When will virtual reality arrive through the Net?

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When will virtual reality arrive through the Net?

-- Claudio Gatti, December 22, 1996


My best prediction for virtual reality: Governments will fund virtual reality research until the technology works, at which point they will ban it.

Why? Consider that the government bans marijuana. This is because dope smokers are insufficiently materialistic to sustain a modern economy. You don't hear a stoned guy say "My 19" TV isn't sharp enough, I want a 32" Sony XBR!" Instead, he has become fascinated with the artificial wood grain in the coffee table.

VR is even better than dope. Would you work overtime so you could afford a real trip to Paris if you could "go there in VR" by grabbing an applet off the Net? Would you work at all if your welfare check were sufficient to cover a decent stream of VR experience?

That said, I do think we'll see people investing in video-grade VR content for the Web as soon as a few million people are wired up with video-rate Internet connections. I suppose that will happen by the year 2000, mostly because of the cable TV companies.

-- Philip Greenspun, December 22, 1996

I think Phil hit the nail on the head. Real virtual reality the type seen in sci-fi television and Popular Science is the most dangerous piece of technology to come down the pipe since well anything. Imagine for a second a world with real VR, and the error proof bandwidth. Why would a middle-aged garbage man leave his virtual world were he is an international spy sleeping with Cindy Crawford? Plus if he wants he can change programs and be Cindy Crawford. Of course this level of programming is decades away. Not only that but the hardware to support it is also far from realization. Perhaps by then society will value the importance of a real life rather then a fantasy one.

-- Matt Farmer, March 21, 1998

In my opinion, there is a true potential for a valuable scientific and industrial usage of VR through Internet. Recently, the first virtual surgery took place in France. The patient was surrounded by robots. The surgeon was in an adjacent room, manipulating tools that managed the robots, and receiving sensations through a video camera and force-feedback tools. You can easily extrapolate that in a few years, it will be common practice for a surgeon in Paris or New York to operate someone in Sydney, like heart transplant has become routine surgery. It is just a matter of having a fast and reliable telecommunication network. Personally, I insist on *reliable*. The idea of dying on the table because the line dropped is kind of chilling. I can picture this technology being intensively used and improved to virtually work in hostile environments (nuclear reactor repairs, space and deep see research, etc...) Experiments are currently conducted in that direction (Phil, do you have any tips for us on what's cooking at MIT?). However, for technical and economical reasons, I don't see true VR (with helmet, gloves, lifelike imaging, the all nine yards) spreading in our lives (even before using Internet as a medium) for decades. I don't believe in VR adventures in the Me-Tarzan-You-Cindy-Crawford style in my lifetime. First, because by the time the technology will be available, Cindy Crawford will be more than likely less than desirable. Secondly and more seriously, VR is a babbling newborn child. Using it as an entertainment tool, like a TV, would suggest it has reached such maturity in its life cycle that it has become an affordable generalized technology. This will require decades and we will become familiar with dozen of more serious application before it happens. I don't want to ruin anybody's day, but VR-games and VR-vacations seems more likely to be our grand kids toys than ours. And I think it's a good thing. IMHO, individuals are not ready to face the challenge of brutally integrating the concept of VR in their everyday life. Making the difference between real world and true VR sounds hard to assimilate for us. VR as we know it is too limited to let us envision how it will affect our daily activities by the time confusion between real and virtual world will be possible. At any rate, I don't believe that VR Nintendo would be a good first step if we don't want to see all of us turning into brain-dead zombies (if it's a pleonasm, let me know). VR will be part of our future but I trust it will remain limited and not that glamorous for a very long time.

-- Stephane --, July 16, 1998