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Virtualization: From Virtual to Reality Part 3

Read Part 1
& Part 2

If you read the last section of this three part essay, you will recall I discussed how the VR revolution is likely to occur, and ended up with the statement that VR will likely open the door for the benefits of the technologies of Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics. In this section, I’m going to explain why I think this will occur.

As I pointed out previously, VR is likely to lead to all sorts of weirdness such as people becoming their Avatars in daily life, businesses creating virtual worlds to work in, and a general blurring of the hard and fast lines of Virtual and Real. More than anything else, It’s that blurring effect that more than anything leads me to believe that VR will become a catalyst for GNR.

3D bioprinters could one day construct an organ from your own cells as easily as you print a map. (Artist's rendering). Photo: singularityhub.comVR is an ideal test laboratory, one in which we can test out many concepts that are too expensive, or too controversial, to implement in the real world right now. It should be obvious from the recent financial crisis that we need to overhaul our economic models, and even begin looking forward to transitioning to a post scarcity economy, but doing so in the real world is prohibitively difficult. As attractive as the Venus Project’s resource based economy model, or Cory Doctorow’s “Wuffie” model may be, implementing them in the real world is not only hard, but until they are fully tested and found to be practical, they are potentially problematic. Without working prototypes, we have no way to know if they will solve problems or create even worse ones.

But we could easily ucover such problems in a virtual world. A MMO game or virtual world could be far easier to make and test than real life itself is. Nor is it limited to just one single vision. A thousand different worlds could each have their own economic system, and the most successful ones could be refined into completely vetted and tested systems that could then be implemented in reality.

Economic models are not the only thing VR will be used to improve and refine. We already have a machine that can be used to create organs, via a process of “printing”. We also are beginning to see the emergence of genetic CAD systems like Tinkercell, and advances in stemcell use are occurring so rapidly that trying to list even a tiny fraction of links would consume pages. We are in the process of deciphering the programming language of life, and simultaneously using that language to create medical wonders.

Photo: tinkercell.comSo what happens when you begin using VR and combine it with such technologies? The obvious answer is that virtual reality will enable us to create tools that are much easier to use in dealing with small scale devices like micro surgery robots, or any number of other microscopic sciences such as DNA manipulation. A VR version of Tinkercell could allow a scientist to custom build entire organisms from scratch and see them modeled at a scale large enough to easily work with, much like the virtual workshop Tony Stark used in Ironman. That ease of use could just as readily aid the continued research into breaking the genetic code, enabling us to essentially make Lego brick like modules of an enormous variety of molecular machines, complete with their DNA codes, and assemble them in VR.

At the same time, our increasing knowledge of genetics isalso going to make things like customized body sculpting not only easier, but probably pretty cheap too. We can print organs now, and use stem cells to cosmetically alter our bodies. They’ve even tested building rabbit penises. Seriously, how long do you think it’s going to be before an organ printer is routinely used to create larger penises? And how long after that do you think it could be used to create a customized elf ear? Or even a prehensile tale for a human being? Once we’ve cracked the DNA code for it, we can program a stem cell to become any other kind of cell. It may not be long before the demand for body customization, raised by VR Avatars, will lead to a the use of organ printers to create “accessories” for our bodies — and we will do it as easily as we accessorize our cars. Frivolous, you say? Absolutely. But don’t ever underestimate how much people will invest in frivolity to get what they want.

Lathe. Photo: en.wikipedia.orgIn a related field, VR is also likely to push research into BCI in a massive way. As recently noted on h+, we’ve now got transistors that act more like synapses than digital devices. It is possible that such synaptic mimics could make it far easier to link the human nervous system to a typical digital circuit; or could create a means of making entirely new kinds of computers which could enable two way communication between the brain and your VR environment. It should be obvious that the basic VR device I’ve outlined is a far cry from the typical Matrix-like expectations of VR, but it’s only the beginning. As computers continue to advance, and we find new ways of using electronics and our biology, a Matrix level VR system is simply a matter of time, research, and demand. Even if it proves impossible to create a full 2-way communication system, we’ll find other ways to make our VR systems as hyperreal as reality itself.

Which more or less brings us to the next revolution — nanotechnology. I won’t go into all the pros and cons about nanotech, but I will point out that K. Eric Drexler himself is saying that we have the foundational tools needed to bring his vision of nanotech into it’s infancy. It’s happening, and we still have to figure out how to cope with it.

