Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality and its effects
On November 27, 2012, the class got into an interesting and debatable topic of virtual reality. This discussion really sparked my interest on what was, what is and what is to become of virtual reality. These were some questions that were circulating my mind that I felt I needed answers to. Other topics to be discussed are the dependency on the virtual world and so results in a social disconnect. People have been so addicted to the virtual world that they “may use cyberspace as a substitute for the physical environment” (Drucker, 29). Augmented reality, sub-section of virtual reality,
Virtual Reality has been around for decades but it was only in recent years has the idea grown. It goes by some other names such as virtual environment, cyberspace, artificial reality, augmented reality and telepresence. Listed below is a brief history and run through of where virtual reality started and how it has developed over the years.
·         Having a vision in the 1950’s of theatre goers having their senses simulated while watching the movie, Morton Heilig, a cinematographer, invented the Sensorama in 1960. The Sensorama “that included a stereoscopic display, fans, odor emitters, stereo speakers and a moving chair. He also invented a head mounted television display designed to let a user watch television in 3-D. Users were passive audiences for the films, but many of Heilig’s concepts would find their way into the virtual reality field (Strickland).
·         In 1965, Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, came up with the idea of Ultimate Display. This display was to be used to make virtual reality appear as the physical world. This display was also the pioneer for all the major developments in the virtual reality field to follow.
·         In 1966, Sutherland built the computer system that included all the graphics for the display. From then on different forms and models for the virtual world has been invented and used.
Jonathan Strickland wrote an article for How Stuff Work called “How Virtual Reality Work”. Strickland begins the article with: “What do you think of when you hear the words virtual reality? Do you imagine someone wearing a clunky helmet attached to a computer with a thick cable? Do visions of crudely rendered pterodactyls haunt you? Do you think of Neo and Morpheus traipsing about the Matrix? Or do you wince at the term, wishing it would just go away?” Truth be told, I am one of those who wish for it all to go away. In contrast, I know it will grow and become a way of life from many people if it already isn’t. Strickland does an excellent job of example what virtual reality is. “The concept remains the same - using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that a user can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world. Scientists, theorists and engineers have designed dozens of devices and applications to achieve this goal. Opinions differ on what exactly constitutes a true virtual reality experience, but in general it should include:
·         Three-dimensional images that appear to be life-sized from the perspective of the user
·         The ability to track a user's motions, particula­rly his head and eye movements, and correspondingly adjust the images on the user's display to reflect the change in perspective” (Strickland).
After reading that definition, it sounds like a scary movie in the making. I refer to it as this because just as anything out there, virtual reality can and is abused. My biggest fear for virtual reality is that individuals are getting so immersed in it that they have lost sight of actual reality. “In a virtual reality environment, a user experiences immersion, or the feeling of being inside and a part of that world. He is also able to interact with his environment in meaningful ways. The combination of a sense of immersion and interactivity is called telepresence. Computer scientist Jonathan Steuer defined it as “the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment.” In other words, an effective virtual reality experience causes you to become unaware of your real surroundings and focus on your existence inside the virtual environment” (Strickland). To be unaware of your real surrounding is a form of hypnosis. It is through this trance that the individual is being teleported visually into an imaginative world.
How far is too far with immersion? Obviously the individual will not experience the full impact of the virtual reality if they are not fully immersed. When the virtual reality becomes better than actual reality, will the individual now become addicted to virtual world? How can they be able to know the difference from the two if they constantly seek virtual reality? I needed answers. “Some psychologists are concerned that immersion in virtual environments could psychologically affect a user. They suggest that virtual environment systems that place a user in violent situations, particularly as the perpetuator of violence, could result in the user becoming desensitized. In effect, there’s a fear that virtual environment entertainment systems could breed a generation of sociopaths. Others aren’t as worried about desensitization, but do warn that convincing virtual environment experiences could lead to a kind of cyber addiction. There have been several news stories of gamers neglecting their real lives for their online, in-game presence. Engaging virtual environments could potentially be more addictive. Another emerging concern involves criminal act. In the virtual world, defining acts such as murder or sex crimes has been problematic. At what point can authorities charge a person with a real crime for actions within a virtual environment? Studies indicate that people can have real physical and emotional reactions to stimuli within a virtual environment, and so it’s quite possible that a victim of a virtual attack could feel real emotional trauma. Can the attacker be punished for causing real-life distress? We don’t yet have answers to these questions” (Strickland). I believe there are ways to take action for virtual criminal acts but we choose not to because it is only virtual or as some believe to be only hypothetical. Should anyone be punishable for an imaginative creation?
“Virtual reality is becoming more prominent and dangerous every day. You can now assume a second identity online, marry a virtual wife, and even have virtual children. You can act as a Russian terrorist and run through airports killing innocent civilians. You can rob banks, gamble, hustle drugs or shoot people all in the name of fun. These are just a few of the developments of the ever growing, emotionally degrading and morally demeaning virtual reality mediums. According to teachers, many students are showing a decrease in natural emotion and affection due to their constant interaction with inanimate cyber-friends. Cyberspace can be a help, but when used in the wrong ways it can be very detrimental to our physical well-being. Virtual reality minimizes the importance of our physical bodies and encourages people to waste time. These false realities causes people to stray from true relationships by focusing on the mind numbing effects of video game and online cyber world” (Biocca and Levy). This is a perfect example how virtual has and is being abused. These social disconnect has proven to lead to disastrous behavior. Maybe there should be legal actions taken to help prevent and minimize these behaviors. How can anyone have true fulfillment with a virtual partner and children? Reality will always be there when you take off those glasses, helmet or suits.

