The future we now inhabit is one that is at once frightening and unbearably exciting.
Why wouldn’t it be? The future that movies like Back to the Future and Brazil foretold is not the one that we’ll likely see for some time. However, we are on the precipice of a change in the way our relationship with technology manifests itself, even after the dawn of the smartphone and an evolved on-demand economy. Still, even these decidedly intrusive forms of technology are precursors to a future where the world around us is made to bend and shape to our whim. Just how far we are from the real world and the virtual one are becoming indiscernible from one another.
Both augmented and virtual reality technologies have been gaining steam as the subject du jour in tech publications from Fast Company to Forbes, Gizmodo to GigaOm. To be clear, these are not platforms that have only recently been conceived. On the contrary, the earliest forms of VR can be traced back to Atari 2600. Though those games do not at all mimic the VR we are now accustomed to seeing, they introduced the mass market to a new, virtual world encased within a console. Moving up, the Virtual Boy was a viable thing back in 1994 and could be touted as the first mass-`market version of the now pervasive VR helmet. But we’re in a different place now. VR is no longer reserved for only gaming enthusiasts.
I don’t want to forget about augmented reality, however. Though it hasn’t enjoyed quite the attention in recent history that virtual reality has, it’s a platform that has steadily made strides to lasting relevance. Google Glass may not have been the breakout hit that Google expected, but it did open the door to expand our expectations of the technology and it’s possible impact. Microsoft’s Hololens, which was only announced in January of this year (2015), marks one of the first high-profile AR devices since Google Glass was announced back in 2010. IT will be products like that which will allow us to walk into a room and see a piece of furniture, placed in spots around the space to fit our specifications and even help you finally put in that reclaimed wood mantle you’ve been putting off for months. Applications for AR also include auto travel, where by your windshield becomes an interactive HUD keeping us in the proper lanes on a highway. Be on the lookout for both AR and VR to fundamentally change the way we shop, as well.
All of this is well and good, but the implications of this technology on our lives and more specifically the future as we know it is still nebulous. Likely, the first place we’ll feel all of this will be within the consumer experience. But to be sure, both virtual reality and augmented reality hardware is still in a nascent stage. Oculus Rift, after its purchase by Facebook late last year, is still only in the demo phase but that doesn’t mean a future in which we are walking through virtual malls and streets buying things in an artificial world, much in a similar way that we do on desktops and laptops and mobile devices, isn’t on the horizon. To take it a step further, how far are we really from a future reminiscent of that which we saw in The Matrix, whereby we are no longer acutely aware of our surroundings, but fully immersed in a world of our own creation?
When I talk to my friends about these possibilities, I often come across like a grizzled old timer tossing out wild and sundry theories about the “scary new world” that may or may not come to fruition. But WHO CARES?! This technology exists and I feel like it’s important to do your best to extrapolate all of the possibilities therein. Could none of the things posited above happen? Sure, but is it more likely that some of it does? Absolutely. The strides being made with warping and altering our perception of reality or all-out changing and building our own entirely are becoming bigger and bigger and as Ray Kurzweil notes in his book The Singularity is Near, the more technology evolves, the faster it does. It’s exciting to think about what the next five to ten years will look like…
…But isn’t it a little scary, too?
 Isn’t Minecraft an early example of this very thing?