VR offers the same laboratory for nanotech that it does for other sciences. In fact, in its roughest stages, it’s already providing. The ability to create items in Second Life is really a virtual version of Drexler’s Nanofactory. To be sure, it’s a rough equivalent, but close enough to give us an idea of what kinds of changes to our everyday reality true nanotech could bring. From the most fantastical of structures, to the most fantastical of creatures, Second Life is built on the object creation system. Be it a home, a sword, or a pair of wings, if you can imagine it, you can make it. This is the same promise that Nanotech offers, but available now. It gives us a taste of what universal assemblers could do and lets us play with it hands on.

Optomec. Photo: 4.bp.blogspot.com

We’re already in the rough stages of pre-nanotech universal assemblers with such advances as the RepRap self replicating 3d printer; our increasingly versatile ability to print electronics like flexible touch screen displays; and the organ printer mentioned above. With the continued growth of open source designs, and the likely integration of object creation software like that used in Second Life and other 3D environments, creating what we imagine may become as easy in reality as it is in VR. Even as nanotech is being developed through multiple pathways, we may already have not only explored many of its benefits in virtual space, but figured out how to cope with its dangers as well.

Which brings us to the last of Kurzweil’s revolutions — robotics. We already deal with robots in virtual space in the form of animated NPC’s and various other “monsters” in video games. With the rapid advances in robotics, from such complex devices as the Actroid to the surprisingly advanced toy Femisapien, to the new “sexbot” Roxxxy, it seems likely that once VR “NPC’s” merge into the world of robotics, we’re going to see some major advances in the use of robots in our day-to-day life.

Kokoro Actroid. Photo: singularityhub.comWhile Rosie the robot maid may be some years off , robots in limited capacities may become quite commonplace for many menial tasks such as running the register at a fast food joint or supermarket — doing precisely what NPC’s do in the virtual world today. We will just as likely see the use of robots for VR surrogates, much like the recent movie, though far more limited. Take Roxxxy for an example, and add in the Actroid animatronics, and it seems that it could be a fairly simple matter to program such a robot to act as the physical “avatar” for a virtual person, enabling them to remotely control the bot from anywhere in the world. Even in the early stages, such a "telepresent" sexbot would revolutionize the entire concept of long distance relationships, further blurring the line between virtual and real. While it would start off with something as simple as preprogrammed routines similar to the sex animations common in Second Life, as we continue to advance in our ability to interact with our virtual selves and such telepresent “surrogates” to enable us to “be there” physically, it seems likely that those advances will be usable outside the bedroom as well, enabling us to create ever more lifelike and sophisticated automatons.

And as we learn to make robots act more and more human, it will also enable us to make them capable of more and more complex tasks, gradually working up from salesbots and sexbots to autochefs capable of not only cooking our food, but cleaning up the kitchen. And it will start as we make better and better virtual “people” to handle all those boring and menial jobs in VR.

And that is why I say VR is a gateway to the other revolutions. We continually hear about the wonders of such advanced technologies, but we are as afraid of them as we are desirous. VR, more than anything else, will let us play with our dreams, without worrying about our nightmares. We will make a virtual wonderland, and from that wonderland, we will bring the best and most beneficial to our everyday world. No matter how crazy, no matter how strange it may seem to us now, our future will be beyond our wildest imaginations. VR will give us the tools we need to not only make that future conceivable. It will give us the means to face our fears and overcome them. Unlike the Krell from the movie Forbidden Planet, we will be able to face our Demons of the Id before they will ever have the power to do us harm, and in so doing, it will let us chart a safer course to the Singularity.

Tempting thought, no? Well, what did you expect? I did warn you I was a Succubus…

Seduce you later!

16 Comments

  1. I’ve read all three of your articles. And it’s 2012. So lets see how far some of the tech has come:

    Accurate mapping continues by way of Google Earth, to the point that handheld devices can now display usable 3D cities aligned to GPS coordinates. Building interior mapping is a reality now, allowing for GPS pinpointing of your person.

    Development of a head mounted device in an affordable price range is on a steep downhill momentum, with Google leading that charge, with a device possibly ready for release as early as fall of this year.

    My last recent visit to pandorabots.com has revealed that while general conversation is still a ways off, development has leapfrogged to a coherent conversation that takes people past a couple of paragraphs. Phone or web helpbots are almost commonplace now.

    And I’m of the opinion that humanity can use avatars in everyday work and lesiure, but more than likely the majority of use will be from AI, intelligent programs, software bots, and utility robots and kitchen appliances. It will be the easiest form for them to take to be able to interact with us.

    A good series of articles!

