The mass media recently published a number of articles about virtual reality. I've read a few of them, one in the New York Times some months ago, and two more in Seattle-based periodicals. I encountered rather seamy looks at virtual reality, mainly discussing if and when we will be able to conduct perhaps the ultimate form of "safe" sex, teledildonics. To me, virtual sex sounds as interesting and appetizing as a liver facial, and the pictures of people doing virtual reality made them look like the Star Trekian Borg, so I wrote off virtual reality until I read Peachpit Press's "Silicon Mirage," by Steve Aukstakalnis and David Blatner (ISBN# 0-938151-82-7, $15).
It turns out that virtual reality has little to do with sex and less to do with the Borg. Virtual reality concerns technologies that could radically change what we do with computers and how we do it. Silicon Mirage is for people who wish to know where we are heading and for people who wish to dream about where we might go. The book offers a detailed tour and reference to what's happening with virtual reality.
Silicon Mirage starts out by reviewing and expanding on the average understanding of how human sensory systems function and explains how virtual reality researchers use this knowledge to simulate sensation. It then provides a tour of virtual reality input devices. People with repetitive strain injuries will enjoy this section since the mouse and keyboard receive little mention. This part of the book, though clearly written, does not constitute escapist reading and you may find yourself skimming through some of the longer bits of detail. The wade is worth the work; at some point you'll realize the amazing potential of this research and your mind will spin inside out. The personal computer revolution will be trivial in comparison if virtual reality becomes real, as oxymoronic as that may sound.
The book discusses current and anticipated virtual reality applications and research in a variety of fields such as medicine, architecture, entertainment, business, and science. Silicon Mirage winds down with thoughts about societal challenges that must be met for virtual reality to come to life. Silicon Mirage will add to your vocabulary, remind you of that report you did in sixth grade about the human ear, and give you wonderful tidbits for casual conversation. Recommended.
[As an aside, it appears that VPL, one of the main virtual reality companies, has closed its doors. This isn't to imply virtual reality is dead - but it must evolve to survive in the mass market business world from the specialized niches it currently occupies. -Adam]
Peachpit Press -- 800/283-9444 -- 510/548-4393