Why the Future of Virtual Reality Might Not Be "People First"
Mark Zuckerberg insists the future of virtual reality will put "people first." The development trajectory of the technology tells another story.
Imagine being able to sit down on your couch and go anywhere you want. You could go to Paris and walk beneath the Eiffel Tower. You could go to the bottom of the ocean and touch all the strange, wonderful creatures that live there. You could go to Mars and explore its sandy dunes alongside the Curiosity Rover. In this scenario, you can see, do, and be anything you want. All you have to do is put on a headset.
That’s the future of virtual reality, according to Ernest Cline’s cult classic science fiction book Ready Player One. It’s also the future that Mark Zuckerberg is trying to create.
The Facebook CEO said as much during the keynote speech at Oculus’ Connect 3 conference earlier this month. The conference is a meeting ground for virtual reality developers, and Oculus is the leading developer in the space. Facebook famously spent $2 billion to purchase it in 2014 with the intention of expanding its ground-breaking technology. Given the demo, it’s easy to understand why: they want to make the real world a virtual experience.
Two virtual avatars interact in virtual reality in front of a live audience. Credit: Mark Zuckerberg / Oculus Conference
What I mean by that is this: they want to use virtual reality technology as the ultimate hangout space for everyone on the planet. That’s a philosophy Zuckerberg described as “people first.” He wants virtual reality to be “all about experiences,” meaning the software will help connect people from any location and share whatever they want in real-time.
That’s radically different from how our current technology works. “Unlike apps, where you have to go click through menus and pick and choose individual options, you don’t have to do that in virtual reality,” Zuckerberg said. “You can click and control anything at any time [in the virtual reality dashboard].” Here’s an example: if you want to hang out with your friends online now, you’d have to contact them through Facebook Messenger, Skype, or some other app, and click a whole bunch of things to get your friends all on the same screen talking to each other; in virtual reality, all you’d need to do is put on your headset.
It would look something like this:
The world's first live-action virtual reality demo. Credit: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook
In that way, Zuckerberg’s vision is exactly like Ready Player One. Cline’s story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people live in giant trailer parks. There is no economy -- except for the one in OASIS, a virtual reality world that’s equal parts social network and World of Warcraft. Entire lives are lived in OASIS: kids go to school in the OASIS, hang out in the OASIS, work in the OASIS. Human connection in the real world is almost non-existent -- not because it’s terrible, but because connection in OASIS is so much easier. “There, inside the game’s two-dimensional universe, life was simple: it’s just you and the machine,” Cline writes.
The dystopian reality of Ready Player One. Book cover illustration. Credit: Joe Ceballos/Whiskytree
Given the tone of the keynote, it’s very possible our virtual reality technology might bring about the same, isolated future. Zuckerberg admitted to that in his presentation, saying that while “you can bring in any kind of experience you want, not every one will be social. In fact, most aren’t.” Another telltale sign is that the bulk of Oculus’s tech development is geared toward enriching immersive but isolated experiences.
Oculus’ head of product development Neil Hughes said as much during his portion of the keynote, speaking about the company’s plans to let users create avatars from “1 billion permutations” and add ambisonic sound into its headsets to create rich 3D soundscapes. They’re developing “parties” where up to 8 people can hang out in a virtual room and play games or watch Facebook videos together. They’re spending $500 million to develop content, and want to add another 500 games to the Oculus’ virtual library in the next 2 years. They’re developing a whole new standalone virtual reality set with the OASIS M.O. -- portable, affordable, designed to be used by anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection. They’re even trying to emulate the virtual school of OASIS by starting a $10 million fund for developers to create educational content.
Exciting as those developments are, they run the very real risk of isolating us inside our own virtual worlds. Why would we watch Facebook videos with friends in virtual reality, when we can go to the moon? Why would we do anything in the real world when we can do anything we want in the virtual one? The immersiveness of virtual experiences might very well be a deterrent for seeking out comparatively mundane ones like hangouts -- or even real world connections. But only time will tell if our use of the technology will truly “put people first” as Zuckerberg intends. Until then, we have to consider Cline’s own conclusion from the end of the book. “As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness.”
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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