The Metaverse is coming
“虚拟实境”来了

何谓真实 What is real, anyway?-书迷号 shumihao.com

WITNESS ANY videoconference call, and it is striking how awkward it still is—everyone is in boxes, looking off in random directions. Microsoft tried to fix this recently with “Together” mode for its Teams application. Created by Jaron Lanier, a virtual-reality pioneer, it does away with boxes and puts everyone in a shared virtual space such as an auditorium. All participants see the whole group at once, as if they were all being reflected in a huge virtual mirror. Mr Lanier says this allows social and spatial awareness functions in the brain to work more naturally, and makes it harder to notice irregularities in eye contact.
随便看看哪个视频会议,你会吃惊地发现一切还是那么叫人尴尬:每个人都在一个方框里,眼睛望向不知什么地方。微软最近在它的Teams应用中推出了“共聚”(Together)模式来尝试解决这个问题。它由虚拟现实先驱杰伦·拉尼尔(Jaron Lanier)创建,去掉了方框,把所有人都放进一个共享的虚拟空间,比如一个礼堂里。所有与会者都能一眼看到所有人,就像他们都映照在一面巨大的虚拟镜子里一样。拉尼尔说,这会令大脑中的社交和空间意识功能运作更自然,也更难注意到眼神交流的紊乱。

For Mr Lanier, “Together” mode is a small contribution to a philosophy he holds dear—that, as technology develops, it should keep people in mind. Instead of asking “is videoconferencing good or bad?” or “is VR good or bad?”, he says, the real question is “how can we make this more human-centred?” He sees virtual realities as a path to that goal, by making computing more human-friendly.
对拉尼尔而言,“共聚”模式是他为自己坚信的一个理念做出的一个小小贡献——他相信随着技术不断发展,技术应把人铭记于心。他说人们不该问“视频会议是好是坏?”或者“虚拟现实技术是好是坏?”,真正的问题是“我们如何把它变得更以人为本?”他认为虚拟现实是实现这个目标的途径之一,因为它让计算变得更人性化。

Take posture, for example. Sitting at a keyboard, locked in position for hours and focusing on a fixed screen is a recipe for a range of physical complaints, from sore necks to tingling hands. “Humans have not evolved to sit for long periods of time at a desk, staring at a screen whilst hammering away on a keyboard,” says Mark Mon-Williams of the University of Leeds. Humans evolved to walk around and use their hands to explore the world that is in front of them. Virtual and augmented realities afford the option of using more natural movements when interacting with computer-generated environments—grasping and pointing at text or objects, for example, and physically moving them around a workspace.
以身体姿态为例。在键盘前一坐几小时,一动不动地盯着一块固定屏幕,从脖子酸到手发麻等一连串身体不适随之而来。利兹大学的马克·蒙-威廉姆斯(Mark Mon-Williams)说:“人类的进化并没有准备好长时间坐在办公桌前,盯着屏幕,敲打键盘。”人类的进化让人可以四下走动,用双手探索眼前的世界。虚拟现实和增强现实带来了选择,让他们可以在与计算机生成的环境交互时使用更自然的动作,例如抓握和指向文本或物体,在现实办公空间中四下移动它们。

Alex Kipman, a computer engineer at Microsoft and inventor of the company’s Kinect and HoloLens devices, poses a similar question: why are humans required to conform to the needs of computers, rather than the other way around? “Why don’t we flip it?” he asks. “Why don’t we ask technology to understand our world? How do we get digital technology to come out into our analogue space, as opposed to trying to get us into the digital space?” His inventions are specifically aimed at tackling those challenges. The Kinect sensor’s microphones and infrared cameras let people use speech and gestures to control games and other functions on Microsoft Xbox devices. The HoloLens extends that by mapping and understanding the user’s environment, too. Both devices bring technology out of screens and into the real world.
微软的计算机工程师、Kinect和HoloLens设备的发明者艾利克斯·基普曼(Alex Kipman)提出了一个类似的问题:为什么要求人类符合计算机的需求,而不是相反?“为什么不把它反过来呢?”他问道,“为什么不让技术来理解我们的世界?我们如何能让数字技术走出屏幕,走进我们的模拟空间,而不是努力让我们进入数字空间?”他的发明专注于攻克这类挑战。Kinect传感器的麦克风和红外摄像头让人们可以用语音和手势来控制微软Xbox设备上的游戏和其他功能。HoloLens通过测绘和理解用户所处的环境来拓展这种体验。两种设备都将技术带出屏幕,进入现实世界。

These sorts of ideas will bring increased ease and richness to interactions between humans and computers. The same technologies could also be used to push people beyond their own, or even any, human experiences. Scientists know that, as long as an avatar in a virtual world is programmed to respond in real time to a user’s actions, those users will often co-opt the avatars as almost-real extensions of their own bodies. People can easily inhabit avatars of a different gender or ethnicity, for example. They can even easily learn to control drastically different bodies, soaring over landscapes as virtual eagles or munching grass as virtual cows.
此类创意将使人机交互变得更轻松和丰富。同样的技术也可以用来推动人们超越自身甚至任何人的经验。科学家们知道,只要对虚拟世界中的化身编程使其实时响应用户的动作,用户通常就会把化身纳为自己身体几乎真实的延伸。例如,人们可以轻松地栖身于不同性别或种族的化身中。他们甚至可以轻松学习如何控制截然不同的身体,化身为虚拟的鹰翱翔于各种地形之上,或是虚拟的母牛咀嚼着青草。