Has virtual reality become a sickness that we made need prescription medication for? Obviously there are side effects for those who constantly use virtual reality. “The young student volunteer had been wearing a virtual-reality headset for a few hours, exploring an experimental program intended to help surgeons plan operations more efficiently, and the experience left her warm and weary. After taking off the equipment to feel a real breeze, she reached for a cold can of soda to quench her thirst, raising the can toward her face. But as she tried to sip the soda, the woman found she was pouring it into her eye instead of her mouth, because an embarrassing perceptual distortion lingered from her extended trip into virtual reality. Such disorientation in a surgeon won't instill patient confidence, but provides instead a graphic illustration of a problem inherent in virtual-reality technology that some are calling cybersickness. Disorientation, queasiness, nausea and headaches are among symptoms some experience after using virtual-reality equipment for extended periods. And researchers say that a few people may even have disorienting flashbacks hours or days after their virtual-reality encounter. As electronics companies gear up to peddle virtual-reality games by the millions, and the technology is touted as the newest means of saving money and boosting efficiency  in product design, manufacturing and medicine, the tendency for some people to get sick and disoriented is a nagging problem that will not go away. Some advocates of virtual reality want the industry to study the phenomenon and set industry standards to avoid widespread outbreaks of cybersickness that could spawn lawsuits and give the technology a black eye” (Van). This is prime example that there are virtual reality systems that still needs approval before exposure to those interested in using it. What if the young student was exposed to a more dangerous virtual reality? How is the system creator to explain the harm she would have caused to herself and/or maybe others around her? Young children who play violent virtual video games have a higher chance of causing such harm.
“Today most virtual reality can be found on a basic personal computer and video games. Mary Whitton, of UNC-Chapel Hill, believes that the entertainment industry will drive the development of most virtual reality technology going forward. The video game industry in particular has contributed advancements in graphics and sound capabilities that engineers can incorporate into virtual reality systems’ designs” (Strickland). Such advancement would be the Nintendo Wii controller which has tracking capabilities, affordable and appeals to those who do not normally pay video games. So in some sense, virtual reality is growing in market size. There will also be those who wish to know more about virtual reality and those who are somewhat interested but do not care to find out. With gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii, those who are just interested will find the virtual reality world hard to resist.

Virtual reality has made and will continue to make its mark with games and entertainment but it is also making progress in other fields. “Some architects create virtual models of their building plans so that people can walk through the structure before the foundation is even laid. Clients can move around exteriors and interiors and ask questions, or even suggest alterations to the design. Virtual models can give you a much more accurate idea of how moving through a building will feel than a miniature model. Car companies have used VR technology to build virtual prototypes of new vehicles, testing them thoroughly before producing a single physical part. Designers can make alterations without having to scrap the entire model, as they often would with physical ones. The development process becomes more efficient and less expensive as a result (Strickland). There are great ways virtual reality is being used. It helps gives architects and car companies prototypes to work from and there is little to no room for error.

