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What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – VII

VR is still a fraction of the porno content on line but it is rapidly growing. Image credit: PornHub.com/Insights

OK, let me start by saying that I have been uncertain on writing this post as part of the Digital Reality series. Eventually, I decided to publish it for three reasons:

  1. VR in porn is a rapidly growing “reality”
  2. VR in porn is facing technological challenges that are so far keeping it quite separate from Reality
  3. It is fuelling the adoption of new technologies that will overflow into other sectors.

It is a fact that VR represents a very small niche in the porno landscape. If you take a look at PornHub statistics (and there are a number of other “major” porno websites) in 2018 it saw 4.7 million clips uploaded, for a total of over a million hours of video content (corresponding to 115 years of continuous watching), 4.4 Exabytes of data transferred (12 PB per day) and 33.5 billion visits. Of this VR porno represents less than 0.2%.

The reasons are in the complexity of filming in a way that is supporting VR as well as in the relative scarcity of VR goggles. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to notice that on Christmas there is a spike in VR porno views, most likely because people are receiving VR goggles as Christmas present and decide to use them right away…

So, VR is a small fraction of the overall content and a small fraction of the access, however it is also growing very rapidly (when VR porno was first included in PornoHub in 2016 there were 90 clips, by the end of the year the clips grew too 2,600). The general feeling is that once better, and cheaper, VR devices will become available we will see VR taking the upper hand.

However, and here I come to the second point that is actually the one that convinced me to include this topic in this series, VR in porn is quite difficult to create and experience from a technical and perceptual point of view and this is what keeps VR (Digital Reality) well separated from Reality.

When you are experiencing Digital Reality in the context of Virtual Tourism you can get the sensation of being part of that Digital Reality, you can feel like you are really there since you can move your head and your eyes will capture a changing landscape. Not so with VR. In VR porno you could play the role of a spectator and with VR googles you can move your eyes to look, as an example, not at the actors but at the ceiling or around the room. However, it is most unlikely that you would do that. The focus is on the action and looking around does not add anything, actually, it detracts from it. There are, however, a few that are experimenting with this form of immersivity claiming it may be appreciated.

In virtual tourism you could get interested in something and focus on that, like a stall selling local crafts. In VR porn in order to focus and let’s say impersonate one of the actors to get the feeling of being there you would need to assume the position of the actor, otherwise the visual image you get will not be in synch with what your brain is getting from the proprioceptors. This creates a sensation that something is quite wrong. Rather than having the digital reality seamlessly overlapping with the physical one you get dissonant feedback.

On the contrary from VR in tourism, where you get a better feeling the better the VR is, in VR porn the better the VR the more disjointed the feeling becomes from Reality. In other words. We do not have the technology that would allow us to impersonate an actor (and even if such a technology would be available you would not feel it as real if you were not mimicking the actor position and movements).

A different story would be if the VR porn is not applied to a video but it is used as an enhanced video conference, one on one (a variation of this scenario, that is taking up leveraging on 3D imaging and artificial intelligence is the interaction with avatars). In this case the availability of effective haptic interfaces may add significantly to the video conference video stream. This is touching upon the third point I made, the steering of VR porn to the evolution of some technologies.

I guess this is an area where the concerns already expressed on the fading boundaries between Digital and Physical Reality become even deeper, involving ethical and societal aspects.

So I’ll stop here and turn in the next posts to something much less contentious.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.