Monday, January 09, 2017

Virtual Reality: The Future is Not a Straight Line


Since Darwin, the ruling class of the West has clung on to a new myth to replace traditional Christianity; the myth of linear progress.

History was rewritten, not as a series of events revealing an omnipotent god playing out his master plan, but as the story of the genius of Nature, whose mechanistic processes evolved over millions of years of trial and error and conspired to produce a master class of priest-kings, whose church was the Cathedral of Science.

A vast and impossibly well-funded infrastructure spread out across the entire world, preaching this new gospel, promising that perpetual scientific and technological progress was not only inevitable, it was our birthright. Or more accurately, the birthright of those who were lucky enough to be one of the anointed, who the reliably-invidious Richard Dawkins calls the "Brights."

The system has been radically weighted in favor of the new episcopacy, and any challenge to its full-spectrum dominance has been effectively starved-out and silenced. Most people seemed to be OK with all this, since up until very recently they bought into the hype that the rising tide would lift all boats, that all that gravy just had to trickle down to everyone else's plate, that the ruling class really did have their best interests at heart, all evidence to the contrary.

And they believed that scientific progress was indeed running on a straight line, on an ever-upward arc, forever and ever, amen

But have we in fact sacrificed too much when we offered up our spiritual lives to the tophets of Technology?

There has to be another way.

People are finally waking up to the fact that Silicon Valley's primary function- if not its actual mission statement-  is eliminating jobs and destroying communities.

Waking up to the fact the most scientifically-advanced cultures have the most catastrophic collapses in birthrates and family formations, that the witches' brew of plastics, chemicals and toxins cooked up in industrial laboratories is very possibly doing irreparable damage to the environment and to the human genome itself.

And where we will go to escape it?

The promise of space exploration is running into the brick wall of the incompatibility of the human body with the rigors of space. And the other frontier science promised- the virtual frontier- is turning out to be no frontier at all. Just as I've been saying all along.

From the New York Times:
SEATTLE — For a technology to crack the mainstream, there is an unspoken understanding: It shouldn’t make the people who use it want to throw up. 
And yet there was a reminder, at last week’s International CES trade show in Las Vegas, of how far virtual reality has to go until everyone is ready to fasten 3-D goggles to their faces. At a news conference, Intel, the chip maker, provided virtual reality headsets to about 250 attendees so they could watch a 3-D video from the perspective of sky divers hurtling out of a helicopter in wingsuits. 
Intel also passed out motion sickness bags to everyone, in case anybody felt inclined to vomit, an unfortunate side effect of turbulent virtual reality experiences for some people. 
Laura Anderson, an Intel spokeswoman, said the company had provided the bags “out of an abundance of caution and to be tongue in cheek about our immersive experience.” No one used the bags, she said. 
It is time for a reality check for virtual reality, one of the most hyped technologies of last year. Sales of the most capable headsets have been sluggish by most estimates, held back by high costs, a lack of must-have content, and the complexity and awkwardness of the products. Less expensive mobile headsets that use smartphones as their screens are selling better, but are far more limited in what they can do.
VR sickness is a nut that has yet to be cracked. And that's not even counting the other discomforts users report from the experience, such as ergonomic problems with the handsets. 

So let's be clear about what we're talking about here: almost 30 years after this technology was first introduced it's still not ready for the prime time. Compare this to every other medium you can name: radio, phonographs, TV, computers. Would any of them have survived with VR's failure rate?

And yet Valley pashas just won't let go of the dream:

“This is going to be a long slog, as the technology continues to improve, more content becomes available and awareness increases,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research. 
Virtual reality now appears to be headed for a phase in the evolution of new technologies known as the “trough of disillusionment,” said Sunny Dhillon, a venture capitalist at Signia Venture Partners, which has invested in virtual reality start-ups. According to the technology research firm Gartner, this stage of the hype cycle for new technologies comes after a period of inflated expectations, but before a phase in which their benefits become commonly accepted.
The problem isn't just the technology. Or maybe in a way it is- the technology just doesn't seem to inspire anyone to produce anything exciting for it:
Virtually boring: VR really disappoints at CES this year 
Call it a virtual disappointment. Or virtually unsurprising. I'll just say I was virtually underwhelmed. 
Whatever pun you choose, the virtual reality industry has some explaining to do after this year's Consumer Electronics Show, during which the biggest product announcements can largely be categorized as "more of the same." 
Even Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, which is developing its own VR headset, gave a presentation using nearly year-old devices from Facebook's Oculus. 
If you relied on CES to show you the latest in technology, VR was pretty much a no-show. 
"It is concerning that people haven't invented as much cool things to do with VR," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau, on the sidelines of CES next to people checking out gadgets like smart locks with fingerprint sensors and this year's reimagining of the multifunction remote control, which looked suspiciously similar to last year's version. 
Maybe the problem is that we've been gadgeted to our natural limits. Maybe the answer isn't a new killer app or another electro-toy but a return to the things that made people happy and fulfilled for millennia.

