Future present

An interesting question has recently come up in our lab’s research: Suppose you could perfectly reproduce the sensation of being in the physical presence of another person, so that remote conversation with that person is indistinguishable from the presence of a person who is physically with you. In what ways would it continue to matter that the person you are talking to is not actually in the same room with you?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we are yet at the point where this is possible. The detection of physical presence involves subtleties of vision, audio, touch, vibration, even smell, that may be well beyond our current level of technology.

Yet I think the question remains valid for any level of technology, whether past, present or future. For example, we are perfectly willing to have a telephone conversation with somebody, even though our remote interlocutor is not visible to us. This is because we understand the nature of phone technology, and we find ourselves able to use that technology to communicate with each other despite its limitations.

I have no doubt that it will always matter to us whether or not somebody is actually with us in the same physical room. Hence the question: After technology has advanced to the point where sensory reproduction at a distance can be absolutely perfect, what will remain as the essential difference between actual physical presence and the mere illusion of physical presence?

One Response to “Future present”

  1. Al says:

    I think the main difference will be the ability to give something physical to the other person. In a business situation this may be a product sample or even simply the act of handing them your business card.

    It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be noticeable.

    In a personal context it might be something like the inability to make dinner with your loved one. That is something I enjoy doing with my partner, helping each other in the kitchen before enjoying the result of our efforts together.

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