VR influence and future
The future without monitors, or how virtual reality will change our interaction with technology
The development of technology radically changes and simplifies our daily life in many ways. So, we no longer need to roll lazily to the corner of the bed in the morning in order to turn off the nasty alarm sound by pressing the big red button — now we use silently vibrating fitness trackers. And to get a fresh news release, now we don’t have to stomp to the newsstand every day — we just go online and instantly get up-to-date collections of a variety of events.
The last global technological revolution that completely changed people’s lives occurred about 20 years ago: humanity moved from newspapers and afternoon radio shows to the world of digital media. However, this “new reality”, which has just managed to occupy its niche in our everyday life, is now itself on the verge of a seismic shift. If the technologists and futurists are right, in the coming decades, the monitors we are familiar with will be replaced by a pair of glasses. And, no, it’s not just about purely cosmic innovations.
Our interaction with technology will undergo fundamental, fundamental changes in general. Virtual reality will add a new dimension, the space around us is something we have never encountered before. How will we interact with him? How will it transform the interfaces we are familiar with? And what, in the end, do tech giants think about VR? Well, let’s find out.
A brief history of computer interfaces (and our interaction with them)
In the old days, the topic of computer interfaces was considered quite highly specialized, historically anchored by computer engineers and engineering psychologists. But in recent decades, she has gone far beyond the purely professional circle. Although the majority of users have a purely everyday idea about this area, nevertheless they discuss it with enormous pleasure.
However, when it comes to virtual reality, it turns out that many of us cannot imagine its future: “VR is undoubtedly cool: what are virtual roller coasters worth alone! But I still don’t understand how the current 2D interfaces will be transformed into a three-dimensional space?..”.
In order to answer this “popular” question as objectively as possible, first, we should look into the past, which will show how computer interfaces develop in principle.
At first, as expected, there was nothing: the first computers (giant machines that consumed a lot of energy and required good cooling) did not even have a monitor. Information in them had to be entered using punched cards or punched tapes.
Each punch card served to describe one line of the program. If there was an error in its code, then it was necessary to find a defective punch card, replace it, and then run the program again. All this took a lot of time. It was especially difficult when the punched cards did not have inscriptions — then programmers had to determine the defective punched card directly by the codes (holes punched out on it).
But the most time-consuming was working with punched tapes. In case of an error, not only could the location of the miscalculation be determined solely by codes, but it was also necessary to cut out this error, fill a new insert with several previous and subsequent data, apply pieces of tapes, connect them with tape, punch holes with an awl so that the device could correctly count the holes, and only then – start the program again.
It is not surprising that only specially trained professionals could work at such computers. The “housewives” could only look at this action and admire the extraordinary endurance and patience of the programmers. But as time went on, computers developed and rapidly decreased in size. A few decades later, the first CRT monitors and keyboards were born — a kind of intermediaries between a person and a program. The first programming languages came to replace holes in punched cards and punched tapes, which made the printed word not only a way of conducting a dialogue between people but also a way of interacting with technology. And since the input of words had to be controlled in some way (do not type them blindly!), therefore, along with the first programming languages, people invented the very first computer interfaces: the so-called CLI, Command-Line Interfaces, “command-line interfaces”. They have significantly simplified the life of programmers, who have become much easier to manage information that is hierarchically clearly organized on hard drives.
However, the current CLI interfaces were still far away. Although it became much easier to use a computer, the process of working with it was still very complicated and in the eyes of ordinary people, it still resembled magic. No bright menus and other modern “buns”: all the graphics on the monitor were reduced only to white symbols on an ominous black background. Equally uninteresting, monotonous, and boring was the interaction with the computer itself, which was nothing more than a manual set of commands and their options. The mouse, which is impossible to do without today, did not exist at all in nature. It is not surprising that non-professionals, as before, were forced to swim outside the computer “board”. This continued until the end of the 60s, when things began to change radically. And all thanks to Douglas Engelbart, an inventor from Stanford, who held his legendary presentation on December 9, 1968, which forever changed human civilization. On that day, the world saw a new model of interaction with a PC, outside of which it is impossible to imagine working at a computer today. In particular, Engelbart presented a multi-window information output system, vector graphics, hypertext, working with the clipboard, a system of contextual hints, and resizing windows using a cursor controlled by a so-called “mouse” – an uncomplicated device that was also first presented by an American scientist during the presentation.
In fact, Engelbart demonstrated to the general public the very first GUI – Graphical User Interface — “graphical user interface”, which marked the beginning of an era in which a person does not need to be an expert in this field to control a computer.
Moreover, it was not just another technological discovery. GUI has moved humanity to a change of perception — a real revolution of thinking. If in those years computers were perceived by people exclusively as data processing machines, like such hypertrophied calculators, through Engelbart’s efforts, researchers and enthusiasts finally saw in them the potential for something more. In fact, they realized in computers a new means of communication, a machine that should not become another tool of bureaucracy; which, on the contrary, should become an individual’s tool – a truly personal computer.
Commercial companies were among the first to pick up on these changes. Having realized what everything is moving towards, the future “PC gods— – Jobs, Gates, etc. – resolutely set a course to transform an abstruse computer into an intuitive device, and in the laboratories of Xerox, Apple, and Microsoft, who are just starting their way, work on creating simple interfaces began in full swing.
First of all, computer designers finally decided on the way to enter commands: manually typed program lines were left behind, and clickable symbolic icons that can be dragged and organized all over the screen came to the fore; widgets, drop-down menus appeared; and the main philosophy of the interfaces was the so-called Desktop Metaphor, according to which individual files are represented as sheets of paper, and file system directories as folders for these sheets. Accordingly, the primary task of the monitor is to display to the user his “desktop” (a virtual analog of his real desktop), on which all the same files and folders can be placed, and their contents can be opened in a separate window and look like an ordinary paper document.
Although today Desktop Metaphor is taken for granted, at that time it was significant and, I’m not afraid of this word, bold innovations – innovations thanks to which private companies that were not afraid of innovations successfully overcame the “garage-knee” period and eventually turned into huge IT corporations, with the opinion of which absolutely everyone is considered today.
Nowadays, the intuitiveness of graphical interfaces is a defining, key factor in interacting with technology in general. So, our browsers anticipate the words that we intend to enter into the address bar. And on mobile devices, you can drag icons, scale the screen, enter commands — in general, perform exactly the actions that we want – with just a light touch of your finger on the screen.
In short, in just 30-35 years of interface development (which by historical standards is just a trifle), we have reached a level where absolutely anyone can use PCs, smartphones and tablets, even grandparents (the widespread belief that old people allegedly do not understand modern devices is nothing more than a myth. As psychological studies show, with proper motivation, older people master “new-fangled devices” without any problems).
It seems that today it is simply impossible to rethink the GUI. However, there is no limit to perfection. So, there is room to grow, and right now we are on the threshold of a new computer era, which will decisively sweep away the current era. The interfaces that we have only recently mastered, we will have to learn from scratch, because they, at least, will radically change their appearance.
Virtual space design
As the most illustrative example, let’s take Netflix. This service is surprisingly easy to use and visually differs little from our favorite ITC: to watch the movie you are interested in, you need to go to the website, scroll through the long list, click on the movie you like, and … enjoy watching!
However, once you put on a VR headset, your user experience changes dramatically. The uncomplicated interface of the resource that you have just worked with on the monitor instantly transforms into something that you have never seen before (and could hardly imagine in this context): No, I didn’t mix up the images when making up the article. As soon as you put on a virtual reality headset, the seemingly unremarkable interface of the site really turns into… a real room! Miracles and nothing more!
Moving away from a slight shock, you look around this virtual room. First of all, you notice that you are sitting – suddenly! – on the big red sofa. But then you look up and find that there is a huge 60-inch TV screen hanging in front of you! “Nichosi!”, – you will exclaim from surprise. And again, with your mouth agape, you will fall into a stupor.
To hell with Sony, LG, and other manufacturers of modern TVs! The virtual “Netflix room” already has one of the biggest TV boxes you’ve ever seen. At the same time, I am already silent about the indescribably atmospheric stone fireplace, over which this supertelevisor is located, and the magnificent mountain range that stretches outside the windows of a cozy virtual room. By God, the only thing missing is a blanket and tea with cookies! But the most interesting thing is that you “dive” into all this luxury, even virtual, just by wearing small 5-inch glasses.
Don’t think that Netflix’s transformation is an exception to the rule. Such global metamorphoses will undoubtedly affect all areas of digital reality: Google, YouTube, Facebook… Although at the moment we do not know exactly how our profiles in social networks and the current 2D search engine from Google will be transformed, based on the example of Netflix, it is safe to say that the services that have already become familiar will undergo conceptual changes in the future.