Maybe that means rebuilding community and finding another purpose for life other than passive consumerism. Maybe that means learning how to hack our own operating systems once and for all and seeing just how many realities we can access without some silly goggles.


I don't know if you notice but I have a saying in the right hand column of the blog here. It's from the Greek philosopher Strabo and it goes something like this:

"Human beings then act most like the gods when they are doing good to others, yet one might better say, when they are happy; and such happiness consists of rejoicing, celebrating festivals, pursuing philosophy, and engaging in music."  
I was thinking about this quote because I've been watching a lot of documentaries on cults lately. Cults are a fascination of mine, from the ancient Mystery cults to the more modern cults that welled up in the wreckage of the Aquarian Age.

Some of these cults were truly odious things, run by sociopaths and sexual predators. Others have evolved out of pretty dodgy origins and become reasonably decent support systems for people in need.

Cults all seemed to run into the same problem; they could never work their way around the letdown that came after the honeymoon period, the crash after the high. This is remarkably similar to the pattern that drug addicts face- or tech addicts for that matter.

I think VR sickness is a blessing to humanity in this regard because as Jaron Lanier and others have said, the potential for abuse with this technology is immense.

Yet somehow the Mystery cults were able to overcome this pattern and stuck around for a very, very long time. This is why I find them so interesting. They obviously offered a quality product to their customers, a worthwhile experience that kept people coming back for more. The nascent ayahuasca movement seems to be the closest analog we have today, but I don't see the same cultural content at work. Yet.

Another thing that fascinates me in particular is how people cope after leaving certain cults. They go from an environment of belonging and purpose to the dead, empty, meaningless world of modern, secular, technocratic society, in which people are atomized by corporations and governments into easily-manageable, isolated units. Is an iPhone really just compensation for the death of your life's mission?



There has to be another way.
 

37 comments:

  1. "Is an iPhone really just compensation for the death of your life's mission?"

    Pretty much bang on the money, Chris. Nascent VR cannot compete with the full-spectrum virtuality we live within every day. This is an atomized post-post-modern world; a shiny fascist hellscape so smooth and glossy that it can almost pass for a utopia, or at least a functioning society. At least in the West.

    An Empire sick, fallen and riddled with disease and malady. Empires feed on their subjects, they're vampiric, as far as I'm concerned. They don't get to reach the status of Empire any other way. If Empire wasn't a vampire it'd be lots of smaller decentralized collectives instead, right? But the Light, and the Actual, is slowly returning, I believe. Lots more darkness and evil and hideous nonsense to come, sadly, but I take comfort in the dawn even if it comes long after I'm dead. The Actual always reasserts itself eventually. Great work, Chris.

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    1. Thank you both Raj and Chris. Vampire Empire. Be safe my friends. You are loved for who you are. Good health to you and peace where we snag it.

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    2. There's gotta be a way to push back against it, if only for your own mental and spiritual health. It's time to start working on alternatives and solutions but this world is becoming an open-air madhouse by the day.

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  2. "Is an iPhone really just compensation for the death of your life's mission?"
    If "just" means "only" or "simply" as in "that's all you get" then probably yes, that's how it's gone.
    If "just" means "fair" or "equable" then wow... i mean "Nah!"
    Seen Magic Leap? It's Mixed or Augmented rather than Immersive VR. Possibly overcome the sickness problem - an eye focus/distance issue. Don't worship demon corporations if i can help it but here's a blog quote from Magic i liked - "Creativity matters. People matter. At Magic Leap, what we are building is designed to bend technology to serve the needs of people. We are emotional beings, not information systems. We create and dream and think. We love, we laugh, we taste, we feel. We experience things that we can not explain."
    As i've gotten more ancient, not explaining, not fixing, not knowing has grown more valuable, still a smartarse often enuff tho.

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    1. Augmented Reality seems to me like another Maya-trap, another illusion machine. Who augments your reality? Who sets the parameters? Who controls the controls? It feels very Borg-like to me.

