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Blurring the lines of reality

Virtual and augmented reality will change how we perceive the world around us and change the shape of the economy

Imagine that instead of having to buy a new jacket you could just dream one up and voila you are wearing a shiny new jacket to show off to all the cool kids at the mall. Except wait, there is no mall, who needs a mall when you can just dream stuff up? Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are going to change our world and how we perceive what's around us, disrupting our economies. Much of this post sounds far fetched at this stage, but it is fun to think of the potential impacts of advanced VR and AR.

What is VR? Essentially it's a 3D simulated environment that you can interact with.

AR on the other hand changes a user's view of the real world with computer-generated images. So that jacket we talked about, though it may not be real, we may be able to change what our clothes look like without having to buy new ones. Whether it is changing how we look or what we are looking at, virtual and augmented reality are going be disruptive. I know that a fully-fledged VR system for personal use is far away, but it isn't too far-fetched that we will be able to wear devices day to day that change our reality on a mass scale.

In this post I'll talk about some of the potential uses and economic consequences.

The effects on property of a fully-fledged VR and AR system will be fascinating. My guess would be that it would encourage smaller homes and lower prices to the extent that it enables people to live more comfortably without as large a home. That multi-million dollar view that only a few can afford? With VR it's theoretically possible that one day we could all have that view, or whatever view we like. And guess what? If we all have that view it will be worth close to nothing. Your average bedroom could double as any number of things from a fancy restaurant to the top floor of a skyscraper. If VR is enhanced with a treadmill like motion device that allows you to move while essentially staying in the same spot the options are limitless.

VR and AR is potentially a big win for sustainability as it allows us to reduce resource use for stuff that is inherently aesthetic. Take that jacket example again. If you can change how it looks as many times as you like, then theoretically you could use it as long as it is still in good nick, and serves its functional purpose. Sure people will still need new clothes but buying new stuff for fashion purposes should become a thing of the past if it is easy to change appearance. You can extend the same argument to items like paintings or photographs. Functional value will become more important than aesthetic value with the ability to change how something looks.

Changing our clothing may just be one option for augmenting ourselves. Theoretically the sky's the limit. Ever wanted look taller? Prettier? Musclier? Fat and want to be skinny? This could all be possible with VR and AR. Who needs a diet if you can easily change your body shape? You could even look like an elf if you wanted to. Cosplayers and hairdressers would be out of business. Choosing your physical appearance may start to be like choosing an avatar in a game with people choosing the look that suits them. It would be a nightmare for recognising people but that is easily overcome with name tags.

Sure we won't be able to change our physical shape it should be physical to change the aesthetic. Advanced VR and AR could be a real leveller in the dating game.

Someone's life with and without virtual reality. Their life with virtual reality is better.

Gaming is very much at the frontier of using VR and AR. VR gaming is already a big thing with companies like Sandbox VR offering fully immersive gaming experiences in a range of realities. I can tell you from experience that it is outrageously fun. Pokemon Go was a phenomenon that blurred lines with reality as people ventured around real world cities looking to catch rare Pokemon. I expect it won't be long before gaming is revolutionised further with high-powered VR and AR systems for home use. For those of us introverts, who are quite happy hanging out at home, it promises to be a game-changer (had to get that in there somehow).

Growing up I was a gamer. My parents weren't always happy about this, "it's not real" they would say, or words to that effect. They'd prefer it if I played outside. No doubt gaming isn't "real", but with VR and AR moving into our lives I wonder if it prepared me for the future in ways I could never foresee. A fully-fledged VR and AR system for personal use may be some way off, but being comfortable in a warped reality could be the way of the future. I am just guessing at what the future could look like for this technology, though the question of "what is reality?" has never been more ambiguous or important to consider.


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