I’m a Sci Fi nut. I’ve been one for many years, certainly long before it was cool be be a nerd. I’ve always leaned toward hard science with space ships and aliens rather than sword and sorcery. It’s clear that with the wild success of everything from Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and the hundreds of vampire zombie spinoffs there is a massive demand for all aspects of fantasy. As a species we have always valued an alternate to the humdrum business of life which explains the success of everything from alcohol and sports to LSD. Add the that the fact that gaming is now worth more than Hollywood it’s not surprising that there are some fantastical bets being made on improving reality. The most recent of these is the 500+ million put down by Google and friends for a piece of the Miami based virtual reality shop Magic Leap. It’s not entirely clear what these folk do…mostly because they won’t tell you. Much like Oculus (Who Facebook recently acquired) the have no product and no revenue but clearly have some very big ideas around virtual and augmented reality and have caught the attention of big G. Let’s unpack this a little.
There are significant barriers to meaningful virtual or augmented reality. Our brain is a fierce computer which spends upwards of 60% of runtime doing visual processing. We are amazingly good at perceiving and understanding the world around us…so to try to trick the brain into seeing things which aren’t there in a seamlessly is very hard. That’s what Magic Leap et al are working on. The win could be enormous. We could trade our 60″ LED TVs for headsets or implants which could convince us we are fighting at Minas Tirith or making time with insert -porn-star-name-here. We could work in true virtual offices or vacation from our couches. The gatekeepers of this new world would indeed be in a position of power. Although the focus to date has been on the hardware to get past the brain’s defenses the likely long term winner would be the people who could supply both the convincing reality gear and the programming to go with it. In effect a next generation cable company….which no doubt Google would love to be. They have the fiber optic cable, they are buying the hardware/user equipment folks and no doubt are already working on augmented / virtual content to go with it.
I give it less than a decade before we are paying a reality provider to give us recreational experiences beyond anything we can currently imagine. Once we have access to a better than life experience on our recliners at home work may just become the way we afford credits in our enhanced experience world. It sounds like fun…and will be…unless it further divided our society into the haves who can relax in comfort in their virtual paradises and the rest who keep the lights on.