The Matrix

Can you imagine if we ever created a VR that is so immersive it's a whole new world, like the dreamworld we frequent? Somewhere you could go to without physically being there? Just think about what it actually means, and how we physically achieve that.

We experience the world through our senses, nothing more, nothing less. Shut off all our senses and the noise we make alone causes hallucinations[1]. One common time this happens is every night, when we reach the stage where our mind is pretty much active, but our body isn't, and is completely numb. It's called REM sleep, and that's when most dreams occur (other times it can occur is when you go to a special chamber[2]). You can even rise to a certain level of consciousness to be "awake while being asleep" (see Lucid Dreaming[3]), and this is more or less "short circuiting your brain". What this means is that whatever "reality" you're experiencing is completely generated by your mind, for your mind. Your mind is generating the physical signals you normally receive from your senses, and it goes right back to your mind where you experience them. It feels real, doesn't it? Perhaps sometimes even more real than reality (called "hyper-reality").

Now what if, instead, we fed real signals to your mind while deprving sensory input, or basically overriding it with much stronger signals? If those signals come from, say, another human from the other side of the world, you'd basically experience exactly what that person is experiencing, provided all the sensory inputs are transmitted. Otherwise, if it's just sight, you'd be seeing what the other person is seeing, sound would be hearing what the other person is hearing, etc. So you'd effectively have teleported to the other side of the world. The only possible difference from actually being there, is that there may be some lag, unfortunately.

So let's take it one step further and say that, instead, we use a computer to generate those signals, BAM! We have a full, immersive, virtual reality. Sure, you know this already, but why I bothered going through the physical part of all of this is because it tells you what it can achieve.

Sending signals to your brain, bypassing your senses, effectively extends your reach of experience. Allowing two-way communication (allowing your brain to send signals back to influence the world) allows you to extend your reach of existance. You're now limited by the speed of light and information theory (and electronics and photonics), no longer by mechanics. By comparison, the Earth is now ridiculously small. You know this already from the internet. Telephony, video conferencing, you've already seen it. The world "has shrunk". But those still present a barrier. Why? The information is incomplete. It's but a tiny fraction of what we might be transceiving in actual physical interaction. If all information is transceived, then the interaction will be complete, and indistinguishable. That's what VR hopes to achieve.

But what does it all mean apart from sounding cool, and giving everyone a chance to experience realities that are physically impossible (like flying for instance)? Well, if you think about the physical side of virtual reality, it's information transfer. And when you think about information transfer, in the information age, and you see what the internet gave to us just by enabling large exchanges of information, you see that it will start another revolution.

Physical involvement in most things aren't actually necessary. Food, water, and air are basically the only things that the human body needs that is physical. To fulfill those, you'd need some more physical involvement (like roads that transport them), but like I said, most things don't. Take schooling for example. You don't need any physical involvement with the world to learn. What is learning? It's just new pathways of between neurons in your brain. We could plant those new pathways if we knew how. It's essentially information. "Practicals", like lab sessions don't produce anything, they're there to help you learn something, again, just information. You can go through your entire school life in VR, and be no worse off than someone who did "physical schooling" and perhaps you'd likely be better off since VR can bend the laws of physics to enhance teaching. So a school need not be a physical place anymore. It can be totally virtual (there are some "lesser" virtual schools already present in the form of online courses as you might know).

What else can be done entirely virtually? Well, EVERY OFFICE! Think about what happens in there. It's all information processing. You have stacks of papers, emails; you work by processing information, documents, etc. You don't need physical paper. You can have virtual paper, and it'll be the same. We only still use paper because it's easier to interact with than screens. Once all the information has been processed, you then just need the final result to enter the real world. That is, for example, you print out the bill of lading to collect the (physical) shipment after getting all necessary processing, error checking, approvals, guarantees, etc. Maybe that's not even necessary if cryptography is good enough. We'd be much closer to the "paperless world" that was envisioned.

Just to give another example for clarity, it's not just document processing that can be done entirely virtually, even the manufacturing industry can have the starting part of their pipeline, i.e. the design phase, virtual. Take Intel which manufactures microchips (or should these be called nanochips?). They can do design, calculations, and simulations all in the VR space. Only once they need to generate a prototype do they start interacting with the real world, and even then, not a single sheet of paper is needed. The design is sent to the plant to produce the prototype. Since such high precision is never done by hand, the design files go directly to the machines that produce the prototypes, and then many iterations later, the products. Not a single sheet of paper is needed.

Office workers would never have to travel to work. They'd just get themselves into the virtual space from their home. Everyone would convene in the virtual office and start working as they'd normally do. The office can be huge. It can have the best designs for the best office environment, psychologically, to make work comfortable. It need not even be a building. It can have the best ergonomics. You can even bend reality and physics if it helps, like, being able to place pieces of paper floating in air and not have wind scatter them over the place while being in an "outdoor office". You could be working at the beach, underwater, in space, anywhere that you'd like (or rather, your boss would like) the office environment to be. If you had your own cubicle or room, it could be an entirely different environment from the common office area. It could even be bigger than the office itself.

Anything, absolutely anything, that is solely information manipulation/processing/generation/transfer, can be done entirely in the virtual space, and it's going to be more efficient because these processes are no longer limited by mechanics. This is why it'd be one heck of a revolution.

01:11 06 Jul 2015