Last week, I finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Admittedly, I am a little late to the party. The book, published in 2011, is already a classic, soon to be a movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
The plot itself is okay, not amazing. A little cheesy, uneven and always predictable. Yet, the book has made a profound effect on me, as it unlocked in my mind a believable path to fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR). Perhaps for the first time in my life, it because clear to me what it will be like, when a digital copy of me will go through the Virtual Reality gate.
Here is the summary of my takeaways, without any plot spoilers.
1. Multiple Personalities
Our digital copies will not be copies at all. Rather, they will be our digital fantasies.
Even today, with the limited amount of digital expression given to us by chats, texts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat posts, we can see this trend. Our online identities aren’t the same as the ones in real life. We don’t want them to be. Whatever shortcomings or insecurities we have, we tend to overcompensate for them online.
Once the fully immersive Virtual Reality is here, each person is going to be able to create much more developed, realistic digital persona in the online world. The characters in Ready Player One online, aren’t anything like they are in real life. They are better looking, stronger, they are more free, because they aren’t bounded by laws of physics. Instead they are bounded by their imagination.
What does this mean to live in the world where each one of us will have several, fully fleshed out selfs?
It is hard to grasp from our current vantage point. But just like kids have become full digital natives, and try to scroll books that we put in front them, future generations will naturally exist in both physical and digital worlds.
For us, physical natives, this dichotomy will probably be more like a tough immigration, but we will have to figure it out.
2. Mind over Matter
As human beings evolved, so did our minds. We started our existence as physical critters, and we still very much are. Since the dawn of civilization, strength and muscles were the traits that ensured survival. But more and more lately, this has not been the case. Intelligence has been defining the future and dominating the genome. These days, if you are smart you make more money and have a better living than if you are just strong.
Virtual reality takes this perhaps to the ultimate extreme because strength, and our physical bodies become less and less relevant. Motion and speed in Virtual Reality depend more on our mind and intelligence and not so much on our physical body.
The true strength you can have in Virtual Reality is the strength of your mind.
It is mind blowing and odd to think that Mind over takes the Matter. After all, how can mind exist and be healthy if there is no actual body to support it? The hero of Ready Player One still has to exercise in the physical world every day to stay in shape, but this is just about one activity he does that is not inside VR. And there is no doubt that had he had a choice of fully moving into VR he would do it in a heartbeat (pun intended).
3. Physics Becomes Economics
It is apparent that digital world is frictionless. Scroll on your phone requires much less effort than flipping a page of a book. We can easily move objects in digital world, because rules of physics do not apply.
Yet, physics is not entirely gone in VR. Instead, it is replaced by economics.
Our digital equivalents will rule the world with unlocks, level ups and digital currency. To jump higher, to run faster, to teleport to distant worlds one will need currency and skill. There will be still barriers, but they will not be physical but rather economical.
We will be able to re-wire and re-build ourselves, and our worlds through in-app purchases. New looks, new clothing, new weapons, new houses and new powers, will be available much in the same way they are available today in apps and games – via points and digital currency.
4. The Full Immersion
Todays VR experiences are still not fully immersive. You can tell you are wearing a headset. You can feel the outside world through your skin. You know you aren’t really moving around when you are in VR. In the world described in Ready Player One, the characters experience fully immersive VR, and it is mind blowing.
Imagine putting on a full body suite and a vizor and going inside. Imagine VR being full HD-like currently reality.
Remember when Apple introduced retina displays with more pixels that our eyes can really appreciate? Imagine VR going the same way.
The fully immersive VR will bring you into the strange new worlds that will feel every bit (pub intended) as real as our world today. You will not be able to tell a difference between walking through Grand Canyon and walking through a landscape on Mars.
5. When do we get there?
What is the horizon for all this magic? Likely within 10-15 years. The public release of major headsets expected in Q1 of 2016 will be the beginning, but to be clear, it will be many years before what is described in Ready Player One will become our reality.
For starters, the resolution and the motion is still pretty beta. You can tell you are inside a video game. Navigation presents even bigger challenge. You don’t have a great way to walk / navigate VR today. And we are very far away from full immersion using a body suite.
Yet, we can already see a lot of progress made in all of these directions. Even looking at the VR companies applying this year to Techstars we are able to see a paths to that fully immersive future.
6. Philosophical Implications
If your head is spinning from all of this – I don’t blame you, so is mine. The philosophical and societal implications of VR are huge. The shift to mobile, the invention of iPhone will blend into the rest of history as not that interesting, once we have fully immersive VR.
What happens to society at large once individuals choose to be in Virtual World vs. Real World?
How can people sustain themselves? Do we figure out a way to be fully digitized, and make a leap like Jake from Avatar? What does it mean, and how is it even possible??
I don’t have a clue to be honest.
But I deeply believe that people will figure it out.
Whatever it is, the new, fully immersive VR world, will be truly amazing and mind blowing.