Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Are we living in The Matrix

Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson, two pioneering experts in the field of virtual reality, joined Ian Punnett to reveal when we all might be living in the Matrix. "Virtual reality, for us, is any reality that's not a person's grounded reality," Blascovich said. We go back and forth between virtual and grounded realities all of the time, without the use of technology, through our mind wanderings and dreams, he continued. "There's different types of virtual realities and there's even a lack of separation among them," Bailenson added, citing how the digital environs of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft reportedly seeps into the dream lives of hardcore players.

According to Bailenson, we are at the cusp of a future where virtual reality is commonplace. New 'glasses-free 3D' autostereoscopic displays (as seen in Nintendo's 3DS), suit-less movement tracking (similar to Microsoft's Kinect), and advances in artificial intelligence, will combine to allow people to do things they could not actually do in the physical world, he explained. For instance, a person conducting a digital meeting or teaching a virtual class can program an avatar (graphical representation of a user) to maintain eye contact with every single participant, which focus attention on the speaker, Blascovich noted. Bailenson offered a more insidious example of a person morphing the appearance and sound of an avatar to ingratiate and manipulate different audiences.

The two also commented on how virtual reality may be utilized by the porn industry as well as delved into the concept of digital immortality, where one's avatar continues beyond its user's physical life. Bailenson pointed to a commercial for microwave popcorn that uses a digital recreation of deceased founder Orville Redenbacher, and imagined a day when grandchildren could interact with digital versions of their deceased grandparents. Virtual reality does not allow a person to actually live forever, nor will it ever replace one's consciousness, Blascovich added.


Jim Blascovich is Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Co-Director of the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior which he co-founded with Jack Loomis, a perceptual scientist at UCSB in 1997. He held academic positions at the University of Nevada, Marquette University and SUNY at Buffalo before coming to UCSB in 1995. He is currently (2010-2011) a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Jim is a past President of both the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. He is a Member of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, a Charter Fellow of the American Psychological Society, and a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. His research has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation for more than 20 years and has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Laboratory, and other agencies. He has over 140 publications including 4 books.


Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab and an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford. He earned a B.A. cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 1999. After receiving his doctorate, he spent four years at the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior at the University of California, Santa Barbara as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and then an Assistant Research Professor.

Bailenson's main area of interest is the phenomenon of digital human representation, especially in the context of immersive virtual reality. He explores the manner in which people are able to represent themselves when the physical constraints of body and veridically-rendered behaviors are removed.