Here’s a fun question.
With virtual reality getting to the point where it hijacks our reality, is it possible to live in one reality but make money in a different “reality”?
There’s a ton of great Youtube videos online showing how immersive virtual reality can be. People fall over, get vertigo on virtual rollercoasters, and get really scared when they turn around to face a fictitious demon. As the hardware starts to push on the software to help drive the innovation, as consumers we’re now reaping the benefits of truly immersive gaming through virtual reality. But this begs the question: how far can we go with this? If individuals are now able to make a livable income streaming their gaming sessions, could we take it a step further? If we’re able to exchange virtual items for real money (Eve Online, World of Warcraft, etc.), aren’t we a few steps away?
Let’s take a step back so that I can tell a somewhat sad story about my childhood. Like many other kids my age, I was obsessed with video games. Specifically MMORPGs. The day I discovered Runescape was the day that a new world opened up to me. I had always played games like Halo and what not but they were a guided gameplay. Scripted. Runescape was different. It was open, had no script to follow, had a new world to explore. Probably most importantly, I could be something totally different than what I could be in my current reality. There was a point where it was more fun to be in the reality of Runescape than my real reality.
As nerdy as that sounds, I knew I wasn’t the only one. In fact, there are millions of people who feel similar. There’s tons of people who get home from their real life, sit down at their computer, and log into a world where the constants of physics are changed, where magic is actually magic, and the limitations of exploration are far more grand than our single planet we live on. It became incredibly appealing to log into a different reality when times were tough. Parents fighting? At least I could escape the yelling. Girlfriend breaks up with me? Log into a vast world of exploration to take my mind off it.
I would say the first time I had the thought about making a living (actual cash) was when I first exchanged a virtual item in Runescape for cash via Paypal back in 2007. While I laughed about it at the time it sort of struck me that the value of something that is virtual is all about perspective. What I felt as totally useless, someone felt it was valuable enough to pay cash for. My hours spent gathering, crafting, and building something virtually was worth actual cash. Said a different way: I was able to exchange my time for cash. Now, how different are these realities again?
Back to today and the virtual economy space is growing. In just the social network space, the virtual currency economy is estimated at roughly $11.3B in 2016. Even with individual game title launches that come with the ability to trade virtual items for cash there is a huge economy driver. While many video games have tried to stay away from the virtual to physical purchasing of items, many have failed. For example, you can purchase characters, gold, items, and many other items for your virtual experience through different forums. There are troves of websites dedicated to this effort, such as Player Auctions.
If we’re willing to purchase items in a 2D experience, what happens when they become close to “3D” with big leaps in virtual reality? I think there’s a couple outcomes that I alluded to in the title of this post. I think that in the next couple decades or so we may see a shift in money making. This isn’t to say that our sole source of income will be done from a virtual world, but rather that there is the potential for a substantial amount of income to be made simply from logging into a different virtual reality. Hence the title of this post. There are a couple of reasons for this: automation of jobs, basic income, and further virtual reality immersion. Let’s walk through each of these.
Automation of Jobs
It’s no secret that software is eating the world. Furthermore, with massive progression being made in software automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics, there’s a good chance that many jobs will disappear over the next 50 years (or less!). As humans start to dominate many aspects of life here on Earth through software, we’ll be creating a way for us to free up time. What will we do with all our free time? I think we’ll travel, see a creative boom, and see a big movement into exploring other worlds – virtually. The web could become a place that we actually go to. Experience it. And to further that point, there’s a chance that the next “huge” idea is that developers will engineer new worlds that we can virtually live in for entertainment, for work, for adventure, for whatever. As individuals living in a real world where our jobs have been automated away, we could use our free time to log into many different virtual worlds shared by others. There would be a boom of many different potential realities but, in the end, there would only be a handful of virtual reality worlds that the general population lives in (much like the dominant sites we interact with each other in today). This isn’t too different than how humans currently operate where large populations aggregate into small areas, such as New York city, where the economy is thriving or where opportunity is made.