This is more than just a curiosity. Mr Lanier wants to know what would happen if inhabiting different bodies in virtual reality gave people access to new forms of human intelligence and understanding—the kind that “peeks out once in a while with a great athlete or with somebody playing jazz piano”. And if that could be made more accessible, he believes, then it might get interesting. “Can you turn yourself into a mathematical equation…in order to gain the kind of rapid body intelligence that’s possible?”
这不只是个稀罕的玩物。拉尼尔想知道,假如在虚拟现实中植入不同的身体能让人们获得新形式的人类智力和理解力,那会发生什么呢?这里所说的是“一位伟大的运动员或某个弹奏爵士钢琴的人有时展露出来”的那种能力。他认为,如果可以更容易地获得这种体验,那这就可能很有意思了。“你能否把自己变成一道数学公式……以获得可能存在的那种快速身体智能?”

That is the future of extending human experience. Travis Scott’s concert in “Fortnite” hinted at some of the creative opportunities already available. His was not the first concert in that virtual world. In 2019 Marshmello, a DJ and producer, performed a set in the game watched by more than 10m fans, but that was just a musician playing a concert on a virtual stage in a game world. By contrast, Mr Scott’s event played with the idea of how a concert might look if it did not have to take place in the real world. The audience could therefore fly around beaches, in outer space and underwater. “You can think of this as, how would you tele-concert if you were God?” says Matthew Ball, a tech guru. “If you controlled physics.”
那就是人类体验被延展的未来。从特拉维斯·斯科特(Travis Scott)在堡垒之夜(Fortnite)游戏中举行的音乐会中可以一窥一些已经存在的创造性机遇。这不是在那个虚拟世界中的第一场音乐会。2019年,DJ兼音乐制作人“棉花糖”(Marshmello)在这个游戏中的表演吸引了超过1000万名粉丝观看。但这还只是一个音乐家在游戏世界的虚拟舞台上演奏音乐而已。相比之下,斯科特的这场音乐会实验了如果音乐会不需要在现实社会中举行,它可能是什么模样。于是观众可以在海滩翱翔或是上天入海。“你可以这样想,如果你是上帝,你会怎么做远程音乐会呢?”科技顾问马修·鲍尔(Matthew Ball)说,“如果你控制着物理的话。”

Virtual mosh pit
虚拟摇滚区

That the event took place during a pandemic, when this was the only type of concert people could participate in, is important. Such events might in the past have been dismissed as “video-game experiences”. But as interactions through Zoom and other services come to be seen as “legitimate” meetings, parties and performances, so events such as Mr Scott’s should also be seen as legitimate concerts, says Mr Ball. “We can’t go to physical concerts,” he says. “So, either we have to say it’s a concert or we have to accept that there are no more concerts.”
重要的是,这场演出是在疫情期间举办的,此时这是人们唯一可以参加的一种音乐会。过去,此类活动可能会被不屑地斥为“视频游戏体验”。但鲍尔说,随着通过Zoom和其他服务发生的互动被视为“正统”的会议、聚会和表演,斯科特的这一场也应被视为正统的音乐会。“我们不能去实体音乐会现场,”他说,“所以,要么我们不得不说这是一场音乐会,要么我们就得接受不再有音乐会。”

There are still many technical hurdles to making the digital and physical worlds work together. As fast and capable as computer graphics have become, for example, VR focuses only on just two of the senses through which people experience reality: sight and sound. In the physical world, it would be difficult to imagine life without the other senses and, in particular, touch—grasping and manipulating objects is a fundamental part of the way people experience and gather information about their surroundings.
要让数字世界和实体世界协同工作仍存在许多技术障碍。例如,虽然计算机图形已经变得快速而强大,虚拟现实仍只专注于人们用以体验现实的两种感官:视觉和听觉。在实体世界中,很难想象没有其他感官方式的生活,尤其是触觉——抓握和操控物体是人们体验周遭环境和收集环境信息的基本元素。

If history is a guide, computing platforms and internet connectivity will become faster and more widespread, latency will go down, input and output devices will improve and game engines (and their successors) will be able to create customised virtual worlds on the fly. At some point in the future, anyone who wants to may be able to switch in and out of fully immersive virtual worlds, flitting in and out of whatever the real version of Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse turns out to look like.
以历史经验看,计算平台和互联网连接会变得更快、分布更广,延迟将减少,输入和输出设备会改善,游戏引擎(及其后续产品)将能即兴创建定制的虚拟世界。将来某个时候,任何人如果愿意,都可以在真实世界和完全沉浸式的虚拟世界中来回切换,在尼尔·斯蒂芬森(Neal Stephenson)描绘的“虚拟实境”(Metaverse)的某种真实版本里进进出出。

What seems certain is that sophisticated 3D digital worlds will appear on ever more of the screens of successive generations of devices that people already use every day. As activities, particularly interactions between people, in virtual realities can generate practical and aesthetic outcomes that have moral consequences and personal meanings, the idea that the “real” world is limited to that which is physically present nearby will seem increasingly bizarre. What, after all, is real, anyway? ■
看起来确定无疑的是,在人们已经每天都在使用的设备的未来几代的屏幕上,将越来越多地展现复杂的三维数字世界。当虚拟现实中的活动,尤其是人与人的互动,能产生带有道德后果和个人意义的实际而优美的结果时,认为“真实”世界仅限于眼前物理世界的想法将会日益显得古怪。本来嘛,到底什么才是真实呢?