virtual reality

Mr. Anderson?

Last week I found myself in the middle of one of those conversations that keeps you thinking into the wee hours of the night. By no means did we reach a resolution; however, I'll do my best to recount some of the main positions and posits of the conversation. Hopefully you can provide some insights of your own. Like most brain busters it began simply enough. My friend told a story of how she had been in the car with her dad watching him manoeuvre between his cellphone, blackberry, MP3 player, and the steering wheel. "He was like a zombie", she said, "doing a million virtual things at once", barely even conscious of the conversation he was supposedly having with her. In that instant, almost all of her dad's faculties were fulfilling virtual obligations over a variety of virtual networks.

Envision a matrix, each technology filling a virtual space around us, connecting slowly but surely with other virtual spaces until we are in fact living most of our conscious lives in a virtual realm. Kinda scary, but not that far-fetched.

This brings in the discussion of augmented reality, the real-time intrusion of technology into our physical environment. However, I am not talking about overlaying our environment with technical or digital information. I'm speaking more about disconnecting from our physical environment altogether.

Forget the notions of Second Life, where users are still quite present in the physical realm. The reality of our current situation mirrors science fiction, whereby our physical selves are not necessarily needed for much of our day-to-day lives. The matrix of different networks is definitely starting to fill out, taking more and more of our consciousness with it.

The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We put so many hours of energy into virtual worlds and networks every day—tuned to our laptops, iPhones, and Blackberries so as not to miss a single nanosecond of social networking, emails, video games, online shopping, or music. If the law above holds true (and it does), where does this energy go? Does it flow out the other side in the form of new creations, products, events, and innovations? Or does it get trapped behind the screens in a virtual space awaiting our next visit? If we are engaging in three or four or five different mediums at a time, giving small pieces of ourselves to each one, how much of our conscious minds are "here", and how much is already residing in virtual space? And more importantly, what end are we all working towards?

We need to ground ourselves and remember that at least for the time being we are existing in the physical realm. It is important to turn yourself off of social networks, cellphones, and other virtual devices every day. Spend some time and energy with your feet rooted in the soil.

What do you think? Have you found yourself having this same conversation? Did you get any further in your discussion than we did?

Videogames on Wheels

One of the more interesting pieces of technology depicted in Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End is that which allows users to put a skin over reality, just as we currently choose different themes for our operating systems and web browsers. Thanks to some smart people working out of the Universität der Künste Berlin ("The Berlin University of the Arts"), we're one step closer to making that happen.

From the description of their project: Carcade is a concept for an in-car videogame for the passengers, which captures the landscape and uses it as a videogame environment. Existing objects, for example trees and architecture, are recognized by the camera and enhanced by videogame assets. The game is influenced by the manner of driving of the car. If the driver accelerates, the game becomes increasingly difficult. If the car comes to a stop a different game situation evolves. We developed a small game concept and a functional prototype, with which we did a test drive on the street. A webcam is connected to a laptop running camera tracking software which recognizes the horizon and objects in the environment. The player has to maneuver a spaceship and collect points whilst trying to avoid crashing into oncoming enemies.

It is still early days, but watching their video will help you understand the technology a bit better. As it advances, that boring prairie drive between Calgary and Edmonton could become a lot more interesting if it took the form of a space battle, jungle cruise or otherwise more-scenic route instead.

In order to further cement the relationship between videogames and driving, iTWire reports (via /.) that a car designed for the Playstation 3 game Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has made into real life and was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. It isn't just a fantasy car, either. Apparently the GTbyCITROËN handles the same in real life as in the the game.

If you've played the Gran Turismo series of games, you'll know exactly how hyper-realistic they are. In fact, I'm pretty sure I learned more about driving through the original Gran Turismo for PS1 than I did from the driving lessons I took when I was sixteen.

I'm probably not the only one that thinks that way, either. According to this CNN story, Allstate insurance will start offering specialized computer games to older drivers and that this could end up lowering their rates.