  2. In the immortal words of Stan Lee Nuff Said.

    (and yes I know Supes is DC not marvel stop splitting hairs)

  3. Nice article val . Now where is the MMO version of the WOPER from war games and like supreme ruler global crisis hehehe or a MMO with CERN data pumped threw it for the science playground or nano hub like stuff. Oh and which company will make the first tribble or mini dragon hehehe. Oh and which warehouse had my spare brain:) Sorry had to joke first, and in that regard just call me monkey boy or should it be Lord Whorfin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d682xV0n1YY Hehe . I may need to go check out 2nd life soon, as it seemed more social at first and that doesn’t interest me that much. Though I would like a virtual club or underground scene or even telli presence music shows, as the music industry lost me first. Then hollywood lost me for scifi as they got stuck in the past from what already is. 1 draw back I’ve already seen from anonymity online is a rudeness that seems to be carried back out to the real world, or so it seems to me and a few others around me. Oh and TY for the tinkercell, no more playing with .sash files :). Oh and something to think about. A 2 way BCI could lead to a parallel to tek wetware like drug from the tekwar series. Who is making the brain barriers P. I might need a few soon :). Though I thought I might do a guinness record thing, after seeing a 9K price that became comical to me as I’m not trying to profit from such, and they can find out after the fact, and I’m going back to video documentation and refining my video capture quality. As I am less of a voyeur/exhibishionist type, and more of a solitude and raw knowledge & data person. Good job on the article set though. Just 2 cents for the kettel

  4. It’s a good story, but it suffers from the same limitation of all good stories: to be understandable it can only have one big idea in it.

    In this case the big idea is that VR will allow us to pool our collective imagination which will accelerate technological (and sociological) development into overdrive. However, the reason the real world is never as exciting as the sci-fi world is that there are too many big ideas at any one time. They counteract each other, rendering the totality much more incremental and underwhelming.

    By way of an example, airships were one of those big ideas that seemed on the cusp of revolutionizing everything (or at least several things). Then the Hindenberg happened to be recorded blowing up and, for whatever reason, everyone collectively moved on to other things. Probably because there were enough other good ideas that everyone was too busy to notice that airships in general really weren’t dangerous. There are always other things distracting people and there’s no way to predict which one will happen to win our collective attention.

    I’m sure that advancements in VR will lead to some interesting and impressive advancements in other things, but I don’t think it will ever become a defining aspect of our lives. It will probably become the defining aspect of someone’s life, even several someones, but not everyone. Everyone will probably try it out at one point or another, but the vast majority will simply not find it appealing and a minority will find it abhorrent.

    Besides, it doesn’t seem fair for you to claim that any work done on a computer counts as VR and therefore supports your point. Just because someone uses a cool hologram to visualize their blueprint (Ironman) doesn’t mean it qualifies as Virtual Reality. Stark didn’t simulate a reality, he just simulated some scraps of metal. Calling that VR and claiming that it leads to robots is like calling a kid’s family portrait in MS Paint VR and that it leads to group hugs. We will definitely invent some cool technology in the future that is impossible to control without complex computers, but that doesn’t make the programs that control the technology VR. Even something as probable as goggles that paint information or avatars on top of your view of the real world is merely augmented reality, not virtual.

  5. Post mark from the edge of humanity. If I am seeing a Alpha class emerge in many forms, and many ways. One would be the multi perspective view points. From theory of mind to theory of group mind and to some of the super structured singularities and back. Many many perspectives and many many substructures and the few paths ever moving. Just like watching korn concert mix on 4 screens synced up with 2 screens of web links. To flying multiple flight sims at the same time, or 4 FPS like wolfinstien at the same time in a pack. You see how gamming has changed for me also media like movies. Why watch 1 GIST when you can watch 4+ views and story lines at the same time, and get some weird synced up cross variants that show. Though we have limited input and out put at the time, with 3 BCI flight stick and throttle left handed n25te right handed P5 glove and touch screen’s, and only 2 eyes and 2 ears. Though some of this is nauseating to do at times, I can only see some kids as being able to go further and do more yet. Has the hive like mind convergence started to happen yet? Why perceive one angle when you can experience many angles and multiple perceptions? Why not try to become more than we are? Also why just 1 AR body, and not many many bot bodies to explore with? And though Alpha class has a bad rap from some perspectives, the reality is the variants that nature excepts and explores. Is the writing already on the wall? beauty within diversity, Is there really a Alpha class or just more blurring of reality, as diversity takes it’s coarse? And to further that, why expect a Alpha over night rather than centuries, or might it happen faster and faster due to a convergence of evolution and technology? And where is virtual city alpha at anyway? Just food for thought P. How 1 can beat a group or clan, by controlling his/her/it’s own group. Where are we going and what have we become? Just my 2 cents, the black swan looms over humanity! To laugh with the cosmos and dwell in the cosmic irony. A observer of the machine, as cogs we all seem to be. I now leave you to your normal deprograming, and mentaly stimulate my dopamean flow. :) Bliss Ahahahaaaa……

