One of my favourite concepts from my years of studying sociology back in the 1990s was one from the quite frankly partially-hatstand French Postmodernist Jean Baudrillard. There was one book in particular (his 1988 “America”) where he talked about how the images that we see on through the windows of a car could, in fact, as much be television screens portraying a virtual world. Whilst your in the car on your journey, the only reality is the one inside the vehicle, and what is outside is somewhat arbitrary.
I warned you that he was a French Postmodernist.
That concept has stuck, however, and as virtual reality once again rears it’s binoculared head, that idea was one that I recounted in conversation on Wednesday with a conceptual artist who I met at the Names Not Numbers event (as you do).
The artist created installations in places where people could experience that art together. She was interested to know whether I thought that VR would ever provide such a virtual place, where the richness of experience would be such that it could replicate the social experience of the real world.
After first recounting the Baudrillard story, and pondering what is “real” and “virtual” anyhow, I also remembered a recent experience of playing around with Google Cardboard and Google Cardboard Camera.
The former is a cheap cardboard and plastic construction (and associated app) that allows for a smartphone to become a virtual reality headset. The app gives access to a number of other sub-apps and 3d videos and other bits and bobs. It’s pretty impressive.
The latter is the first thing I’ve been really impressed with for a while. It’s an app for Android that gives you the ability to capture still, but 3-dimensional images, using a standard smartphone 2D camera. It’s very clever maths and image processing.
The first time that I tried out Cardboard camera I was in the front room of my house. I took an image of the room. I then popped the phone into the Cardboard Viewer to see what it was like. So I was standing in the exact spot where I had taken the photo, looking at the scene that I would see but in still form.
It was extremely, extremely disorientating.
But from my chat with the artist, and thinking back to dear old Jean, what it makes me wonder if this might form something akin to a Turing Test for VR:
can you be in a virtually-created world that is identical to a place in the real world, and if you are standing in that exact physical place can the experience be so compelling, so complete, that you cannot tell that you are viewing a virtual version of the world?