Before we start interacting with their functionality, we have to deal with something that we have never encountered before at all — the space around us.
Virtual navigation in the virtual world
Obviously, navigation in VR will also be completely different from what we’ve seen and used before. The very basis of our interaction with interfaces will change. If today everything works according to the simplest point-and-click principle, in the near future the navigation method will directly depend on the headset used.
So, already now some gadgets offer to use your head instead of the keyboard and mouse: we use the crosshair on the screen to navigate and to select an object, icon, or part of the text, you need to click on the button located on the side of the headset. Other VR devices involve the use of special gloves that allow you to personally (literally) select the desired menu items and manipulate virtual objects.
Finally, after decades of GUI development, we will start using our voice on a regular basis. Being a rather slow and clumsy way of entering commands on PCs and mobile devices, voice input will be quite appropriate in virtual reality, given the absence of classic mice and keyboards.
By the way, about mice and keyboards. It’s funny that when we plunge into the world of virtual reality with truly limitless possibilities, we somehow long to return to the same familiar “crutches” from the physical world. But, alas, our advanced methods of interacting with technology with the advent of virtual reality will simply become obsolete. Have you ever used a VR keyboard? No? Well, thank God! Frankly, it is not intended for comfortable use at all.
New features that virtual reality will bring
However, the influence of virtual reality will not be limited to new ways of navigation and appearance. All IT giants who intend to keep up with the times, with the spread of VR, will definitely introduce new related functionality into their offspring.
Take Spotify, for example. At the moment, the service makes lists of recommendations based solely on the genre preferences of the user. However, its developers have already begun to think about how to link VR to music collections: for example, for virtual beach sunsets they offer a melancholic mix, and for virtual gatherings in the company of close friends – music of a soothing nature.
Google’s search algorithms are also likely to undergo changes. Just as now the search engine’s autocomplete relies on personal search history, the places that Google will offer you to visit in virtual reality will similarly be tied to your individual preferences.
Moreover, if the tech giants show creativity, we will be able to visit VR, for example, “inside” digital representations of paintings by favorite artists. Or regularly visit specially recreated “in volume” scenes from your favorite movies, the list of which the same Google will borrow from the viewing history on Netflix. Yes, even a VR flight through our Solar System alone will cost a lot!
VR will also affect social networks. Although Facebook is only looking closely at virtual reality, Mark Zuckerberg is already discussing its advantages with might and main. First of all, according to Mark, with the help of VR, we will be able to invite friends and relatives from all over the globe to various celebrations so that they can directly share our feelings. But Zuckerberg’s truly Napoleonic plans are not limited to this. In the future, the head of Facebook seriously intends to turn his social network… into a real-time machine!
No, Zuckerberg is not crazy. Simply merging VR and Facebook, based on his words, will bring the ability to save human memories to a qualitatively new level. In fact, the Facebook of the future will not only keep our memories alive. He will allow us to relive them.
At any time of the day, we will be able to sensually “dive” into events from our own (and not only) past, whether it’s the first birthday or a marriage proposal. And it’s worth a lot, you must agree.
What awaits us in the near future
However, if you believe the story, the stage that is just beginning now will be the most comical and at the same time the most uncertain stage in the history of the formation of virtual reality. Remember the “Geogorod” of the beginning of the noughties. Remember the first prototypes of Facebook. Remember Seaman for the Sega Dreamcast, after all.
Like any technology at an early stage of development, VR is still not run-in and frankly a little damp (the recent demo performed by Facebook is a great example of this). Large corporations have just begun to work out a variety of areas of its use, ranging from trivial (video games) to quite unusual (real estate sales and sports), in order to check what can “shoot” at all. So in the coming years, companies will have to release more than one generation of new GUIs, and we will have to go through more than one technological VR “loop”. Nevertheless, the process went on, as they say.
However, while competing technology companies are trying to completely dig through the familiar interface, gradually develop a new navigation standard and think over previously unseen “features”, serious concerns about the impact of virtual reality on human society are rapidly spreading in society, which would be extremely unfair to bypass in this article.
