Sony Brings Real
Life Matrix A Step Closer
Sony is preparing to unveil a simulated reality world in which Playstation gamers can create a new life for themselves, complete with their own apartment, friends, movies, shopping and entertainment, bringing the reality of an actual matrix a step closer.
"Sony has unveiled plans for its own virtual universe for the PlayStation 3 where users will be able to socialise, shop and even go to the movies -- all without setting foot outside in the real world. The service -- a kind of MySpace meets Linden Lab's Second Life meets the video-sharing site YouTube -- will become available for PS3 users worldwide in late 2007, Sony announced in a statement available here Thursday," reports AFP.
The concept of simulated reality is understood to mean a computer generated world that is almost indistinguishable from reality. Though Sony's "Home" service is at its foundation just a souped up interactive entertainment platform, the technology to in effect step inside the screen, similar to a virtual reality experience, is close at hand.
The technology to take a video capture of an individual, turn it into a kind of hologram and then beam it to the other side of the world and have that hologram interact with others already exists. Within the next fifteen years we are likely to see the transformation of online shopping to the point where buyers can actually walk through virtual reality stores and pick up and inspect the holograms of the products they are interested in.
Projecting even further down the line, simulated reality allied with hologram technology will allow individuals to attend social gatherings, educational classes, sports events and more without having to leave the comfort of their own home. Whether such events are actually taking place in the real world or are solely artificial creations of the virtual environment will be down to the discretion of the user.
All this paves the way for a potential Matrix-like scenario where people are literally plugged in to a falsely constructed reality. Whoever controls that Matrix thus controls the activities of its users and participation may eventually become mandatory, with babies subsequently being born directly into the matrix.
Or on the other hand, the Matrix could act as a kind of subscription based escapism, where users pay extortionate fees to exist inside a mock utopia in order to flee the horror of the real world.
This scenario was fictionalized in the popular 1990's UK Sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, where the crew partake in a "Total Immersion Video Game" called Better than Life, a virtual reality paradise where one's every demand is instantly gratified.
In the novel of the same name, the characters are unaware that they are living in an artificial reality and the system even causes the users to imagine semi-plausible explanations for strange events so that they never come to the realization that their life is a technologically induced hallucination. Meanwhile, the bodies of the users in the real world wither away and die while they are consciously locked into the game.
Parallels can be drawn to an increasing trend that is particularly prevalent in Asia, where individuals become addicted to online games, play for 50 hours straight before collapsing and dying.
Philip K. Dick covered similar territory in his book Time Out of Joint, where the main character slowly comes to the realization that existence is a utopian 1950's construct bubble-wrapped around people to prevent them waking up to the nightmare that the real world is 30 years in the future and embroiled in interplanetary war.
The theme was touched upon again in a later Red Dwarf episode, Back to Reality, but this time the crew apparently die but then are awoken to be told they have spent four years inside a virtual reality simulation and that it's time to return to the real world. The characters soon find out why they wanted to plug themselves into a contrived simulation in the first place, their lives are worthless, the world has turned into a Socialist dictatorship and demand to escape into the artificial utopia is incessant. Though later it turns out to be a shared hallucination, the episode provides an allegorical warning to resist the human temptation to give up on reality and replace it with an induced nirvana.
For those who doubt that the human race could be lured into such an all-encompassing matrix, consider the fact that our own eyes are merely windows through which our brain decodes information in different ways. Anyone with a basic knowledge of how to control this process can influence our thinking patterns and this has been achieved through the medium of television, which is in itself a kind of artificial reality where the viewer is put in a highly suggestible state and experiences suspended disbelief, believing in the moment everything on the screen to be real.
Travel down any average suburban American street and no longer will you see people outside talking to their neighbors or children playing, these activities having been replaced by the blue glow of the television that can be seen emanating from every window.
There will also be a prominent segment of the population, the Trans-Humanist movement, that will vociferously advocate the simulated reality nexus and call for those who refuse to participate to be punished and relegated to the fringes of society as some kind of caste sub-species.
A concurrent theme that runs throughout almost all dystopic futurist cinema and literature is the concept that technology is advancing at a rate far too quickly for humans to adequately judge its moral implications and eventual impact. Sony's "Home" service is another small step towards a not so distant future in which human beings choose or are forced to exist inside a false reality, while a tiny elite claim the real world as their own, ruling over it as they please while the majority of humans are transfixed by the temptation to escape into a simulated environment.
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