Practical question from the future

As we were discussing our plans for the future at our lab yesterday, one very practical question came up. What I like about this question is that it helps to simplify and frame our goals, in a sort of pass/fail way.

In short, the question is this: What would it take for two people who are sitting physically across each other in a meeting, to both put on VR headsets and continue that in-person meeting in an alternate reality?

Note that a number of questions immediately arise in response to the above question. For example, would it be necessary for us to see each others’ facial expressions?

Or could there be benefits to moving into that alternate world that are so compelling that we wouldn’t miss that? Suppose, for example, we were so focused on the super power of whatever we could see and hear and do together that we are willing to forego some of the qualities of direct sensory experience.

There is a sort of analogy to the telephone. Well over a century ago, people were so happy to be able to communicate at a distance, that they had no trouble foregoing the power of being able to their conversant.

It’s hard to predict what shared super powers would be so compelling that we would be willing to forego seeing the literal face of a person with whom we are physically face to face. On the other hand, we are now used to super powers that only a generation ago would have been very difficult to explain.

Imagine, for example, trying to explain the usefulness of Google search to nearly anyone in 1992. It would be a rare individual indeed who would even have understood what you were talking about.

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