I mentioned Alexa as an example of a Digital Reality that is often overlooked as a mere, although smarter, interface. As I pointed out it is actually much more. Digital Reality is becoming pervasive to the point we won’t even realise we are moving in the fuzzy space and through the fading boundaries separating physical from digital reality. I mentioned Digital Twins as mirrors, and bridges across what used to be the chasm between physical and virtual. Let me explore another area where physical and digital come together, the world of simulation (this makes for a smooth introduction to the rest of the discussion on the digital transformation of the production value chain, i.e. Industry 4.0).
Simulation, in a way, means using a digital reality to mirror the physical one, sometimes a not yet existing physical reality, some other time an attempt to stretch an existing physical reality in a future under a certain set of conditions (to see what would happen). The point is that until a few years ago the boundary between reality and simulation of reality was clear cut. No longer so.
Take the advance made in flight simulators, advances that have led airlines to use (expensive) flight simulators for training pilots as well as to “certify” pilots! This is important because it means that what a pilot does on a flight simulator is “exactly” the same as what he will be doing in the real plane, should conditions be the same. If you are good on the flight simulator you are good for the reality. There is no more separation between the two. In a way it looks like Einstein thoughts experiments: you won’t be able to tell the difference (corollary: if you are not able to tell the difference how can you distinguish between the two? In Einstein case it was the distinction between moving in an accelerated field or being subject to gravity. His conclusion? Since there is no possibility to distinguish one from the other then they are one and the same!).
Now, flight simulators used by airlines for their pilots are very complex machines (involving all senses, not just vision, also aural and proprioceptors –position, orientation, acceleration). They are not affecting most of us so they do not lead to an emerging culture of a new reality.
Now we are seeing advanced flight simulators coming to the mass market. X-plan 11 and the coming MS FS 2020 have achieved a level of accuracy, and more important can deliver a sense of reality that is getting close to the one of professional simulators.
What is interesting here is the way these mass market simulators are being used. Yes, there are a few flight aficionados using them as a substitute of the real thing (second best to be a real pilot) but a growing number of people are using them to … look around. If you go on internet and look at reviews on MSFS 2020 you hear people saying that they flew over their homes and looking down were amazed to see the familiar landscape (from above).
We see the emergence of climbs to the most famous peaks made from the couch, thanks to virtual reality. Virtual tourism is, pardon the pun, a growing reality and I bet in the next decade we are going to see a tremendous growth and the emergence of new services (particularly as emerging AR/VR technology will deliver seamless immersion capability.
As this will grow we will hear mounting concerns, objection of a world (and culture) that shift towards the substitution of the real with the virtual (VR) or that more and more people need virtual to complement the real (AR). Others will point out the beauty of virtual tourism, enabling anybody everywhere in the world to visit, and be part of, any place of the world.
I can imagine AR based services that would place me in a different city, on my end exploring it in real time VR and on the other hand having some people in that city seeing me through AR and interacting with me. Am I going to become a real presence for them, through AR? I guess so. Where is the dividing line between digital and real? Isn’t the voice of my friend over a telephone line completely real? Why shouldn’t my image on a far away city be as real as that?