HotWired: Club Wired - Jaron Lanier Transcript
24 July 1995
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, and author. He also coined the phrase "virtual reality" and founded the VR industry. He started the first VR company, VPL Research Inc., which produced most of the world's VR equipment for many years. He is the co-inventor of fundamental VR components such as interface gloves and networking.
Lanier contributes to and has been profiled in Wired. He appears on national television regularly, on shows such as Nightline, has been featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, and has had his work chosen for the cover of Scientific American twice. Lanier has two books coming out, one from Harcourt/Brace and one from MIT Press.
Music is Lanier's first love; he has been an active composer and performer in the world of new classical music since the late '70s. He is also a pianist and a specialist in unusual musical instruments. Lanier has performed with artists as diverse as Philip Glass, Ornette Coleman, Terry Riley, Barbara Higbie, and Stanley Jordan. He also writes chamber and orchestral music.
dhyman asks: any new work on VR?
A few things... in the way of art, I just did a new music piece where a virtual world is controlled by an acoustic sax. I've also been involved lately in applications of VR to surgery. AND I'm still involved in trying to make great VR authoring tools, which I think are the most important area of development.
scamp asks: In the NY Times on Sat, there was an article about last week's NY Music Fest, in which you were credited with delivering one of the only credible multimedia performances, i.e. in which computers were used to enhance the event, not detract from it. What did you do differently from everyone else?
Yikes, if both the New Yorker and the Times liked it, that means the Voice will probably slam it... I think what I might have done differently was that, first of all, I make the whole piece, both the music and the tech. I believe in collaboration, but I think it takes either years of work or cosmically good luck... and what's been happening is that collaborations between art and tech people are being slapped together like one night stands.
snw asks: What do you think will be the first application of VR that will reach the mainstream? I mean will my parents ever have any exposure to a VR application, or has that happened already?
Well, the IDEA of VR will continue to have a big impact. I suspect we'll see the first commercialization of high end systems in operating rooms, to help surgeons plan and collaborate. Entertainment has hit already if you count the mall vr centers, but I don't count them 'cause they're still cheesy. There is the Disney one, though, which is very nice in everything but interactivity.
dhyman asks: any future with Vernon Reid, plans to work together?
I suppose we will. I found the experience totally ecstatic. I'm coming from the new/classical world and I haven't played a rock gig before... Vernon and I have a lot of fun.
papalegba asks: Jaron: How long do you think it will be before we see a truly submersive VR environment? One without the necessity of gear to wear! A totally interactive room as feedback device.
A room won't do the trick because a room can't change the way you perceive your own body, which is the coolest thing to play with in VR. Remember that it's all illusion! The only reason VR works at all with our current crappy gear is that the brain wants to believe in reality so badly. So really, the answer to your question is very subjective.
dhyman asks: ever try VR with hallucinogens?
I've never taken any psychoactive drugs except chocolate, and given my experience with THAT alarming substance (and some brief bouts with caffeine) I don't think I'm ready to try any of the harder stuff, like alcohol, etc. I'm absolutely serious about this.
dhyman asks: how many instruments do you play?
Well, I play a few dozen well enough to feel OK in front of an audience, but I have some hundreds and I'm always working on them.
scamp asks: What do you think of Mark Pesce & VRML? Have you acted as consultant on anything w/ his group?
VRML is just fine, but interactivity is where the action is, not geometry. SO what I'm looking forward to is VRML, merged with Java, run on a low-lag-priority network (call it the Very Virtual Vastness?), WITH great authoring tools you can use WHILE you're inside a world. NOW you're talking!
johnlar asks: When do you believe that VR will become as common place as computers are today?
Oh yeah! As common as TV. I always thought of it as the thing that would kill TV.
frd asks: Hi Jaron. Do you have any comments about using the Web for VR performances?
I guess my VR performance from a week ago was cybercast, but that's just an expensive version of TV. As soon as the stuff I talked about in VRML answer happens, the web, VR, and performance will flow together in a lovely way. I'm sure of it.
scamp asks: Do you ever get tired of the legacy of being a VR expert? I mean, are there times when you really just want to focus on your music & not on VR?
Yeah, sure. Sometimes I can't even talk about VR. But it is a really cool thing, and ultimately it always gets my attention back.
dhyman asks: is it true that Denzel Washington plays you in Virtuosity?
Oy! I haven't seen the movie yet, but I certainly hope not. The mad scientist in the Lawnmower Man quoted me a lot, as did the evil guy in Wild Palms... (embarrassed sigh...)
shiva asks: How do you think your interest in music has influenced your attitudes toward computers and VR? Do you feel that they share common aspects? Has VR made you a better musician?
When you do technology it's possible to become lost in the human framework- after all the computer create an entirely man-made forum. Music demands that you frequent the mysterious sources of ourselves (like the body and nature)- else the music gets nerdy and pointless. This is exactly how we should do technology.
dkindlund asks: Do you agree that Virtual Reality can go as far as the imagination and that the only limiting factor is time?
Oh yes! I'm convinced that all people are creative geniuses. Look at the success of the web. Give people a chance to put stuff out there and they explode with loving creativity.
dhyman asks: when and where was your most intense VR experience.
I think playing my music piece "the sound of one hand" for audiences. It's ALWAYS the human element that makes VR exciting, and since networked experiences are so expensive, they're still kinda rare and stilted... but there WAS a time I traded eyes with someone in VR.. but Mr. Exon wouldn't want me to talk about that here.
shiva asks: Do you feel that exposure to Virtual Reality, and the worlds created by VR technology, can change the ways in which people interact with and relate to the everyday world?
I believe that exposure to VR makes people more sensitive to nature by demonstrating the difference.
shozosan asks: what is/are the next paradigm to you in VR? and why do you think so?
Programming the contents of a virtual world while you are inside it.