Why virtual reality is necessary on a planet of 11 billion
Virtual reality is more than a trick. It's a solution to big problems.
PETER DIAMANDIS: Every year I spend time thinking about what are the technologies going from deceptive to disruptive this year that today's exponential leaders need to be thinking about and actually beginning to work with. And for this coming year, for the next few years my view is that virtual reality is part of that. And it's gotten different terms and there are different elements of it, virtual world, virtual reality, augmented reality. And really the kickoff was the purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook for a couple of billion dollars. But in addition to that what we've seen is a number of technologies coming together – infinite computing, very cheap high resolution cameras, machine learning capabilities, low latency, high bandwidth networks. All of these things are coming together to reinvent the virtual world experience.
JEREMY BAILENSON: If you think about cars. Forty thousand people died in the United States last year driving, 1.3 million worldwide died in car accidents. Think about the productivity lost by sitting in a box for an hour each way to and from work. Think about the fossil fuel that we're burning while we commute back and forth to work. Think about the road rage. Think about the germs that you get on public transportation. I'm not claiming that we should not see people. I love social connection. What I'm saying is that there's a subset of travel that if you think about it, why do we drive all the way to work so we can sit at a desk and pound on a computer? Maybe we only need to go two days to work. And for those meetings that are not essential we need to put those in VR. We cannot support a planet of 11 billion people which we'll be at quite soon with everybody driving and flying everywhere using fossil fuels it's just not going to happen. So, why don't we have networked meetings yet? And the answer is because there's this secret sauce, this social presence that we have face to face that we don't get with video conference yet and VR isn't there yet. So what we need to do is to be able to track more body movements. The bottleneck is actually not bandwidth because avatar-based communication is cheaper from an bandwidth standpoint than video. The reason is if you're doing an avatar-based communication, all the 3D models for the avatars are stored locally on each machine. What travels over the network is the tracking data. So, locally a camera detects that I smiled and then it sends over network a packet that says smile at 22 percent. And then on the other computer it then draws that smile. So you're not sending visual information over the network. What you're sending is very cheap information which is semantic information about movements. The bottleneck is we can't track movements that accurately so if you think of the commercial systems right now they track what we call 18 degrees of freedom. Your head and both hands. You can do rotation which has three and X, Y and Z which is obviously three. And so you've got 18 points, two hands and a head. In order to have the conversation flow we need to have subtle cheek movements and the twitch of my elbow, everything I do communicates meaning whether I'm doing it intentionally or not.
DIAMANDIS: Imagine a virtual reality experience where when you go into such a reality world everything looks like it's real and you can navigate around it and begin to do extraordinary things in this high fidelity world. At home you will have yourself 3D scanned down to the millimeter. I then enter into a virtual world and I have an AI there that is my shopping advisor. It says Peter, what are you looking for? And all of a sudden in this virtual world everything I see is in my size, in the colors I want, recommended by this AI. And I can say, you know, I'd love to see a fashion show. On a runway are avatars of me wearing all these different outfits walking by and I can say I want to see that one and that one and all of a sudden I'm looking in a virtual mirror and I'm wearing that outfit. And I can look around, see what it looks like and I go, "This is it. I want that." Boom, it's produced, manufactured to my exact size probably using 3D printing capabilities or robotic capabilities that afternoon in the local factory and delivered the next morning and it fits perfectly. So that's the future of the virtual retail store if you would and why I think virtual reality is going to do effectively a hundredfold improvement over what the Amazon experience is today.
JORDAN GREENHALL: The line between what it means to be dreaming and what it means to be awake is going to become very interesting. It's going to become more and more interesting because remember, VR is just one piece of a generalized consequence of accelerating technology. And so it's not just that we're going to be doing VR. We're also going to be radically improving our actuation capacity in the world in general. And so we can imagine circumstances where I might craft an object in VR and then say in quasi real time some mechanism is, in fact, actually 3D printing that object so that I reach out, take off my VR glasses and the thing that I thought I was creating in an entirely imaginary space is actually physically present in my hand. That's going to cause some very interesting changes in the way that we relate to the difference between what reality can do and what imagination can do. VR is extremely well positioned to create a designed reality that you are going to have a very, very hard time rejecting. If you think about the way the propaganda back in the early twentieth century got good at understanding how human beings parse information to make decisions and getting in underneath our psychological defense mechanisms, VR is 100 million times more capable of engaging in that. The good news is that if we do a much, much better job at being let's call it ethical and crafting a relationship between our power to affect the world and the way that power affects us. So, if we do a much, much better job at being ethical around VR then it will be the most powerful tool that we have for radically improving the way that we respond to the world. For upgrading our capacity to respond to the world because it would be a much more embodied and whole system hack for our deep constructs.
