Sunday, November 18, 2018

Conquering the Uncanny Valley

We live in a unique time in history. We sit at the edge of a grand, golden valley where we will naturally interact with technology in the manner that the grand masters of Science Fiction could only tantalize us with. Avatars appear to us in stunning three dimensional glory. Fantastic 360 degree scenery engulfs us in breathtaking beauty. Scenarios play out as though they were common occurrences. And pixelation is  practically obliterated in thanks to fractal mathematics.

There is an ongoing debate about how good/how terrible the state of VR is. I won't ask where you stand in this debate. I've been on both sides of the argument, much to my chagrin. But what I want to mention in this post, isn't how that debate is going. Rather, I want to just lift the hood a bit and look at the magic that runs it.

There is a kind of a happy little technological war going on behind the curtain. Open source code JavaScript weaves in and out of C++ titans like javelins thrown at battle tested tanks. The spears jam the gears of the tank treads forcing it to head in a particular direction that was never anticipated. The ground troops dance gleefully at the direction and follow along merrily, as the tank driver shrugs and simply goes along for the ride and follows orders automatically.

We have wearables that render their hearts out at full max. Motion trackers strain at movements that were never considered when specs were set down. Hand controllers race to keep up with flailing arm movements that were not anticipated for the app that's loaded. And all the while more hardware keeps getting thrown into the fray in a cacophony of full body immersion.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos of people using VR gear in places like High Fidelity, and VR Chat. In these videos, you never have less than a dozen individuals interacting with each other in real time. All of them wearing a kludged combination of tech that fits their budgets. Now stop and think. Off the top of my head, I know of Occulus, Vive, and Sony. Microsoft's entry into the fray with partners like HP, Acer, and Samsung.  And god only knows the side markets for haptics. Oh, did I mention that the video content creators are also streaming all this chaos live?

And damn if it's not all working. Maybe not perfectly. After all, we are on the edge of that valley. Not actually in it. Yet. Can you imagine when we actually descend into that valley? It's going to be like entering the Promised Land. I'm tagging along like a camp follower behind the ground troops!

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