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What is reality? Today, Tomorrow, Mixed.

What is real? how do we know it’s real? Maybe because we can see it? touch it? smell it? DO WE UNDERSTAND THAT REALITY IS GOING TO BE TOTALLY DIFFERENT SOON?

How many of you thought about those questions? I guess many did after the movie Matrix was released but still, it was still in the far, science fiction of sort, future. Nothing that will or should concern us, right?

Well... In just a few years, digital realities will be all around us, in the real world. They will become this new medium that will replace all of the old ones (mobile, monitors, TV). Imagine walking down streets, malls, tourist areas, schools, anywhere, while the world around you is covered with digital overlays on real-world objects, accurately.

In the dictionary “Reality” is defined as “The state or quality of being real” or “A resemblance to what is real” or “Something that exists independently of ideas concerning it.” Can you see my problem? I am dealing with philosophical questions regarding mixed reality for many years. Our lives are going to be covered with realistic, natural, hard-to-differentiate layers of digital reality on top of our own world. Very soon, all of us will be asking these questions too.

I feel responsible in a way. I have founded a company (MIXED.PLACE) to bring to life this vision of reality and to enable a reality where this “magic” can become real. My vision is to provide every one of us the ability to create their part in this new reality, so I would like to share my thoughts and understandings, but mainly my infinite questions.

Let’s say we are hiking in nature with our new smart glasses from Apple or Microsoft or Facebook or Google (they are all working on these as we speak). It is 2023, we see real flowers around us, we can smell them, see digital bees and real birds singing and flying near us, as we climb, until we reach the edge of a cliff. We get closer and see an old wooden bridge making cracking sounds as it swings in the wind. Some planks are missing, and we are considering whether to cross, but… is it real? We can both see it, we can hear it moving realistically to the wind… It must be real then.

Imagine you are getting closer to the bridge, holding onto its ropes, putting one leg on the first wooden plank and… your leg drops through this so-called wood. You were this close to falling into the abyss. Luckily, you were holding the ropes real tight, the real ropes.

An event like this may happen, just think about it… a few bad people making virtual traps like these… It always reminds me of “The Road Runner” cartoons from WB, Wile E. Coyote drew a tunnel on the side of a mountain to make the roadrunner hit the wall. Luckily for the roadrunner, he was able to somehow control matter too, so he passed through it safely.

And this leads to my next question about what is real, or more accurately, when it is real?

We knew the ropes by the bridge were real because we could touch them, so if we can see something and can touch it, is it real then? There are many technologies being developed to enable the feeling of touch - smart gloves, ultrasound waves and more… I believe they will even make our hand stop on impact, maybe like a feedback in the glove, maybe a hint of pain when necessary to avoid damage or injury.

Imagine playing soccer with a pair of special Nike shoes that create the realistic feeling of kicking a virtual ball. The ball will naturally react according to your kick’s velocity, power, angle and other physical laws and you will also hear the -thud- sound of the ball, as it hits your shoe. With the right shoe and the special technology, you will feel a vibration, you will feel the point of impact, and you will hear the sound. Is it real now? not totally, because our feet will not fully stop on impact and will not feel the resistance of the ball.

Now, let’s improve the technology…. We have upgraded the shoe, so it can also send electric signals directly to our brain. When we hit a virtual ball, our brain will get signals that makes it hear the -thud- sound, and make it feel the impact of the ball. Is it real then?

Let’s add some motoric signals: imagine the mass of the ball and the shoe are also included in this app. Let’s say that the shoe sends the right electric signals to tell our brain how the leg should react on impact, according to velocity, mass etc... It will make our leg stop if we kick a concrete ball, for example, we may even feel pain.

Is it real now ?

We have created substitutes or amplifiers for many of our senses: vision, sound, taste and even smell, but realistic solutions for touch that will confuse or stimulate our brain, as sound does, do not exist yet. I believe that by understanding the brain, all of our senses will have new experiences brought about by new technologies.

I am excited about this future. Many may fear it, but talking about it, making rules, defining regulations, will make it safer. Any new technology came with dangers, fears, excitements and new rules but think about the 99% potentially good things that may come of this. We can close our eyes to it, and think it will pass, but the reality…. is going to become mixed, and soon. :)


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