Today I was watching the first part of a BBC documentary called Visions of the Future : The Intelligence Revolution. It was all about how virtual reality is slowly turning into augmented reality. Well what is that exactly? Augmented Reality is the ability to make the technology (through the medium of the internet) part of our lives. At the moment it’s limited, by slowly growing. For example if you own an iPhone, with a specific application installed you can walk into a store (at a shopping centre) and hold you phone up to the music that’s playing at the time. This app will tell you the song that is playing, the artist, and gives you the option to download it. Another example is that some high-end motor vehicles have computer chips embedded in their bumpers, so if you car approaches another too rapidly the chip will automatically activate the brakes, and will stop you from a near collision. Folks this is just the start of machines enveloping our world…
As a teenager I could sense this Artificial Intelligence debate, coming and immediately deny that we can’t be replaced by machines, although I’m starting to think otherwise. We’re living in an online culture and it’s starting to become far more apparent than simply a few bumpers on cars. For example there are computer games such as World of WarCraft (WOW) and Second Life, whereas the latter suggests, you can create your own world, and interact with other people in an artificial world. WOW is more of a fantasy based game, where you running around joining guilds (groups of other online players that have their own village), slaying creatures, journeying on new quests, buying better clothes and weapons for your character, and stumbling across other new players.
To those people who aren’t really into computer gaming, it may sound like a feeble attempt in re-creating ourselves, however, the number of people devoting their time to conversing behind the computer rather than in real life is growing quickly. You can’t see the other characters that you relate to and therefore players find that they are free to say what they like. Friendships are made, hearts are broken, and people get married…all online. By married I’m referring to one couple who were playing Second Life. They met each other there and decided that they liked one another. Eventually this lead to hours of chatting, and getting married in real life. (For more information on this couple, you should go and check out the documentary that I mentioned earlier.) IRL is a piece of slang I’ll use that many devoted WOW players use occasionally when speaking to each other. It stands for ‘in real life’, when referring to activities that occur away from the computer.
Now what if computer gaming isn’t your thing? Is there something else that is proof of augmented reality? Well, you just need to look for it. In Japan there are robots that will greet you and bring you something to drink at a restaurant if you are thirsty. They’ve also created robot puppies. That will bark and respond to you when you rub them on the back or under the chin. There are also depressed patients who have had computer chips inserted into their brains to allow the neurons to fire more rapidly and increase their mood. According to one patient it’s helped far more than any other form of therapy included anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, electric-shock therapy and many others. If I am misquoting you’ll have to forgive me and go and watch the film.
Now these interesting and profound experiments leave me with a question. What happens when we embed a chip into ourselves? OR… What happens if we ’embed’ our minds into a computer game environment for 80% of our day and spend the other 20% IRL? Can it affect our choices and our mood? I would love to see an experiment that takes a child and allows them to spend their teen years behind a computer screen. Take another child and give him only a cell phone and no computer. My question is will the child on the computer become bored and frustrated and get out of the house more? OR… Maybe the computer-less child will spend an increasingly more amount of time on the internet, talking to people. Maybe he’ll eventually nag his parents to buy him a computer, and delve into the world he isn’t part of.
Personally I’ve been on the web in many different aspects whether is to do research, chat to people, share poetry and writing, or simple hunt for interesting articles to get boredom out of the way. I’ve done a bit of online gaming as well, although I’ve never really got myself involved in games like Second Life or WOW. The reason is that any RPG (role-playing game) sucks a lot of my time. I’ve played other non-online RPGs like Diablo 2, Titan Quest, WarCraft 3 (dota) and so on. I try to avoid it like someone might avoid a good bottle of wine. Because, unlike the wine, I know that it might end up lasting a few days and maybe even weeks and I don’t want to be apart of that right now.
I’m part of facebook; I have a blog, and subscribe to a few writing forums, as well as IRC (Internet Relay Chat). My personal feeling is to keep the internet as a tool, when I need it. I would still prefer to meet people face-to-face for the time being and see a real kind of emotion wash over their face.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned!