How Close Are We To Full-Immersion VR Worlds?

Category: 
How Close Are We To Full-Immersion VR Worlds?
May 28, 2017

What principles of biology and technology do we not understand fully enough in order to develop "full-dive" VR (like in Sword Art Online)? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

 

Answer by Mike Prinke, Video Game Programmer, on Quora:

 

For those playing the home game, Sword Art Online is an anime and manga series following a boy named Kazuto Kirigaya, or “Kirito” as he is known, as he takes part in the eponymous MMORPG Sword Art Online. This game is played with a gaming device called the NerveGear. During use, the user is effectively immobilized in the real world while their consciousness is entirely enveloped in a virtual world, which, of course, is suitably fantastical.

 

Science fiction fans might be able to draw parallels with the Cyberdeck from William Gibson’s definitive cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, written in 1984.

 

With regards to reproducing this technology in real life, it’d be shorter to tell you what we do understand, because it’s very little.

 

We lack insight on virtually everything regarding the phenomenon of human consciousness, the senses, and their relationship to the exact workings of the brain and nervous system. We have some idea of how a lot of individual processes work and where they’re located, but very little clue how to replicate many of them convincingly with an electrical signal — let alone how to amalgamate all of them at once into a user experience. We can substitute for them with an electrical signal, mainly using bodily mechanisms that are already there, but if we were presented with a brain in a jar and told to reproduce all of the senses with nothing but a few electrodes we would just barely have an idea what we’re doing.

 

For instance, we have cochlear and retinal implants, which can restore hearing and sight — but both of these require some part of the apparatus of your ears and eyes. It’s not so much a “from scratch” realization of these senses as much as it is a repair job. The technology for retinal implants especially is still limited enough that it doesn’t fully restore vision so much as create an approximation that’s better than nothing at all. All of these devices wired into your eyeballs and inner ears are a pretty far cry from a non-invasive headset you can take on and off at will. Even supposing we put a jack into the back of your head like they did in Neuromancer, we wouldn’t know how to go from “wire inserted into brain stem” to “reproduce vision and hearing.”

 

Still, the Argus II is probably as far along towards this goal as anything we could cover.

 

The prospects for artificial realization of coordination and movement are even less far along than that. We’ve seen huge advancements in the articulation and portability of bionic limbs in recent years, for instance, but we cannot reproduce a sense of touch or direct coordination at all. As an example, the most advanced bionic hands on the planet use pre-defined “grip patterns” which the user can cycle through rather than giving full control over their fingers. It’s good enough for quite a lot of needs in day to day life, but I think you can understand that this gives us very little to go off of if what we’re interested in is re-creating the sensations of physical movement and touch. There is research being done on the subject of nerve impulses and how they relate to the control of limbs, but it’s in its infancy.

 

We can sort of kind of steer a cockroach by connecting wires into its antennae, and we can make peoples’ limbs do weird things by inducing electric shocks. It’s a start, but a long way off, I suspect, from your dream of realizing your very own NerveGear.

 

Something that I want to emphasize is that all of these technologies, including VR as we already know it through a set of goggles strapped to your face, are subjects of intense research and development. Each one is its own entire field, which you can spend a literal lifetime studying and contributing to. For a full-blown Cyberdeck you’re asking for each of them — plus multitudes of other fields as of yet unmentioned — to leap about fifty to one hundred years forward (at least) and converge into a single technology. That in itself could take quite a few decades before we begin to figure out how all of these could mingle, let alone a production process for building entertainment software.

 

The biggest barrier to understanding any of these things is ethics. Necessarily you need human guinea pigs to give you any amount of feedback on whether or not the junk you’ve plugged into their head is doing what it’s supposed to do, and necessarily when you’re fiddling with the central nervous system there’s certain risks that no rational human being would take. At this point in the conversation we’re starting to approach a kind of science which, if not handled with the utmost of care, begins to resemble crimes against humanity for the sake of… making a better video game. As a game developer myself that doesn’t seem worthwhile.

 

My advice, should you be looking towards studying some of this, would be to pick the technology among all of these that feels the most worthwhile and meaningful to you. If what you really want to do is make entertainment, though, I can attest from personal experience that the modern-day goggle-vision TV-strapped-to-the-face is… actually pretty darn compelling.

 

It’s fun to fantasize about NerveGear and Cyberdecks and all that, but nothing quite does the job of human eyes like actual human eyes, and meanwhile the technologies of this equipment as well as the production tools for creating content with it are both advancing insanely fast.

 

Unreal has a friggin’ VR game template.

 

template. You could be doing VR work right now. The literal technology you aspire to might not be there, but the experience that you want to achieve with it is so much closer than you imagine.

 

Think about it a while!

Related articles

VRrOOm Wechat