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 ›
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Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.