  6. Up date for you. The main 2 primary R/L views and the peripheral tunnels. I now know why the nausea and difficulty I was having. 2 main R/L views and 2 R/L peripheral views that are more of a tunnel that can’t read or get high detail but can aim and shoot ok. This also showed me why I couldn’t fly 3+ flight sims at the same time. I just needed time to reflect and watch what I was actually doing and looking at through self monitoring of a type. Oh and credit farmers and greefers will be worse with some of this. Sorry but I’m running in the dark on some of this and testing testing testing. :)

  7. You are correct that I have to limit things to one major point, and that is how the ability to overlay computer graphics on the real world to augment or replace what you see will create a major impact in the social environment prior to the development of GNR, and as such will become an incentive to develop those technologies. Like you, I could split hairs and separate everything into the subcategories of Mirror Worlds, Lifeblogging, Virtual Environments, and Augmented Reality, but since all four of these subcategories are interactive, forming a much larger conglomerate, and most people are not generally going to be worried over whether or not a particular app is AR, VR, LB, or MW, why confuse the issue with additional jargon that is not needed, and which in fact merely serves to exclude the casual popular audience which I am writing to?

    You are also correct that many other things will go on at the same time, and that the VR revolution is simply going to be submerged among many other things, and as such will not be as “in the spotlight” as the article may appear to make it. That is the way things work. The only time one can view revolutions of this nature is either before they occur, where you can speculate on possible trends, or in hindsight where a detailed analysis can reveal the paths which were taken. VR is going to simply be another taken for granted development like most every other technology. The social developments I point out above are likely going to occur without most people even realizing that VR is helping to drive them. Even today, most people fail to understand how our entire world was changed by the Apollo program and the fall out technologies that came from it. However, that is outside of the scope of my article, which is intended to acquaint the popular audience with the potential promises and effects of “PRACTICAL” VR, and give them food for thought.

    As for the example given of Tony Stark’s VR engineering program, as it was portraying a virtual object, in a virtual holographic display, allowing him to play with a non existent object in the real world, I would consider that to indeed be a variant of VR. Again, splitting hairs to the extent of defining it VR or AR would be a needless complicating of the intended message.

    I am glad you brought up these points, giving me a chance to answer these questions without disrupting the flow of the main article. I love getting thoughtful commentary.

  8. And I came across this lovely little Video while trying to learn how to make sculpted prims. You can watch the whole video (recommended) or just watch the Hottie doing the intro. http://blog.machinimatrix.org/2010/03/10/s…-i-for-blender/

    That’s a secondlife avatar, using the standard speaking animation, synced to the windows voice synthesizer. A fully computer generated environment doing effective teaching.

    This is why I say VR will jumpstart robotics and AI. Imagine that same virtual person appearing in a classroom, our your living room. Imagine your kid attending classes, real classes with other students, from the comfort of his room, with a teacher as available for individual instruction as she is for group education. Combine it with http://fold.it/portal/, where part of education will be spent playing interactive learning games. Where the class could be as fun and engrossing as his favorite video game.

    That teacher could be as “robotic” as the avatar above, but with far more sophisticated graphics, and a true to life voice. Others like her could be at your cash register in a fast food joint, trained to use the best customer service policies. Or in the store, always there to answer a question or make a sale, allowing the human attendants to focus on on those customers needing physical assistance. How about a Virtual Traffic cop to immediately handle emergencys? A personal Librarian? A private cooking tutor when you’re trying to impress that date?

    And as those Virtual “robots” push and fund research into ever more sophisticated AI, the need for physical versions will also be pushed and funded.

    The reason I recommended watching the whole video though is to demonstrate another point. Pay attention to the tools used to create a shape. How easy they are to use with a proper explanation. Now think about those same tools being used to design an object. Then think about setting parameters such as strength material and finish. Then sending that to a 3D printer, or nanofactory.

    High Level Design tools for low level manufacture. This is why I say Secondlife is a prototype for the future of abundance. Think about it.

  9. Do you think the human body (and mind) could endure such tranformations occuring in both society and reality at the same time?
    There are several cases of people who died or had injuries because of excessive gameplay and the depth of VR is much more intense. Don’t you think that using VR in such a common way would affect the body and specially the mind in unknown ways?

  10. Not really no.

    I know too many “addictive personalities”. It doesn’t matter what the obsession is, it’s a mental disorder, tied to physical addiction only in the cases in which the fixation is a chemical dependancy.

