Monday Musings: Uncanny Valley & VR Portrayal in Science Fiction

Blog Posts ,Random Musings ,Videos ,Virtual Reality
December 7, 2015

Welcome to Monday Musings! These are are shorter-form, note-like blog posts that I share that may or may not be related to VR/AR, but that I want to share some quick thoughts on, get some extra insight on, or share out quickly.

Today’s Monday Musings topic: Uncanny Valley & VR Portrayal in Science Fiction

UNCANNY VALLEY (2015) from 3DAR on Vimeo.

Without giving too much about this video away, Uncanny Valley is a beautifully made dystopian short film about virtual reality creating a pretty horrible existence for humanity. Although this post was inspired by this particular video, you don’t need to watch it to read onward – there are no spoilers.

Virtual reality has an interesting place within the science fiction realm. So often, it’s touted as the escape humanity is waiting for from the existence that they’ve created, and stories like Ender’s Game and Armada gently push the idea that our technological pastimes are not what they seem. I have had conversations with people I work with around the potential downsides of VR technologies, but as I sit in the airport terminal of Charlotte Airport on a Wednesday evening, I can’t help but wonder why people seem to want to portray VR so differently than the world we’ve already created: one where technology is both good and bad.

Perhaps a happy planet with VR creating a lovely utopian world and supplementing real life in an enriching way is difficult to write into a story. I’d say Ready Player One shows VR in a pretty positive light, but even then, the world is kind of falling apart too. Ironically, the best portrayal that I think I’ve read of virtual reality making and keeping the world a better place was in The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect*, where the AI (Prime Intellect) used a perfect augmented and virtual reality system to give everyone a perfect utopia for themselves.

So, everyone, throw your most positive VR portrayals in fiction at me!

In today’s growing VR industry, I see so much positivity in content and people’s reaction to it. It’s touted to be a huge empathy machine – but so much of the way it is portrayed in media is either as the technology that brings complete doom to the planet, or as a toy for the wackiest of us technophiles.

With the launch of consumer devices, I’m definitely interested to see how VR’s portrayal in the public media starts to shift. Technology is notorious for being portrayed badly in media, and I’ve had more than one conversation with people where I need to try and reassure them that we’re (probably) not all going to wind up alone and starving in a decrepit room.

How do you think the portrayal of VR will change over the next few years? What are your favorite ways that you’ve seen it in media before?

-L

*I always feel the need to add a disclaimer here: The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, while a great short story, is graphic about questionable moral behaviors, and not for the faint of heart or easily offended. Just a heads up, should you decide to seek it out yourself.

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