Bringing people together

We have so far neglected an important aspect, which is human-to-human or social interaction. We use formats such as a live theater performance, a classroom, or a lecture hall for a few people to communicate with or entertain a large audience. We write and read novels to tell stories to each other. Prior to writing, skilled storytellers would propagate experiences to others, including future generations. We have communicated for centuries by writing letters to each other. More recent technologies have allowed us to interact directly without delay. The audio part has been transmitted through telephones for over a century, and now the video part is transmitted as well through videoconferencing over the Internet. At the same time, simple text messaging has become a valuable part of our interaction, providing yet another example of a preference for decreased realism. Communities of online users who interact through text messages over the Internet have been growing since the 1970s. In the context of games, early Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) grew into Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMORPGs) that we have today. In the context of education, the PLATO system from the University of Illinois was the first computer-assisted instruction system, which included message boards, instant messaging, screen sharing, chat rooms, and emoticons. This was a precursor to many community-based, on-line learning systems, such as the Khan Academy and Coursera. The largest amount of online social interaction today occurs through Facebook apps, which involve direct communication through text along with the sharing of pictures, videos, and links.

Returning to VR, we can create avatar representations of ourselves and ``live'' together in virtual environments, as is the case with Second Life and Opensimulator 1.31. Without being limited to staring at rectangles, what kinds of societies will emerge with VR? Popular science fiction novels have painted a thrilling, yet dystopian future of a world where everyone prefers to interact through VR [47,96,313]. It remains to be seen what the future will bring.

As the technologies evolve over the years, keep in mind the power of simplicity when making a VR experience. In some cases, maximum realism may be important; however, leaving much to the imagination of the users is also valuable. Although the technology changes, one important invariant is that humans are still designed the same way. Understanding how our senses, brains, and bodies work is crucial to understanding the fundamentals of VR systems.

Steven M LaValle 2020-01-06