Making reality more high-definition than it looks like – that’s what is born with the surreal marriage of technology and creativity. Another wax statue? A 38-18-28 Barbie Doll? Or a secret garden that we would love to tip-toe into?
“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” Iris Murdoch
There is a very specific French term called -Trompe l'œil.- a form of art that can make the viewer look at the painted objects or spaces as if they are real.
Then there is something called ‘everyday delusion’ – where we choose to (or are made to) think that the dark, difficult, deer-in-the-headlights reality we see is actually a bad TV show.
Somewhere sitting between this fantasy land and ‘Truman Show’ lies the foetus of hyper-realism.
If you think it’s something from a future still far away, remember that new amusement park you just read about, or the Hi-fidelity art you just scrolled by or that Balenciaga Pope Jacket you might have passed off as a funny meme.
Hyper-realism is underlining reality with the strong strokes of technology. The ink being used is that of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Extended Reality (XR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and everything in between- arming human creativity like never before. The result is an ‘escape’. But where to? And is it better than where we are now?
Hyper-realism for a Granny
When we ask a VR/AR veteran who has developed many social projects, and documentaries through the clever use of AR, VR etc., we get taken back to Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 treatise ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. As Parul Wadhwa, MFA, Digital Arts and New Media delineates, “In it, he described how technology has enabled the creation of experiences more intense and satisfying than reality. Using the example of Disneyland, he argued that we have become unable to differentiate between our reality, which is often banal and uninspiring; and these hyper-real experiences, which are more intense and enthralling.”
For more examples, she suggests we look at some new-age shopping centres; the worlds created in gaming and social media networks and now the metaverse (AR/VR/XR).
Unravel it in the hands of Vikas Ahuja, CEO, Metaverk and we can see that Hyper-realism refers to an immersive experience that blurs the lines between physical and virtual realities. “It involves creating a simulated environment that is indistinguishable from the real world by often using advanced technologies like VR and AR. It allows the users to interact with the digital world naturally and seamlessly by enhancing their perception and engagement with the virtual environment.”
Hyper-realism is an artistic style that strives to create realistic depictions of people, objects, and environments, as Kaavya Prasad, Founder, Lumos Labs puts it. “The idea is to create a world that's so realistic that users almost forget they're in a digital space. This can be achieved through a combination of high-quality graphics, textures, lighting, and sound.”
She points out how recently, hyper-realism has been incorporated into technology to imitate the physical world and provide an immersive and tangible experience.
The idea is to create a world that's so realistic that users almost forget they're in a digital space. - Kaavya Prasad, Founder, Lumos Labs
But don’t we already have immersive technologies like AR and VR?
We do, but Ahuja explains that Hyper-realism intersects and complements XR/VR/AR to create a more immersive and interactive virtual environment. “By incorporating physical elements into the virtual world and overlaying digital content onto the physical world, hyper-reality can provide a unique and realistic experience for users. It will allow users to actively manipulate objects, navigate virtual environments and interact with virtual content naturally and intuitively. At the same time, XR/VR/AR also provides new opportunities for hyper-realistic artists to push the boundaries of their craft. For instance, artists can create digital sculptures that can be viewed from any angle or use augmented reality to bring their paintings to life by adding interactive elements.”
In Prasad’s view, when combined with AR/VR, Hyper-realism can be used to create realistic digital environments that are more engaging and captivating for users using this technology.
Hyper-Realism for an entrepreneur/tech player
Great! But can hyper-realism have any use beyond those with paint brushes and VR headsets? What about the business world? And where would this asteroid hit first- Consumer tech Or Enterprise tech? Well, we have some conjectures already.
Hyper-reality has the potential to shape the future of technology in both consumer and enterprise domains, argues Ahuja. “It can enable immersive experiences in fields, such as gaming, entertainment, training, simulation and collaboration. Also, the convergence of hyper-reality with AI, IoT and 5G can create new opportunities for innovation and disruption. In the enterprise context, hyper-realism can also have significant applications. For example, it can be used to create digital simulations or real-world scenarios to train employees in a range of industries from healthcare to aviation.”
