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CYBER SPACE, XR AND A PROPHECY ABOUTSOMETHING THAT MAY HAPPEN THERE

As a consequence of the digital revolution, believed to have begun with the expansion of personal computers, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the world had stopped functioning as a single-layered plane. “Cyber space,” conceptualised in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, which has inspired The Matrix series, is a computational environment that enables immersion and has permeated the very DNA of our world.



Structurally, cyber space comprises mathematical operations and is built, regenerated, and, if necessary, erased by calculators called “computers.” It dwells in abstractions as per the abstract nature of mathematics. For now, everything it can contain is composed of ones and zeroes. The strange attraction of this abstract and intangible meta-nature quickly changes the way people work along with their material (and even spiritual) culture. Since the 1980s, items of material culture vaporise quickly to be converted into algorithms. A myriad of objects including video cassettes, vinyls, newspapers, books, maps, letters, and bills have fast shed their material existence and claimed their place in the realm of algorithms. The more they joined, the more they grew akin to the nature of cyber space. For instance, maps stopped being rolls of printed paper and became substances that can encompass the entire world, zoom in and out, interact, follow the user’s location, guide the user, and can even be changed by them. The nature of mathematics that includes infinite possibilities redefines daily objects and how users interact with them.


BRIDGE BETWEEN WORLDS


This universe in its infancy, limited only by imagination, has only been spectated via screens, “through the peephole,” for years. Since technologies developed since the 1960s became available to mass users after the 2000s, bridges have been built between the computational world and the physical world on massive scales. These bridges are named based on the percentage of user’s perception in the physical world and the computational world. Technologies that enable this are called “reality mediators,” and they offer a prosthetic view with computer-supported devices for people to perceive the computational world. For instance, the concept called “virtual reality” is a computer-simulated interactive environment designed to be experienced as a physical space, experienced through virtual headsets. These headsets seal the user’s visual perception off from environmental stimulants for complete immersion in the virtual space. Peripheral elements such as headsets, data gloves, motion chairs, scent simulators (along with computational counterparts) enable users to have experiences in the computational world in a nearly closed-off state from the physical world. Who knows—in the future, all our senses might become completely interactable with cyber space via subdermal implants, offering us experiences completely independent from physical space. These devices do more than catalyse the user’s perception of cyber space; they can also be used to alter cyber space.


Other objects connected with cyber space also respond to these changes. For instance, virtual reality technology enables flying an unmanned aerial vehicle in real time in the physical world. Thus, the more cyber space is connected to its objects, the more possible it becomes to alter or regulate physical space. And this invalidates the idea that cyber space is just a figment of one’s imagination. On the other hand, humanity takes shape inside another object with no organic connections. The cycle of time and space to which the user is physically attached is broken, directing the user to utilise the sensors of the device to experience/observe their surroundings.



AUGMENTED REALITY(IES)


Augmented reality is another way to interact with cyber space. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality perceptively embeds the physical world into the experience. Here, the computational universe is mapped onto the physical world—overlapping, merging, and melding the two into one another. The perception of the user is opened to both worlds. This environment is a hybrid of physical and computational worlds. Users can use computations to display information about the physical objects exhibited in a museum. They can move freely within physical and cyber space, their bodies adorned with agency in both worlds.


There are other ways to access the computational world apart from augmented reality and physical reality. Interaction between the physical world and the computational world can also be facilitated through mixed reality and integral reality. Since the definitions of new technologies usually are prone to intersect, it may be challenging to make definitive statements. For instance, is it augmented or virtual reality when someone wears an augmented reality headset and stands in the middle of the street and enters the simulation of a closed-off house to see nothing but the house itself? Where does it begin or end? At the threshold of the house? Let’s think of another example. Imagine wandering in virtual reality and holding a sphere in your hands. If you also hold a sphere in the physical world, is it virtual reality, or mixed reality? What should we call it if the physical sphere can also shape the computational space? Luckily, one concept is deemed large enough to include all these questions that can be multiplied in quality and quantity. Extended reality is the umbrella concept that encompasses augmented reality, virtual reality, and all reality terms that might emerge in the future, starting from a single pixel mapped onto the physical world to sealing all limits of perception with computational stimulants. Therefore, it comprises all the bridges between the physical world and the computational world. It also blurs the boundaries in-between with each new technology.


