Forget VR and AR: Focus On Manipulated Reality (MR) Instead

What Will Reality Be?

How do you predict the future?

There are many ways, of course, but here are two which seem to work well for some things:

  1. You take something that currently exists today and extend it out to the future, then think about that world; for example, right now, there are a few autonomous vehicles out there – you just think of a time when all vehicles are autonomous because it will happen, we just don’t know when. All you have to do then is think about that world, to project your mind into a world where all vehicles are autonomous. What kind of world will that be?
  2. You look at the past and look for repeating patterns. Find a pattern, a cycle that has repeated itself over time, then apply that pattern to a new domain, which should reveal the next logical step in that domain.

Here is how I see things in the “reality” space.

The Oculus Rift is finally on sale, well on pre-order, for about $600. You need that, plus a fairly high-end gaming PC, in order to take full advantage of the full experience. If it’s as good as they say it is (I’ve been in a number of places where the line to try it out was so crazy long that I never had the time to try it myself), then I’m sure that it will be awesome. So everyone is talking about Virtual Reality as the next hot space and that it’s a complete game changer. Personally, I don’t think so; VR is actually the precursor to a new form of Augmented Reality.

A perfect example of a pattern repeating.

When music was first digitized, when humans first created sounds using technology instead of musical instruments, they were weird, alien sounds, unlike anything which existed in reality. First, the Theremin, then the original synthesizers developed in the mid-60s, played purely computer-generated tones. These were adopted by a few bands, but adoption in popular music was not super broad until later that decade with the first electronic sampler was developed. Once the music was created not out of an electronic vacuum but by capturing real sounds and modifying them, electronic music took off.

  1. Create sounds that have no connection with reality: not bad
  2. Create sounds that morph real sound: awesome

We first start using technology to build new things ex nihilo. When those things are found wanting, we use reality as the building blocks for these new things.

Artificial Intelligence research stalled for years, trying to build intelligence in the same way. Then someone said, “Why not just attempt to copy a human brain.” IBM’s Watson is not only beating human players at chess and Jeopardy; it’s rapidly becoming better than humans by assimilating humans’ collective knowledge in a specific area. I’ve recently heard that the team there has built a virtual oncologist who rapidly became hundreds of times better than the best human by capturing human knowledge.

Once again, Star Trek predicted this. In the episode Ultimate Computer, Dr. Daystrom impresses his “human engrams” on the computer. Of course, he was a little whacked out, so everything kind of went south.

So we are now seeing the same in virtual reality. The first thing we do is create alternate worlds that do not exist. Then we move from those alternate worlds to the reality we live in, but slightly modified, or greatly modified, but still grounded in reality. These I call Manipulated Reality or MR. MR can be virtual, and it can be augmented, but it’s always manipulated REALITY.

In the end, the manipulated reality will win because we’re still attached to our reality unless we evolve out of that. Which is happening, but not quite yet.

This is the pattern: we use technology to create new things and push those boundaries. We push too far and create things that are too new, weird, or don’t work out. (Google Glass, anyone?) Then we step back and use reality as a building block for creating new things, grounding them in the familiar. We take reality and revise it. Manipulate it, so to speak.

This is why I feel that Manipulated Reality will win out over virtual reality at all points.  Even the virtual reality headset who would be sitting in and looking around would be seeing things like a virtual room, not floating around in space. Maybe eventually, at some point, we’ll be floating in space, but right now, we need to be grounded. Eventually, we may be able to evolve ourselves to be comfortable in space.

So if you think about it: if you’re experimenting with a brand new technology, something totally new, different, out of the box, and it feels too weird and strange, or upsets people, thinks about how you can leverage reality in order to reel it in. Sometimes, we go too far, but that’s not only OK but necessary to move forward.