He shares the example of Metaverk a company that has leveraged hyper-realism technology to develop cutting-edge educational simulations. “In the education industry, we have developed a Jet Engine simulation that provides students with a hands-on understanding of how a jet engine works. The simulation uses hyper-realistic 3D graphics and physics-based modelling to create an accurate and detailed representation of the internal mechanisms of a jet engine. Through the simulation, students can interact with various components of the jet engine.”
There are virtual replicas of stores like Louis Vuitton, Nike and others in the metaverse now where users are actively shopping! - Parul Wadhwa, MFA, Digital Arts and New Media
Wadhwa seconds that Hyper-realism is already shaping consumer tech and enterprises with multiple case-scenarios. “For example US retail giant Walmart introduced a new augmented reality (AR) smartphone service that lets customers virtually try on articles of clothing. The company’s ‘Be Your Own Model’ application generates real-time 3D (RT3D) digital clothing based on a topographic map created by AI and machine learning algorithms.”
Advertising is benefiting big time from the use of emerging tech, especially Augmented Reality. Wadhwa notes. “For example, trying your favourite cosmetic or eyeglasses online is just a simple case scenario of how AR is infiltrating the advertising world. There are virtual replicas of stores like Louis Vuitton, Nike and others in the metaverse now where users are actively shopping!”
The metaverse has re-ignited the imagination of the tech world in the past year and we have observed sky-rocketing numbers at over 400 million users. With the increasing popularity and impact of metaverse, AI, web3, and AR/VR, on our daily lives, having hyper-real additions can increase adoption and make the whole experience seem accessible and humanizing. But achieving hyper-realism in a digital environment is a sophisticated work that needs niche developer skills and expertise, Prasad warns well. “Thus, as we move ahead in the space of virtual avatars, virtual houses, virtual worlds, details, and realistic design, we can expect a plethora of job opportunities arising out of this sector. Within our Lumos Metaverse, we are aiming to conduct global initiatives such as accelerators, hackathons, learning sessions, workshops, and eventually, expand to global universities that can help upscale developers. With a vast developer pool of over 10 million, India is one of the fastest growing hubs for emerging technologies and innovations.”
Overall, it’s likely that hyper-realism will play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of technology, particularly as advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning make it easier to create hyper-realistic content in real time, opines Ahuja. “However, the extent to which it will impact consumer versus enterprise technology may depend on the specific use cases and applications where it proves most effective.”
As per Anantha Krishnan, Founder, MOI,with more stakeholders entering the extended reality space, the technology is becoming hyper-realistic and perfecting the art of imitating real life. Though hyper-realism is still restricted to a few niches such as music, entertainment, and virtual influencers, the technology could upscale and provide diverse benefits and holistic experiences to all users in the near future.
Hyper-Realism for Naysayers
Everything new and shiny comes with a flip side. What risks and disadvantages are lurking at the corner of Hyper-realism?
“It could have us all trying to find a healthy balance between the real and the virtual worlds. It's important to also wait and see what kind of laws and ethics are designed for communications within these areas before consumers can decide if they or their privacy, data and identity might be at risk.” Wadhwa reminds.
Is that why Disney etc. are dialing-down on Metaverse? That makes us think of the immediate direction of Hyper-realism.
Wadhwa paints a no-frills picture here. “Investing in the metaverse is like hyperbole. It's a huge investment in terms of the hardware with the least amount of conversion. This is not the first time the metaverse has been mentioned but it's actually the first time these technologies have seen success with mainstream adoption and that's a very heartening sign as to where this industry is headed. We still need a lot more research in the area before this can take off as the internet but positivity more than scepticism will pave the path.”
