#70: John Dionisio on bringing Omniscience, Omnipresence, & Omnipotence to virtual & augmented realities + AR as the Reversal of VR and bringing the synthetic into the reality

John Dionisio is an associate professor of computer science at Loyola Marymount University, and he talks about moving towards omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence in virtual and augmented realities. He sees augmented reality as the reversal of virtual reality where AR brings alien technology into reality, VR is bringing alien humanity into synthetic environments.

John-DionisioJohn talks about the evolution of privacy and identity through technology, and the open question as to whether there are latent generational differences or if technology is an active participant in evolving that relationship.

He also talks about the spectrum from reality to augmented reality to virtual reality, and sees that there is a multi-dimensional nature to how presence, communication and our economic capabilities are influenced within each type of reality.

In terms of education, he sees immersive technologies as merely a means to an end of ultimately producing competent producers, users and thinkers in a specific domain. It’s more about improving yourself and not just being enamored by technology for technology’s sake.

Finally, he’s sees that virtual and augmented reality technologies have the potential to produce a society that’s completely comfortable with increased capabilities when it comes to manifesting Omniscience, Omnipresence, & Omnipotence. And that technology could help to free us from feeling less limited and more empowered. There are open questions as to the digital divide and existing inequalities, but that those are more political and cultural issues to be resolved and are less technological in nature.


  • 0:00 – John Dionisio studies interaction design
  • 0:28 – Omniscience – channel information to you, Omnipresence – extend your presence elsewhere, & Omnipotence in Virtual Reality where arbitrary content creation is possible
  • 1:53 – Reversal of Virtual Reality. Virtual Environments is where human is immersed in a synthetic world. Augmented Reality is bringing synthetic objects into reality. Moving towards achieving Omniscience and Omnipresence in AR, and potentially Omnipotence. What will be more compelling? AR or VR?
  • 4:17 – AR bringing in technology into the lives perhaps against the will of others. It’s an open question to what will be more compelling? Will it be accepted
  • 5:40 – Balance of surveillance and privacy. Sun’s Scott McNealy on Privacy. “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” You never had it. In reference to credit card and financial transactions. Some could argue that it was never there for anyone who had enough access. It’s an open debate. There are generational differences. Difficult cultural landscape that’s hard to know how that will evolve. Weakest link to privacy is more sociological than technological. Technology may bridge the gap with biometric security.
  • 8:52 – Evolution of identity within virtual and augmented realities. Layer of identity that’s beyond your control. Identity mapping project. Not sure how it’ll play out. Multiple personality ORDER. Project identity out and filter out parts of ourselves. Don’t know where identity will go. Just started to catalog how identity looks in different mediums.
  • 11:03 – Filtering and mediating your identity online. Identity in Virtual Worlds. Lots of factors, including generational differences. Younger folks are aware of false limitations of identity expression.
  • 12:38 – Spectrum of realities from reality to AR to VR. How true is linear progression of presence in VR vs AR. Not bound by physical constraints in VR. Spectrum will have more dimensions than just presence including communication and economics.
  • 15:00 – Financial differences in different realities and moving things of value from virtual to augmented to real world. How does economy look and how will the realities mix
  • 16:36 – Using immersion in an educational context. These technologies are just a means to an end. Ultimate goal of education is to produce competent producers, users and thinkers in a specific domain. Make sure that you’re taking yourself to a new place, and not just being enamored by technology for technology’s sake
  • 17:56 – Potential of VR. Back to manifesting Omniscience, Omnipresence, & Omnipotence in AR and VR regardless of limitations. Feel as unlimited as they can get via technology. Get to point where people feel empowered by technology.
  • 19:27 – Digital divide and the haves and haves not. Technology evolves and gets cheaper over time. If technology isn’t the limitation, then is it educational or another cultural factor. It should be watched, but don’t know any specific action to take.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:12.019] John Dionisio: I'm John Janisza. I'm an associate professor of computer science at Loyola Marymount University. And I have assorted interests, including virtual environments, virtual technologies. Primarily, I'm interested in interaction design in general and computer graphics.

