The Probaway Person of the Year won’t be decided for another month, until January 2017, but Palmer Luckey has done more than any other person to bring Virtual Reality into a functioning computer-mediated reality available to the public.
There have been a few quick attempts to get VR out to the public before Luckey, by other giants of the media and computer world, but Luckey forced them to do it. The Oculus Rift VR reality system is probably going to be a grand opening for the entertainment media because it has enough quality to be satisfying. The lesser attempts are only introductory and stop-gap devices put out by others who are finally seeing the light of its possibilities. These early attempts are failures and soon to be forgotten because they do not have the presence to feel real, and often leave viewers feeling sick. Luckey’s machines pass that threshold of acceptability, at least for playing properly designed games, and the greater powers needed for fully functioning human reality are being explored. It will take vast amounts of money to explore the possibilities of VR, but Luckey has provided the impetus to invest the money, and the money is now flowing.
The Probaway method for searching for the Person of the Year is to look back from a postulated five-hundred years in the future and pick the event that will still be remembered at that distant time. A good example of how that strategy is used is to compare President John F. Kennedy proposing to send a man to the Moon in the early 60s, which will be forgotten after 500 years, with Neil Armstrong’s actually putting his foot on the Moon, which will be remembered, if of course there are sentient beings to do the remembering. The only other contender for that permanent fame would be Buzz Aldrin because he spoke the very first words spoken on the Moon. He said, “Contact light,” when the lander’s sensors detected the landing gear touched down. Of course the prepared words, “One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind,” will be remembered, even though they were said hours later when Armstrong stepped off the spacecraft ladder onto the surface of the Moon.
Virtual Reality is an entirely new medium. In about five years, plus or minus four, it will have enough computer power to create presence enough to really feel that you are talking with someone who is actually there. At first VR is going to be limited to games, but the VR games will feel completely different from other computer games because they will have more of the emotional feeling of immediacy, of being immersed in reality with computer-generated beings. A well executed VR game will be scaled to fit your body and thus will give you the sense of presence of actually being in the scene. It will probably be soon followed by the military using the technology to train soldiers for combat, and perhaps to engage in actual combat. It will be helpful for scientists to clarify what they are thinking about if they have more real models to work with. Education will be helped because the students will be able to engage more fundamentally in the realities of what they are exploring. Movies designed for VR will become more real, because of the personal presence felt, and there will be times when the VR will permit you to engage in the action of the movie, and affect the outcome, and thus to create even more presence for the viewer and virtual participants. These other virtual participants may be human, or not, and be alive and playing in some distant land.
Other people, I am considering for 500-year fame, would obviously include Donald Trump. At the moment Trump hasn’t done anything unusual other than being elected President of the United States, and someone was bound to be elected, so being elected isn’t unusual, it’s even a foregone conclusion. There is the chance that he will do something next year that will make him famous, or infamous, but not yet. Last year I chose Xi Jinping because he had conducted China from being a third-world country into being the greatest economic powerhouse on Earth. Perhaps Trump will do the same. He claims he will make America great again, but much of his personal track record for his companies is exactly the opposite. We will see, but:
It is rare to get onto the Probaway Person of the Year list and common to fail in attempting great enterprises.