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  3. Good stuff, like to see how you develop this material further. Cults are an attempt to compensate for the lack of tribal identity. Daniel Quinn wrote some pretty good books about how tribe is essential to being human. Every empire had to destroy tribal identity; every tribe that was subsumed by an empire, disappeared when the empire did. Many nations survive thousands of years; very few survive being part of an empire. I can only think of the Jews and the Han Chinese.

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    1. Empire is a destroyer of peoples, consistently and predictably. Empires destroy nations by rotting them from within. I can't think of any nation that survived empire intact. All of the old imperial powers are in sharp decline. Yet the temptation to rule over others seems hardwired into us. It's a sick and deadly thing when all is said and done.

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  4. //I don't know if you notice but I have a saying //

    Funny you would bring it up. It's been on my mind a lot the last few days. It's a great saying and I think about frequently. Pretty much every day. Is that enough notice? I think of it as meaning basically that, regardless of my age and circumstances, on a regular basis I have to keep doing exactly whatever I found gave me the greatest joy as a freshman in college, with similar-minded people, with a similar attitude of rennaissance. Turns out where I live there are lots of folks that are heading that way. We're just not very organized about it because media and socioeconomic exigiencies have enslaved, I mean, organized our lives for us to such a large extent. But there's hope.

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  5. "Yet somehow the Mystery cults were able to overcome this pattern and stuck around for a very, very long time." The ancient tantric cults or rather, lineages of India, including some of the Buddhist ones, have survived until now in parts of India and Nepal. The phenomenon exists outside of Asia, authentically and otherwise. The real deal is all but perfectly invisible, however, as that is the only way for it be. At the outer layers, we are like bees that already got their pollen from the lotus, dancing on the outer petals with a motley crew of WASPS, Jubus, Juhindubus, Episcobus and Nihilistibus. It's either pollinate another lotus or (if you know what's good for you) take the bee pollen home and store it up for a rainy day...that is how the genome survives. By testing it in the fire of fear and then preserving in the ice of routine, boredom and secrecy.

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    1. That's very interesting indeed. I wasn't aware that the tantric cults still existed, or existed in the same form they once did. The old Hippie trail really fed into a lot of interesting Indian cults for quite some time in the 70s but that seems to have dried up. With the notable exception of Buddhism, of course. I suppose India's industrialization had a lot to do with that process.

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  6. I may be a Luddite, those communication artifacts called I phones are a threat to humanity. The VR world is just that. We live on a planet of incredible wonder and spirit. We are spiritual beings having a human life. Chris , most excellent post! There is another way my friend. 87

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    1. I had a lot of funny experiences with an iPhone 3. The camera in particular picked up a lot of atmospheric anomalies outside the visible light range -- like triangular and cubic shapes inside of clouds, phosphene-like balls of light and such, all barring such considerations as reflections inside of car windows, lens flares, extraneous light sources and so on. One night the top line of the unlock screen -- normally a black band with G3 network strength et. al. -- flashed a moving message from right to left that read, "Nonordinary entity trapped in cell phone". I immediately power-cycled the phone and that was the end of it. I assume it was a hacker having fun (and I do visit questionable websites on occasion) but still, I went back to a dumb flip-fone after that.

      I imagine Steve Jobs throwing a tantrum in the ninth heaven (which is that of the Tricksterish, Evilish Mara-Devas), over the nerve of mortal people like me.

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    2. I can't use one myself. Just can't deal with the Interface. I use an iPad but my bizarre electromagnetic issues seem to interfere with the WiFi and the interface with that as well. It's actually extremely frustrating- I'm one of those people who can't wear a watch...

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  7. Chris, what happened to your masterly piece on the Knights Temlar? It appears to be off the web. Is there a way I could get a link or a hardcopy?

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    1. It was getting reposted so much without permission and without attribution I had to take it down. I apologize but I don't want my hard work absconded with by unscrupulous individuals.

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  8. Chris,

    The lack of cultural cohesion, resultant of a lack of common heritage in the admittedly young American society, lead in part to the Modern Primitive movement of the 1980s and 90s. I was a near-orbit observer of this phenomena, being an employee of several nightclubs and other establishments catering to its adherents, and the sense of need expressed itself in quite a bit of what is now disparaged as cultural appropriation, seen most readily in the proliferation of Maori, Japanese or Winnebago tattoos on European twentysomethings, chosen as often as not for their design aesthetics without thought of their original cultural relevance. Pick and mix, devil may care.

