Welcome back everyone, and thank you for joining me for the third episode of Monday Musings! I do apologize for lack of Musing last week. It was super crunch time as I finished preparing my debut novel Steel Souls, Book 1: Life in the Machine for publication (Click Here to check it out on Amazon). But now that’s in the past, and it’s time to look toward the future. I’m working on finalizing my next novel (Click Here to sign up for the newsletter and watch that process unfold!), but now I have time to get back on track with these Musings, and today I’d like to talk about something very near and dear to my heart: virtual reality. Jump past the break to dive into the virtual world!
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Virtual Reality is definitely not a new concept. It was a strong presence in the 1984 Cyberpunk classic Neuromancer and later in Snow Crash. Tad William’s amazing Otherland Trilogy was built around it. Even Star Trek has their Holodeck. Unfortunately, it has not made very great strides here in the real world. Although the technology has improved, we’re still using headsets (like the Oculus Rift) and controllers. Even the most advanced setup around looks pretty ridiculous.
So, when I wanted to put virtual reality into my novel, I had to think hard about how I wanted it to work. Although the reality had to be something truly immersive, I wanted to at least pretend it could actually happen someday. I’ve always felt that Star Trek’s Holodeck would be too difficult to pull off in the “real” world, so that was out. Snow Crash used an interface that was barely better than what we have now. The user would wear a pair of goggles on which the virtual world was projected. I never really believed that an interface like that would be immersive enough to call “reality.” Otherland had several different interface options. At one point, Tad’s characters use a “harness room” to enter their virtual reality. In this method, they don goggles and gloves, then hang from the ceiling in harnesses. This allows them to move their legs and arms more naturally as they interact with the virtual interface. Still not good enough, in my humble opinion. However, those same characters eventually get ahold of some military grade interfaces, which resemble sarcophagi filled with gel. The users lay down in the gel, and it has the unique ability to harden or soften at any point within the volume. This allows the users to push against it, and it to push back. I think this came the closest of any external system to achieving true immersion. Star Trek’s Holodeck is, of course, a perfect simulation, but I always felt that the “hard light” of the holograms, coupled with the difficulties of people moving about a small room as if it were an infinite landscape, keep this interface out of the realm of “plausible.”
So, I knew I wanted to go with a more “internal” solution, like that espoused by Neuromancer, The Matrix, and other parts of Otherland. These interfaces connect directly to the nervous system or the brain. This is called a “Brain-Computer Interface.” There are two methods of doing this. The first is to insert electrodes directly into the brain. The nice thing about this type of interface is that all the information the computer needs is directly available, and the user can just think a specific thought to instruct the computer. The problem is that putting more electrical material in the brain is not a good idea and can result in lesions and other injuries. So, the other solution is to insert the electrodes into the nerves extending from the base of the brain. These nerves receive all the electrical impulses from throughout the body, and send instructions from the brain to the rest of the body. An interface of this type is called a “Neural Jack” and is nice because the computer can accurately report all sensations from the virtual world, providing perfect immersion. However, the user would have to interact with the virtual world through some sort of body simulation, because individual thoughts would not make it to those nerves. In an exciting turn of events, I actually discovered an article talking about development of an actual neural jack. Could this actually happen in our lifetimes? I certainly hope so! 😀
All that being said, the characters in my universe are in a unique situation. They don’t have “brains” or “nerves” as such. Their unique Souls are encased in an inorganic substance I refer to as a “Soul Stone” into which electrical “nerves” are inserted to allow the Gem to interact with the outside world. The downside of this is that a direct Brain-Computer Interface is not possible, because any thoughts beyond simple commands that can be transmitted down those nerves are going to stay in the Gem. So, a modification on the Neural Jack would be necessary, and that’s what characters like Maya use to interface with the virtual world of the “CyberNet” in Steel Souls, Book 1: Life in the Machine.