Why the Reality Shift is Inevitable
Augmented, virtual, mixed, enhanced. What ever happened to just plain old “reality?”
For some inexplicable reason, we humans just can’t seem to stop ourselves from wanting to add layers to our world. Social, educational, informational, voyeuristic.
When the internet came along, we plugged in and started surfing. When the smartphone was introduced, it basically became an appendage. But while each of us has spent the last ten years looking down at a little screen, innovators have been figuring out a way to get our heads back up. The goal: connect the digital world of information (to which we are so instinctually addicted) more seamlessly to the real world around us.
Enter augmented and virtual reality. Two maturing information delivery technologies that are going to re-program how we experience content. Briefly, augmented reality (AR) layers information onto the real world. Whether ani-morphing your face in a video chat or hunting cute little creatures in your backyard, your device is using real-world information, then layering on digital information to change, or augment, your reality. Virtual reality (VR) places you in a digital world, then uses captured motions (eyes, head turns, etc.) to make you feel immersed in that world.
The Reality Shift Requires Data and Speed
Fluidly connecting real environments to virtual ones requires a couple of key things—one being storage. Simulated environments require a lot of data, especially whole 360° worlds (you know, the really cool ones). Advances in storage have made more data accessible and removed the barriers to capturing and creating new realities.
Second, we have to be able to process more data faster. And the virtual worlds have to be able to react in real time to the real-world influences on it. That means getting mega processing power closer to the end user—from cloud to fog, in our phones, on our gaming stations and computers.
Thankfully, these innovations are allowing us to save more data and process more information in smaller spaces and on shorter timeframes. These are key advances for why augmented and virtual technologies are finally poised to take off.
Adopting and Adapting
This shift is not going to be immediate, or universal. It’s going to require a re-training of our traditional understanding of how to consume content. Dipak Patel knows this. As co-founder and CEO of Zeality, which specializes in creating immersive VR and AR experiences for fans, he speaks about the fact that for over 100 years we’ve been taught to experience content through a box. First film screens, then TV’s, now smartphones. And that content is often delivered in a linear story. We’ve been trained to be passive watchers. But that’s not how we react to real life. We are active, vibrant participants in our own story. VR and AR have the power to get us out of the smartphone “box,” and into new worlds of immersive content experience and exploration.
Therein lay the key to why companies like Zeality, and many others, are making huge investments in both technologies. By the end of 2017, and during CES at the beginning of 2018, multiple major announcements from big tech players have demonstrated that making reality-enhancing technologies accessible and desirable for everyone is a priority.
So while the flash-in-the-pan excitement over the last few years may have most people saying, “meh” to VR or AR, this will be changing, starting now. We finally seem to be arriving at a marvelous crossroads of technological enablement, human adaptation and demand. With developers focused on user experience, and our innate desire to enhance our every moment with social and informational layers, the trajectory for reality-enhancing technologies seems poised for the stratosphere.
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