In one of the books I’m currently reading, author Ray Kurzweil introduces the notion of “Experience Beamers” – people in the future who record their entire sensory input for other people to play back, directly via nerves. It’s like in the movie “Being John Malkovich” – you get the impression that you are in another body but don’t have any control over it. It’s only a paragraph in the book (“The Singularity is Near”), but there’s a lot to be said about it.
It could be a very interesting development. First it would be a novelty for early adopters, with a number of little “clips” to be played back, without much happening. Depending on the complexity of the recording equipment, the next phase would consist of interesting experiences (that few people get to enjoy for various reasons), like skydiving, flying a fighter jet, acrobatics and so on. As both recording and playback technology become more secure and affordable, the first “full immersion movies” would pop up. Inevitably, porn would be a major driving force behind this becoming mainstream – just like with previous formats.
But the movie/television paradigm would also be accompanied by games – in virtual reality. All of those together will probably make a lot of people say goodbye to this world, connect themselves to feeding tubes and vanish into another world where anything is possible.
It will play a big part in a huge controversy about what’s real and what’s desirable. The majority will not want to miss such incredible experiences, but it will also create a lot of confusion. Just like you pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming (does that actually work? I can imagine feeling slight pain in a dream or at least imagining I just felt slight pain…), there will be tests to make sure you are in real reality. The pre-recorded experiences won’t let you do anything on your own, so that’s easy to detect. But virtual reality may become harder and harder to detect, up to a point where you’ll have to interact with your environment in a very specific way to check if you are in a simulation (some things require a lot of computing power, scientific experiments might be a good start). In other words, a feast for paranoid people. The Matrix all over again, just that this time everybody knows the technology is feasible.
Horror movies might prove quite deadly for the viewers, realistic war movies causing actual post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m sure someone will re-create “The Passion of the Christ” so the viewer can prove his faith by being tortured and crucified for a few hours.
On the other side, it might be a great empathy trainer. Documentaries might consist of putting yourself in the place (or body) of someone from another culture for a while. Or an animal! Surely there are many animals with a nervous system to similar to ours that we could tap and process their sensory input. There might even be another short-lived, but strong push for a manned mission to mars where the whole world could experience landing and being there only minutes after the touchdown happened.
Maybe one day the recording machinery could allow us to record and continuously upload our sensory data, making committing crimes a lot harder. Of course, this would also raise some questions regarding privacy…
As with all advances in technology, this will bring some good developments and some bad ones. I’m still looking forward to it.