The future is here, and it is glorious – but it’s not real. Or so said Mark Zuckerberg in an interview published Wednesday, wherein he sketched Facebook’s grand ambitions for virtual reality. If Zuckerberg’s billions have anything to do with it (and it’s reasonable to suppose that they will), headsets like the Oculus Rift will shape our future digital lives, transforming everything from movie-watching, to tennis matches, to sharing baby pictures with our friends into immersive, technicolour 3D experiences.
Oculus is Latin for “eye,” and the Oculus Rift, which went on sale earlier this year and lists for $599, is an incredible device. Strapped to the head, it offers 360 degrees of vision and sound, potentially opening new possibilities in playing games—the gateway drug for VR, Zuckerberg says. He also wants it to be used for watching sports, making movies, joining conversations around the world, or things no one’s imagined yet. But it’s still limited—in resolution, how it tracks movement, and how the body responds to what it projects, among many other things. The problems are enormous and require a deeper understanding of human sensory mechanisms than currently exists. (For example, how should a pair of goggles follow the movement of the eye to allow the processor to manipulate the plane of focus?) It’s going to take billions to make it work.