Novel forms of virtual reality

Today we hosted the external advisors to our big collaborative research consortium at NYU. Six of us on the NYU faculty, together with our awesome grad students, showed the various VR related research projects we’ve been working on.

Afterward, our advisors gave their feedback. And at that point I began to see a rift in what different people mean by “virtual reality”.

All of our advisors are legendary in their fields, and all have deep insight that comes from many decades of research. Yet they disagreed with each other on the basic premise of VR on a surprisingly fundamental level.

Some of our advisors clearly see the goal of VR as involving the literal re-creation of sensory reality. Their criterion for “success” can roughly be stated as follows: Even if someone is not physically present in the room with me, I an able to see and hear them exactly as though they are right there in front of me.

Yet some of our other advisors have what might be thought of as a more nuanced take. To them, successful VR is not about literal transmission of physical presence, but rather high quality transmission of emotional and psychological presence.

I tend to side with the latter group. But then again, I’m old fashioned. To me, some of the most profound experiences of virtual reality can be achieved simply by curling up with a really great novel.

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