The Wall Street Journal reports that sales of virtual reality equipment have been disappointing; at this rate making it unlikely that they will reach the $12.65 billion forecasted for 2020.
But VR was supposed to be the “Next Big Thing”—for at least twenty years now. There were the TV shows VR.5 (1995) and VR Troopers (1994), not to mention The Lawnmower Man (1992). What the hell happened? Who wouldn’t want to put on goggles and be transported to another world entirely? The success of these devices were supposed to be a no-brainer.
But I think that’s just it…it’s about the brain. The truly successful “virtual reality” tech is going to be the one that hooks up directly to the brain.
When asked about why they didn’t want to buy VR equipment, respondents to a survey cited high cost, lack of new content, and even potential motion sickness as reasons. And 53% simply said they weren’t interested.
But then look at the incredible success of a mass Augmented Reality project: the game Pokemon Go, in which various adorable creatures are superimposed into environments in real time and “real space.”
In AR, reality and fantasy are “blended” into one; there are no big goggles to put on, no adjustment period to a wholly new environment. Instead, the user is gently “nudged” into a slightly different version of their own reality.
As Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg commented in April regarding his company’s own AR efforts:
We want to get to this world in the future where you eventually have glasses or contact lenses where you can mix digital or physical objects in the digital world.
So we’re not talking big googles, and we’re not talking about being completely immersed in another environment. Instead, it’s all about making our own environment seem to “manifest” these additions and situations.
And from there, you get away from that outside tech completely and go straight into neural implants—”mainlining” that virtual version of the world directly into your brain. Futurologist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by 2029, direct brain implants will simulate “total” virtuality immersion. And we already have the tech to get quite close to this goal right now, at least in a laboratory environment.
And of course there’s the old standby: drugs. Netflix boss Reed Hastings suggested last year that the real future of entertainment might be “pharmacological”:
In twenty or fifty years, taking a personalized blue pill you just hallucinate in an entertaining way and then a white pill brings you back to normality is perfectly viable…
And that’s the guy from Netflix saying that; I bet he knows shit we don’t. Maybe.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that in terms of how we understand “VR” to be at the moment…
…that’s not going to be “it,” where this is all leading to. We’re talking much smaller devices—including ones that would fit in a pair of glasses or something akin to a contact lens—and then beyond that, images beamed or sent directly to the brain.