The social impact of virtual reality
Strangely enough, but most people are frankly afraid of virtual reality: there is a widespread belief in everyday life that the craze for VR will lead to humanity voluntarily isolating itself in the digital world. However, many experts, on the contrary, are extremely optimistic. They believe that VR will not only not destroy social ties, but will also significantly strengthen them.
Chris Milk, one of the pioneers in the field of virtual reality, devoted an entire TED lecture to its social impact. During his speech, the innovator said that he does not treat VR headsets as a purely technological platform. For him, virtual reality is, first of all, a new social platform.
Despite some idealistic statements, Chris describes VR as a new stage in the history of human development that will completely change our civilization.
Since people gained the ability to talk, they began to actively share their experiences with each other: first through oral culture, then, having mastered writing, through books, newspapers, after which the eras of radio, television, and, finally, the Internet followed one after another. However, all these ways of transmitting information are united by one significant drawback: in order to understand the feelings of the protagonist or narrator, we are forced to use our imagination to one degree or another. Regardless of how exciting the story being told is, we always fill in the gaps in it with fantasies and conjectures.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, lacks this drawback and this partly resembles video games. It also makes it possible to tell the story from the perspective of the narrator himself, allowing the “listener” to feel in the place of the main characters. And it is for this reason that most experts in the field of VR agree on one thing: virtual reality is primarily an empathic technology; a technology for transmitting feelings, emotions, and experiences.
In virtual reality, we can really feel “in the skin” of Neanderthals hunting mammoths; refugees, military; representatives of the opposite sex… By the way, for the author of the article, one of the most spectacular moments of being in VR surprisingly turned out to be not the Cirque Du Soleil performance or even all sorts of explosions, action, and other favorite pranks of digital life, but a banal visit to a Mongolian yurt!
Even such an uncomplicated thing as studying the nuances of someone else’s culture in virtual reality becomes a wonderfully addictive pastime. And that’s because in VR you don’t have to rely on someone’s words or imagine something. You are not just assimilating some information. You become a part of what is happening. Someone else’s story becomes yours.
However, Milk does not stop there. He goes even further and expresses the opinion that virtual reality will become for us more than just a full-fledged representation of reality.
Today, in order to have a good time in the company of friends and exchange our thoughts and experiences with them, we have to arrange joint gatherings at someone’s house, in a cafe, or organize camping on a God-forsaken beach. However, in the future, thanks to the virtuality of reality, we will have direct access to each other’s emotions without leaving home. Imagine that together with a group of your friends you are lying carefree on a virtual beach, watching the most magnificent sunset that you can imagine … naturally, one way or another you will begin to communicate on personal topics that are usually kept silent. At the same time, unlike traditional types of collective leisure, you can engage in such a joint pastime almost daily.
“The exchange of sincere emotions” is exactly how Milk briefly described the social possibilities of virtual reality at the end of his lecture, and do not underestimate his words. Apparently, humanity will find a regular path to each other’s “hearts”. And this, perhaps, is what people have been missing for a long time — beings who always lack mutual understanding with others.
Next stages of VR advancement
Do not think that virtual reality is something absolutely new. Science fiction writers have been writing about its limitless possibilities for more than half a century. But it’s only now that technology has started to catch up with their fantasies.
Of course, it will take a long time before VR becomes an integral part of our lives. However, humanity has come a long way from one-line commands to modern interfaces … and, despite everything, it is rapidly moving forward. Straight into virtual reality.
Facebook is going to create “virtual teleportation” possible by 2025. Over the next 10 years, Facebook intends to implement “virtual teleportation”. In particular, the company’s main technical officer Mike Schroepfer stated the following:
“Facebook intends to create a tool that will allow you to be anywhere and with anyone, despite geographical borders.”
It is planned to achieve this goal with the help of virtual reality. The fix idea is to convince the client’s senses that the unreal world surrounding him is more than a picture. To do this, it is necessary to significantly improve existing virtual reality hi-techs. It is noted that it is not so difficult to form a virtual world in VR glasses. It is much more difficult to make the consumer believe in the reality of the perceived image. To do this, you will need to realize the possibility of movement, receiving a response in real-time, connect with virtual objects and characters — similar to how it happens in real life. Partially solve this problem will allow the Oculus Touch controller, which should appear on the market in the second quarter of 2016. Another important task is to create content for virtual worlds. It is assumed that with the help of accessible tools, users will be able to easily create their own virtual reality environments. The developments of Surreal Vision, which was bought by Oculus earlier this year, are designed to help realize this opportunity. The Surreal Vision team is working on solutions that will allow you to simulate the world and recreate it in VR glasses. Prototypes of such solutions are still in the early stages of development, but they look promising.
