Culture figures Douglas Coupland and Steven Spielberg predict future of VR and presence

[Predictions about the future of virtual reality and presence from two culture contributors are in the news and featured in stories below from The Art Newspaper and Gamespot. –Matthew]

[Image: A screenshot from the upcoming film Ready Player One]

Douglas Coupland says Virtual Reality could replace ‘overrated’ books in post-millennial age

Generation X author and artist was among 100 cultural leaders to convene at the Verbier Art Summit on digital art

Anny Shaw
22nd January 2018

“Virtual Reality [VR] is this asteroid that’s going to hit the planet in 2023,” said the Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland, citing Google’s prediction that, by then, everyone will own at least one VR headset. Coupland, who made the forecast while speaking at the Verbier Art Summit in Switzerland over the weekend, added: “The post-millennial generation, around one and a half generations from now, is going to have people who have no connection to the real world”.

Describing VR as “probably the hottest medium, because it is completely immersive”, the Generation X author went on to controversially suggest: “Maybe books are overrated. Maybe they are an interim technology on the way to VR and we can now get rid of our books.”

The Verbier Art Summit, founded by Anneliek Sijbrandij and organised by Daniel Birnbaum, the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, gathered around 100 cultural leaders and thinkers. They included the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the British video artist Ed Atkins and the VR specialist Dado Valentic. Local collectors, whose luxury chalets were the sites of private morning debates, were joined by other art patrons including Maja Hoffmann and Dakis Joannou.

Art in the Digital Age was the theme of the conference, which loosely attempted to address the question of what technology means for the traditionally conservative and technophobic art world, which trails behind the gaming, movie and pornography industries when it comes to VR.

Eliasson is a pioneer in creating VR works; he recently produced an immersive piece, Rainbow, with Acute Art, a VR gallery Valentic launched last year. Eliasson believes that VR is “bringing a substantial revolution”. He is more sceptical, however, about who takes responsibility for the medium, which is still largely unregulated.

“I have less confidence in the public sector regulating it,” he said. “People trust the cultural sector more than they trust politicians, if you look at the EU it is falling apart. Culture is currently the most stable and trustworthy sector of society.”

One of the biggest challenges is the disembodiment experienced when wearing VR goggles, Eliasson said. “When you look down you don’t have a body, you don’t have hands. When I have the glasses on I am always thinking, ‘God I look really stupid’.” Another major issue is the isolation of plugging yourself into a headset, shutting the viewer off from others. Eliasson is currently developing a version that can accommodate more than one person. “It’s not ready yet, but soon,” he said.

Other artists cited the limitations of the medium, namely clunky interfaces, the fact that you remain tethered to a computer when in use and the exorbitant production costs.

Birnbaum suggests the art world’s expectations may be too high. “There’s a tendency to think that technology will deliver us a utopia, then there’s the Elon Musk school of thought that sees technology as something more dangerous than nuclear power,”  he said. “Even if hopes are exaggerated, you can’t deny that technology has changed the distribution of art, its markets and even its ontology.”

It seems VR still has a long way to go before being embraced by the art world. Coupland anticipates that, by 2023, “the VR equivalent of the bicycle wheel on a stool [see toutfait –ML] is going to happen”. Birnbaum concurs that the search is on. “The Duchamp of the VR world is yet to emerge,” he said.


[From Gamespot…]

Steve Spielberg Thinks Ready Player One Could Come True

“Virtual reality will be a super drug.”

By Chris E. Hayner on January 23, 2018

How much reliance on pop culture and nostalgia is too much? Thanks to a new featurette for the upcoming movie Ready Player One, that’s a question that may have an answer.

In Ready Player One, people escape from the overcrowded world of the future into a virtual reality landscape filled with their favorite characters and moments from throughout pop culture. As a movie, that lets characters like the Iron Giant and Freddy Krueger battle it out, while players race against the Back to the Future DeLorean, while King Kong destroys a city skyline.

For just about anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, the endless possibilities sound like a dream come true. As the three new teasers for the film [in the original story] show, though, the fictional world created by the movie and Ernest Cline novel may be closer to reality than you realize.

“I suddenly saw a future that Ernest Cline, the writer of the book, envisions. It wasn’t that far away from what I think is going to happen someday,” director Steven Spielberg says in one featurette. “There’s a dystopian society and the fabric of our economy is crumbling. It’s a good time to escape, so virtual reality will be a super drug.”

It remains to be seen if that possible future will become a reality, but it’s hard not to see the draw of such a thing. Who wouldn’t want to escape a world that’s falling apart for one filled with your favorite things, if only for a moment?

Of course, before any of that happens there’s going to be some serious upgrades to current virtual reality technology. After all, as much fun as Job Simulator and Farpoint are, they’re still not enough to convince you to leave your real life behind. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for seeing this insane VR world on the big screen when Ready Player One hits theaters on March 30.


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