Readings: First Wave Virtual Reality

These are the readings for Monday, write a response in the comments below, putting them in relationship with the current narratives around VR and your personal expectations:
A Vintage Virtual Reality Interview by Jaron Lanier
Voices from a Virtual Past – An oral history of a technology whose time has come again

17 thoughts on “Readings: First Wave Virtual Reality”

  1. Thinking specifically about how VR was stated to lose popularity after it was linked to “hypersex” and “unhealthiness,” it’s really interesting seeing how consumer trends and marketing can have such an impact on the development of new technologies, and how developers are kind of left at the whims of the general public. Now that VR is “cool” again and has gained momentum in the video game market, it’s interesting to read about its origins and especially the way that it could change the entire world the way we currently know it, and bring about a new age of tech. Skip Rizzo mentions at the end of the second article how he hopes VR will be used in education, health, and many other fields besides gaming. I’m personally excited to see VR being used as an art form– because art is in many ways meant to be a way to understand life, and nothing has ever come as close to replicating the sensory feelings of living as from VR.

  2. In the interview, it was really amazing to see how Jaron Lanier explained what the virtual reality eyewear and glove components were in such a careful and reassuring way, as if to prevent readers from freaking out over the concepts. He also had to keep convincing the interviewer to expand his way of thinking about virtual reality, for example when the interviewer kept asking what the interface and tools were and if they were anything like a Macintosh desk-top. On the other hand, numerous people in the second article have begun discovering all the ways that VR can be used, and it seemed like although their technology was limited, their ability to imagine the potential of VR was unlimited. They also, for the most part, imagined very positive uses for VR, such as for professional training and rehabilitation. It seems that as soon as people saw that VR was really possible, their excitement really began to push the possibilities of VR forward to the point where, as Jaron Lanier predicted, students can now do projects on VR in classrooms.

  3. Both of these readings were very eye-opening; I was not aware that virtual reality has been worked on since the 1950s. I was especially fascinated by the concept of VR inaugurating a whole new parallel steam of communication (although it’s a concept that I still cannot firmly grasp,) and that symbols, something that literally exists in every aspect of our reality, would be deemed obsolete. Lanier explained it by comparing VR to lucid dreaming but with social aspects, but it’s just hard to try to imagine a society that doesn’t rely on symbols. The interview also got me thinking about whether or not VR will really act as a sponge and soak up some of the violence in the real world. Personally I feel that when VR is a common and affordable thing, some people might start to confuse the two realities and blur the lines between the two. I’m extremely excited for VR to be even more accessible than it is now, but I think it’s extremely important that constant users know the boundaries and stay aware of the limitations of real life because this problem of users ending up confused already exists through simpler computer games that already have more of a physical boundary.
    The timeline of VR, again, was very eye-opening – the stuff about how the Oculus hype seemed recycled from 20 years ago. VR tools such as the Oculus are definitely more accessible now than anything would’ve been 20 years ago, especially for people who don’t work in the specific field.

  4. Jaron Lanier’s interview is pretty interesting, for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s actually kind of disappointing too compare our current implementation and understanding of VR to his; despite the fact that the technology that 2016 has to offer for VR is far in excess of what Jaron had to work with, we’ve sort of put it in a box very quickly. VR in 2016 is great for games and movies and all sorts of other things, but you certainly don’t hear too many people talking about using it to transform themselves or society. Katherine mentioned this, but I think that sort of initial “unhealthiness” that got associated with first-gen VR (as well as the obvious technical limitations) have tempered people’s interest in talking in those grand abstracts. Which is kind of unfortunate, because it really does seem to offer those potentials!

    Second, it is kind of funny in retrospect to see Jaron sidestep some pretty key questions like: how do people interact with this space? A good deal of this could be inherent to the abstraction of the concept, but it also sort of reveals that he had no idea (and in truth, we’re still figuring it out too). I do feel that he doesn’t give the concept of communication in VR enough credit; those aspects of the simulation that deal with responding to the user, rather than just providing some form of unresponsive experience, still strike me as really important to the discussion since they really open the door to broader and more compelling “realities.” Games that don’t respond to us can be pretty boring; similarly, if you’re going to try to sell me on the prospect of extraneous realities of equal weight to our own, I better be able to use the key thing that differentiates humans from pretty much everything else on earth. I better be able to talk to people!

