Our reality is breaking down. It is becoming more virtual by the day.
In a sense, reality has always been partly virtual, at least ever since we learned to use language. By being able to reference times past, we bring them to play in the present moment.
Constructs such as national borders or even money are to a great extent more virtual than real. If we had not agreed to a complex behavioral pact, they would not exist.
But with the advent of technology, the borders between the virtual and the real are starting to blur unlike we’ve ever seen before.
Like Ray Kurzweil said in a recent article, even telephone is a type of virtual reality. It brings the person far away from you virtually close. But the telephone is a baby step compared to what is about to shake the very foundation of our reality.
With the advent of wearable tech and augmented reality, the next generation of computing is around the corner. The scope of this leap is similar to moving from huge computers to desktops, from desktops to laptops and from laptops to mobile.
New digital layers will permeate our everyday life.
And what with the advent of augmented reality, these layers will be harder and harder to tell apart from our physical world. With something like Google Glass, you can have virtual objects to manipulate.
You can have overlays such as translations displayed in real time over what you see. I tried the Spanish translator Word Lens with Google Glass. It was spooky to see an English text scramble into Spanish right in front of me.
Our lives will have more and more virtual elements. Maybe a virtual pet one day, like a real life Tamagochi. Or overlays displaying you the very headlines you want to see, instead of the tabloid attention grabbers. Perhaps, as Vernor Vinge riffs in his novel Rainbow’s End, even building facades designed according to your preferences.
But the real and the virtual are merging on a far deeper level than just a digital overlay.
3D printing will also make the reverse true. Whereas wearable tech and AR bring the digital layer as an integrated part of physical experience, 3D printing will also convert parts of the digital layer into actual objects when needed.
So the road from the real to the virtual is getting shorter, as is the road from the virtual to the real.
What the combination of the two brings one can only speculate. Already, prototype cases exist, where an object has been designed using AR (i.e. simulating the physical object) and then reproduced using 3DP. What happens when these two technologies become a part of our everyday life is anybody’s guess.
However these developments do pan out, one thing is for sure. What we used to think of as reality is breaking down as we speak.
The reality of the future will be more virtual than we can imagine.