IN THE movie *Her*, the protagonist Ted falls in love with Samantha, an operating system with artificial intelligence. Their relationship becomes fragile because Samantha is amorphous. Even though Ted is given a surrogate sexual partner, Samantha’s physical intangibility still cannot be replaced. In the end, Ted and Samantha fail to build a strong, intimate relationship. If this story were told in 2016, would Ted and Samantha be able to have an intimate relationship? As virtual and augmented reality technologies become widespread, operating systems like Samantha can be seen as hologram of a woman with a pair of virtual reality glasses and touched with a three-dimensional, interactive mouse that provides haptic feedback*. The virtual world is becoming revolutionary. At this infant stage, it is important to probe into the realm of virtual technologies.
According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Virtual Reality (VR) constructs a three-dimensional environment, which a user interacts with as if it were real. Although VR may sound sophisticated, its mechanism is relatively simple. Video cameras and scene generators produce videos of a real world and of graphic images, which are then combined in a video compositor. Finally, the user sees the compiled video through the monitor of a display device.
Similar to VR, Augmented Reality (AR) integrates a computer-generated image with real environment. AR presents the information, which was previously saved in a video format, taking the direction of the user’s eye-gaze into account.
VR replaces the real world by providing an immersive environment, whereas AR complements reality with artificial graphics, sounds, haptic feedbacks, and smell. To explain this principle easier, suppose layer 1 is the real world and layer 2 is the artificial world. VR puts layer 2 at zero opacity on top of layer 1, while AR sets layer 2 at high opacity so that the two layers can blend. In both realities, the human sensory system is deceived with the users accepting the artificial world as the real world.
To infinity and beyond – possibilities of VR & AR
VR and AR technologies can be applied in various areas. In VR, a user is isolated from the real world and is completely immersed in the virtual one by wearing a helmet attached with a screen. Thus, VR technologies are most suitable for gaming. VR headsets, including Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Sony PlayStation VR, primarily focus on gaming. With these headsets, users can fully enjoy games in an unprecedented way. As for now, players play Role Playing Games (RPG) by controlling their characters on the computer screen while sitting on couches. However, in VR games, players step into games and take the flesh of their favorite super heroes; everything – from walking to shooting guns – is just like reality. VR gaming is forecasted to be the focal point of the next generation of gaming. According to SuperData Research, which is the world’s renowned data provider of the global gaming market, the global VR gaming industry is projected to be worth $5.1 billion in 2016. Mark Zuckerberg, the tech-giant, also hopped onthis new wave of gaming as he bought a VR gaming startup Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. He remarked, “We’re making a long-term bet that immersive, virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s daily life.” The world is in a rush of entering VR gaming. South Korea is no exception, especially with its big gaming industry and advanced technology infrastructure.
However, other than providing an jaw-dropping gaming experience, VR can transform our lives profoundly. VR builds the new, virtual world; therefore, it frees people from the restriction of placeand time. For instance, VR technology used in tourism can offer more creative and more engaging tour experiences to the tourists. In October 2015, Gwacheon National Science Museum has presented a three-dimensionalvirtual reality tour of *Seok-gur-am*. The tourists enjoyed the inner view of *Seok-gur-am* in the full-scale dome as if they were actually at the cave temple in *Gyeong-ju*, where entry to the temple is restricted.
On the other hand, AR allows the user to interact with both the artificial, augmented environment and the real world. Due to this characteristic, AR technology can be applied widely, such as navigation, military, medicine, and online commerce. *A-commerce*, a neologism that combines “augmented reality” and “commerce,” demonstrates how AR can profoundly shape our daily life as well as business. *A-commerce* works in the following way. First, webcams detect faces and body figures of online shoppers. When they click on the images of the clothes that they are interested in, the shoppers can put on the images of clothes. They can then decide whether or not the clothes fit, which is just like offline shopping. This new marketing strategy attracts more online shoppers, hence, projected to boost the retail of items.
Dark clouds looming overhead
Despite their promising future, VR and AR face several challenges. The most prominent obstacle is “virtual reality sickness”, also known as cybersickness, with symptoms similar to motion sickness. The nausea is induced by a combination of factors related to the use of VR equipment, such as heaviness of the helmet and close distance between screen and user’s eyes. In the case of AR, the user perceives information from both the real and virtual worlds. Just as one cannot hold too many candies in one’s hand, human senses cannot process too much information at one time. Therefore, AR diverts one’s attention from objects in the real world and potentially puts one in the danger of spreading too thin.
Other than technical difficulties, the technologies can also lead to privacy and security issues. With AR, private information can be easily leaked out and disclosed. Suppose a man leaves for a vacation trip. A neighbor, living across the street, puts on his AR lens and looks outside. A pop-up window on the lens says “at 11:23 a.m., the family living in a flat across the street tweeted that they have gone on a vacation.” When the neighbor across the street finds out that a house empty, he may rob the house. In this way, virtual technologies can invade people’s privacy and potentially be exploited to generate crimes. VR also has ethical issues to be addressed before it further permeates into our lives. As previously mentioned, VR constructs a complete virtual world, which in effect, blocks out the real world. Thus, the users can either escape to virtual reality and avoid face-to-face communication or get confused between virtual reality and reality. The latter is hugely problematic since the users have been desensitized by VR games, which usually contain a high level of violence. They may not distinguish between killing a character in the virtual games from killing an actual person in reality. Accordingly, VR and AR can unintentionally breed crimes.
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VR and AR technologies are the major drivers of the Information Technology. They are neither resistible nor stoppable; they will soon permeate into our daily life. VR and AR have promising futures in various fields from gaming and tourism to marketing. However, they also trigger potential undesirable outcomes. Whether VR and AR become blessings or curses depends on how the current generation tempers the edges of the gemstones.
*Haptic feedback: The technology, which uses the sense of touch, notify users that a change has been made in an interface usually in the form of vibration