Listen to the Story
The much-hyped consumer virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, is finally hitting the market. The reviews have been mixed. As The Wall Street Journal put it, "the first totally immersive home virtual reality rig is a pricey, awkward, isolating—and occasionally brilliant—glimpse of the future of computing."
But behind this poster child of at-home virtual reality products is a man, 23-year-old Palmer Luckey, who invented the device while still in his teens and founded the company Oculus VR, which is now owned by Facebook.
Luckey argues that virtual reality is a bigger turning point in technology than Apple II, Netscape or Google. VR, he says, is the final major computing platform that's not a transitional step to the next big thing.
"If you have perfect virtual reality eventually, where you're be able to simulate everything that a human can experience or imagine experiencing, it's hard to imagine where you go from there," Luckey tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "If you have perfect virtual reality, what else are you supposed to perfect?"
You can listen to the extended interview with Luckey at the audio link above.
In it, Luckey muses about how VR may be better for the environment, why he recommends the novel Ready Player One despite its dystopian view of the VR future, how VR is facing similar pushback to the one faced by rock 'n' roll and swing dancing in their time and what ethical questions are raised by the use of VR for journalism.
Below are some of the highlights.
On the boring future of virtual reality
A good story needs conflict, and virtual reality is a great hypothetical way to create conflict. ... In some ways, the future is going to be more boring than we think. I don't think that VR is going to lead to humanity being enslaved in the matrix or letting the world crumble around us. I think it's going to end up being a great technology that brings closer people together, that allows for better communication, that reduces a lot of environmental waste that we're currently doing in the real world. It's probably not going to be nearly as interesting as depicted in science fiction as far as the bad things go.
On re-emerging into the real world after being in a virtual one
If you're having a very high-adrenaline, high-movement experience in virtual reality and all of a sudden you're back in your office, that disconnect is pretty notable. Whereas if you're using it for virtual reality teleconferencing ... there's really no kind of impact moving back and forth between the real and the virtual world. It's a bit like that shock when you're in a movie theater, and you're just watching the movie and you're in the dark and then you walk outside. It takes you a few minutes to really reconnect with reality.
On how VR is an entirely new way to communicate
Things like email, and Twitter, and Facebook, and text messaging — they all work reasonably well. But we use them because they're convenient, and cheap, and easy, not because they're the best way to communicate with somebody. Today, the best way to communicate with someone is still face-to-face. Virtual reality has the potential to change that, to make it where VR communication is as good or better than face-to-face communications, because not only do you get all the same human cues of face-to-face communication, you can basically suspend the laws of physics, you can do whatever you want, you can be wherever you want.
Below you can listen to the shorter radio cut. Listen to the extended interview cut at the link above.