A killer app for the VR of the future: life tourism

January 29, 2022 | 644 words |



Virtual Reality (VR) has yet to take off. In part because the technology is still too far from giving us the feeling of reality. In part because there’s no killer app.

I would love to play a hyper-realistic VR version of Assassin’s Creed, and maybe gaming will be the only killer app that the VR industry will ever need to sustain itself and grow exponentially.

But, somehow, I believe that there will be the opportunity for at least another killer app when technology is mature enough. Something that might appeal to a much broader audience than the gaming community.

“How does it feel to live like a rich person?”

At least once in our lifetime, many of us have wondered that. Either on the way to the top or resigned to a life that will never reach that altitude.

“How does it feel to live like a pop star?”
“What happens in the life of a stockbroker?”

I am not talking about an approximate simulator like a VR edition of The Sims. I am talking about a hyper-realistic recording of the life of an actual pop star or a stockbroker, inclusive of all the people and experiences this real-world person might meet in 24 hours.

I’m also talking about an artificial intelligence (AI) that manipulates this hyper-realistic recording and adapts to the choices made by the user, maintaining consistency with the world of the selected lifestyle.
In other words, if the user is living the life of a pop star and decides to abandon the stage to instead go to the grocery store, the AI unfolds the events in a way that matches what would probably happen to Justin Bieber if he did the same.

Once technology allows a system like this, the opportunity to live a completely different life are endless. That’s why we watch movies and TV series. It’s just not for the narrative, or Hollywood would have been bankrupt long ago. It’s to live a completely different life for two hours without all the risks and fears and hard work that come with an actual life change.

“What does a Navy Seals see in 24 hours?”
“What happens in the life of a doctor that joins Médecins Sans Frontières?”

That said, I don’t think that living the life of a pop star or a Navy Seals for a day is enough to make what I’m describing a killer app.
To reach that level of traction, I believe we have to tap into the hidden curiosity and dark secrets that every human being harbours.

“How does it feel to be a drug dealer?”
“What’s the life of a prostitute?”

It can get much worse than this, but you got the point. The more despicable, the more morbid the curiosity, the higher the price.

There are plenty of reasons against building a VR app that can reproduce the full spectrum of human experiences, including the most sordid ones. There are some reasons in favour of building it, too, but it’s hard to imagine somebody making a case for any other reason than pure commercial interest.

More than that, the ethical and moral guardrails that exist in 2022 would make it impossible to reach commercial success with an app that reaches those limits. But, maybe, those guardrails would be different a century from now. What is morally and socially acceptable today has dramatically changed from the Victorian age.

I’d call it “life tourism”.

As I wrote this, I remembered a movie I didn’t see in a long time: Total Recall. It is based on a short story by the legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick: “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale“.

Memory implants are significantly beyond whatever marvel we’ll be able to achieve with a hyper-realistic VR. But I suppose that some aspects of that story match what I’ve described here.