MULTI-LAYERED TIME AND SPACE


These bridges between the computational world and the physical world enable a deeper experience and transformation of new modes of interaction along with many other innovations brought along by the digital revolution. Since its early days, concepts of time, space, and identity have been put into play. The weeks-long journey of letters has been replaced by instantly delivered emails and posts; meanwhile, virtual reality headsets gather people from all across the world in the same computational space. Hyper jumps between spaces are possible. With augmented reality headsets, people can look at the same city and watch scenes from various times in its history, independent of one another. Human body and space have become hybrid, adopting more than one computational layer. The concept of identity has also been expanded by the digital revolution. One person can adopt various identities. Users can use any avatar, including a simulated version of their physical form. One can be independent of one’s self, including identification with any or no gender at all. Humans can become extraterrestrial beings, animals, plants, or objects and interact with their surroundings. They can experience any kind of existence that can be designed computationally in digitally-multiplied and transformed states. Time, space and identity become multi-layered in the computational universe, and can be multiplied at will. The choice lies in the hands of the user. Computers and augmented reality that facilitate its opportunities put these concepts into circulation, ambiguates and recreates them.

The most crucial point is that the physical world has also become more layered. The more computers are equipped to perceive their surroundings through machine sight and learning, the better they have become at defining the objects around them. This development not only makes it possible to place all “definable” objects and spaces into cyber space but also build them in layers. For instance, users at a shopping mall can scan an item via their smartphone to access the item’s price information and other qualities. The opposite can be done as well. As offered by IKEA’s augmented reality application, users can place an item they like from the computational category in a corner of their house to see if it fits. The fact that computers can detect their surroundings, even non-electronic objects and beings can be embedded in the computational world, in layers. What’s even more thrilling is that they can find their projection in the physical world by becoming computational objects via, as Baudrillard put it, “generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”


The generated computational objects cannot be perceived without computer assistance. For instance, there can be an exhibition of more than a hundred sculptures in Kadıköy Square right now. Or there can be not. When someone walks through a computational sculpture, they might alter its form in another user’s perception and computational world, without having the slightest idea of their effect. This information only becomes visible when they look into this layered world through a computer. This situation entails a strange dilemma: Are the computational or hybrid objects generated by the abstract nature of mathematics real? What’s the difference between an unplugged home assistant and a pebble? What’s the difference between walking through a computational sculpture and going on a stroll on a windless day?


COMPUTATIONAL REALITY, WHICH HAS SLOWLY BECOME A PART OF OUR LIVES THROUGH ENRICHING IT, WILL CONTINUE TO BRING UNEXPECTED NOVELTIES.


Computational environments have their own reality because this computational universe, accessible through these new ways, can only be lived through experience. Its vitality and existence are proven by the experience of its users. From this perspective, experience is the source of life in cyber space where it’s created, altered, transformed, disrupted, and recreated every day. Thus, the computational universe embodies its existence through experiences in our own reality; it’s an addition, an enrichment to the physical world. The augmented reality environment regenerates the computational world either by clashing it with the physical world or entirely reinterpreting it within the computational world. Today, it permeates art galleries, entertainment centres, houses, and smartphones, building layers out of humanity’s physical nature and merging it with meta-reality. Computational reality, which has slowly become a part of our lives through enriching it, will continue to bring unexpected novelties. Imagine an entirely computational twin of our world. Every bit of stone, every structure, human, animal are repeatedly scanned by systems independent of one another in order to collect data for this realm of infinite possibilities and to continually add them to the layers of the physical world. Therefore, it’s all-dynamic, unlike the familiar Google Earth software. It changes every moment. People use computers as an extension of their minds to perceive and regulate their surroundings through more than one reality. An unlimited connection of computers, layers that can be multiplied as much as desired, and the machine-assisted and ever-enhancing human perception commute between physical and computational worlds, transforming each. Someone walking on the lakeside picks up a stone, gives it a computational definition, uploads a favourite song to one of the layers, and throws the stone into the lake. The moment the stone touches the surface of the lake, the computational layers of the lake overlap the song of the stone, giving birth to new in the future.

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