[00:00:28.250] Kent Bye: Great. And so you were talking a bit about the different qualities of omniscience and omnipotence and virtual reality. Maybe talk about all those omnis that you have within VR.

[00:00:37.895] John Dionisio: Right, so that was sort of my semi-attempt at being witty about the things we can do in virtual environments. We have the three Omnis, Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. So, of course, genuine Omnis are off-limits to mere mortals, but in a virtual environment, you have a degree of Omniscience because you can channel any information you need from anywhere within the virtual environment to you as long as the software allows you to do it, which grants a certain level of Omniscience within that environment. You have omnipresence where you can be almost literally again within the limits of the software in multiple places at any amount of time. Also in channeling through real environments or if you're extending the notion of virtual environments to things like Google Hangouts or video conferencing environments, then you could have this presence really anywhere. So that's the omnipresence part. And finally, omnipotence is in virtual environments that permit arbitrary content creation and bending of the laws of physics. Then you have that sort of sense of power that, you know, you can pretty much do anything you want within the environment. So that's the way I frame the capabilities that you have in a virtual environment that gives you enough of those facilities.

[00:01:53.725] Kent Bye: Here at the Immersive Initiatives, Immersive 2014 Summit, you're talking about the reversal of VR. What is the reversal of virtual reality?

[00:02:03.367] John Dionisio: Right, so framing, looking at those three, if you agree that the three omnis are sort of the capabilities you gain in a virtual environment. You can think of virtual environments as systems where you immerse the human in a synthetic world, a technology-created world. Now, if you consider the other trend of wearable devices and embedded computers and, you know, the Internet of Things, machines that are essentially peppered throughout the real world around us, all connected and include wearable devices where we're also connected. You can think of that as a reversal of virtual environments where instead of the human being placed in technology, you place the technology in the human world. And so there's sort of that inversion of who's the visitor. But the talk I'm giving here at the summit is the observation that despite that seeming opposite configuration, people essentially look like they could gain the same three omnis. If you're sufficiently instrumented, you have omniscience. You could monitor your heart rate or monitor your blood sugar. You could get tweets into your eye as you need to. So you have that notion again of being completely connected all the time to the degree that you're wired up. Omnipresence is also the same thing. If I'm in an instrumented environment, then either the devices around me can capture my presence and send it anywhere. Or my wearables with the microphone or something can also send my presence anywhere else as well, regardless of where I physically am. And so that leaves the last thing, which is omnipotence, which is probably the main discrepancy, right? In a synthetic environment, I can just make a building appear in front of me. I can't quite do that in the real world. But who's to know, right? With the advent of 3D printing and just projected progress in that technology, it really might not be that far off. where I can sit at a table with a 3D printer and envision an object and it eventually appears in front of me. So that's kind of the main crux is that despite the seeming inversion of the way the technologies are arranged, the same set of capabilities might evolve out of it. And I guess the question that comes to mind is, will one be more compelling than the other?

[00:04:16.822] Kent Bye: Well, I think one thing that's happening right now is that there seems to be a little bit of a sociological backlash in terms of augmented realities are, in some sense, bringing the technology into the world where it may or may not be with full consent with everybody involved. You know, in virtual worlds, it's just you, and you're in your own world. But yet, augmented realities, you're kind of bringing all this technology, and there's all sorts of privacy implications. And I'm curious about how you see that right now and how that could play out.

[00:04:46.715] John Dionisio: Well, yeah, that's exactly one of the variables that motivates the question, right? Which one will be more compelling? Like, on the one hand, you can say that an augmented environment is, I don't know, perhaps more practical and has more applications in the real world rather than something that's closed in. But on the other hand, you said, yes, there are cultural, social impediments to it. And it remains a question as to whether those issues will become permanent. Will people just never really want like right now, you know I'm wearing a Google Glass right now and some people just don't like that and I don't think we know the answer yet to whether this is a temporary phenomenon and people will get acclimated to the idea or whether it's gonna be permanent and you know, there's just no way you can walk around with a Glass on your head and not be stared at so precisely That's why the question is interesting because I don't think there are some obvious answers yet

[00:05:40.167] Kent Bye: Well, how do you see this whole balance of privacy and surveillance and the opposite of surveillance of sousveillance, which is the citizen-driven surveillance, and how you see that dynamic playing out?

