Monika Sampson LE 1310 12-11-2011 Virtual Reality: The Future is Here Have you ever wanted to travel somewhere, but could never find the time or money? Or how

bonesworshipAI and Robotics

Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)


Monika Sampson

LE 1310


ual Reality: The Future is Here

Have you ever wanted to travel somewhere, but could never find the time or money? Or how
about places that don’t exist anymore, such as the Great Library of Alexandria or the Hanging
Gardens of
Babylon? Have you ever read a good book where the author has described a fictional scene and you
think, “I wish I could be there”? There may be an answer.

Virtual reality has been gaining notoriety in the last few years, but has in fact been a
n idea for
much longer. Douglas Engelbart was a pioneer in the 1950’s when he suggested we connect the hulking
computers of the day to a screen and use them to solve problems. These ideas were readily shot down
at the time

as many people did
not believe c
omputers could
do complex things. But in the 1960’s, some
people began to think the same way Engelbart did.
The U.S. feared a nuclear attack, and therefore
commissioned a new radar system that implemented instantaneous simulation of data, aircraft
s were experimenting with computers and air flow data, and people such as Ivan Sutherland
wanted to make computer
human interactions easier. Sutherland created a light pen that, when
coupled with a program called Sketchpad, allowed for the development of b
lueprints and schematics all
on a computer. Sutherland also produced a very crude human input device

the first mouse.

of Illinois, 1995)

But of all these aiding events, the most influential for virtual reality was probably the flight
tor. The military spent millions of dollars to develop a technology that would allow they to train
their soldiers to fly planes without risking the planes or the soldiers. These simulators started their lives
as mock cockpits that pitched and rolled, but d
id not have any visual display until the 1970’s. These
platforms only got better as the technology advanced, and started to encompass training simulations for
driving tanks and steering ships as well.

(University of Illinois, 1995)

As well as military and

government interests, there was also an interest in the entertainment
industry. This interest started with Hollywood creating computer generated special effects in some of
their big blockbuster movies. In the 1980’s the video game business jumped on board

as they became
more part of main stream culture. One of the interesting outcomes was a device called a dataglove,
originally designed to sense hand movement and use it to create music through a synthesizer. The
dataglove was later used by NASA Ames to exp
eriment with virtual environments and converted by the
Mattel company into the “PowerGlove”, a device used with a Nintendo game.

(University of Illinois,

Soon, many industries were seeing the advantage to using computer generated images in many
erent fields. They were using it to convert data into images, such as modeling DNA sequences,
molecular models, brain maps, fluid flows and cosmic explosions, which were much easier to interpret
and understand than just reading raw data. There were downfal
ls to this method, however, which
included the enormous cost of animation
and the lack of interactivity. In the 1980’s, computers were
becoming more and more advanced. Although the technology had been around for a while, it was these
high performance compu
ters allowed for virtual reality to really start to work.

(University of Illinois,

Computers today have
advanced tremendously

since the days of Engelbert and Sutherland.
There has been more and more promotion for things like realistic computer gener
ated images and
virtual reality in video games and popular entertainment.

A study was recently conducted at
the Brain Mind Institute at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de
Lausanne in Switzerland

led by a neurologist Olaf Blanke. The goal of the study was to

project a subject
into a virtual “avatar” (a digital representation of something that a person controls) through use of a
virtual reality helmet and various cameras. The subject’s brain waves were recorded while various
different tests were performed. One

test tried to simulate an “out of body experience” such as those
experienced in traumatic events. The user wore a helmet with two separate eye pieces that created a
3D image of whatever was projected on them. This helmet was connected to cameras behind th
em so
they saw their backs about two meters in front of them. The researchers then would touch the user with
a rod and the subjects reported that they felt as if they stood where the cameras were located and were
a body that belonged to someone el
se. (Jha, 2011)

More recently, Blanke and his crew conducted a different kind of experiment. With a similar
virtual reality setup, volunteers wandered through different 3D environments while researchers
physically touched them either at the same time as
their avatar or at different times to see how that
affected their perception of where they were. This test also included projecting subjects into avatars of
the opposite sex as well as projecting the subjects directly “into” the body of the avatar, so they

longer were watching the avatar from a third person perspective. These tests showed that when moving
the avatar through virtual space, the subjects still felt like the avatar was their own body, and whatever
happened to it happened to them. Blanke and
his team were able to successfully get the volunteers to
experience a simulated out of body experience, as well as “project” themselves into a virtual being, even
when that being was nothing like them (such as the opposite sex). (Jha, 2011)

Amazingly, thi
ability to affect a human’s perception is not limited to the physical. A recent
study at Stanford University shows that it can affect the mental as well.

Researchers sought to find out if
doing something in a virtual world would affect the persons’ actio
ns in the real world. The researchers
set up an experiment with two groups of subjects. One group was to read a very lively and detailed
description of cutting down a great redwood tree
, which not only included a vivid description, but
included description
s of sensory input as well (such as birds chirping) to promote the subject to imagine
the scene vividly
. The other was to be hooked up to a virtual reality device that simulated cutting down
the same tree, from the visual representation projected through a

helmet, to the feel of the axe in their
hand simulated by a device the subject physically held.

