When smartphones first came out in the early 2000’s nobody would have imagined how they could change our world. Now after almost 15 years another technology is poised to make a giant leap; virtual reality. But how far can this go? Some believe farther than we think.
In his futuristic novel Presence, famous technology blog ReadWrite founder Richard MacManus envisions a future where virtual reality can enable us to go anywhere and be present with people no matter where they live. He imagines what the Facebook of 2051 will look like with data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. A future where virtual reality is a part of the daily life.
What inspired you to write Presence?
A number of things. One is that I wanted to explore what a Facebook of 2051 might be like. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a virtual world of some kind. So what will happen to our sense of identity when we can jump in and out of VR, as I describe in the novel. Will our privacy be impacted in a big way? These are the kinds of future problems and scenarios a Facebook of the future might face (or indeed Facebook itself), so I decided to write a science fiction novel to explore those themes.
You’ve been following the technology trends for many years why do you think VR is the next big computing platform?
I certainly think VR is going to be the next big social platform, because it will enable you to go anywhere and be present with people no matter where they live. For example, if you and I both enjoyed the music of PJ Harvey, then we might meet up at one of her VR concerts. Being able to socialize and enjoy events with people from across the world would be amazing, and I think that’s one way VR will be a massive future platform.
In my novel, I imagine what the Facebook of 2051 will look like. My guess is that we’ll be doing a lot of our social and business networking inside virtual worlds by then.
What makes virtual reality different than other mediums?
Simply put, the “presence” that virtual reality provides. In other words, being immersed in another world and truly believing you’re there. No other medium has that ability to take you to another place entirely. Which is incidentally why movies in VR will be huge, because you’ll be transported so much more than watching them on a large screen.
What are the main challenges that may come with adopting VR?
Currently, it’s that the hardware is still relatively clunky and dorky looking. The physical isolation it creates is also not great, although once more social experiences are available inside VR that will change. Currently VR is primarily for gamers, so it’ll also need to appeal to the tens of millions of non-gamers out there in order to ramp up.
What about the opportunities?
Limitless. As noted above, social and entertainment are two big opportunities. The NBA has already shown games inside VR, and Steven Spielberg is making a VR movie. But there are also massive opportunities in business, medicine and other industries. In my novel, I describe people working next to each other inside virtual reality, even though physically they’re thousands of miles apart.
I’m very excited to attend an NBA basketball game inside of virtual reality. Likewise I’d love to go to a concert by one of my favorite bands.
Do you think VR can robotize us?
There is always that danger, no matter what technology we’re talking about. Just as someone can be beneath a VR helmet all day, they could also be glued to their smartphone screen. So it’s always important not to spend too much time inside VR, which is another thing I touch on in my novel. One of the characters, Khris, becomes a bully invirt — partly because of the amount of time he spends inside VR.
What is your favorite VR application?
I haven’t experienced this yet, but I’m very excited to attend an NBA basketball game inside of VR. Likewise I’d love to go to a concert by one of my favorite bands. Why? Because I live in New Zealand and it’s very difficult to do those things here.
And your favorite VR headset?
I think it’s too early to say, because both Oculus Rift and the Vive has issues. The Sony headset hasn’t yet come out, but it may end up having the most impact due to Sony’s entertainment ecosystem.
Do you plan writing more on VR?
I may write some more stories about VR. But my next novel will be about AI, another big, important topic in the future of technology.