With the automation of our jobs, what will we do for money? As I mentioned in the last section, there could definitely be a renaissance boom with creatives driving the new world. But if we’ve automated many of our jobs, how will the population at mass make money? I believe this will be accomplished through basic income. Call me a socialist or whatever but I believe that this is inevitable. The other option is to have massive overthrow of the rich and redistribute wealth forcefully. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Basic Income is a thing we have in this new future. With Basic Income, it frees us up to not have to worry about the staples we need in our physical reality. We can easily purchase food, get around, and live an easy life here. If basic income happens and people have a lot of free time, I think we’ll see an explosion of a new type of entrepreneurship – a virtual one. If we’ve automated many of the innovations here in current reality, the next obvious step is to dive into a new reality and be an entrepreneur there. That all said, I don’t this Basic Income is a requirement for this to happen however I think it would help usher it in much faster from an adoption rate perspective. Again, we’re talking 30-50+ years from now.
Virtual Reality Immersion
The progression of virtual reality hardware has been quite impressive just in the past couple years. With Oculous Rift being the first the really make the push forward with a product that was promising, many others started to jump on the band wagon – from Google to Microsoft to Sony. Probably the furthest along in both the hardware and software front is Magic Leap. With Magic Leap, they’re marrying the two worlds (base reality and virtual reality) into one optic. These progressions have been primarily focused on the visual aspect of virtual reality however there are big strides being made in deeper full body immersion. The two best examples of this are PrioVR and Virtuix. PrioVR allows you to strap in with different sensors on your body in order to interact with the game. As their demo shows, your TV sits as sort of the main stage with you having the ability to hide behind trees to peek out into the main stage. With Virtuix, you actually stand inside of a component that allows you to run around, “physically” interacting with the game versus on a controller. This, paired with the headset immersion, provides a good glimpse into the kind of full body immersion needed in order to satisfy the potential to “work” in a different reality.
This is really just a theory of one potential outcome for virtual reality. As I said before, I believe that if we get to this point that there will really only be a couple companies that end up creating different realities that are so good that they naturally attract people to log into them. Much like people love New York or Los Angeles because of it’s appeal and their personal taste, I think people will have the same affinity with worlds that share their taste for reality.
To me, I think the really unique concept behind different worlds is that the “makers” of these worlds get to choose the boundaries of the environment (or lack of). Meaning, if we want to change the laws of physics to to allow for things like time warp drives or magic or floating houses, we can. This is especially interesting because it opens up an entirely new way of looking at crafting things. For example, if you look at games like Minecraft, there’s a lot of potential to build economies within the game. The game has it’s own set of rules for crafting different items that require more or less materials, more or less time, and are more or less valuable.
At the end of the day, what I’ve basically been talking about this entire time is really the vision the Wachowski siblings had in their movie “The Matrix” – minus the crazy evil killing machines. Call it crazy or call it far out there. But I actually really start to question it – how far off are we? I don’t envision a world where we’d plug devices into the back of our heads to immerse ourselves. However, I think the concept is definitely interesting and maybe they aren’t that far off from what we’ll be able to experience in the next 30-50 years. With the rate of innovation in virtual reality hardware and software, computing, and video game graphics, is it really that farfetched to think that something like “The Matrix” could happen?
Whose to say we’re not actually in on of many realities? Elon Musk said it best.
“Virtual reality is quite transformative. You really feel like you’re there, and then when you come out of it, it feels like reality isn’t real. I think we’ll see less physical movement in the future, as a result of virtual reality stuff, and as the technology improves it becomes, beyond a certain resolution, indistinguishable from reality. There are likely to be millions, maybe billions, of such simulations, so then, what are the odds that we’re actually in base reality? Isn’t it one in billions?“
If there’s anything that physics can teach us about reality it’s that if you want to experience it different than your peers, all you need to do is just change your perspective.