Feature: Telepresence: A Technology Transcending Time and Space
HIROSE Michitaka and MINATO Chihiro

What Information Input Technologies Have Brought About@

MC: Technologies important to VR include those concerned with how to simulate the senses, and another branch are concerned with sensors for accurately apprehending our movements.

HM: The fact of communicating the body's movements directly to the computer is, in a sense, rather an epoch-making leap forward. Until this point, people were forced to communicate semiotically. Typing in commands, for example, was an essential stricture.

MC: The keyboard itself typifies communicating information through language, doesn't it?

HM: The concept of operating the computer through spatial manipulation really dates back to the invention of the "mouse" interface. Then I'd say that the next really important leap was with the data glove. It was the first interface without any presuppositions attached to it.

MC: Not only in terms of operating the computer, rather, one might even say that concepts of "learning"and "manipulating objects"also took qualitative leaps forward.

HM: I think that our culture will change to some extent as a result. Our culture and knowledge have heretofore relied entirely on being converted into symbols before being recorded or exchanged. Now, however, the information inputted via the data glove requires no such translation into the semiotic world whatsoever. Information without any meanings attached can be inputted directly from sensors tracking 3-D space into the computer.

MC: When I wrote my tictile thoery (Tokyo: The Thinking Skin, Seidosha, 1993), the data glove was still at the point where you could still only use it in conjunction with the HMD in primitive walk-through VR simulation worlds. Still, I was impressed at that time with the epoch-making nature of our sense of touch being a departure point for information exchange. Just as you mentioned a moment ago, an infant cannot manipulate a computer using a keyboard. A person would have to be seven or eight years old to even begin. With a data glove, a three-year-old can input. This difference offers us a cultural distinction, in that the new generations will be able to succeed semiotic history--and that is a real revolution.

HM: If you think about it, that which could previously not be expressed with language was not allowed to exist in our culture. Japanese dance buyo just wasn't in the fold! (laughs) Yet with recent motion-capture technologies it can be inputted in its entirety. With these kinds of new methodologies, new forms of culture are certainly available to us.

MC: I would agree. They tend to be considered in terms of particular kinds of sensors, but I believe that they include broader and more profound meanings.

Technology Reaching for the Origins of Physicality

HM: The movements of the body are all related to issues of physicality. The visual senses tend to deal with issues of mentality alone, but tactility brings with it a profound sense of physicality. One has to actively reach out to touch something, and in this way, the sense of touch includes a more complete sense of physicality into the realm. Touching something with an injured finger hurts. This is something which we ourselves measure. So within issues of tactility there are no distinctions between the interior self and the outside world. Information from within the brain passes through the body to reach the outside world, and returns though the sensory organs. They are all connected. This is the basis for new theories of the senses and of intelligence. Actually, this is not limited to discussions of tactility, but of all of the senses. The more you move your head, the more the retinal images change.

MC: These distinctions of the interior and exterior are mere conveniences inherited from the visual world of the renaissance, which we have somehow appropriated into our daily lives. What is interesting is that through using advanced technologies like VR, we are forging experiences which break with these habits.

HM: I agree completely. Theories such as "affordance structure" [reciprocal compatibilities], which have gained such currency lately, are based on such ideas. One of Japan's leading authorities on this theory, Professor SASAKI Masato also forwarded a similar interest in tactile sensation. My earlier reference to "the wounded finger" was actually an example I heard him mention. The other day I heard another interesting thing: "Computer technologies began from the visual field, then proceeded through sound and towards the sense of touch. This is the precise opposite of the evolution of life forms." It's a form of retrogressive re-potentialization, returning one step into ancient times to find a new point of bifurcation for two steps forward into the future. Simulating the events of the past like a sort of time machine.

MC: That's an interesting phenomenon.

HM: Using the word "evolution" creates the illusion that there is a straight line which can lead either into the future or the past, but it's not so. Thought about from a computer interface development perspective, we're seeing an increasing number of dimensions unfold. What until now was seen as moving along a two-dimensional interior, has in fact gained a third dimension, and so on.

MC: It is in this context that I get the feeling that the time-space continuum inheritance of the 15th to 16th centuries is in transformation.

HM: This may not have to do directly with conceptions of what is or is not real, but I have been quite fascinated by GPS (Global Positioning Technologies) lately. Through wearing a wristwatch we have for many years been able to enjoy real-time synchronicity with where we are according to time vectors, yet, now with the GPS technology we are able to experience an equally profound sense of space synchronicity. Always knowing your exact coordinates! This kind of placement mapping technology is an essential link into the world of VR.

MC: I mentioned to you once that the sensory apparatus in the CABIN seemed to me like a crystal ball, but this also carries an ancient tradition, that of observing worlds which appear in visionary apparatus such as crystal balls. In Islamic mysticism the world is seen condensed in a single drop of water, like imagining for a moment that one drop of water on your car windshield could be expanded to the point where an entire universe were apparent...except for the fact that the CABIN contains nothing. What are we to do at this point!? (laughs) Your placement mapping information retrieval systems'data processing becomes extremely fast, I suppose?! (laughs)

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