    That trend having exhausted itself, and such experimentation tampered by a politically correct fear of being seen as culturally appropriating/mocking/thieving, the youth now experiment in the "safe" spaces of VR, whose promises of unbridled possibility without responsibility conceal the sinister undercurrent of someone else choosing the parameters and content of the VR experience, and in doing so shaping ever so subtly (or not) their everyday reality.

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    1. Yeah, I remember that as well, having spent that period going to a lot of shows and such. It's still out there in the culture, piercing and tattoos and so on.

      As for VR, I remain skeptical about it as ever. It's had more than it's chance to take off- three decades now- and hasn't. Unless there's some serious changes made it never will.

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  9. It's quite simple - Planet Earth is being Recycled

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    1. It's starting to feel that way. Maybe old Ti and Do were right after all.

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  10. You and the commenters are right on.

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  11. To me, the World Wide Web was about as far as it really needed to go. Beyond that, it's just endless iterations of what Terence McKenna referred to as 'pretty things'. We're all at least potentially connected from around 1995. The games are fun but so are "Dungeons and Dragons" and stud poker.
    This was made not only possible, but inevitable by the neoliberal dispensation, wherein constant and rapid 'growth' are required. All this 'creative disruption', the broken nations, the vistas of people living on eroded hillsides in cardboard boxes so people on the other side of the world can have a dopey plastic box turn on the lights for them and their kids can accidentally order dildos online.

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    1. Yeah, at some point you need to ask what do we want and what do we need? There's an important distinction there. And most of the stuff being foisted on us no on actually wants or needs. We're being dragged into a future that serves no one's interest but hedge fund managers.

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  12. Great post! I was thinking somewhat along these lines this past summer when the whole "Pokemon Go" thing was at its height, seeing oblivious kids wandering into traffic staring at their phones, etc. VR may not make it to the marketplace but I could easily see a fusion of augmented reality + ARGs becoming a thing. Building a better mousetrap as it were. Let's not forget the intel community's connections to the company responsible for Pokemon Go:

    https://www.corbettreport.com/the-cias-pokemon-go-app-is-doing-what-the-patriot-act-cant/

    "People are finally waking up to the fact that Silicon Valley's primary function- if not its actual mission statement- is eliminating jobs and destroying communities." You nailed it. Though there are serious discussions taking place now about providing the unemployed masses with a universal basic income in the not too distant future, & some other countries are about to try this out to some degree, it probably wouldn't work out too well in the US. Inflation alone would become disruptive to the point of no return. & speaking of other solutions, note how no one ever talks anymore about all the proposed "Green Jobs" Obama promised back in '08. Although maybe the legalized & medical marijuana industries might help somewhat in job-depleted areas. (They are helping the Paiute Native American tribe in Nevada achieve near-full employment.) But I think the only realistic answer now is to keep building on engaging & being engaged locally. Shop locally whenever possible, see if your area has farmshares & farmer's markets, organize & participate in local events, support local bands & artists, whatever it takes. & don't forget local currency:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_community_currencies_in_the_United_States

    Decentralize. Form co-ops & get to know your neighbors. Its a start.

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    1. All excellent advice, David. The UBI sounds like welfare to me and having experience with public assistance when I was young it's not as easy or fun as all the bros who think they'll be able to get high and play Grand Theft Auto all day believe it will be. He who pays the piper calls the tune and the world of the UBI sounds like a very controlled and hassle-filled one to me. We need to start thinking of ways to build around that, because I don't think most of its advocates have considered what it would really play out like in the here and now.

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  13. I dont think anyone's noticed but we live in a cyber punk novel.

    secret government tribunals can kill citizens without trial using invisible flying robot spy drones.
    Wakes up in Trump's America, masturbates to Japanese Cartoons, shops online, face times, pukes from over use of occulus rift.
    Read news about how china is taking over the world.
    watch videos from boston dynamics about advanced robotics that will replace workers and be used in war zones.
    Local police forces wear hand me down gear from military and look like a fascist death squad.
    Prosthetic are getting to a point were they are better than real human limbs.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qUPnnROxvY



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    1. Oh, I've been saying we're living in a cyberpunk novel for years now. Just click on the cyberpunk label and you'll see how many times I've compared this world to a William Gibson novel. Only it's from the downer Bridge Trilogy and not the hip and escapist Sprawl Trilogy.

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  14. The whole conquest of space thing is rooted in a kind of denialism, an evasion of problems on earth. As if there is something wrong with our beautiful home planet, rather than humanity. An immature refusal to look at our problems head on.

