Barring the invention of a stupidly cheap and non-polluting superfuel (or better still but more unlikely, some kind of antigravity propulsion system), the age of cheap and ubiquitous air travel is going to have to end, by choice or otherwise. Some economists have mentioned it (though no-one seems keen to face the idea), as have any number of science fiction authors – two recent examples being Vernor Vinge (‘Rainbows End’) and Stephen Baxter (‘Transcendent’), both of whom have described relatively-near-future scenarios where long distance physical travel is either reserved to the hideously rich, or done the slow old fashioned way, across the surface of the planet.
But that isn’t going to negate the desire for travel, the wish to see and experience new exotic locations. Nor is it going to remove the human need for face to face interaction in business dealings. There will have to be another way that satisfies the urge to explore and the modern lust for rapidity of transport.
Yes, you guessed it. Virtual reality will make a comeback. Though hopefully without those stupid clunky goggles.
NASA has seen the light. They’ve just launched ‘Virtual Field Trip’, an immersive interactive multimedia experience which you can use to travel around the outback of Australia with a team of scientists, exploring the landscape and finding out interesting stuff as you go.
OK, so it’s early days, but this is (I think) a sign of things to come, and as the technology gets better (which it shows little sign of not doing), experiences like this will eventually evolve into something similar to what the occultists and magicians call ‘remote viewing’ or ‘astral travel’ – the ability to percieve a location in great detail as if one was actually there, but without actually being so. In the meantime, developments like Philips’ new 3D monitors will continue to steadily upgrade the depth of experience and reality in these applications.
But a decade or so down the line? To parrot Baxter’s trope from ‘Transcendent’, remote droids could be used to beam the sensory data back to you, wearing some sort of immersive electrode-rig that pipes the data into your sensorium, allowing you to see, hear, maybe even taste and smell the surroundings, all without you moving from your home.
I love to travel, and it will be a shame to not be able to do it with the ease we do today. But this sort of technological telepresence-travel will open it up to all levels of society, in a way that air travel (as cheap as it seems to us Western ‘1st-worlders’) simply doesn’t. Plus it’ll take a huge chunk out of the pollutants we pump into our atmosphere for the sake of nothing but fun (or business profits that could be earned a different way). And that can only be a good thing, IMHO.