Virtual Reality Technology And Society

Virtual Reality Technology and Society A Report on VIRTUAL REALITY TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY Prepared for Social Issues in Technology DeVry, Phoenix by Joe Rykowski Kip Yeackley July 24, 1994 TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT . . . . .

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.iii INTRODUCTION . . . . . .

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. . . 1 WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY? . .

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. 1 Definitions and Terms . . . .

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. . . . 1 Inspiration . .

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2 THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND VIRTUAL REALITY. . . . .

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. . . 3 Video Display Devices . . .

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. . . . 3 Audio Output Devices.

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. . 4 Tactile Response Devices. . .

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. . . 5 Interactive Input Devices . .

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. . . 5 Computers and Software. .

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6 THE HISTORY OF VIRTUAL REALITY . . . . .

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7 Virtual Reality in the Past . . . . .

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7 Virtual Reality in the Present. . . . .

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. . . 9 Virtual Reality in the Future . .

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. . 10 THE SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF VIRTUAL REALITY . . .

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. 11 New Rules of Behavior . . . . .

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. . . 11 Adverse Effects . .

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. . . 12 CONCLUSION . .

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. . . 13 REFERENCES . .

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. . . 14 ABSTRACT This paper addresses entertainment’s use of technology, specifically the medium of virtual reality. The focus is to define virtual reality, examine it’s components, survey the field, and consider it’s impact upon society.

Among the definitions included are those from the artist Myron Krueger, the scholar Howard Rheingold, and the novelist William Gibson. The technological components used in virtual reality systems include the following: video display, audio input, tactile response, interactive input, and the computer hardware and software. Although a complete compilation of all the devices involved in this arena are beyond the scope of the paper, a discussion of the general areas of equipment, along with several examples of items and companies involved in the field will be given. Our survey of the virtual reality field will encompass views of past, present and future forms of this medium and based upon the opinions of those using it. By looking at where VR got it’s start we shall attempt to understand it’s basic attraction.

In examining VR in the present we will consider the current state of the art and it’s usefulness. Finally, by contemplating the future of VR, we’ll be probing the possible benefits that this technology may hold to society. In order for this new form of high technology to enter into the mainstream of common society, it is important to address the social implications involved. We will be addressing two common issues associated with any new technology: new rules of behavior and adverse effects. By showing two of the social implications of this technology, we will be addressing some of the issues that must be confronted if this technology is to be successfully incorporated into our society. INTRODUCTION In this paper, we will address the ways in which entertainment utilizes technology to explore beyond the boundaries of reality. In particular, the medium of virtual reality, “an artificial world that ‘feels’ real, that responds to your every move much as the real world does (Lavroff 1992, 7),” is examined.

To achieve this end we will be looking at the definitions of virtual reality, the technology behind virtual reality, a survey of virtual reality, including it’s history, present state, and future forms, and finally the impact of virtual reality on our society. WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY? Definitions and Terms There are many varying definitions and terms for virtual reality (VR), all of which could be considered accurate within certain circles of knowledge. Since the technology behind VR is still basically a new field, there are a lot of researchers, authors, and columnists spewing out their own theories behind VR. Naturally, everyone offers a new and “better” definition–from Myron Krueger’s terminology which appeals more toward the lay person up to the much more accurate and technical definition by Howard Rheingold. Krueger defines VR as an “artificial reality.” His research has an artistic and psychological slant and is thus reflected in the following definition: “An artificial reality perceives a participant’s action in terms of the body’s relationship to a graphic world and generates responses that maintain the illusion that his actions are taking place within that world” (Krueger 1991, 59).

In Krueger’s artificial reality, art and science become interrelated, and the viewer interacts with and actually becomes part of the new simulated environment. On the other hand Rheingold dove more into what actually makes up virtual reality. He states: “that the idea of immersion (using stereoscopy, gaze-tracking, and other technologies to create the illusion of being inside a computer generated scene) is one of the two foundations of virtual reality technology. The idea of navigation (creating a computer model of a molecule or a city and enabling the user to move around, as if inside it) is the other fundamental element” (Rheingold 1991, 202). It is important to remember that these definitions are only two authors view points. Artificial Reality is probably the most dated of any definition (it was coined back in the mid- 1970s.) Since that time, specific projects have been started and further terms have been thrown around–virtual worlds, virtual cockpits, virtual environments, and virtual workstations.

Finally, in 1989, Jaron Lanier, CEO of VPL Research Inc., coined the term virtual reality to encompass all of the virtual projects under a single phrase. This term refers (in general) to any three- dimensional reality implemented with stereo viewing goggles and “data” gloves. Inspiration On another level, outside of actual research and development atmospheres, a third term was coined by William Gibson, a popular cyberpunk science-fiction writer of the ’80s (Churbuck 1990, 154). He used the term cyberspace in his book Neuromancer in 1984 to refer to a single virtual reality that could be experienced simultaneously by people worldwide: “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts..A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity.

Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..” (Gibson 1984, 87). THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND VIRTUAL REALITY Virtual reality is made possible primarily through technologies which address the need to interface a person’s natural senses with the computer’s representation of reality. Video display devices are used to provide input to the visual senses. Audio output devices are utilized to engage the audial senses. The sense of touch is provided through the use tactile response devices. In order to interact with a virtual environment it is then necessary to combine these devices along with interactive input devices to synthesize the perceptual stimuli into a cohesive representation of reality. This task is performed by the computer and it’s software.

Video Display Devices Visual perception in Human beings results from combining the information gathered by the eye with the visual cues that are interpreted by the brain (Gleitman 1986, 179). By providing the visual senses with the same type of information containing the desired visual cues, it becomes possible to generate a virtual image that looks real. This is the technique that is employed with today’s video display devices which include video monitors and LCD goggles. Currently, today’s computers, including those not used in virtual reality, use video monitors to convey visual information to their users. These monitors are technologically no different from the television and rely upon the same basic components of a cathode ray tube and the associated electronic circuitry to display an image.

The only difference is that a video monitor does not contain a television tuner and instead receives it’s input from a computer that is connected to it. The type of video output device that is used primarily for virtual reality are liquid crystal display goggles, referred to as LCD goggles. These resemble regular optic glasses, but do not use clear glass or plastic lenses and were pioneered by Ivan Sutherland. Instead, these devices are made with lenses that contain the same liquid crystal displays that are used in common calculators. These devices made by companies like 3DTV Corp.

in San Rafael, CA, are available for $2,000 to $3,500. Images made using these devices can be very convincing “utilizing lighting, and coloration characteristics, to best maximize the 3D effectiveness of the production (Ostman 1992, 13). Audio Output Devices The audio world also exists in three dimensions. “The inclusion of sound to a virtual reality system adds an extra dimension of reality to the environment” (Lavroff 1992, 28). An example of the sophisticated devices available has been developed by Crystal River Engineering, Inc.

in Groveland, CA. Their headphone system called the Convolvotron uses 128+ processors to re-create a true three-dimensional aural environment. This feat is accomplished by omnidirectionally recording music or sounds for replay through the headphone system, thereby accurately reproducing the necessary perceptual cues. Tactile Response Devices One of the newer technologies to be developed for virtual reality has been that of tactile response devices. These are systems which allow information about a virtual environment to be presented through the participant’s sense of touch.

Tactile response falls into two general categories, tactile feedback and force feedback. Tactile feedback is handled using tactile stimulating devices called tactors. Tactors are small pieces of metal built into the fingers of special gloves and have the capability to change their shape when a current is applied to them. By using tactors, it is possible to simulate the feeling of touching an object with your fingers even though no physical object exists. Xtensory, Inc.

in Scotts Valley, CA manufactures gloves of this type. Force feedback devices have been created which are made up of a glove with an exoskeleton. These devices change the amount of resistance applied to the movement of the hand inside and thus can simulate the presence of a solid or semi-solid object present in the hand. This technology is relatively new and to date has not resulted in any commercially available products. Interactive Input Devices Once a virtual environment is presented by the computer to the user, they will undoubtedly wish to interact with it.

In order to do this there must also be a way for the user to send information to the computer. Methods being used to this end range from the normal computer keyboard to voice recognition. The computer keyboard has been around for years and functions the same way when being used to interact with a virtual environment. Devices such as computer joysticks, trackballs, and hand gestures are now replacing the keyboard because of the simplified way in which they are operated. An interesting development for use in the three-dimensional world of virtual reality was the three axes trackball. This device is similar to conventional trackballs containing a billiard- sized ball which can be rotated along the x and y axes, but adds the ability to be moved along the z axis.

Perhaps the most promising form of interactive input will be the evolution of speech recognition systems. Limited success has been accomplished in this area and continues to be pursued by many companies in hopes of making access to virtual reality as easy as speaking to another person. Devices such as these would consist primarily of a microphone that could easily be incorporated into the headset containing the visual and aural feedback devices. Another advantage to using speech recognition is that it would allow the more awkward keyboards or joysticks to be eliminated altogether, thus allowing a greater degree of freedom of movement. Computers and Software Last, but not least, all of these different input and output systems must be smoothly integrated. This is the job of the computer workstation.

Computer workstations used in the virtual reality field today have been specifically designed to meet the enormous task of coordina …