Another field where virtual reality is of importance and more a necessity is training programs in military.The military have long been supporters of virtual reality technology and development. Training programs can include everything from vehicle simulations to squad combat. On the whole, virtual reality systems are much safer and, in the long run, less expensive than alternative training methods. Soldiers who have gone through extensive virtual reality training have proven to be as effective as those who trained under traditional conditions” (Strickland). Virtual reality is comparable to a genius. If the genius has been taught good morals, he/she will most likely find the cure to any incurable disease. Yet if morals are disregarded then a new form of the atomic bomb will be invented.

The best breakthrough with virtual reality would have to be in the medical field.” In medicine, staff can use virtual environments to train in everything from surgical procedures to diagnosing a patient. Surgeons have used virtual reality technology to not only train and educate, but also to perform surgery remotely by using robotic devices. The first robotic surgery was performed in 1998 at a hospital in Paris. The biggest challenge in using virtual reality technology to perform robotic surgery is latency, since any delay in such a delicate procedure can feel unnatural to the surgeon. Such systems also need to provide finely-tuned sensory feedback to the surgeon. Another medical use of VR technology is psyc­hological therapy. Dr. Barbara Rothbaum of Emory University and Dr. Larry Hodges of the Georgia Institute of Technology pioneered the use of virtual environments in treating people with phobias and other psychological conditions. They use virtual environments as a form of exposure therapy, where a patient is exposed -- under controlled conditions -- to stimuli that cause him distress. The application has two big advantages over real exposure therapy: it is much more convenient and patients are more willing to try the therapy because they know it isn't the real world. Their research led to the founding of the company Virtually Better, which sells VR therapy systems to doctors in 14 countries” (Strickland). To say we should put a stop to it would be absurd. Virtual reality has proven to be a requirement in the medical field.  But should there be a limit as to when and where virtual reality is used? Should it only be for medical purposes or betterment of the work environment? Is it only being abused in the entertainment industry?

In the business world, virtual reality may seem more personal than instant messaging, emails, and even a phone call but it important to remember that “an inescapable aspect of social life is the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships” (Biocca and Levy). Virtual can be used as a means of pleasure but can also “provide a communication environment in which the dangers of deception and the benefits of creativity are amplified beyond the levels that humans currently experience in their interpersonal interactions” (Biocca and Levy).

Although virtual reality is entering and expanding in different fields and industry, I believe it’s first big hit to truly draw everyone in would have to be through the internet. “Some programmers envision the Internet developing into a three-dimensional virtual space, where you navigate through virtual landscapes to access information and entertainment. Web sites could take form as a three-dimensional location, allowing users to explore in a much more literal way than before. Programmers have developed several different computer languages and Web browsers to achieve this vision. Some of these include:
·         Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) - the earliest three-dimensional modeling language for the Web.
·         3DML - a three-dimensional modeling language where a user can visit a spot (or Web site) through most Internet browsers after installing a plug-in.
·         X3D - the language that replaced VRML as the standard for creating virtual environments in the Internet.
·         Collaborative Design Activity (COLLADA) - a format used to allow file interchanges within three-dimensional programs” (Strickland).
I can just picture it now: walking into the internet like you would your favorite store. Sounds cool right? Well, one of two things will happen. It is either you will have a pleasurable experience that you are imagining or you will be attacked by a virus. Just let that marinate.

Augmented Reality

What exactly is augmented reality? How does it differ from virtual reality? Is it any better or worse than virtual reality? “This new technology, called augmented reality, blurs the line between what's real and what's computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell. On the spectrum between virtual reality, which creates immersive, computer-generated environments, and the real world, augmented reality is closer to the real world. Augmented reality adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists” (Bonsor). Augmented reality sounds like a safer version of virtual reality. Even though it is still a form of virtual reality, it is a smoother transition from the natural world.

