Technology has radically transformed the way we live and has become an integral part of our lives.
As if our lives weren’t already closely intertwined with the digital world, we’re witnessing more and more people incorporating augmented reality (AR)/ virtual reality (VR) into their daily processes.
In the past, this technology was the stuff of sci-fi movies. Today, it’s used in industries as disparate as healthcare, gaming and manufacturing.
What is AR & VR?
Before we delve deeper, what exactly is AR/VR?
While AR allows users to experience an enhanced version of their real-world environment by superimposing computer-generated artefacts on their surroundings, VR uses computer technology to create a completely new simulated environment.
Unlike VR, you only need to have a headset or smartphone to use AR.
Essentially, both AR and VR bring together touch, hearing and sight, to blur the lines between the real and the digital.
If you’re interested in knowing more about AR/VR or even mixed reality (MR), you may find out more in this article we wrote.
AR/VR – a Part of Our Reality
Does AR/VR sound too futuristic to be applied in our daily lives? That’s not quite the case. This technology has already been utilised across various sectors for years.
The tourism industry is no stranger to AR/VR. Take hotels for example – virtual reality offers hotels a whole new way to advertise their services to travellers.
Shangri-La has been giving potential guests a way to experience their hotels and resorts in a fully immersive VR experience since 2016! Travellers simply have to download the file here and watch with any VR headset that supports the Oculus platform.
The use of AR in the military may not come as a surprise to you but did you know that military aircraft have been using AR for decades?
According to Chris Colton, director of strategic growth at BAE Systems (a British multinational defence, security, and aerospace company), “[AR has] been around for nearly 60 years”!
Colton mentions how BAE Systems’ next-generation helmet Striker II makes use of AR technology to “give pilots spatial awareness of potential threats” with smart digital symbols within the helmet’s transparent visor to feed the user real-time information about their surroundings.
Reality is further augmented as the helmet is even capable of manipulating sound by cancelling out background noise so that the user can focus on the noises that matter – for instance, the telltale whisper of an enemy plane.
AR/VR in Pop Culture
It’s no surprise that its influence has bled into pop culture.
In the past, AR/VR was mostly used as props to add a futuristic element to films. Nowadays, it’s become increasingly commonplace for film plots to be heavily influenced by the presence of AR/VR in the plot’s setting.
Case in point – Westworld.
Johnathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s dystopian television series is set in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park where visitors interact with robots. As usual, things start to go awry when the androids begin to act up.
Phenomenal plot aside, let’s talk about how AR has played a crucial role in driving Westworld’s plot.
AR therapy exists in Westworld and this complicates things for the viewer.
For example, in Season 2 finale’s confounding post-credits scene, viewers were left to ponder whether what William (Ed Harris) was experiencing was a hallucination, an AR experience, or an actual glimpse into the future.
This is because the audience has prior knowledge that William was put through an augmented reality version of immersion therapy, forced to relive his childhood trauma and sit through a counselling session attended by several versions of himself.
Concluding Season 2 in such a way opened up intriguing possibilities for William’s story to unfold in Season 3.
Another example would be the hit episode, “White Christmas” from the sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror on Netflix.
After discovering her husband’s twisted hobby of watching men seduce women through his Z-Eyes, Claire blocks Matt.
With the use of AR, blocking someone causes the blocker and the blocked party to appear as mere greyish figures whose voices are distorted and unintelligible to each other.
AR/VR – More Harm Than Good?
We’ve witnessed how AR/VR has many positive use cases in real-life industries so why does pop culture churn out so many films that act as cautionary tales that warn us about the extensive integration of this technology in our lives?
As mentioned previously, AR/VR blends the real world with the digital.
Essentially, what is real is problematised and this challenges our conception of the real.
Maybe this fear stems from having to confront the fact that our lives and identities have become tied together with the digital world.
No matter what, it always boils down to how we choose to use technology.
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