[00:05:52.307] John Dionisio: Well, you know, there's a lot of perspectives there. I mean, as early as the 1990s, Scott McNeely, then the CEO of Sun Microsystems, I don't remember the quote exactly, but the spirit of the quote is, privacy, get over it. You never had it. And he was already saying that in the 90s. Of course, at that time, he was referring to how credit cards and transactions and our financial activities were pretty much monitored. Anyway, you could argue that today, the order of magnitude justifies asking the question again. But there's one school of thought that essentially says, you know, it's really never been there. To a party at the right level of access, all that information is there anyway. On the other hand, the notion of privacy is just now getting wide public exposure. I mean, for a lot of people, this was not even an issue until very recently. And I really don't know how it will turn out. I mean, there are cultural aspects to it. Actually, generationally, one can actually say that each generation's perspective of what privacy is differs. I mean, you've got a lot of younger folks today who essentially take it for granted that everything they do is public and that's just something they accept. And of course, older generations have different scales of what is acceptable in terms of what they do and how much of it should be known. So, the cultural aspect, I don't know that I can comment on that. The technological aspect, I mean, there are definitely ways to secure information, but I have a colleague, actually he's the moderator at the 3 o'clock panel, he's from Google. He actually said, you know, for security and privacy, the best technological solution is ultimately limited by the weakest social or personal element, right? So no matter what technology goes in to whatever you build, if somebody is still writing their password on a post-it, what can you do? So, from that perspective, I think, therefore, technologically, we have the means. We just require policies that enforce, for example, on-chip encryption, universal encryption, or one-way hashing, or all these techniques that are available. But I'm really not sure how that will settle in I mean if society as a whole just kind of takes it in and accepts it and kind of plays along and does their own part in making sure their passwords aren't all over the place or On the other hand technology can also meet them in the middle right biometric technology, which might help eliminate the need for a password May bridge the gap. So I think what we're seeing is technology and social mores need to sort of find a happy medium and And I'm optimistic we can be in a state where there's satisfactory degree of privacy, but other issues like security or public safety can be ensured. I do think it requires kind of motion from both directions, not just relying on technology entirely or relying on policy or society entirely.

[00:08:52.461] Kent Bye: And how do you see the evolution of identity? Because identity in virtual worlds and in real world is a pretty big topic. And with your Google Glass right now, if there is facial recognition to the point where you could start to identify who I was and start doing Google searches on me, then there's going to be this whole layer of identity that is being controlled by a corporation that you know, these top ten search results of my Google identity is going to be following me around everywhere I go. And so, how do you see this dynamic of identity both in augmented realities and virtual realities playing out?

[00:09:26.008] John Dionisio: Well, it's funny that you ask that because one of the other exhibits here is a project that I'm a part of called the Identity Mapping Project. And the short answer is, we're not sure yet, but we see things happening. So a colleague of mine has proffered the idea of not a multiple personality disorder, but a multiple personality order. saying that as we have these different technologies through which we can manifest and project ourselves, we do start presenting different aspects of ourselves depending on the medium or technology, but that it's just part of the evolution. I mean, we are simply learning to represent parts of ourselves which really have been in all of us all this time, but have only now started to acquire channels through which they can uniquely project. So, I don't know exactly where this would go, but there is that project that we have called the Identity Mapping Project, which seeks to start cataloging how people express themselves in different digital domains, blogs, emails, social networks, and we're just beginning to start to gather data to see how that looks. And we're hoping that the project will start getting enough empirical data that we can actually answer that question a little more straightforward. And as a little bit of a come on for the survey, we're actually also doing a little visualization of what you say. So whenever you answer the questions about your digital identity or identities, the survey ends with a URL, which if you connect it to a browser, gives you a nice little animation. So try it out yourself over there when you have a chance and see how you look in terms of the visualization.

