"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 distances—becomes 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 reality chambers.1
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 means—unless of course the distant environment was very far away—too 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 nature—oblivious to the fact that he was in cyberspace, enjoying an experience of being-there, now.We could all be such travelers, at this verymoment, 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.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.