In class we watched a video on how augmented reality works. (Refer to video) The video details about a device called the SixthSense that Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry presented at a Ted Conference. The SixthSense uses basic components such as a camera, mirror, smartphone and small projector. “SixthSense is remarkable because it uses these simple, off-the-shelf components that cost around $350. It is also notable because the projector essentially turns any surface into an interactive screen. Essentially, the device works by using the camera and mirror to examine the surrounding world, feeding that image to the phone (which processes the image, gathers GPS coordinates and pulls data from the Internet), and then projecting information from the projector onto the surface in front of the user, whether it's a wrist, a wall, or even a person. Because the user is wearing the camera on his chest, SixthSense will augment whatever he looks at; for example, if he picks up a can of soup in a grocery store, SixthSense can find and project onto the soup information about its ingredients, price, nutritional value -- even customer reviews” (Bonsor). For anyone who owns a smartphone, this is just a step up.

It is great that augment reality has been making such advancement in technology but it was also important to understand its effects on the people using it. A study was done in Ming-Chuan University oh how augmented reality effects learning and it was interesting to find out the results of the study. “In this study, a new approach to the implementation of Augmented Reality (AR) in the educational environment was taken by creating a Chemistry Augmented Reality Learning System (CARLS), using the existing teaching curriculum, together with physical activity. This system combined learning with three types of physical activity: aerobic fitness, muscle strength and flexibility fitness. This study reveals that the students using all three types of physical activity together with CARLS result in significantly higher academic performance compared to the traditional Keyboard-Mouse CAI (KMCAI). This improvement is most evident for the non-memorized knowledge component of Science. Moreover, the students in the AR group with 'muscle strength' physical activity had significantly more positive learning attitude change toward Science than those in the KMCAI group. A great additional benefit of our approach is that, students also obtained more physical fitness while learning” From this study, it seems that augmented reality is far more beneficial than harmful to learning habits. Because there is not a complete immersion, such as virtual reality, students are still able to understand and use the natural world. This form of augmented reality is just an enhancement to their natural abilities.

I cannot discredit all the wonderful things that are able to be accomplished with virtual and augmented reality. My fear is that there will be a time in the future where there is nothing but a virtual environment. What will be left of the physical environment? Will people then forget that there is a reason for it? In the future, our imagination will only be our means of survival. Will we then become drones to virtual reality, feeding on cyberspace and becoming immortal in the artificial reality? There have been times where I tell myself that I will only be online for 15 minutes and before I know it 2 hours has gone by. It will be years that are to pass by when entering the virtual world. When you are able to create a world of your choice, it can be difficult coming back to one that is not.

 Whether it is augmented or virtual reality, we are too far in to have it controlled. Right? With every new discovery and development, virtual reality can go either way: “it could be a lifesaving godsend, a groundbreaking educational tool, a means of becoming out best selves. Or, it could be a mindless, energy-sapping diversion, an off-ramp to electronic isolation, a playground for immortality. Chances are it will be all of these things” (Kershner).

Work Cited

Bonsor, Kevin.  "How Augmented Reality Works" 19 February 2001.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/augmented-reality.htm>  02 December 2012.

Biocca, F. and M. R. Levy (1995). Communication in the age of virtual reality. Hillsdale, N.J., L. Erlbaum Associates.

Kershner, K. (1995) Virtual Reality: Danger Ahead, USA Today, July 1995 v124 n2602
Strickland, Jonathan.  "How Virtual Reality Works"  29 June 2007.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/other-gadgets/virtual-reality.htm>  02 December 2012.

"Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry Demo SixthSense." TED Talks. March 2009. http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html

KF, Hsiao. "The Effects of Augmented Reality on Learning." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.

Van, Jon. "Actual Side Effects From Virtual Reality." Chicago Tribune. Tribune, 14 Aug. 1995. Web. 09 Dec. 2012


  1. When one is deeply immersed in virtual reality theres a thin line in which one can lose consciousness. I too believe it can be an utterly dangerous concept. Virtual reality reminds me of the movie, Inception. The movie involved a device that allows the person to connect to a virtual environment. But there is a point in which the main character has confused his reality with the virtual reality. The brain is influenced through the simulation. Virtual reality induces emotions such as actual reality so it’s easy to get stuck in that limbo. So could inception become reality?

  2. You're definitely right when it comes to being scared about the future. I am not sure if we will be able to do away with the physical completely but it doesn't sound too far fetched. When you see the negative results of virtual reality it makes you wonder is it that necessary?