[00:11:02.050] Kent Bye: Well, the thing that comes to mind is that there's this whole sort of filtering and mediating your identities online where it could be sort of projected, you know, crafted experience of who you are. And so in terms of, you know, virtual reality and augmented reality, I think that there's going to be still that layer of mediation that's happening. But when it comes to going into these other virtual worlds, how do you see identity playing a part of all of that?

[00:11:27.492] John Dionisio: Well, so that's still a big question. I mean, actually, you can talk to my colleague, Rich Gilbert, who's a psychologist, and so he's actually better equipped to address identity from that perspective. And in fact, he's done some studies on how it works. There's a lot of factors that I think will make it vary. I mean, we mentioned generational differences. I've seen people go into virtual environments and if they tend to skew older, they tend to kind of create avatars that are relatively realistic. But younger folks are more aware that the limitations are actually not there and they get a lot more fanciful. So, whether the older folks are simply sort of holding back because they're not familiar with the technology or whether there's really something innate about that particular cohort, yeah, I can't say I know that. I mean, I do know that the possibilities are fairly open technologically and there's a certain group of folks who are capable of tapping that. the question of what the feedback loop is. Is the technology breeding this change in identity or is that really latent in everybody and it just so happens you need a skill set? Yeah, that I can't, I don't really think I have an answer to.

[00:12:38.427] Kent Bye: And at the IEEE VR forum, there was a chart of mixed reality, and it was a spectrum going from reality to augmented reality to augmented virtual reality to virtual reality. And the point that they were making in that slide was that as you increase towards virtual reality, you get more and more sense of presence in terms of getting completely immersed into another world. And I'm curious, since you're more on the augmented reality side, how do you see that spectrum and the strengths and weaknesses of each?

[00:13:04.755] John Dionisio: Well, right. I think actually that spectrum kind of reflects the state of the technology at the time that people started thinking about this. And in some ways, the way augmented technologies are evolving, that whole notion of presence, I think, is precisely one of the interesting things to start looking at. how true is it really that you get that linear scaling of presence, which, you know, a few years ago was pretty straightforward to think of in that manner, but now, when you think of the potential of the fully instrumented human being immersed in an internet of things, the notion of how much of yourself you can project in the real world versus in a synthetic environment, it might not just be a simple matter of scale anymore. And what I was going to mention in my talk is, for example, virtual environments still have that notion of because the environment is completely synthetic, you're not bound by real world or physical constraints. We might end up just saying that in terms of our presence in a virtual environment, we have much more leeway in terms of how large we project ourselves to be or small or how we look or what the properties of our representation would be. But on the other hand when you swing over to the augmented side you are kind of really quite in real-world situations and therefore maybe the scope of applications that you can perform will be much broader. So I think what's going to happen is that spectrum may break up into a multi-spectrum. where you do go to that range from a completely IRL environment to virtual, but you'll get a vertical axis, where in terms of creation capabilities, the scale is this way. In terms of communication capabilities, the scale is this way. In terms of financial capabilities, the scale is that way. So I think that's what's going to be. Things will just break up, and instead of one spectrum, you'll get a two-dimensional grid.

[00:14:58.668] Kent Bye: I see. That's interesting. So you're kind of bringing in other components other than just presence. And you mentioned a few there. Is there any other components that you see or kind of distinct differences between augmented and virtual reality and in real life reality?

[00:15:10.849] John Dionisio: Well, I think actually a big one may seem almost semi-boring is the financial aspect, right? I mean, we do have virtual economies, but the notion of virtual goods is not quite something that has really, really taken off yet. And actually, at this point, there's a question really of how much, because on the opposite end, you now have 3D printing coming to the fore, where, yeah, maybe I'm not just happy with having digital bling that's exclusively digital, I could start creating things of my own that become something of the real world. And of course, when you start doing that, people start wondering about bartering or exchanging or getting paid for them. And so I think the practical financial aspect is something that hasn't been looked at yet. I mean, people today are talking about augmented, having digital wallets and having your devices connected. to your phone or your persona or your fingerprint. On the other hand, you have digital currencies. There's just this whole mishmash of things that I think are emerging, but are still semi-vertical. And people haven't quite stepped back to go, well, how does the economy really look? And how will they mix? How will virtual goods and virtual currencies mix with real goods and real currencies? And where do the gaps get bridged? So I think that's a whole area that's still open for exploration.