  5. The comparison about physical reality and virtual reality was interesting. Lanier states that while physical reality is tragic because it is mandatory, virtual reality can be adjustable and chosen. From then, he questions if virtual reality is good or bad technology which is also stated in one of the quotes:”both potential and danger in technology”. With the development of VR, though he says there is a potential “danger”, I question Lanier’s point about how VR brings culture together. If VR is used in education, work, expression, therapy and everything would that actually create a complete cycle of culture and bring people together? It is interesting how people say that there is no limit in VR so it would be interesting to see how people would act between the physical reality and virtual reality. Personally, I would like to see VR used in Art world and how it could stretch the possibility in art.

  6. I was surprised how long these technologies have been conceived in such detail. The second article was a mostly a reminder of the narrowed utility of VR that we’ve come to experience and use as novelties in my time. The second article showed how consumer demand ended up choking out a lot of the original creativity and openness. In the first reading, Lanier was very conspicuous as to how non-conventional VR would be. Language, GUI, Release Dates, and very specific questions were moot in the future of VR that Lanier imagined. At first the interviewer questions felt completely logical to me, having the same consumerist mindset, but as he explained the technologies potential uses, how it would work, how hardware could be implemented, I realized the features we have in contemporary VR technologies have severely limited the potential of existing and augmenting a virtual world.

    Just the way we’ve set up a formal organization for GUI, albeit functional and intuitive, strip us of the option to create things for ourselves, and in turn use technologies we obtain in less creative ways. The way Lanier speaks of language, memory, community, and the good/bad nature of technologies itself, reminded me of an article that stressed in this century we have reached a fork in the road: Learn to program or Be programmed. If more people, myself were more “code-literate” we could manifest a virtual world similar to the one dreamed up by minds 40 years ago. We would be building our own tools, embracing creativity/aptitude as resources/currency, and falling in love with Physical Reality again. It’s discouraging to see, not that we’ve failed to attain that level of lucid VR, but rather we’ve still held onto a lot of obstacles.

  7. First the article Vintage Virtual Reality covers a variety of fundamental and philosophical questions regarding the emergence of virtual reality. Jaron Lanier discusses the many facets of what virtual reality means for ACTUAL reality– for example, new capabilities such as playing back your memory and how substantial your interaction with your environment would have to be. What really stood out to me from this interview was the debunking of the idea that Virtual Reality is and will be used as an escape from life. In movies and shows like Sword Art Online, Black Mirror and even the Matrix, technological advancements in virtual reality are illustrated as possibly detrimental, as they can blur the line between game and life and manipulate users. Lanier brings up the point that this new technology can actually increase our appreciation for the real world. Another topic he shares is the fact the we “shouldn’t carry over into Virtual Reality the limitations that are necessary for computers to make sense. It’s an absurd limitation.” Although right now we currently have limits to the kind of lifelike graphics we can accomplish in VR and video games, if we look back on how far graphics have come in the past 10 years it is safe to say that VR could be practically limitless in its function and ability to convince.
    The second article giving an oral history of virtual reality really puts in perspective just how far we HAVE come since the technology’s emergence. Ben Delaney described its first remnants as having “47 polygons, all in bright primary colors, no curves, and it operated at about 5 or 10 frames per second.” As the years progressed developers began to refine aspects like the headgear, different implementations of the suit, color scheme and graphics, as well as fine details like the material of the gloves. It was insightful to read about the shift (with the time period and what was “popular”) in the focus of virtual reality, for example, the 90’s inflicted an acid kind of influence to the VR scene, while in the early 2000s the shift focused on the military and helping aid PTSD. They are becoming more and more easily accessible while still remaining relevant to the current social standing and current events.

  8. I thought Lanier’s article was a really interesting read. Something that really struck me was how Lanier describes ” In Virtual Reality, your memory can be externalized.” My personal experiences with virtual reality has so far been from a consumer perspective, typically in a tech fair showcase or some other form of exhibition. I guess I’ve had a very idolized perception of virtual reality, and I would never imagine being able to create such a technology on a personal level.

