An introduction to the future of virtual reality during the time of its “most explosive period of growth.”
Artificial intelligence may preoccupy computer experts, but virtual reality is the true next big thing according to this enthusiastic and convincing account by technology journalist Ewalt (Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It, 2013), a contributing editor to Forbes and special projects editor for Reuters. Reviewing recent advances, the author adds that it’s only a matter of time before a digital headset, gloves, and suit become as essential to a modern house as a modem. Connected to a computer or smartphone, the wearer takes part in a scenario simulating a realistic experience. “This technology could allow us to escape the bodies we’re born with and the geographies that confine us,” writes Ewalt. “It could allow us to experience the impossible, to do the unthinkable.” Those who assume that only adolescents yearn for an alternate world will reconsider after reading the author’s capsule history of the arts, from the 20,000-year-old Lascaux cave drawings through Greek drama, Renaissance painting, photography, and the movies. Virtual reality is yet another technical improvement, however dramatic. The 1970s brought primitive head-mounted displays. By 1990, commercial applications appeared, and “the hype was on” with rhapsodic media announcements of the VR revolution. Sadly, inadequate 20th-century computer power produced clunky, only mildly enchanting devices, and VR shared the late ’90s dot-com crash. Yet progress continues, and the past five years have seen spectacularly immersive VR products and games, with VR movies just around the corner, along with a new crop of billionaires.
It’s too early to proclaim a revolution, but Ewalt interviews entrepreneurs and brilliant nerds, tries their inventions, and leaves beguiled readers in no doubt that something wonderful is in the works.