DANFUNG DENNIS: I can place people into worlds that they may never otherwise see and experience something firsthand in a way that is very different than watching a film. You recall it as a memory instead of I saw a movie, I actually was there in this experience. And so those memories actually encode in a stronger way and I think that allows us to reflect and process them in a more personal way. And so I think we're just beginning on this curve of VR where the technology, the storytelling, they're starting to come together where we're passing the prototype phase and we can actually use it to create these profound experiences where people come out after even ten minutes, come out of a headset and they will say I was so moved by that. And a year later will come back and say that experience changed my life.
BAILENSON: Since 2003 I've been running experiments that take a person, puts her in virtual reality and gives her an experience that you couldn't have in the real world. This could be being in a different place or it could actually be becoming a different person. So, the first study we ran was about ageism and we took college age students and they walked up to a virtual mirror. And the reason we have a virtual mirror is to show the person they become different via a process called body transfer. This is a neuroscientific process where if you move your physical body and you have an avatar that moves what's called synchronously – that means at the same time that you move your arm you see its arm move and you see that in a mirror as well as in the first person. Over time the part of the brain that contains the schema for the self expands and includes this external representation as part of the body. So, by using a virtual mirror and showing somebody moving with the mirror you can literally feel like you've become someone else. You can be a different gender, a different age. You can become disabled. You can have a different skin color. And our first study took college age students. We had them become older, about 60 to 70 years old. We then networked a second person into virtual reality and there was a conversation between the two. Over time the conversation turned to stereotypical concepts about being older. So perhaps you didn't have a good memory and these stereotypes were activated in the conversation. So while wearing the body of someone else who's an older person I felt discrimination firsthand as a subject. And what we showed in that first study published in 2005 was that subjects who had gone through this treatment became less ageist when they came out. For example, if you asked them to list words about the elderly they were less likely to list words that were stereotypical.
JASON SILVA: Virtual reality like other media technologies, like cinema, is an engine of empathy. With a movie theater, the size of the screen, the surround sound audio puts you there. With the Oculus Rift potentially you're surrounded now by the media, by the simulated dreamscape. So you are even more there. So when I say an agent of empathy the UN released a virtual reality film of a Syrian refugee camp. The fact that we're able to put reporters now virtually on the ground elicits a sort of experience that is so much more visceral, so much more powerful that the illusive sense of presence that literally puts you in a liminal trance state. Your defenses get lowered, you forget yourself, you forget your problems, you are there. You are in the moment. And so the power of that as an engine of empathy I think can't hurt humanity. I think it's like they talk in the movie Interstellar our empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight. And I think with virtual reality and the Oculus Rift we now are extending our line of sight by being able to go everywhere at the speed of mind.
DENNIS: So this interactive experience in which you're training yourself to emotionally resonate, training yourself to take an action. This will carry on within you in your mind and your body after that headset has been taken off. So this ability to I think improve ourselves to become a more empathic and compassionate society is what I hope we will use this technology for.
- According to projections shared by the UN, Earth's population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. By the year 2100, that number could increase to 11 billion. Virtual reality will be necessary to reduce the waste of such a large population in industries like transport, retail, and manufacturing.
- As an existing technology, there is a lot that virtual reality can do: rich and immersive environments, heightened storytelling, emotionally resonant experiences, and increased productivity in retail. But it's only in its infancy.
- As the world's population continues to grow, the technology will need to evolve to facilitate a larger network of users, and developers will have to think harder about the technological potential and the ethical, neurological, and emotional side effects.
- Why the Future of Virtual Reality Might Not Be "People First" - Big ... ›
- How will virtual reality change our consciousness? - Big Think ›
- Fully immersive virtual reality: What will it take? - Big Think ›
- Virtual reality warps your sense of time - Big Think ›
- Fully immersive virtual reality: What will it take? - Big Think ›
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Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.
Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.
These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.
The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.
This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.
The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.
"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.
"This just hasn't been possible before."
Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.
New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.
"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."
"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."
Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.
Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.
"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."
Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.
- NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
- To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
- The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.
This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.
Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel: https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."