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Facebook wants to blur lines between reality and virtual reality

Sharon Gaudin | March 27, 2015
Facebook doesn't want to simply build a virtual reality game where users put on a headset and pretend they're flying a jet or commanding a tank.

Facebook doesn't want to simply build a virtual reality game where users put on a headset and pretend they're flying a jet or commanding a tank.

Facebook engineers and scientists say they can blur the lines between virtual reality (VR) and reality.

During today's keynote on the second day of the social network's annual F8 developers conference, the company made it clear it is focusing on three things.

First, Facebook wants to connect everyone on the planet to the Internet, using drones and satellites.

Second, the company is working with artificial intelligence technology to help people cull through the massive clutter of information on the Internet to find the images and data that are truly useful to them.

And third, Facebook wants to build an immersive technology that "teleports" users to a new place and gives them new experiences with people they care about.

This third part what might seem like something of a moonshot to a lot of people is where virtual reality comes into play.

About a year ago, Facebook bought Oculus, a company that makes virtual reality headsets. This technology, in the hands of the largest social network in the world, is aimed at changing the way people not only play games, but share information and experiences on Faceook.

According to Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Oculus, they're not that far away from making it happen.

The VR games today are more immersive than their predecessors, and can partially fool the brain into thinking the user is actually in a fighter jet or other situation. If the user comes too close to the edge of a precipice, for instance, many reach out to grab a bar for balance, but the bar is only in the virtual reality game.

In such cases, the brain is beginning to believe the user is in the game.

Abrash said Oculus hopes to release a "good consumer product," possibly in a year or two.

The company wants to study how the brain, and the body's sensors, perceive the world around it. Oculus also needs to further develop the technology that will convince the brain that the game is "real."

"How do you define real?" Abrash asked the F8 audience. "If it's what you can feel, smell and taste and see, then real is just electrical signals that you can interpret in your brain. That's why you are going to care a lot about VR sooner or later."

Abrash said our conscious minds never interact with the real world. People interact with sensors in their eyes, ears, skin, tongues and noses. That, he said, is a very small subset of the real world.

 

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