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What Is Reality?

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SIGGRAPH 2014 logo

It is not my intention, despite the dramatic headline, to attempt to dissect our shared conception/perception of the world around us. Being here at SIGGRAPH, among the motion-capture suits and 3D printers, the augmented-reality glasses and virtual-reality headsets, seeing the many ways in which real objects are brought into the digital world and digital objects are being made tangible, raises some questions about what is real and what is not.

Yesterday, I spoke with a developer who is adapting Epson's Movario smart glasses to provide augmented reality museum tours. The Museum Glasses, when available, will provide the wearer with augmented views of museum exhibits, both visually and through verbal narratives. Quite an advance from my childhood visit to Franklin Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, NY, during which my grandparents rented a bulky tape player on which the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt would guide us from room to room, sharing personal stories about each part of their home.

I also saw a company promoting a motion-capture suit without the suit. Noitom ("motion"backwards) is producing "kits" of motion-capture sensors that you can strap on, and then interact with their games. Use just a few sensors and you can animate your hand (as I did, to try it out, with an Oculus VR headset; pretty cool) or you can get the full suite of sensors and animate your full body, and even tools/weapons (we are talking about gaming, after all).

Among the emerging technologies being presented here, Cyberith, an organization with the slogan "reality is not enough," is showing the Virtualizer, a low-friction base plate attached to a waist-high ring of sensors; once strapped in, the movement of your shoeless feet on the base plate propels a virtual you through a game's terrain, allowing you to "walk, run, and strafe freely in every direction" (I promise that's what their brochure says

Remember the old saying "the camera doesn't lie"? Well, it does, and apparently it will continue telling more and better lies in the future. In a session today on the secrets behind the film "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," I learned the hero's battle in Times Square was the result of extensive film and still-image capture of the site and many months of digital rendering to portray the buildings, the extensive digital signage, and even the lighting for the specific time of day so accurately that the scene appeared to have been shot there.

Alas, it actually was shot in front of massive green screens in a parking lot in Bethpage, NY. If we can't trust our eyes any more what, indeed, is reality?

Lawrence M. Fisher is Senior Editor/News for ACM magazines.


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