What happens when virtual reality catches up with reality? If you think that as a consequence, only more time is going to be wasted with gadgetry, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Doing research for ‘novel 3’ which is geared up to be about irrationality, I got slightly carried away, reading not as planned one book on the topic but four. I’m glad I did. It was a deeply fascinating journey which became surprisingly personal as I was handed many explanations for what had happened in those past moments in my life where the behaviour of others or myself had me baffled.
I love mountains and I wish there were some in Cambridgeshire. Instead, it has flinty and chalky fields that are desiccated by the wind. In mid-winter, when a grey sky touches the grey fields, they can be so bleak that even some lunar landscapes will look lively in comparison. To document this extraordinary expression of bleakness, I went in early February to the fields alongside the old Roman road near Wandlebury. Imagine my disappointment when I saw that I was too late and that many of the fields were covered by a green fuzz. But I thought I’d share the results anyway. It's no longer the story of a moribund patient but of a miraculous recovery beyond all expectation and hope.
Back in the mid 1990’s at the Argonne National Lab, I was invited to see the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), a room large enough for a single person, with semitransparent walls, floor and ceiling that had stereo images projected onto them. Equipped with stereoscopic shutter glasses and a pressure-sensitive joystick, I had my first experience of virtual reality (VR), wrestling an enormous 3D molecule of some protein, mainly to stop it from going right through my body. My next contact with VR was at the headquarters of Silicon Graphics, in their Reality Center with a curved projection screen for what they called immersive visualization. And indeed, the out-of-body-experience in the cockpit of a fighter jet was immersive enough to give me motion sickness. And since then? Not much. For me and I guess for most people VR faded into the background towards the end of the nineties and was slapped with the labels of false promises and clunky and unaffordable technology.
In the closing scene of “Life as it could be”, David Hall, the director of the Institute for Posthumanism, informs his colleagues about the plans for a new institute. He asks if they have any ideas for a new name and speculates about the location “either on Tennis Court Road, surrounded by the natural sciences, or in Newnham, next to the computer science department.”