Will Virtual Reality Shape the Evolution of our Consciousness?
The Occulus Rift, a Virtual Reality headset financially backed to the tune of $2 billion by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, will hit stores some time in April. A Google headset will soon follow. And a Sony one. And another from HTC.
While this first crop of VR machines are designed primarily to play games, the shakers and movers in the I.T world are predicting that the emerging technology will not only fundamentally alter how we interact with each other, but also how we perceive the world and indeed ourselves.
If they’re right, then Virtual Reality will be as big a game changer as the birth of the Internet, not only offering users a near limitless universe of digital possibility but also changing the very fabric of what it means to be human.
Perhaps not. After all, you could argue that our entire evolutionary process has been driven by our love affair with technology.
Weapons enabled our ancestors to hunt animals bigger and fiercer than them. Fire gave them the ability to cook meat-the resultant surfeit of easily digestible calorie rich food responsible for the growth of bigger, more advanced brains.
Without the invention of the wheel and advancements in agricultural technologies, we would still be living in small tribes leading a nomadic hunter gatherer existence, never having evolved to develop the intricacies of language, art and science.
For almost of our existence, technology has enabled us to smash through the barriers imposed by our relatively weak physical bodies. And while there are still many developments made in this field, for example, the development of enhanced exo-skeletons and prosthetic limbs that are stronger than their organic counter parts, the emergence of the digital age has marked a tonal shift in focus.
The evolution of our bodies has been superseded by the evolution of our consciousness.
For many people, their sense of self-something that would once have existed only within the boundaries of their skin, now stretches to include their digital selves: their social media presence, the status’s, posts and profile photos that for all intents and purposes make up the facade that they present to the online world.
In only twenty years the internet has altered society more than anyone could have ever anticipated. Virtual Reality, with its potential for astonishing immersivity, has the potential to render the internet as obsolete as the Commodore 64.
Imagine, for example, a world where your digital existence is more vibrant than your physical one. Where your avatar can be in the same three dimensional virtual space as someone on the other side of the planet. Imagine if your office existed only virtually and commuting to work meant nothing more tedious than putting on a headset.
What if you could holiday anywhere in the universe? What if school children could step back in time and experience pivotal moments in history, all recreated virtually? In a virtual zoo you’d never have to worry about the animals making a no show. In a virtual world there would be no such thing as a physical disability and your appearance would be limited only by your imagination.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the gaming potential of the Occulus Rift that enticed Mark Zuckerberg to act as patron. Instead, it was how Virtual Reality could be used to further his ultimate goal-of connecting everyone on the planet.
With more than one billion of the planets population already connected via Facebook, it seems he’s already well on his way to making it a reality. But Facebook is only the beginning, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, he explained how he believes that one day technology will enable us to communicate our full sensory experience via thought.
Imagine that, an entire planet connected as one consciousness, able to share and receive the sum total of another persons life experience.
It’s too early to predict if and when that technology will ever be possible, but if it does become a reality and our memories and thoughts can one day be uploaded to a virtual space, then perhaps humanity will have achieved the one goal it always dreamed of: to transcend death as we know it.
Don’t worry if you find the prospect of this Brave New World utterly terrifying.
That’s understandable. We’re stood on the edge of a great precipice and it’s a long way down. But like it or not, we’re about to plunge into the unknown and there’s nothing you can do about it.
May as well buckle up. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.