Defining Perception and Reality in the Field of Virtual Reality

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The timely accessibility of substantial volumes of computational control in small devices and their constantly reducing price has given chance for the idea of “Ubiquitous Computing”. The goal of Weiser (2013) in envisioning ubiquitous computing was to make computational capability available to individuals anywhere and anytime it is needed, and not limited only to the laptop or desktop. It could be needed in meeting rooms where one might need to retrieve information in order to better contribute to discussion. Other places may include the car, to help us drive more efficiently and safely, a laboratory to help the process of research, in an engineering workshop, or a in the hospital to help in the management of patients. The need to integrate this new group of computational tools into the environment has brought numerous different paradigms have been proposed with the view of moving interaction from the computer system into the world (the physical environment). One such paradigm is the concept of Mixed Reality (MR) paradigm, which proposes to overlay our real-world environment with digital, computer-generated objects. It presents example applications and outlines limitations and solutions for their technical implementation. 

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MR was derived both conceptually and historically from Virtual Reality (VR). VR systems are computer systems in which users are immersed in a virtual, computer-generated world. According to Sutherland (2008), the exact first examples were initially created in the 1960s. Immersion is generally achieved through visual, auditory, and sometimes tactile displays. All these displays isolate users from their familiar surroundings, giving the illusion that the only objects existing around them are those rendered by the computer. In MR systems, users perceive both the physical environment around them and digital elements presented through, for instance, the use of semitransparent displays (Azuma et al, 2015). Imagine a system that indicates the name and origin of items around you by displaying virtual labels overlaying the objects, or a system that guides your way by showing virtual arrows, or a system that displays people’s names and affiliations on virtual badges. The information could be displayed in the native language of each user or could be customized to be most relevant to their individual profile; for example, when browsing electronics products, specific information could be provided according to the user’s choice (Azuma et al, 2015).

MR systems are designed to give their users the illusion that digital objects are in the same space as physical ones. According to Azuma (2011), for this illusion of coexistence, the digital objects need to be precisely positioned into the real environment and aligned with the real objects in real time. In fact, the precise real-time alignment or registration of virtual and real elements is a definitive characteristic of augmented reality systems (Azuma, 2001), and it constitutes a difficult technical challenge for its realization. Augmented reality is often considered to be a branch of MR.

According to the description of MR given by Milgram et al. (2014), MR is subclass of VR related technologies that involve merging of real and virtual worlds. MR includes systems in which the virtual aspects are dominant as well as those in which the physical reality is dominant. Within this range, augmented reality has more physical elements than virtual elements. The current work is aimed at critically examining MR, for a better understanding of the concept and its application.

Perception and Reality

Perception and reality have a complex relationship with each other. While we cannot perceive reality directly, we are still able to interact with it and learn about it. At one level, perception is all we have. It is not possible to experience physical reality -- what is 'out there' -- directly, and so we live inside the world of our perceptions. Our brain does the best job it can at keeping our perceptions consistent with physical reality based on the information it receives from the senses, but consistency is ultimately the best we can hope for (Al-Kalbani, Williams & Frutos, 2016).

At the same time, our perceptual system is constructed so that what we experience what feels like physical reality. When people learn to draw or paint, they have to become aware of what they are actually perceiving -- color, perspective, and shape -- often for the first time. The brain's translation from perception into a model of reality is so automatic that not only are we unaware it is happening, but it takes practice and training to become aware of it. This awareness includes all the errors and distortions that our perceptual processes routinely impose on our experience, for example as revealed with optical illusions (Al-Kalbani et al, 2016).

So what is reality? And how do we know it's out there? The answer to this lies in our ability to interact with reality. While we are not able to perceive physical reality directly, we are able to interact with it. And that interaction allows us to conduct experiments to determine reality's true nature or at least to get closer and closer to its true nature (Al-Kalbani et al, 2016).

Technology and Perception

Technology has been able to create and manipulate the perception of reality. This has been achieved by Virtual reality, augmentedreality and mixed reality. Major technological concepts that are still being developed but play a major role in how technology is affecting our perception of reality includes:

Computer-mediated reality refers to the ability to add to, subtract information from, or otherwise manipulate one's perception of reality through the use of a wearable computer or hand-held device such as a smartphone.

Typically, it is the user's visual perception of the environment that is mediated. This is done through the use of some kind of electronic device, such as an EyeTap device or smart phone, which can act as a visual filter between the real world and what the user perceives (Sasha & Kurt, 2004).

Computer-mediated reality has been used to enhance visual perception as an aid to the visually impaired. This example achieves a mediated reality by altering a video input stream light that would have normally reached the user's eyes, and computationally altering it to filter it into a more useful form (Sasha & Kurt, 2004).

Simulated reality is the hypothesis that reality could be simulated—for example by quantum computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from 'true' reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. This is quite different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of actuality; participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to separate from 'true' reality (Sasha & Kurt, 2004). There has been much debate over this topic, ranging from philosophical discourse to practical applications in computing.Simulation arguments by Nick Bostrom states that at least one of the following statements is very likely to be true (Sasha & Kurt, 2004):

  1. Human civilization or a comparable civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities or such simulations are physically impossible to construct.
  2. A comparable civilization reaching aforementioned technological status will likely not produce a significant number of simulated realities (one that might push the probable existence of digital entities beyond the probable number of 'real' entities in a Universe) for any of a number of reasons, such as diversion of computational processing power for other tasks, ethical considerations of holding entities captive in simulated realities, etc.
  3. Any entities with our general set of experiences are almost certainly living in a simulation.
  4. We are living in a reality in which post humans have not developed yet and we are actually living in reality.

Rests on the premise that given sufficiently advanced technology, it is possible to represent the populated surface of the Earth without recourse to digital physics; that the qualia experienced by a simulated consciousness are comparable or equivalent to those of a naturally occurring human consciousness, and that one or more levels of simulation within simulations would be feasible given only a modest expenditure of computational resources in the real world.

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