The second day of Facebook’s annual F8 conference did not hold much in the way of major announcements, but did feature a fascinating keynote talk by Chief Scientist of Oculus Michael Abrash about “Why Virtual Reality Will Matter To You”. During the talk, attendees were given an envelope with the words “All Reality is Virtual” and a note to “do not open until instructed”. Abrash began the talk by reminding the audience that we are not simply impartial observers of reality, and that reality is constructed by our brains as a result of many types of data about our surroundings.
This type of discussion regarding the nature of reality has been a frequent topic in philosophy for hundreds of years. Of course, within pop culture it has been most famously depicted by The Matrix and its sequels, and Abrash cited the film and other media works such as “Ready Player One” as direct inspirations for Oculus. He went so far as to directly quote the character Morpheus:
“What is ‘real’? How do you define ‘real’? If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
Attendees were then instructed to open their envelopes for a series of demonstrations of various optical illusions demonstrating the fungible nature of our reality. One of the items was a card with two sections, each featuring a hand holding a pill – clearly a reference to the “red pill” and “blue pill” from The Matrix. Similar to the famous/infamous picture of “the dress”, it showed the subjective nature of visual perception. While the hand with the yellow background appeared to hold a much darker pill, the two pills were actually exactly the same color.
Other cards in the “All Reality is Virtual” envelope demonstrated concepts such as “Shepard’s Tables” showing how the mind can easily be fooled about the size of objects, and a see-through card demonstrating the Pulfrich Effect.
Abrash closed his talk with a high-level overview of the Oculus product roadmap, indicating that Oculus VR is “already compelling and shipping soon”, already has “broad industry participation”, and has a “long-term commitment” from Facebook.
The keynote was quite entertaining and informative but light on practical announcements regarding Oculus. Although for many attendees it was their first deep dive into the world of VR and many in attendance described Abrash’s talk as their favorite from the two day conference.