Your New Senses/Getting Real In Cyberspace; Your Bionic Future; Scientific American Presents; by Pescovitz; 4 Page(s)
STANDING IN A CINEMA in a form-fitting black bodysuit and oversize spectacles, you are feeling a little foolish. But then the "projectionist" flips a switch, and suddenly a riotously colorful, panoramic view of a massive garden nearly overwhelms you. Giant, exotic flowers sway slowly under a rainbow sky, and the scent of fresh sunflowers and soil fills the air. You feel something rubbing gently against your leg and look down to find a two-headed purple hare staring up at you. Leaning down, you stroke its soft fur before it hops ahead in surreal slow motion. Moments later the hare pauses in midhop, turns to face you and, in a language you've never heard before but somehow understand, beckons you to follow it into the foliage.
A dream? Afraid so. But eventually that level of immersion during a moviegoing experience could become reality. Or at least virtual reality. Born out of graphical information display and flight simulation experiments in the 1960s, the term "virtual reality" was coined in 1986 by Jaron Lanier, the dreadlocked young computer scientist who became the poster boy for the technology. Before long the media, futurists and various pundits were hyping it as a revolution in simulation, communications and entertainment much more advanced than it really was. "Virtual reality won't merely replace TV, it will eat it alive," science-fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke predicted in those days.