Virtual Reality

The hype around convergence in the media world has been and gone. Today the idea of combining different forms of technology into one ‘device’ is the norm, with smart phones and tablets combining the processing power of a computer with the simplistic technology of a mobile phone. There was a time when computers filled a room, and used tape and card to show results, a time when mobile phones didn’t exist and the internet was just an idea. The modern day smart phone is capable of making phone-calls, sending text messages, accessing the internet, sending emails, streaming music and video, writing text documents, taking photos and videos, sharing photos and videos, giving directions, viewing the globe via satellite images, showing what the weather is around the world. The list is endless. And all for the cheap and easy price of £££ a month. The advance of technology seems to be used more for capital gain than good, but that’s an argument for another day. So where will the next step be taken?

There was a time when virtual reality was only something ever seen in films or on tv, a time where people could only dream about being placed in a virtual world and having the freedom to do whatever they wanted. While that idea is still a dream to some of the top technologists today, virtual reality is constantly getting better and better. From video games to pain relief, virtual reality has many potential uses and maybe even more to come.

Milo is an interactive game created by Microsoft for their Kinect system, which is basically a sensor and camera that can detect a person’s movement and voice. The software creates a virtual child called Milo, who the user can interact with as if they were in the room with them. While it’s not perfect, is this the start of something much bigger. In the future will people not feel the need to interact with other people, as they can program their own ‘best-friend’ straight on their xbox?

Another use of virtual reality is 3D immersion software. This is where the user wears a specially designed headset, and is placed in a room containing projections of a virtual world. The headset uses the projections on the walls of the room and creates a 3D world that the user feels immersed in. In the video above, the man using the software is standing on a high wall and actually feels like he could fall at any second. Will this be the start of something only imagined in science fiction films? Where the user can generate an entirely new world, and live out their fantasies?

Not all virtual reality is computer games and imaginary worlds. It can also have huge health benefits in the real world, and help real-world people through their problems. A new therapy being tested is Mirror Therapy, which is designed to aid injured soldiers and other amputees that are experiencing the nightmare that is phantom limb pain. This is where the injured person can feel pain from their amputated limb, as if it was really there. While the cause of this phantom pain isn’t fully know to the medical world as of yet, doctors believe it has something to do with our brains having a ‘hard-wired knowledge’ (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/medicine2.html) of our limbs from birth (explains how children born without limbs sometimes still feel sensations from them). Mirror Therapy simply uses a mirror to reflect the other existing limb, to make it look as if the other limb has returned. The amputee can then feel as if their limb has returned, and tests show that it can relive pain and other discomfort.

This leads on to the idea that we, as people, enjoy and almost crave being tricked by illusion. Many famous Illusionists have come and go, and there are many that still work today (Derren Brown, David Blain and Dynamo to name a few). People pay to have their minds tricked and fooled, and some are so talented that certain acts seem like ‘magic’. Media today could be seen as an illusion, as people interact with avatars of their friends online, and communicate through Facebook on people’s virtual walls. Photography, as an instrument for illusion, is one of the greatest techniques available today as it is so believable. People take a photograph as fact over a painting, when sometimes a photograph has been so heavily manipulated it is showing something completely different from the truth. Digital art is now more available than ever before, with artists choosing to create digital interactive installations rather than great paintings. Here’s a good one involving sound and music:

http://caveofsounds.com/

The future of technology could be one of darkness and deceit, where nothing is believable and everything is connected and tracked so that everyone knows where everyone is all of the time. Or it could be one of technological supremacy where all illnesses are curable in an instant and other planets become holiday destinations. Or it could be one ruled by virtual reality, where a new virtual world is created for people to live in instead, something not too far from The Matrix. We truly don’t know, but it’s safe to say that virtual reality will play a key role in whatever is to come.

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