Virtual presence is the closest technology to teleportation that exists thus far. In fact, it’s possible to make people feel like they’re somewhere else. Certain types of equipment can even allow workers to manipulate things at a remote site while causing them to “feel” that they’re actually there in person.
This raises the question of how to define reality. Virtual reality as an entertainment technology has few ethical questions. Unless a computer becomes a sentient being, a fantasy can be turned off. When objects are being manipulated in the real world however, people might lose their sense of being.
Marvin Minsky defined telepresence in 1980. Telepresence is the art of creating a sense of physical presence at a remote location. Multimedia devices and tactile interfaces can help to cement this illusion.
The Human Media Lab has come up with a unique way to create a 3D holographic videoconferencing system.
While full-blown holographic environments are a long way off, some current technology is actually coming close. For example, a group of researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University (Ontario) have created a life-sized hologram-like telepod using Microsoft’s Kinect system and a cylindrical display for live, 3D videoconferencing (shown on the right). They refer to the technology as “TeleHuman”: it allows two people to stand in front of their own separate pods and talk to 3D hologram images of one other.
Although 3D holographic video is certainly not a new technology (consider the recent and much-hyped holographic performance of deceased rapper 2Pac at the Coachella music festival), what makes Human Media Lab’s technology unique is the fact that it was created using a video system and some off-the-shelf components. This means this that connecting with others this way could become commonplace within a short period of time. Sweet!
Virtual Presence Moving Forward
Some commonly explored aspects of science fiction might create serious problems in the very near future. Many stories have focused on people wishing to marry machinery for example. Devices that become too much like humans might start to act like them. By cultivating a realistic virtual presence, people might spend their entire lives with a family unit that’s nowhere nearby. Internet dating has already significantly changed the way that people look for interpersonal relationships as well.
Virtual presence might very well be the next step in social networking and personal communications in our lives.
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