17 February 2017: 34-43, “Grasping Reality Through Illusion”

Author’s Name: Howard Rheingold
Bio: Howard Rheingold fell into the virtual ecosystem fairly early on and documented his travels in seeking out the virtual frontier in the book Virtual Reality
Name of Artwork or Topic: Virtual Reality, “Grasping Reality through Illusion” [34-43]
Date of Artwork, Article Publication or Topic: 1991
Describe Artwork, Article or Topic: Pages 34-43 of “Grasping Reality through Illusion” documents Howard Rheingold’s foray deeper into his experiences at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he talks about the background of UNC choosing the molecule problem, lag, the computer architecture used (“massive parallelism”), intelligence amplification, and what computers versus humans are very good at.
Opinion of Artwork, Article or Topic:
This set of pages for Virtual Reality was very heavy in the technical realm. I appreciated Rheingold talking about the architecture, since a lot of the work we’re doing today in the realm of VR is only now powerful enough to execute the conceptually inviable ideas of thirty to sixty years ago. It has been hard for me to conceptualize the quality of the graphics and computers for what Rheingold has been explaining, because he architects his sentences beautifully and paints a vivid picture in my mind which looks a lot like what I’m familiar with: beautiful, streamlined VR experiences. Only after spending a weekend in Sitterson Hall, which is where Rheingold spent all his time in the details of this chapter, did I begin to fill in the gaps of the actual quality of this technology in the late 1980s. In fact, I realized that after exploring the graphics floors in Sitterson Hall (unsupervised, because for some reason there’s a shower on the graphics floor in Sitterson Hall and so I was alone on the floor) that the graphics labs at UNC-Chapel Hill look not unlike the old graphics labs here at NYU (which have moved from 12th floor Gallatin to a location on 5th Avenue and 12th Street). Similarly, just as people at UNC were able to explore Sitterson Hall virtually before it was built, I was also able to explore the new graphics lab at NYU before it was finished. Like Brooks detailed about continuing the ‘rich’ driving problem of molecular structure, today much of the VR world is grappling with the same ideas and problems outlined many years ago (page 40 has a longer list). What I wish Rheingold would have done for this book was to include images.


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