[00:16:35.858] Kent Bye: And because there is an element of education and you're an educator, I'm curious about how you bring in these augmented or virtual worlds or virtual reality into an educational context. And what does a sense of immersion bring that's different than non-immersion?

[00:16:51.227] John Dionisio: Oh, that's a fairly broad question. I mean, I guess the one thing I can say for sure is that these technologies are always, always, always, in education, always just a means to an end. It's never the end. The end goal is always something like, well, I want to produce competent producers in this space, or competent users of this space, or competent thinkers in this space. So it's never just, oh, I want to be able to go ahead and plug in and use this stuff. Okay, that's great, but make sure that in doing so, you're doing something about yourself that takes you as a person, whether in real or digital manifestation. to a new place. And so I guess that would be the main thing. It's very easy. People get very easily enamored by technology for its own sake. But in the realm of education, I think it has to be directed more toward making sure that the people who are making use of these technologies find some kind of internal change or growth in themselves.

[00:17:53.735] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see the ultimate potential for immersive augmented or virtual realities are in terms of what it can do and provide to society?

[00:18:03.157] John Dionisio: Well, you know, I think in the end, it's back to those three omnis that I talked about. I mean, just imagine a world where everybody is comfortable with those three omnis, where nobody feels any limitations in terms of the information that they can access or any limitations in terms of the events or venues that they can attend. or any limitations in terms of who they can reach out to. So, my own personal view of it, regardless of the mix, virtual versus augmented and how much of it it is, what I like to see is this world where people do feel as unlimited as they could get, as fostered by technology. And I think for a lot of folks, that's been a very strong issue. I mean, the sense of limitation is what triggers, for example, feelings of injustice and feelings of inequity. And when you allow technology to chip away at that and give a sense of empowerment, one wonders what a world of highly empowered individuals will be. One can argue that we have not yet had a world where every individual feels uniformly empowered to affect change, good or bad, right? But I think the technology is, it's interesting to see what might happen at that end point when a lot of people do feel that sense of empowerment.

[00:19:19.623] Kent Bye: And just to follow up on that point, it does seem like it has the potential to be a great equalizer, but also to be a great digital divide that creates a bifurcation of the haves and have-nots. And so how do you sort of take that into account?

[00:19:31.328] John Dionisio: Well, that's a really fairly complicated question, right? Many, many dimensions to that, both technological and non-technological. I think what technology can do about it is, of course, just the issues of scale. I mean, if there's anything that's always been true of technology, that something that cost $10,000 10 years ago may cost $10 today. So in terms of sort of material or economic costs of producing or bringing technology into the world, the nice thing about that is it generally shows a downward trend of being less costly. Which then brings us to the question that's more societal or political or cultural If technology is not really a limitation, what are the others? Is it educational? Is it a sense of what's appropriate? So the generational issues of appropriate use of technology come in So, that one I'm not really sure. I can't really say I have something to do about that. I do know enough that I think it should be watched. But I don't know enough about taking action. But I think that side of it is definitely... That's probably the more interesting side. Because it's almost like, well, technology will get cheaper, it will get smaller. The real world physical limits of technology are still not quite... We haven't quite butt our heads against that. So, that seems to be okay. But all these other questions, which... concern other resources that are not necessarily technological as well, right? One can even argue that there is a food divide in the world, or even a housing divide, right? So I think the way to look at it is the digital divide is not necessarily unique. It's just one of many divides that striates the world today. And so the solution that helps address those divides, I think, will go across the board.

[00:21:20.618] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:21:23.300] John Dionisio: I kind of said a lot already, so I just think people should remain open and interested and engaged, and as long as they are, then good stuff happens. Great, well thank you. Great, thanks Ken.

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