Welcome to Your Augmented Future

From Star Trek to Caprica, virtual reality has been the subject of science fiction for decades. From holodecks to holobands, writers have dreamed of creating entire fictional worlds that you can see, touch, interact with, and experience.Is this one of those components doomed to remain forever in the “fictional” category of science fiction? Perhaps not.


The limitation to extensive, believable VR has always been the sheer complexity of the holograms required. We’re having difficulty even creating one hologram inside a specially generated field, let alone a room full of free standing figures with their own mass. The idea of being able to physically intereact with creations of electricity and light is also far-fetched and implausible. But what if we bypassed this need to recreate reality? What if, instead, we brought it to us?

The holobands of the scifi show Caprica are the Occulus Rifts of the future. Instead of creating a physical world around the user they project images, sounds, and feelings directly onto the users eyes, and send neural impulses into their brain to make the sensation as real as possible. You can feel pain in the VR world. You can feel pleasure. You can enjoy pounding music, and the sensation of dancing, flying, falling. Anything is possible, and death is only the inconvenience of having to relaunch your avatar.

We are still a long way from communicating on a purely neural level, and the VR goggles of today are bulky, and cause intense motion-sickness. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t making science fiction a reality.

Sony VR Headset

In movies such as Minority Report and Avatar we see a new method of viewing digital data. Instead of manipulating data on a screen, engineers are able to interact with images in a physical manner. Minority Report used special gloves to move images from one screen to another, enlarge, enhance, and discard. This idea has been played around with in the concept of gesture communication, but this has been widely discarded as complicated, physically inefficient, and a little bit goofy. The only VR-related technology to develop this concept further is the Wii–now a popular recreational device in every living room.

But hologram technology is taken to a whole new level in the workshop of Tony Stark. He interacts with holograms the way every geek wishes they could–zooming, spinning, discarding, creating, deleting, morphing and shaping the data in front of him in a physical, interactive, surreal form of communication.

But what exactly is going on in this sequence? Stark is manipulating visual data in some magical form of display by means of gestures and voice commands.The gestures make sense, and even the complex artificial intelligence of Jarvis is approaching reality. But what about the display?

As previously stated, holograms are not a prerequisite to VR. Why not bypass the holograms altogether? Neural impulses aren’t really an option yet, but then Stark isn’t lying back in a chair with his eyes closed indulging in a constructed fantasy either. He’s walking around his lab, interacting with his environment. So what is the third option?

Instead of you going to a fictional world, you’re bringing the CGI to you. What if, instead of closing our eyes to enter a virtual reality, we brought VR to us? What if, instead of enclosing ourselves in a fabricated world, we projected our fantasy onto our surroundings? Instead of projecting images onto our eyelids, we viewed the world through coloured glasses? Hologlasses?


Technically speaking this isn’t virtual reality, it’s augmented reality. The first attempt at this technology was the now-infamous Google Glass. But while the concept was sound, the glasses were over-hyped, underperformed, and generally considered too dorky to wear. But now Microsoft has taken up the banner. They’ve promised to make fantasy a reality, and they’ve got the sales hype to convince us. The technology they propose to unleash will change the way we see the world. Imagine GPS instructions projected directly onto the roads. Imagine text in foreign language translated on the page. Imagine being able to interact with a virtual model in your living room, and using intuitive, physical gestures to reach new heights of understanding.

Imagine you could have the magic that powers Tony Stark’s lab.

The future is real, and it’s coming.

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