Then after the subjects completed their virtual
tasks, they were asked if they would now try to conserve paper use. All said they would. However, the
rs took it a step further by then bringing in a glass of water and some napkins. The
would “accidentally” spill the glass and the subject would immediately reach for the napkins. The
napkins used were then counted. The subjects that cut down the

virtual tree used 20% less napkins than
the subjects that just read about it. This showed that the subjects that had cut down the virtual tree had
actually changed their behavior in the real world. They felt they were more responsible for their paper
because they had experienced cutting down an actual tree. This change occurred only after
approximately three minutes of exposure to the virtual world. The researchers suggest that long
term or
repeated exposure can produce more dramatic behavioral changes
. (Gorlick, 2011)

Virtual reality can also be related to artificial intelligence. If you had a virtual reality touring
service that allows you to “visit” any place you want, this could be run by an AI. Or, if you were to play a
video game that completely
implemented virtual reality, there would have to be beings in that world
that were not always controlled by a human (NPC’s

non player characters). This opens up a whole new
realm of arguments and philosophical discussions.

Of course, all the examples p
resented have been for research, military or other purposes that
have not quite made it to the every
day consumer. One may ask, when will a normal Joe be able to
project oneself into a virtual avatar and travel the world or create a separate life?
There ar
e many
experts that say this will not happen in the near future. Virtual reality technology is still much too
expensive and undependable to be released on the open market. However, Gordon Moore, a cofounder
of the Intel Corporation, created what is called
Moore’s Law. This Law essentially states that computing
power will double every one to two years. This law has been proven over the last few decades. By this
thought process, it could then be said that by the year 2015 or 2020 computers would be more than
powerful enough (and reasonably priced enough) that they might just be able to handle the virtual
technology some seek. (Yount, 2005) Ken Pimental and Kevin Teixeira, authors of the book
: Through the New Looking Glass

even went as far as to

claim, “within one hundred years virtual
reality could become a semi
invisible service in society, like telephones, light switches, books and
a tool for communication, work and pleasure that we use without thinking about it.”
(Pimental, Teixeir

Of course, these are just predictions. We will just have to see where new ideas and technology
take us. Perhaps, one day we will be able to travel to far away or fictional lands, or lead different lives
for enjoyment at the touch of a button.


The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. (1995). Virtual Reality: History.

Jha, A. (2011). Researchers use virtual
reality avatars to create ‘out
body’ experience.

Glorick, A. (2011). New virtual reality research

and a new lab

at Stanford.

Yount, L. (2005). The Lucent Library of Science and Technology

Virtual Reality.

Farmington Hills, MI.
Lucent Books.

Pimental, K. Teixeira, K. (1992). Virtual Reality: Through th
e New Looking Glass. Blue Ridge Summit, PA.
TAB Books Inc.


Asking me to talk about how I feel about AI is a complex task. I have this ability to be extremely
empathetic towards people, and I’m able to (almost) always see other’s

point of view. This is sometimes
a curse as when it comes to the hard issues it seems like my own opinions and feelings get muddled up
with everyone else’s. AI is one of these controversial topics that have two very strongly opinionated
sides. I am able t
o see the points that both sides have, and understand why each side believes them so
strongly. But, unlike some other cases, I can separate my philosophy from the others in this case.

Firstly, I believe that artificial intelligence should exist. I know th
ere are people out there who think that
creating an AI entity is against nature or is "playing God", but that just isn't so. An AI is a machine, a tool,
a "helper" if you will (at least in my mind), and that’s all it ever will be. I believe it should be de
to its full potential. Of course there also needs to be a line stated that should not be crossed. There are
people out there talking about creating a sentient, self
motivated AI. This just should not be done. We
already have enough problems with th
biological sentient beings on this planet, so why would we want
to add artificial ones to the mix?

So, in short, I believe AI is an amazing technology, and that it is an inevitable one as well. Someday
someone somewhere is going to create a true AI (and
some could argue that AI has already been
created to an extent). I believe this not only will, but should happen, as I believe that AI has potential to
be an invaluable tool. However, we also have a moral obligation to not take it too far by creating a
pletely sentient artificial being. Whether or not the world can do this, is to be seen.


What impact did this assignment make on your understanding of the future applications of AI in the
world we live in?

This assignment made me think even
more about

not only

what sort of different things could be done
with AI in the future, but also the philosophical aspects of these applications. Although the assignment
did have an impact, I believe the class had a vastly greater impact on my thoughts and
the assignment
just helped to broaden what I’d learned in the class. I was now able to apply certain things I learned to
something that, at first glance, doesn’t seem all that related.

In what way did your study for this paper challenge any of your assump

As I said above, I believe the class (especially the journals and discussions) really made me challenge my
assumptions and made me think more about the world around me, but the paper allowed me to use me
to broaden where I could use these new though
ts and assumptions.