    People get addicted to poker, to playing cards, to role playing games, even to sex. Being “addicted” to “VR” will happen, not because VR will be so compelling, but because people with addictive personalities will find something to be addicted too.

    Will such radical transformations cause changes in the mind? They sure will. They’ll make people think in new and novel ways, adapt to new and novel abilities, just like every single tool humanity has created throughout history. Will there be unforeseeable effects? There always are. But the advantages are easy to see, the risks hard to define. Every trend in electronics, from 3d displays, to superhighdef OLEDS being printed on flexable displays, to graphene elctronics, to the rising popularity of “Shared world” modes in gaming consoles, to the Kinect, these all point to how rapidly we are making VR a reality. If you’ve read my latest article, you can even see the steps being taken towards “VR Telepresence Drones” http://hplusmagazine.com/editors-blog/fly-your-pov-around-your-own-personal-quadcopter

    Will we endure these changes? Of course we will. TBH I doubt they will be as obvious as my article might make them seem, as they will just be one of hundreds of other changes that are going to be occurring over the next decade or two.

  11. Thanks for the answer though i was not talking about physical dependency or pathologies.

    I think what you said is revolutionary and will change everything in our world. The developments in communication and transports in the last few years made possible quick developments in many if not all others areas of science and if VR do turn out the way you described in your text it would affect these two areas, therefore all other areas making all kinds of progress viable.

    I do think that deny VR is to deny the future. It will happen sooner or later and in a way it already did. I know of people who expend more time in game worlds than in the real world. In fact is not that hard to find this kind of people. However I do not this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a choice and we are free to do anything we want with our lives. It might be better to deny this world we live in, full of bad things. Or it might be just more fun.

    Anyway this are just divagations from someone who knows nothing. I’m not as smart as you are.

    I wanted to congratulate you in the making of both these articles (VR and Quadcopters). You have a beautiful mind and you got yourself a fan.

  12. Thank you for commenting, glad you liked the articles, and I always try to answer any questions asked. You wouldn’t have asked if you weren’t interested.

    But I’m going to have to strongly disgaree with at least one statement you made.

    “I’m not as smart as you are.”

    Nope, sorry. I don’t buy it. You have the ability to see the potentials, and to question and look for answers. That makes you a peer in my book. So I’ve got some ability to express myself well, it’s not something I think of as making me “better” than anyone else. Everybody has things they are better at than others. It’s what makes us human. It be pretty boring if we were all cookie cut outs, no?

    You think and you question. That qualifies as “smart” in my book. The rest of it? That’s just a matter of experience.

  13. and more news about the virtualization of reality: http://nextbigfuture…lutionizes.html

    Quote
    A portable, laser backpack for 3D mapping has been developed at the University of California, Berkeley, where it is being hailed as a breakthrough technology capable of producing fast, automatic and realistic 3D mapping of difficult interior environments.

    The backpack is the first of a series of similar systems to work without being strapped to a robot or attached to a cart. At the same time, its data acquisition speed is very fast, as it collects the data while the human operator is walking; this is in contrast with existing systems in which the data is painstakingly collected in a stop and go fashion, resulting in days and weeks of data acquisition time. Using this technology, Air Force personnel will be able to collectively view the interior of modeled buildings and interact over a network in order to achieve military goals like mission planning.

    The scientists have been able to use this more portable method of mapping by way of sensors or lightweight (less than eight ounces) laser scanners.

    “We have also developed novel sensor fusion algorithms that use cameras, lasers range finders and inertial measurement units to generate a textured, photo-realistic, 3D model that can operate without GPS input and that is a big challenge,” said Zakhor.

    There are many basic research issues to achieve a working system, including calibration, sensor registration and localization. Using multiple sensors facilitates the modeling process, though the data from various sensors do need to be registered and precisely fused with each other in order to result in coherent, aligned, and textured 3D models. Localization is another technical challenge since without it; it is not possible to line up scans from laser scanners in order to build the 3D point cloud, which is the first step in the modeling process.

    “It is fair to say that embarking on such a hands-on project, to make indoor 3D modeling a matter of routine, a number of research questions of a fundamental nature came up,” said Sjogren. “It is typical of the work that Prof. Zakhor has done for AFOSR/Air Force Research Laboratory over the years, that she meets these challenges head-on, and in most cases solves the problem sufficient to demonstrate a prototype system.”

    Now imagine a production unit on a drone doing this automatically.

  14. And for sheer cool points a video that illustrates this theme rather nicely

    Yes, that’s right Hatsune Miku, Vocaloid 02 and virtual pop icon, doing a “Live” concert, with a virtual “hologram” of Miku performing.

    If this isn’t “blurring the lines between Virtual and Real, what is?