Realism considered harmful

Continuing on with the theme of future reality and experience jockeying…

When you and I enter a shared immersive virtual world together, using whatever forthcoming technology will support that, we have a choice as to what level of realism we want. We can choose to be extremely abstract characters, or extremely realistic ones.

It’s not clear to me that there are inherent advantages in opting for greater realism. Rather, it depends on the context and the situation. For one thing, choosing a more abstract and less detailed, or more “cartoon-like”, representation for everyone would make it easier to believably populate our shared virtual world with a mix of human avatars and software robots.

That might make things more interesting. Or it might just make things more confusing. I am reminded of the 1999 Cronenberg film Existenz, which took place almost entirely in a VR game. Characters were never entirely sure whether they were talking to a real person or to a Bot. The results were definitely interesting.

It will probably be quite a while before we are able to simulate the subtleties of human movement and speech with sufficient fidelity that a realistically rendered Bot would pass the Turing test. But if we abstract things enough, say by placing everybody in a cartoon world, it is possible that Bots could “pass” as human, at least for brief encounters.

And that might be fun.

One Response to “Realism considered harmful”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    I’m reminded of this commercial from the late ’80s:

    The director wanted the dancer in the opening to blend in with the computer generated figures. The graphics tech of the time couldn’t handle draped clothing, so the director put a mask and mannequin hands on a real dancer to make her look more synthetic.

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