    Branching off of this idea, the Verge’s article on the history of virtual reality was really inspiring. I like how consumer based virtual reality has become, where even cereal boxes can have google cardboard cutouts. Virtual Reality is quickly becoming our society’s “next big thing”, taking an askew path from physical reality. As we become more and more limited by our physical boundaries, virtual reality allows us to bypass that. Ultimately, the only boundary to the limits of virtual reality is our imagination.

  9. With regards to the Jaron Lanier interview, I found that his expectations for VR captured a lot of important questions, while also containing grand ideas that are fairly laughable today. For example, he mentions in that VR implementations would be able to track the user’s face down to the eye movements, something which is important today as the disconnect between eye and head-movements ruins many play sessions due to motion sickness. On the other hand, his claims that VR doesn’t need design metaphors has been lampooned to death []

    As for the Verge article, the part that stuck out to me the most was how various other fields such as motion control were also grouped under the “virtual reality” label back in the 90’s. Currently, VR is chiefly a visual experience, as the primary concern is immersing your whole field of view in the new virtual space. However, without immersing the other senses (touch via motion controls, hearing via 360 audio etc), will the current state of VR be enough to gain mass appeal? Since gamer’s largely rejected the motion control craze of 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if the current state is enough, but I’m worried that this would ultimately lead to VR being no more than an expensive visual novelty rather than an avenue for new experiences.

  10. I’m really interested in the way that Lanier treats the ideal of virtual reality as a kind of perfected “real world,” for lack of a better term. In his ideal Home Engine, he talks about how the 3D world will be rendered in perfect reaction to the user’s input, making it a kind of programmable real world. He wants users to interact with each other as themselves, with facial expressions and body motion translated directly into the virtual world.

    His idea of a perfect virtual reality seems unusual to me. In most other areas of gaming, games are attractive because of how different they are from the real world. Things are seen as being better if they’re closer to the real world, but its up to a point. Like we saw in the subversive play project, no one wants to actually have to physically do the tasks in a video game: you might as well just do them in the real world, then. I wonder if virtual reality has taken so long to gain a foothold because its goal is inherently paradoxical. It seeks to be an attractive escape from life while also striving to be as close to life as possible.

  11. The most striking thing about these articles to me is the necessity for VR pioneers to explain what the technology even is. In today’s world, it seems relatively simple to describe virtual reality, in part due to it’s over 50 year existence, but more so due to our familiarity with digital technology and interactions. Considering that in “1988” or so, the entire model of a computer was to model an office desk, the kinds of interactions VR innovators like Ivan Sutherland, Myron Kreuger and Mort Heilig had never been attempted or experimented with before, making their concepts even more far fetched to the average user.

    It seems that the early innovators had a true desire to create somewhat surreal, and in other cases out of body, experiences. Consider the aspirations of technology like “The Sensorama” in relation to modern VR. Rather than simply produce virtual images, the expectation for Heilig was that the entire living experience needed to be created. From Sight to Smell, Heilig’s aspirations are bolder than those of most Virtual Reality systems of today, despite the 60 years difference in technology.

    The early innovators were working in a wild west of sorts with high hopes and expectations, not precluded by and predisposed notions of what a VR system should be. Body mounts and peripherals which connected with your own movement seem to have fallen to the wayside as popular VR has begun to stymie itself around a head mounted ecosystem. The visual experience has superseded every other aspect of virtual “reality” ignoring key concepts that the pioneers have had in mind since day 1. Hopefully, the vigor which existed in the early days of VR can be reignited in these newer projects.

  12. I was aware of the popularity of VR in the 90s (and subsequence fall from grace/resurgence), but always assumed it was due to a lack of available technology; I hadn’t considered the role the sudden rise of the Internet may have had on other up and coming technologies of the time. I think it’s really interesting how nowadays public perception of VR is very narrowly focused on gaming purposes, when before so many innovative ideas for its use were being proposed (therapy, military, etc). I think this may have something to do with the public perception of gaming shifting as well; it is a lot more mainstream/acceptable to be a gamer in the present, and the impression I got from the article was that there was a certain stigma against gaming in the 90s/worry it would harm people or that it was too childish.