To realize the possibility of “virtual teleportation”, Facebook has to solve many more technical and technological tasks, including improving the Oculus Rift VR helmet. Therefore, 2025 is called an approximate timeframe for the implementation of such an opportunity.
Recall that Facebook got the developer of VR glasses Oculus Rift in the summer of 2014 for $ 2 billion. It is assumed that a full-fledged user version of the Oculus Rift will go on sale in the first quarter of 2016.
Google patents shoes for virtual reality Google has filed a patent application for “augmented and/or virtual reality shoes”, which was published recently by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The shoes look like a pair of roller skates with treadmills instead of wheels. This allows you to move in virtual reality while staying in place.
The idea of such VR shoes is that thanks to the flexible design, a person can walk freely, but the tracks built into the motorized shoes return him to his original position. Thus, theoretically, you will be able to walk an infinite distance in virtual reality, being in a small room. The concept of VR shoes seems interesting, but there are a few nuances here. The tracks may not match the user’s gait, and the shoes themselves may lose synchronization with each other. In the end, it is very difficult to keep your balance and not fall, balancing on roller skates with a VR headset on your head. And it’s also almost impossible to run in a huge open game world because your legs will get tired much faster than your fingers from the gamepad.
The existence of a patent does not mean that Google will certainly create such a device. Nevertheless, this document is encouraging that the company does not forget about virtual reality.
The Norwegian Army is testing Oculus Rift as a review system for mechanics-drivers of military equipment In a story released by the Norwegian TV channel TuTV, testing of virtual reality glasses as a review system for mechanics-drivers of armored personnel carriers and tanks is shown.
The principle of operation of the system is quite simple. Several video cameras are installed on the armor of the car, which transmit the image to the Oculus Rift glasses, while special software stitches the image into a spherical panorama. The system was developed by the Norwegian company Making View, working under contract with the army. According to the military, the review in the Oculus Rift is even better than if the driver leans out of the hatch. The current prototype of the system, created from conventional components, costs about $ 2,000, a version that meets military standards and is secured with protection will cost almost 50 times more expensive.
Such telepresence and virtual reality systems, widely implemented in many armies of the world, will require future military operators to have skills similar to those that computer game fans have now.
In China, they are going to actively introduce virtual reality technologies into the education system. Recently, several reports have appeared about the intention to use games in the educational process. But there is no reason to stop at games, and in the future, it will be possible to gain knowledge using virtual reality devices. And China can become a pioneer in this field.
From now on, there will be no students who are napping at the last desk. Special software will determine whether the student is distracted from the lesson after he turns his head. Boring lectures will immediately become more lively — the student will even be able to change the gender of the teacher if he likes it better. For example, to make a man a virtual teacher in those subjects where mostly men teach.
“This innovation has been brewing for quite a long time. If there is a place where she will work, China and Korea are exactly those countries. Virtual projects in schools are revolutionary, but also necessary. It is obvious that the current educational models do not meet the requirements of the time,” said Jan-Martin Lowendahl, vice president of Gartner.
Schools have long adapted to the use of computers, but this innovation is aimed at radically changing the potential of education. Teachers can be replaced or supplemented with digital images using the developed algorithms. Supporters of the idea of virtual reality at school believe that it is necessary to start adapting children now because in the near future they predict a decrease in the number of teachers.
Chinese companies are ready to take over the commercialization of the project. For example, NetDragon wants to be one of the first to join the initiative. The company has already paid $100 million to the British online education provider Promethean World and now serves 2.2 million teachers and 40 million students. They are engaged in virtual reality research in schools to determine whether it is possible to translate curricula into a new format.
“We want to track not only how children study in the classroom. We strive to understand how they behave when they talk on a mobile phone, just go to have a complete picture,” said Simon Leung, vice president of NetDragon.
He also added that this technology could be ready by 2027
All companies that will undertake the implementation of the virtual reality project in schools will be able to collect data only with the permission of parents and official guardians of children. School employees, in turn, should be prepared for the fact that technology will displace most of their basic powers. It is assumed that a step towards the digital world will also help developers to discover new human abilities, his creative potential.