"In cyberspace, omniscience entails omnipresence."
A universe about which everything is known is a universe in
which travel becomes unnecessary.
The possibility of armchair or "virtual" travel announces itself
as soon as standard issue "here-now" caps are fitted with
line-in and line-out jacks. Two subjects, each wearing such a
cap, would be able to swap places in the universe using two
patch cords, cross-patched between the two caps. One man's
line-out signal becomes the other man's line-in, and vice-versa.
Given long patch cords, extending around the corner and then
perhaps thousands of miles, virtual travel over great distances
perhaps even unfathomable distancesbecomes possible.
Patch cords are of course replaceable by wireless transmitters, as
Marconi showed towards the end of the last century, suggesting
that group travel to a distant environment would become possible
should the appropriate data be broadcast from that environment
to the putative travelers.
Being-there, now does not require that we go there, now. It
requires that we know certain things about the destination
environment, in order that we bring it here, instead.
If you can't tell any difference, then, at least for some
purposes, there isn't any difference. Whether our traveler takes
a conventional trip from Point A to Point B, or "imports" an
environment copy from Point B to Point A, the scenery will be
equally spectacular, and the sights, sounds, smells, of far-away
places equally overwhelming, and conducive to personal growth.
The traveler will be able to nose around, explore, change the
position of the furniture, meet people, and otherwise "involve"
himself in the goings-on of that environment, whether that
environment be a natural one, or an imported synthetic copy.
For other purposes, there will be a difference depending as to
whether the traveler moves cybernetically, or conventionally.
For example, you can't invade the other guy's turf and annex
that land by force without going there. However, you could play
at doing so by an importing a copy of the distant environment,
and performing your dirty work on the copy. The world might be a
better place if all such macho instincts were ventilated within
Being-there, now, a computer-generated synthetic environment, or
cyberspace, becomes Being-there, later, as the machine absorbs
the initial coordinates of all objects in the distant target
environment, together with user inputs, and extrapolates these
forward in time, displaying new values for these coordinates in
the form of sensory data which would be enjoyed by a normal
percipient subject in these particular and changing
circumstances. The subject understands this as full, interactive
involvement in the target environment, which he will regard as
real. There will thus be no test which the subject might perform
which would indicate to him whether he had arrived at the
far-away location by conventional or cybernetical meansunless
of course the distant environment was very far awaytoo far to
reach in a normal lifetime. He would then have good reason to
suspect that he had not gone anywhere, but had imported an
environment instead, since the latter process, unlike
conventional travel, occurs at the speed of light
However, for this inference to cybernetic travel to be
possible, the subject would have to remember something about the
originating environment; e.g., that it was too far away from the
target environment to permit ordinary, conventional travel. Had
the subject's memory been erased, or been simply fuzzy all
along, he would rattle around within the target environment
fully innocent of its synthetic natureoblivious to the fact
that he was in cyberspace, enjoying an experience of
being-there, now. We could all be such travelers, at this very
moment, and not know that we are.
There are already devices which we use, albeit crudely, to
"import" distant perceptual environments in real time. Radio and
television are obvious examples. Listeners across the United
States were as horrified by the radio account of the explosion
and burning of the zeppelin "Hindenburg" as were the eye
witnesses gathered at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Viewers around the
world took that "first big step for mankind," on the moon, with
the American astronaut. Cable TV subscribers tuned in to CNN
News were in Baghdad the night it was bombed by Coalition
forces. None of these armchair travelers was really fooled, of
course. Radio sets crackle, and TV sets are given to snow, and
neither technology makes any attempt to replace organic receptor
devices, such as eyes and ears, but to augment their performance
instead. Also, neither radio nor television yet offers the
possibility of user interaction.
However, reality simulators will replace eyes and ears, and will
be perfectly transparent, interactive devices, with nothing like
transmission interference to give the show away. We'll not know
whether we're in them, or not.
In cyberspace, omniscience entails omnipresence.
1 Such "what if" military scenarios are already be played out
using currently available, crude reality simulators housed deep
within the earth in hardened, bomb-proof bunkers.
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.