Future Imperfect – Virtual Transhumanism

So I was talking with a co-worker during some downtime recently, and the speculation it led to was quite interesting I feel.  It started with discussing how we’re in the future already that was talked about back in the 80s and 90s, but we just don’t recognize it(which is a topic I plan to go into seperately), and ended up with some discussion on how things may look in the near future, if we take current trends and run them out to a possible logical conclusion.

To start off with, let’s take a look at Shadowrun – take away the magic and D&D aspects, and it’s fairly standard cyberpunk.  In the original version, the Matrix was this world in virtual reality – VR and you could look like anything you wanted there.  Think Second Life, but with a full body VR, usually via direct neural interface.

As we worked on that tech in the real world, pure VR fell more to the side, partly due to the challenges of such tech versus the demand for such.  Instead, what grew up was a compromise; augmented reality.  Products like Google Glass and the holodisplay that Microsoft has demonstrated mix the virtual right over top of the real.  There are even games using similar tech now, such as the upcoming Pokemon Go.

As the developers of the Shadowrun system and universe updated it, they had to work in modern developments that were not expected back when it was created, such as AR and wireless, that people today might take for granted or see as near-future, and they had to do it in a way that made sense in-universe.  Thus came the wireless Matrix being available anywhere, after a fashion, and overlaid on the real world via AR to interact with.

Well, jumping off that idea, with AR you can overlay images to change how something looks.  What this means, is that fashion may take a sudden dive to the left, as the clothes no longer matter.

For purposes of this thought experiment, let’s assume that computational power is not an issue – cloud computing, etc tied into your visor/glasses/monocle/implants.  In much the same way that the studio was able to replace Arnold or his double in the later Terminator movie with his younger self, in AR your device could edit out a person’s appearance and modify it in real-time. Want some expensive, fancy clothes, but without risk of damaging or soiling them?  Let AR overwrite them onto your body for anyone tied into the network who looks at you.

The fashion world would be rocked, but adapt, and clothes would lose most of their appearance aspects.  Instead of wearing something to look good, you’d wear(or not wear) what was comfortable and affordable.  Most instances of clothes would become drab and utilitarian, while to the everyday folks they would be surrounded by a cavalcade of color and whimsy, full of outfits that are not physically possible.  In warmer weather, to a person not tied into the AR network, it might even seem as if he or she had walked into a nudist colony!

The capability does not stop there, however.  If clothes can be overlaid, so can full appearances.  While flying may not be possible on a personal level, you might end up with a scene looking like a high-resolution realistic Second Life, as the only limits would be those set by the system.  Furries, otherkin, cosplayers, and many others would be drooling over such a capability to truly become their character, or their true self, depending on perspective.

There would have to be limits of course, as their physical bodies still exist, so likely there would be few taurs or other four-leggers running around, or tinies or macro beings for that matter. That aside, on one level this would appear to be a gateway to transhumanism – to become more than human.  Setting aside any social stigma such as exists now for furries and others of a kindred nature, you could be walking down a street and pass a wolf, a faerie, a sumo wrestler, just to enter McDonalds and be served by a tigress whose outfit barely covers her and a robot with visible gears and pistons. People could effectively be anything humanoid they wanted to be.

On the other hand, it’s all virtual.  Turn off the implant, take off the glasses, and you’ll find the boring, mundane, drab grey world still exists behind the glitzy facade, much like Las Vegas.  For some, that may be enough, and with less push behind it from the semi-human quarter, progress and research in that direction may slow or even halt entirely in some aspects.

With less need to take care of themselves physically, there may be increased health issues as well, though possibly less than some would think, as smell is not included in our little thought experiment.  Sound could be, however, providing voice-changers to all and sundry.

This idea however I could easily see being reachable in our lifetime, given the strides networking, parallel processing, and cloud computing has made in the past decade.  Safely gene-splicing to phsycially modify our bodies is much, much further away, I feel.  But with being able to gain the “perfect” body via AR, whatever your definition of perfect, may dis-incentivize  research into actually gaining that body, which may push the end result out even farther.  Then again, there’s no reason that VR couldn’t take off again, allowing people to move in VR and interact with people in the real world via AR, while in the comfort of their home, or maybe even in a computer if anyone manages to solve the problem of how to upload our minds and souls into our creations.

I guess overall I see it as a blind alley that we could easily head into. There may be a door that leads us to someplace unexpected, or we may end up having to turn around and start from zero once more.  Then again, the rumored singularity may happen and we just hop the alley wall into the unknown.

“You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometime…
You just might find…
That you get what you need~”

Comments are closed.