it, and Rosedale spoke on all the things he has learned from observing and interacting within this virtual world. With a booming economy (currently around $600-700 million/year) and peaceful, innovative inhabitants, the Second Life community has shined a light on many human elements, which Rosedale explained he has embedded into his latest project at Coffee and Power. With the tagline as "the app for work like no other," Rosedale wants to help lubricate the transaction for short-term services, and has essentially created a shadow economy to make that happen. With its own currency and several locations around San Francisco, Mr. Rosedale is launching the next version of his app this week and was very excited to discuss its prospects. With the increasing number of people working as "free agent" entrepreneurs, Coffee and Power could be a huge boost to the new-age knowledge economy, which continues to grow exponentially.

The final instance of augmented/virtual reality comes from a short, futuristic film by some graduate students in Israel. The story takes place sometime in the future where interactive contact lenses have changed how we see and interact with the world. It's definitely worth watching, as the potential for this technology is impending, but the implications of its implantation are still up in the air. The film does a nice job depicting how virtual reality may lead to a future that is very different than the present.

Check it out and chime in on the comment thread... are you more excited or scared about having this technology in your life?

Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

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