    One of the disasters of so-called progress is the mass produced automobile, resulting in huge costs for car buyers, car wrecks, pollution and the reduction if not out-and-out end of mass public transport. Soulless suburbs and the shopping mall are inseparable from the disastrous adoption of the car, as a must-have, en masse that is. Also we have enriched the likes of Persian Gulf states, Islamotheocracies, by buying their oil. And they have used that oil wealth to finance jihad across the globe.

    Also everybody gets a car and sits in traffic for hours. It now takes longer to get to and from work than it did before the invention of the car. People live far from work and study now because of the car (not the other way around), but it all becomes counterproductive. When everybody gets a car we have the law of reverse effect. And that's just the car.

    It is a big reason why American cities are so soulless, and where I grew up in South Africa for that matter (Johannesburg is like LA, so much so). I was trapped in a house as a kid after (my pointless) school day and couldn't go anywhere unless a parent or uncle or cousin could give you a lift (and to where? A shopping mall sigh). At the time I accepted it as a normal if inconvenient frustration, as if it was the weather. I did not see it as actually insane, as I do now. Same goes for schooling coming to think of it.

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    1. "Unintended consequences" is basically the overarching theme of the past 120 years. I guess the trends need to play themselves out before the negative results from all these arbitrary experiments will ever resolve themselves. Or maybe it all falls apart and we have to build it up from scratch. It's even money at this point. We're very strange and alien creatures, that actuality becomes more and more obvious as we strain harder and harder to wish it away. But here is the hellish reality that is early 21st Century civilization we can't escape that we are anomalies and are disconnected from our own environment, and increasingly, from each other.

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  15. Yeah Chris, of course there has been a fair bit of sardonic commentary including in some thoughtful films, about how we are attempting to use the Internet (facebook, forums etc.) to overcome the alienating and deadening effects of uh our excessively technological civilization. And of course it fails miserably and inevitably. Round and round we go, swirling into the drain.

    It's so bad, that youngsters (and not just youngsters) are not even remotely fazed or horrified by apps like Tinder. They tell me I don't get it. They are right!

    As Paul Simon would sing it today,
    I have my facebook and my Snapchat to protect me, I am shielded in computer code, Hiding in my apps, safe within my iphone. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island.

    One of the unconscious meanings of the whole aliens from distant planets obsession, Roswell etc. and why it has picked up again this century is of course the double entendre and original meaning of alien. As in alienation. From ourselves and one another, increasingly so; and alienation from ever less and less contact with increasingly marginalized nature. Our unconscious is trying to tell us something, but we misinterpret it, the aliens are of course our own alienated selves, our reflection. I'm not saying that is all there is to ufology btw, not at all, I'm just saying it is a fundamental meaning and pun at the heart of this alien thing. As in dream logic. The unconscious mind of man is where the intelligence and sense of humour is. The unconscious knows better.

    It also helps to account for the popularity of zombies in our so-called culture, movies, comics, TV shows etc. The zombie is a metaphor for a mindless conformity, that is riddled through with violence, intimidation, a sinister group think that is contagious. You cannot tell one dangerous zombie from another, there is no individuality there, no mind to speak of, as with ideologues in our day and age. The ease with with group think spreads is akin to a zombie epidemic. Unlike say the vampire or even Frankenstein's monster, the zombie has no personality to speak of, lacks the tragic depths and dimensions of the former because no depth, and lacking the flexibility and thought of the former. Well lacking all thought. This is also why even the better zombie films and shows are a bore, unlike good vampire and Frankestein films, novels or comics. I mean there is nowhere for the zombie narrative to go, it is as mindless as what it depicts.

    And the zombie narrative is where it's at.

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  16. Will DisruptJ20 and other billionaire funded anti-democracy agents get their way on January 20th? Don’t let them:
    http://olivefarmercrete.blogspot.gr/2017/01/dont-be-fooled-america.html
    (just sharing)

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  17. Well, anything short of a holo deck is simply not worth it to me ;)

    Great comments! Not much I can add.

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  18. Virtual Reality is much satisfying when compared to AR for personal entertainment. Augmented may have more commercial applications such as google glass. See this...https://goo.gl/78zkYj

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  19. Though into the primary steps of development, VR gear has been able to deliver heavily on all these fronts; development is an ongoing face for VR technology, and thus it can be safely said that it would grow bigger and better in the coming times.

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  20. augmented reality certainly has much importance in real life for entertainment as well as industrial applications. Virtual Reality is much satisfying when compared to AR for personal entertainment. Augmented may have more commercial applications such as google glass. You may like 'Virtual or Augmented - Which is your Device' https://goo.gl/78zkYj

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