The year is 2100. You and your peers are gathered around a sleek, dark table to watch your instructor glide their hand across the table. Like any normal day, a three-dimensional holographic map flickers to life from the table underneath; the instructor runs their hands over the city’s streets while their arm passes through buildings on its way down. They pinch their fingers to zoom into a neighborhood while the rest of the map fades. They pick up a park with the slight bend of their fingers to move it to the other side of the city, as if the trees were a tangible mass between their fingers. You know that sensation well. One of these devices is in your home, and you remember your friend’s smile when she taught you about a chemical molecule on her own surface.
This is what the future looks like. In the year 2018, you are living at the beginning of the new technologically-integrated era. In the 19th century, we had horses — seventy-six years later the first autonomous vehicle was created. In 1973, the first mobile phone was created — nineteen years later, IBM created the first touchscreen “smartphone” that was unimaginable in the decades prior. Technology advances at an increasingly rapid pace every day and innovation is at the forefront of society’s mind now more than it ever was before. The year 2100 might be a cautious timeframe for the next leading technology to change our lives. With the expansion of augmented and virtual reality to make devices such as the table described earlier possible, you can expect new revolutionary technology at your fingertips sooner than anticipated. In fact, you could be the person who creates it!
Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience which allows users to conjure animated objects into their environment through a computer screen. The most popular modern application of AR is photo filters on social networking apps, such as Snapchat, where you can utilize a variety of designs to make your selfie picture-perfect. Similarly, virtual reality (VR) is a type of AR that can completely immerse users into an environment separate from their tangible reality. VR is commonly known as a form of video gaming that requires a headset, such as the Oculus Rift, to alter your visual experience, headphones to immerse your senses, and a set of remotes to mimic your hands in the virtual plane. Both applications are created through sensors on your screen and/or in your physical environment. The sensors conform to understand what your camera is pointed to with artificial intelligence, a computer’s ability to perform actions on its own.
In an interview I had with IBM Developer Labs Product Manager Anamita Guha, Guha explained other innovative uses of VR. This included “training… firefighters [and] doctors [inside of] a VR simulation” so they were better prepared on the field and even “a way to face your fears” through FearlessVR, a simulation which does not exist anymore. I asked Guha what she predicted the future of AR/VR looks like, particularly if the table I described earlier was possible to create years from now. “In this space, anything is possible. You just have to build it,” Guha stated, believing that we are the new tech era and concurring that the basis of technology we needed in order to create revolutionary devices already exists. I gradually grew more excited for the future, confident that I could run my own hands over 3D holographic streets as soon as a few years from now. Books and movies such as Ready Player One have already visualized what such a word could look like.
Artificial and virtual realities have the potential to change our world in more ways than one person can imagine. By integrating AR/VR into our daily lives, human life could be easier for people around the globe. AR/VR development could bend reality in more ways that just electronically — it can revolutionize education systems, scientific research, civil engineering, and various other social systems. On an even larger scale, tables that process light (solar) energy into images could even contribute to bettering the environment by reducing global waste. As Anamita noted about how to create AR/VR, the future of technology simply needs “some sort of trigger,” like you or me.
*This was written as a submission for 2018 MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) and serves as a brief discussion-starter.