"Virtual presence is indistinguishable from real presence."
The subject lowers a light-weight cap onto his head, adjusts it,
and thinks a short series of digits, one at a time. This puts
the cap into calibration mode, allowing the subject to compare
normal sensations (sights, sounds, kinesthetic feels, emotions,
and so forth) with those originated by the cap, and transmitted
to him directly, via cortical implants, bypassing his eyes,
ears, taste buds, and other organic sensory organs.
The calibration consists of simple "A/B" tests, in which the
synthetic data are compared, one percept at a time, to the
natural data. Only when these data are indistinguishable, one
from the other, is the device thought to be successfully
The cap is a reality simulator, operating in its most basic and
perhaps its most important mode, Being-here, now. In this mode,
the device generates and transmits to the subject all those
sensations which a normal, sentient subject would receive if
located at that particular point in space, at that particular
time. The cap creates virtual presence for the wearer.
When properly calibrated, the subject reports no difference
when, in A-mode, he thinks "B," or when B-mode, he thinks "A."
Virtual presence is indistinguishable from real presence.
It is in basic "here-now" mode that reality simulators will be
delivered to the congenitally blind and deaf, allowing them to
make their way around the world just as though they had eyes and
ears. Robotics engineers will "front-end" their creations with
such devices, when these creations are expected to act as men.
Voyagers to perilous environments, where it may be too hot or
cold for people to go, or where there may be no air to breathe,
will let the reality simulators go the last mile, resulting in
fewer singed eyebrows for people like Red Adair, the oil-well
firefighter, and more visits to places like the planet Triton,
where people have never been able to visit before.
Perfected versions of the "here-now" cap will be vanishingly
thin, and will be worn in swimming pools, and in bed, just like
the best artificial hairpieces are today. You'll not know you
have it on, unless of course you would be otherwise blind, or
deaf, or unable to feel your legs because you didn't have any.
For some people, the "here-now" caps will make a big difference.
For others of us, the differences may be less miraculousless
life-givingbut not much less exciting. For a start,
corrective lenses (eyeglasses) and hearing aids will all be
scrapped as early, crude versions of the cap, which attempted
with varying degrees of success to compensate for defective
operation of the aboriginal sense organs themselves. With the
cap on, calibrated vision will be 20/20, and everyone will be
able to hear 20 thousand cycleseven burnt-out recording
Veridical (normal) sense perception will be not just equaled,
but improved upon, using the cap. Obvious enhancements will
include the visual "zoom," by which apparent distance between
the subject and object being viewed will be adjustable,
internally, at the thought-command of the subject. Telescopic
and microscopic vision will thus become possible. Infra-red
enhancement of low-light level environments will be switched in
automatically, yet remain defeatable for walks under the stars,
naps, and romantic interludes.
Certain optional modes of operation will respond to aesthetic
whims and preferences, such as the auditory harmonizer, which
will boost all even-numbered harmonics, and hence make all the
things we hear somehow "more musical," just like early (pre-CBS)
guitar amplifiers and vacuum-tube microphones used to do. A
"Super-Tylenol" mode will screen back all but the most
compelling aches and pains, with an adjustable threshold level
which will be cherished by the terminally ill.
On-board cap data storage devices will allow for "buffered," or
time-altered perception. Particularly pleasurable interludes
could be "slowed down" in order to better savor the moment; the
very best moments would become instant replays, and even
repeated instant replays, creating powerful, new addictions by
which the authorities will be baffled for some time.1
"Here-now" cap wearers will have no reason to think that, by
putting on the cap and enjoying the enhancement features it
conveys, they are entering into a world which is somehow
"unreal." The artificially perceived world is the "same" world
we perceive directly, with the cap turned off. That's what the
"A/B" calibration test showed: first, the world through
conventional eyes and ears; second, the world through the cap.
There was no difference. The external world of objects thought
to exist on the basis of normal perception is the same place
thought to exist on the basis of machine perception. Virtual
presence in a world is no different from real presence. The
world is as real in one case, as it is in the other. Once
calibrated, the machine is perfectly transparent.
This conclusion, that the external world is the same place
whether we perceive it using eyes and ears, or an electronic
cap, becomes particularly provocative once alternate modes of
operation of the simulatoreach equally transparent as the
basic "here-now" modeare considered.
Being-here, then, or living in the past, consists of the recall
of memory traces. This is what we do on our own when we
"remember" past experiences; machine-aided recollection would
involve the re-presentation of sensory data which we had already
experienced, and which had been preserved, or recorded, in
storage devices similar to computer hard disk drives, or CD-ROM
platters. These earlier moments would be re-lived with perfect
clarity. User interaction with such past personal environments
would give us insight into what would have become of our lives
had the road not traveled actually been traveledhad we made
our life choices differently.
Being-there, now happens when the cap is put at the end of a
cable, which might be very long by everyday standards. Boston to
Los Angeles, for example. In a more flexible version, data from
distant "caps" would be received via electronic transmission,
recreating a distant there, here. That of course is the full
equivalent of traveling there, from here, at the speed of light,
which has been called "teleportation" by writers of current
Being-there, then is what we call travel into the past, and
becomes possible when we play back sensory information, not
necessarily our own memory traces, which had been generated and
stored at an earlier date. It is this mode of operation which
educators will use to make history come to life. Electronic news
magazines will serve to memorialize the present for all time, in
the sense of allowing as-yet unborn generations to participate
in that instant of time, at their option, forever, at the flip
of a switch. User interaction with these environments will allow
lifelike participation in not just actual, but all possible
adventure sagas, subject only to limitations imposed by the
availability of archived sensory data.
Being-there, later, which we will recognize as travel into the
future, can be seen in terms of complete information imported
from all points of distant space, taken up within a framework of
physical laws which allow the prediction of future occurrences.
These events could be rendered as information, and the
information made to simulate the future environment, which then
could be experienced by the observer-subject as real.
However, putting our tongue in our cheek, should we not
provisionally declare that it would be only "here-now"
simulation that involves us with the real world? Should not the
alternate modes hinted at here be qualified by the adjective
"virtual," in order that we keep our apples and oranges
straight, and our real things separate from phantoms and
1 It is almost certain that sensory
replacement systems of the
sort envisioned here will be made illegal for a time; at another
stage, only gendarmes and politicians will be authorized to wear
them. Finally, everyone will be wearing them, without knowing
it, since the "caps" will be issued at birth, in the form of
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.