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Every generation has found ways to use new technology to shock their parents. VR is probably next on the list. Virtual Reality Why Virtual Reality Technology Will Blow Your Mind in 5 Years Why Virtual Reality Technology Will Blow Your Mind in 5 Years The future of virtual reality includes head, eye and expression tracking, simulated touch, and much more. These amazing technologies will be available to you in 5 years or less. Read More  is rapidly improving, and it’s going to transform the most intimate areas of life.

David Holz, the founder of Leap Motion, has a talk he likes to give entitled “Our Kids Are Going to Get Really Weird“. He’s talking about the philosophical implications of VR — but the sentiment is much more broadly true than that. If there were a theme song for VR, that would be the chorus.

Soon, our kids are going to have access to machines that can completely and convincingly take over all their perceptions, providing experiences that we can’t even imagine. Suffice to say, the generation gap is going to be enormous. Every day we hear how new technology is going to disrupt this or that industry. Well, VR is going to disrupt puberty. 

What will that look like? It’s impossible to know for sure, but we can make some educated guesses. Today, we’re going to dive in and take a peek at what VR will make possible in three to five years — and why you should probably get your panicking out of the way now.

The Social Machine

VR is already developing a reputation as an anti-social technology, and it’s easy to see why. The image of someone sealed off in their own fantasy world behind opaque goggles hits some scary psychological buttons.

Nintendo of America President Reggie File-Aime told Polygon that VR is “not fun, and it’s not social. It’s just tech.” This seems to be the consensus in many parts of the gaming industry, with the CEO of Take-Two Interactive expressing a similar point of view.

This perspective is obvious, but I think it’s almost exactly wrong. While VR does isolate you from people who are physically near you, it opens the possibility of being deeply social with anyone, anywhere on the planet 5 Ways the Metaverse Won't Be Like You Think 5 Ways the Metaverse Won't Be Like You Think As the roller-coaster comes to a halt before its impending drop, you look out and wonder how a virtual world could look so real. This kind of experience could be yours some day. Read More . In one sense, VR is the holy grail of communication technology — something that can convince your lizard brain that it’s in the same room as another person. Ultimately, all of the little nuances that gives face-to-face communication special power can be recorded and transmitted.

One of the demos Oculus showed at E3 this year was Toybox. The demo put two users into the same virtual space together, allowing them to play with toys together, using Oculus’ gesture-tracking motion controller. Reviews have been amazingly positive. Even without facial expressions or detailed avatars, VR is already able to engage the social parts of our brains in a way that no other technology can.

Faces may not be far away, either! Oculus is working with a research group using a depth camera 6 Technologies That Will Change How You Use Your Smartphone 6 Technologies That Will Change How You Use Your Smartphone What will our phones look like in five years? Let's talk about the exciting technologies that could change the way we use our phones in the near future. Read More and strain sensors to capture the pose of the face from within a head mounted display (see the video below).

None of this technology is particularly expensive. While there’s still some work to be done in terms of accuracy and form factor and eliminating the calibration step, this stuff could easily make its way into consumer products in a hardware generation or two.

Contrary to current fears, VR may prove to be the most social technology in human history.

The Transatlantic First Date

Imagine going on a first date in VR. It’d be a lot like a first date in real life. You’d smile and laugh. You’d exchange sly glances, and wouldn’t know what to do with your hands. Maybe you’d both look a little cartoonish, but your partner would feel very real — and every gesture and tiny facial expression would be there.

Aside from the fact that you might be on the moon, there’d be very little to remind you that you weren’t physically there.

All of this could happen without the two of you being anywhere near each other. You could go on a date with someone in France or China. Obviously, this sort of thing could be a godsend for couple in long-term relationships. It’s also easy to imagine it being folded into dating apps like OKCupid and Tinder 3 Gamer Dating Sites For Finding Geeky Dates 3 Gamer Dating Sites For Finding Geeky Dates Gamers deserve love too, and several sites have popped up over the years that can help gamers find romantic partners who also share a love for video games. Read More , allowing you to quickly meet your matches in a safe, effortless way. Picture a kind of hyper-efficient, technology-mediated speed dating. There’s a billion dollar startup in there somewhere.

This is a pretty big deal already, but let’s take it a step farther. Imagine a long term relationship that takes place entirely using virtual reality. Current VR, focused on sight, sound, and motion wouldn’t be enough. Relationships depend on touch — not just sex, but also casual touch (a kiss, a hug, a held hand). The lack of these things is one of the primary contributors to the demise of long term relationships 4 Online Relationship Tips That Actually Work 4 Online Relationship Tips That Actually Work There are plenty of examples to show that Happily Ever After is attainable for online and long distance relationships. Here are some of the best tips and advice to keep you on the right path. Read More . So, can tech provide this experience?

Teledildonics

Conveying touch over the Internet is something that people have put a lot of work into over the years, although none of it measures up to the standard set by virtual reality glasses. There’s a jacket that can simulate the pressure of a hug. There’s a very early prototype of a device that can transmit a kiss over the Internet. There are terrifying armatures that can provide full force feedback to your hands (and, yes, they can simulate boobs).

None of this stuff is particularly mature or practical, but it shows one possible path ahead. It seems unlikely that the future involves strapping people into horrifying mechanical armatures like the one above. But it might be possible to use ‘artificial muscle‘ technology to shrink the whole operation into something more manageable, like a jacket and gloves. You can imagine adding extra peripherals for kissing or, well, canoodling.

There’s been serious work done on that problem, too.

A number of sex toy makers have started developing computer-controlled sex toys that can be linked to other sex toys via the Internet. The idea being that whatever you do to one toy is replicated by the other. This is called, amusingly, ‘teledildonics.’ These are fairly crude right now, and largely just squeeze or vibrate. To solve the problem properly, you’d want something that can move and rotate freely — a sex toy on a six-axis robotic mount.

Since the VR revolution started, a few companies have already started to combine sex toys and force-feedback peripherals to achieve this effect. The next step, I suspect, is mounting these devices to the body to open up more simulation possibilities.

Right now, this technology is pretty crude, but it won’t stay that way for long. The killer app for this stuff (VR sex) hasn’t been invented yet. Once that’s in place, I don’t think it’ll be very long before we start to see huge demand and rapid progress. In five year’s time, you’ll likely be able to buy a very convincing product at a reasonable price with discrete shipping. It’ll probably never be entirely convenient — but if the Internet has taught me anything, it’s that people will do some pretty crazy stuff to get laid. Strapping on silly-looking teledildonics gear isn’t even a question.

It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that this will change the world. Right now, “cybersex” is a somewhat quaint tradition on online roleplaying forums and games. It’s little more than a slight update to the old concept of phone sex.

That state of affairs isn’t going to last very long.

In just a few years, cybersex is going to be alarmingly physical, and in some ways indistinguishable from the real thing. It even has some advantages: you can look like whatever you want, which would be a huge relief for the unattractive, the disabled, and the transgendered – to say nothing of furries. It’s also the safest possible sex, isolating you from any risk of infection or unintentional pregnancy. It also simplifies issues of consent, which could plausibly be implemented as a software layer.

Imagine going through puberty in the near future. Where kids of ten years ago hid porn under their beds, our kids may soon do the same thing with teledildonics gear. It’s going to be a very different world, and one with a huge number of prickly legal and social questions that we haven’t even begun to answer.

Beware the Lotus Eaters

On the whole, I think this is a good thing. I’m in favor of anything that reduces the rate of teen pregnancy, and this technology can do a lot of good for a lot of people. I’m also skeptical of the notion that this tech will spoil the morals of the upcoming generation – although I look forward to the inevitable moral panic when the thousand-year-old vampires of daytime news find out about this stuff.

There is one potential dark side to all this worth discussing.

Once you’ve got all this elaborate technology to simulate the act of having sex, you don’t need to have another human at the other end of it. VR porn is already a thing, and teledildonics will make it much more compelling. After all, why go to the trouble of building a relationship with another person, when you can simply summon a dead-eyed-but-compliant virtual waif?

Most people will probably still choose to actually put the effort in to build relationships with real people, but I think there is a real risk of some people simply opting out of puberty.

People might choose to retreat into ultra-convincing VR porn rather than endure the rather substantial discomfort that you have to put up with to learn to interact with the opposite sex. Science fiction has seen this one coming for a long time. There’s even an episode of Star Trek about it.

My colleague, Ryan, has written about the emerging technology of humanoid sex robots How AI Sex Dolls Will Change Dating in Just Three Years [NSFW] How AI Sex Dolls Will Change Dating in Just Three Years [NSFW] Dating has always been difficult, for men and women alike. However, the latest advances in artificial intelligence is set to create a growing sex robot industry, and may very well change the foundation of human... Read More , and how they might change the future of sex. I tend to suspect that VR will beat out sex robots for this in the long run. VR sex toys are less mechanically limited by the need to appear human, and are easier to hide when family visits. There’s also the uncanny valley problem.

Making a silicone robot look human enough not to creep people out is extremely hard. In contrast, computer graphics has a long history of creating non-creepy characters at a variety of different levels of graphical fidelity. This will probably continue as graphical fidelity improves to photo-realistic levels over the coming years.

VR porn may wind up being very compelling before too long. At the very least, traditional 2D porn is completely doomed. Is this a problem? I have no idea. Maybe I’m just being a luddite – but it is the element of all this that most bothers me.

The Not So Long Run

Over the next five years or so, the ways that we think about sex and relationships are going to change. “Online dating Online Dating - Men Don't Get It And Women Don't Understand Online Dating - Men Don't Get It And Women Don't Understand Do online dating websites work? It's time for a frank discussion! What I learned from interviews was that online dating is equally painful for men and for women, but for very different reasons. Read More ” is going to take on a much more radical meaning. The future is going to be weird. And not just mundanely “oh we have robots now” weird. The kind of weird that your grandma experiences when she stumbles onto 4chan.

I’m probably only scratching the surface of the technology-enabled depravity that people are going to come up with for this stuff. It’s going to be a crazy ride, and I’m genuinely curious to see if civilization survives it.

Interested in the implications of telepresence? Worried about the future? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: sending a kiss Via Shutterstock

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