Telepresence, avatars enrich our lives in near future

May 21 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine a future where there is no clear distinction between real and simulated events. Welcome to the world of virtual reality. In contrast to today’s crude videoconferencing methods, tomorrow’s revolutionary “telepresence” systems expected by 2015 or before, will look and sound like you are actually together in real reality. You’ll establish eye contact, look around each other, and otherwise have the sense of being together.

Tomorrow’s Internet will power this new system. Cameras will transmit live two-way pictures over a terabyte-speed network similar to today’s Internet2. With sensors embedded in clothing to track movement, parties at both ends can project themselves into a virtual reality 3-D simulation of the event – everyone interacts with everyone with “telepresence.”

“This new system marks the beginning of a revolution expected to take us by storm in the next decade,” says Dr. Pierre Boulanger, University of Alberta VR researcher. People separated by distance can be together in this virtual world, to enjoy a living room chat, share meals at the dinner table, or cozy up even more intimately. Everyone feels hand shakes, hugs and kisses as if they were real.

In addition, say goodbye to confusing controls for home entertainment systems and computers. Lifelike 3D avatars (virtual assistants) which speak perfect “human” will become our primary interface with all our technologies.

These amazing screen images will do just about everything for us. They will answer questions; negotiate Internet transactions; make it easy for us to operate computers and home entertainment systems; and maintain household temperature, lighting and security. These cute creatures, resembling favorite celebrities or loved ones, will appear on our TV, cell phone screen, and car radio display. Later, advances in holography will enable avatars to jump off the screen and follow us around the house. (cont.)

By about 2018, neural implants will replace clothing sensors for easier, even more lifelike digital get-togethers. Finally, by mid-2020s, we will replace neural implants with nanobots which promise the ultimate in simulation. Tiny ‘bots, programmed with software from the Internet, will influence all our senses; sight, sound, and touch. We could download a program like Star Trek “Holodeck” and dive into any action our heart desires. For “real” reality, nanobots will just stay in position and do nothing. When we opt for a virtual experience, they will replace normal sensory inputs with signals appropriate for the virtual environment.

Another possibility suggested by futurist Ray Kurzweil, is the “experience beamer.” By 2030, we could beam sensory experiences on the Internet similar to the way people expose their lives today on Utube. We could enter directly into another person’s mind, like the characters did in the movie Being John Malkovich. IBM’s Blue Brain project, which hopes to simulate the entire human brain by 2015, could help make this wild scenario become an everyday life experience.

Will this future happen? Jaron Lanier, considered the father of virtual reality, believes it will. “About ten years ago, I predicted that virtual reality would be accessible to consumers by about 2010”, he said. “I still think that’s true.”

We certainly live in an exciting time. When we add household robots expected by 2015 to this amazing picture, we see a “magical future” unfolding beyond our wildest dreams.

Which part of this future will be most important to you?

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Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. If a virtual reality overlay on the real world made everything just that more beautiful – a cloudy day sunny, healthy food tastier, flowers more fragrant, humans more beautiful – would there be a) anyone who wouldn’t be in a constant state of virtual presence, or b) any need for personal cosmetic enhancement?— And the “experience beamer” reminds me of an old JLo/Vince Vaughn movie I just saw on cable called The Cell where she has to enter the mind of a serial killer to save his latest victim (it was in a hotel room, ok? there wasn’t anything better on!). :)

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   May 22, 2008
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  2. In a recent C-Span interview, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that humans will spend more time in the virtual world than reality.

    But I disagree with this view. Remember, brain enhancement technologies will advance exponentially in the same timeframe that molecular nanotech, quantum computing, strong artificial intelligence, and virtual reality become mature.

    I think that although humans may find simulations attractive and entertaining, they will never equal the challenges that real life situations provide.

    If our brains did not advance, then I could see that tomorrow’s VR miracles would be mind-boggling, but already we’re exploring brain-altering processes to combat Parkinson’s disease and other mental issues. I see a time in the late 2030s or 2040s when most people will opt for complete brain rejuvenation by replacing every biological brain cell with nano-neurons that provide much faster response time in making decisions.

    Humans will always favor reality over make believe. Comments welcome.

    Posted by: futuretalk   May 22, 2008
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  3. “Humans will always favor reality over make believe.” That’s a very bold statement that many would take issue with – props for putting it out there. I personally think that augmented reality could be so appealing that the harsh truth of reality would lose its appeal. Perhaps a silly example, but just look at the fun these kids are having!

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   May 22, 2008
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  4. Of course, if today’s brains stayed the same and were not enhanced in the future, when virtual reality will be supported by nanobots roaming through our brains turning off our real senses and substituting artificial senses appropriate for the VR program that we’re experiencing; then tomorrow’s VR would be mind-boggling, and civilization would be totally taken in by the technology.

    But mind-enhancing technologies will experience exponential advances during this same time frame, and when we can process data and information billions of times faster than we can with today’s mushy biological brains, I can’t help but think we will soon be bored with the simulated world and find reality more challenging.

    This is only this writers opinion.

    Posted by: futuretalk   May 22, 2008
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  5. I have to agree with Marisa. “Humans will always favor reality over make believe” is just an emotional statement based on either nothing or a naive concept of “make believe” reality (you know, crudely rendered polygons and wireframe objects).

    Posted by: johnfrink   May 22, 2008
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