Krishnan is worried about data privacy and security. “Unlike today's interaction models, these solutions generate an exponentially larger amount of data. Ensuring user ownership and control over this sensitive information is crucial, especially given the highly personal and confidential nature of these experiences. To successfully navigate this challenge, solutions like MOI, which prioritize creating human-like digital interactions, can provide much-needed assistance.”
We should also be thinking of the hardware requirements for these immersive experiences. They- as Krishnan reasons- are bulky, expensive, and not available everywhere. “Replicating the real-world requires niche expertise, time, knowledge, and money, to use as well as create. This futuristic technology can make life easier and provide pioneering experiences but a majority of consumers lack the awareness, familiarity, internet access, knowledge, and means to leverage its utility and mass adoption of the same can also lead to mass exclusion.”
Prolonged exposure to hyper-reality can impact mental health, with risks of addiction, dissociation and a blurred perception of reality.- Vikas Ahuja, CEO, Metaverk
Prasad dissects this from an operational angle. “Creating hyper-realistic digital environments can be incredibly time-consuming and resource-intensive. Another challenge is scalability. With hyper-realism, the amount of data needed to create a realistic digital environment can be massive. This can make it difficult to scale up the experience to support a large number of users. Getting the right gear and hardware for these experiences is another key challenge as technology, internet, knowledge, and awareness is not universally available just yet. There is already an existing divide between tech and non-tech users which will keep widening as we advance without conducting all-pervasive awareness initiatives and making expensive hardware reasonably priced and accessible.
But there’s more to the reality of hyper-reality. The makings of a new Black Mirror Episode, perhaps.
As the line between reality and hyper-reality blurs, ethical concerns, such as privacy, security and consent can arise, with potential risks of data misuse, manipulation and exploitation- warns Ahuja. “Also prolonged exposure to hyper-reality can impact mental health, with risks of addiction, dissociation and a blurred perception of reality. The blurring of reality and hyper-reality can affect social interactions, relationships and communication, leading to potential confusion between virtual and real-world experiences.”
He also weighs in how the integration of hyper-reality into various industries can disrupt traditional business models, job roles and markets, potentially leading to displacement and socioeconomic challenges. “One must carefully consider and mitigate these risks while harnessing the potential of hyper-reality, ensuring responsible and ethical adoption of this technology.”
Hyper-realism for us, We The People
Yashraj Garg, a young and aspiring psychology student with various research papers on technology, Generation Z, tech-led Narcissism, and negative impact of social media has his own view of hyper-realism here. “At first, we may be so sold by labels such as ‘ultra-realistic’ that we may not even begin to consider the consequences and that is normal. However, thinking from a critical perspective, hyper-realistic AI may not really be the game-changer we all perceive it to be. Firstly, there is bound to be AI bias. At the end of the day, AI is made by humans and humans are biased. Then, the ability to ‘hyper-realistically’ replicate something sounds dangerous to me! How can we know that the context in which this knowledge is disseminated is not a context which causes harm to individuals? To what extent do we know that such information isn’t being misused?”
Garg, a person born in the digital age, apprehends a lot- displaying some much-needed candour and caution. “It’s unclear whether this truly helps humanity or makes life harder for us. On one hand, creative artists and those from other industries may become unemployed, yet on the other hand, we may use AI algorithms to produce realistic images more efficiently. The question is: what are the stakes, truly? All in all, AI is not bad. Before we begin to assign moral value to AI, we must carefully consider and critically reflect on our own actions. Are we using the appropriate tools for the appropriate reasons?”
He may not be alone in these fears as we walk into a new Disneyland.
Wadhwa also says something pithy before she gets back to her reality. As Baudrillard stated, the hyper-real has become more true than the truth; and more real than the real; and it has started to dictate behaviour.
Hyper-realism can either be a make-up kit that hides what we don’t like. Or it can be a good poem or movie that helps us understand the reality in a better, not-so-raw, and less-painful way.
This is where we are reminded of the quirky cartoonist, playwright and painter Lynda Barry’s words.
“We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay.”
By Pratima H