Last week our CCO and Employee #0, Sam Mateosian, took to the stage at Portland's Pecha Kucha to talk about how virtual reality might change the way we taste food in the future. It might even make it possible to turn water into wine. No, seriously...
Pecha Kucha is a night where creatives of all types come together to share their work and ideas in a wild format. It's a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. If you've never been to one of these, you should! It's amazing what you can learn in an hour.
Here's a clip from Sam's talk "Can VR Turn Water into Wine?" - all about how VR will likely change the way we taste in THE FUTURE...
This is a 1989 Viewmaster. this was my first Virtual Reality headset. I was ten years old, and I still remember the awe I felt at being temporarily transported to another time and place with this device. But, before we get to that - and before I answer the question "what the heck does VR have to do with food?" I want to go back at the history of media.
It starts 35 thousand years ago with the first known painting made by humankind. The top image is from what is known as the Chauvet Caves in southern France. The bottom image is the first known example of written language 1900 years ago in Sinai, Egypt.
On the left is the first photograph ever taken 190 years ago in Bourgain France, by inventory Joseph Nicéphore. On the right is a stereoscope - a binocular photographic viewer. Two lenses show a slightly different image to each eye which creates a 3D view. This model 155 years ago from Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Left, the Kinetiscope that's the first recorded motion picture. Captured 122 years ago in Thomas Edison's lab. On the right, is the Sensorama - a machine that was one of the first immersive multi-sensory devices made by the film maker Morton Helig 55 years ago.
PONG programmed by Allan Alcorn and distributed by Atari. It was released in 1972 - 44 years ago. The first commercially successful video game. This marks the transformation for media from something you consume passively to something you participate in.
That brings us to today. This is the ducttaped prototype of the Oculus Rift - built by the (then 18 year old) Palmer Lucky. It combines a multisensory stereoscopic device with the interactive potential of video games. The consumer ready version was just released this year.
So, what's the point? What have we been doing for 35,000 years?
My opinion is that we've been building the tools to transfer a specific experience from one brain to another brain. Through the augmentation of, or replacement of our sensory data.
So this could be an actual experience. Or an imagined experience. And in VR (virtual reality) there is a fractional divide between the rendered fictional environments that let you move around and interact and the 360 video captures in which you're locked into the camera's location.
Some say that the video experiences should not be considered "real VR". So in our piece, called "Island Land" we attempted to bridge that divide. As you look around you see a fictional rendered island. It's not any particular island. It's an amalgamation.
It's the essence of island-ness.
It's a fiction through which you access reality.
So one of those real locations was the Monhegan Brewing Company. Our camera captures a complete sphere of video which then gets unwrapped to this...
It's like the Mercator reflection of the globe. You can see the stretched out poles at the top and the bottom and how the left connects to the right.
Inside a VR headset the video gets wrapped to the inside of a sphere and you can look around. It's hard to understand if you haven't tried it. As Chris Milk said "talking about VR is like dancing about architecture."
But here we are.
So here we are on a working lobster boat. And in our piece we allow you to break free of the constrained camera position by switching your vantage point.
One of those views was inside the lobster trap. So it's fun, but it can also be sort of terrifying - but then a surprising thing happens.
When the trap comes up, and you're in there and the lobsterman is reaching down to pull out the lobsters your empathic position switches. And now you're the lobster.
So, watching people do VR is it's own form of entertainment. So this is somebody inside that lobster trap. But the lobster empathy relationship got us thinking...
Could we go further up the food chain? To the experience of being boiled in the pot.
What does it feel like to be a lobster roll?
So there are some things that are obviously missing from this experience. Like taste and smell.
But what if we could manipulate our taste sensation based on our audio/visual input?
In something known as the McGerk affect, (yes, this is a real thing). visual information transforms the audio information.
So the visual input changes the audio experience. There is actually only one sound.
So this guy, Charles Spence, has shown that you can give people a drink and by changing the music that is playing in the background you can change the taste of whatever is in the glass. Play a bit of twinkling piano music and it will bring out the sweetness. Play some lower pitched somber sounds and the bitterness is enhanced.
So we got to thinking, what if we manipulated someone's expectations in VR with right audio/visual input
Would it be possible for someone to start drinking wine, and have someone gradually replace their drink with water without them realizing?
So we quickly learned that drinking while VRing is hazardous.
This is a real startup in Los Angeles
"Imagine, you can eat anything you want without regret. The future is here."
Of course, leave it to South Park to take this idea to it's logical conclusion. So this device is only half-joking. It's called the Nosulus Rift. And it delivers an intentially noxious experience. And I promise you that for better or for worse, this is not the only virtual scent delivery system that will be released.
"Well, I thought it was a joke when I read it on the internet. And then someone said you could try it here. And it was really disgusting. I felt a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but the overall experience is not bad.
So, in conclusion, VR today is like the first televisions. Clunky, and grainy. But it's part of the same trend in media becoming more intimate and multi-sensory. It went from out there on the big screen, then into our living rooms, then into our hands.
And now into the most private experience possible. The rectangle disappears and WE go inside of the content.
This is why people call VR "the last media".