  13. I’ve always thought the Virtual Reality hype begun in the 2010’s. It was very surprising to find that the history of VR dated back to the 1990s. Jaron Lanier explains his ideal VR machine in the first article, including gloves, headset, facial expression sensors, etc. Compared to what we have today, the 1990’s VR machine seems to be able to capture the virtual experience even better. Although VR machines of the 1990’s consisted of much more than what we have today (with body suits and gloves, instead of just a headset, and maybe a pair of controllers), it is surprising to find that the products instead failed to impress the public. This makes me wonder if our VR machines today such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are better than the machines of back then, and if these machines can break through the obstacles that the VR machines of the 1990’s faced.

  14. Like many other people, I was surprised at the much longer history of virtual than I had previously believed – I thought that experimentation with VR began in the early 2000s after the home computer had become commercialized and integrated into everyday consumer life. I particularly liked how Lanier’s interview discussed how virtual reality can change the way people communicate with symbols, since it bridges the gap between using only descriptors and one’s imagination to interact with others and the possibility to have an identical, shared and changeable experience between multiple people. I also found it interesting how the immersive aspect of VR has changed, first with a heavy emphasis on full-body interaction that moved away from the tactile experience in favor of a more advanced visual experience – although I think the Wii can be thought of as an evolved version of the VR glove of the nineties. I’m curious to see what capabilities Oculus, Vive, Magic Leap, and other innovations can lead to that may eventually allow users to live and breathe in a virtual space.

  15. I was really interested in some of Lanier’s ideas about how virtual reality could break the barriers between cultures and even transcend language. The ideas behind VR seemed to come from a far more idealistic place in the previous century. Virtual Reality seemed more about revolutionizing the way we communicate, rather than completely immersing ourselves in a different world. In fact, Lanier seems to be opposed to the idea that VR could become addicting and an escape from human interaction. This is far different from what is commonly thought about VR nowadays, because the immediate connection to VR in most people’s minds is gaming and escapism.

    Judging from the Verge article, VR in the present seems less focused on communication and more focused on creating different ways for people to experience and do different things, which is something that Lanier considered to come second to communication. There is a heavy focus on the potential benefits to the gaming industry, but this also becomes its primary concern/controversy. Skip Rizzo says that this is a shame, because “[he] can see a renaissance, in education, in health, in so many things”, and I am also excited at the idea that VR can be expanded to assist in and influence more aspects of life.

  16. These articles opened my eyes up to more broad definitions of VR – it was interesting how things that were worked on as early as the 50s and 60s could possibly fall under the umbrella of Virtual Reality via working towards immersion in a simulated environment. As Jaron Lanier said in his interview, “It only has to do with what your sense organs perceive. The physical world, the thing on the other side of your sense organs, is received through these five [senses].” These early pioneers of VR experimented mainly with optic illusions with stereoscopic viewers, and moving into the 50s and 60s, we began to see rudimentary VR like the Sensorama (appealing to all 5 senses), and even early flight simulators fall under the definition of VR.

    It’s interesting to see how VR is marketed nowdays, mainly most of them focus on appealing to the optic senses – Oculus, Vive, Google Cardboard, Morpheus, etc. Having studied in architecture, I can see how spatial experience through vision is the most immediately appealing sense to try and stimulate…people want to be able to experience things, and we live in a very vision focused world, we want to _see_ things, the other few senses are just icing on the cake for us. In addition, it’s going to be interesting to see how VR speeds up our lives, allowing us to be in multiple places at once. Instead of traveling to meetings, people could virtually interact – you could meet with someone across the world in one second. It’ll be cool to see how VR continues to evolve in our society.

  17. I thought it was really interesting how optimistic Jarod Lanier was about the future of VR. It definitely seemed like in the 90’s the view on VR was definitely more idealistic. Although it did have it’s critics, it seems like now that VR is closer to being a reality creates more critics. One of the things that I thought was most interesting in these readings was when they spoke about bringing back a mystical altered sense to the world. We Westerners have lost the communal feelings of mysticism that shamans and religions had shared for centuries. I thought it was interesting how that could make VR the new religion essentially. I also thought the idea that we have destroyed the world because we do not have an alternate reality to be an interesting idea (although I’m not sure if I believe it). Lanier claims that VR will give us a renewed appreciation of physical reality. However, between the processes to create VR (factories spitting out smoke etc. that are creating our headsets) and that many people seem addicted to escapism, I cannot really see VR making us appreciate nature unfortunately. People’s problems will migrate to a digital terrain, which although potentially less physically harmful, will definitely still exist.

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