To properly tackle this question, we must first have a clear definition of what virtual reality is. Virtual reality is defined as “things, agents and events that exist in cyberspace.” – (IEEE, Abstract). Following this interpretation, our social media profiles, virtual events and games, digital media, and essentially all the human interactions of our current cyber space are engagements in a virtual reality. While modern conceptions of simulated spaces depict a segregated, detached element to virtual reality, the 21st century consumer already facilitates many interactions and activities within the cyber space already, which begs the question: will a majority of our social interactions, standings, and activities be someday driven by technological platforms? And if so, when and to what extent will virtual reality supersede our sensory reality?
Recount the last few times you exchanged information with someone, and specifically how and where you communicated with them. Was it via social media, messenger, over-the-phone, and/or in-person? Think to how this interaction came to be. Was it facilitated by dating app, event planner, or by random coincidence? How many of your engagements were through a virtual medium such as a video game, videotelephony (FaceTime), or social apps?
Our lives and activities are already deeply rooted in virtual interaction, but all are based in a sensory reality. We see the image on our phone, we hear the audio of the recording, and we feel the rumble of the controller. Individuals experience and gauge products in the very same ways. Businesses sell us the images, feelings, and promise of goods prior to our purchase of them. We, as consumers, are sold on the possibility of an experience commodities may bring us, not how they truly are. Presently, all of our mechanisms for virtual interaction accommodate these sense-based perceptions, and advertisers sell us services and products solely on how they seem to be.
Now imagine a world in which you could experience products before any purchase, engagement, or sort of interaction. Imagine a world in which you are not sold on how things seem to be but how they truly are. Imagine a world in which you can gain experience much in the same way a computer downloads data.
Although currently rudimentary as compared to its potential, brain-machine interfaces (BMI’s) promise to fulfill this very thing: a high-bandwidth link between humans and machines. On July 16. 2019, tech billionaire Elon Musk updated consumers on his BMI venture, Neuralink, releasing progress on its new neurocybernetic chip which boasts both “read and write” capabilities. “Read and write” meaning it has the potential to input and output information directly with our brains.
neuralink’s “N1” chip connects directly to the human brain using a hyper-accurate machine to implant thousands of hair-like, electrode threads. – (Neuralink report)
Currently focused on the medical applications of the chip, such as cybernetic prosthetics and sense restoration, Neuralink’s long-term goal is “merging with AI” by providing a direct connection between humans and computers. Far and away from full engagement in virtual worlds, but still close enough to see the horizon, BMI’s are the key technology to which virtual will supersede our sensory reality.