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A while back I got a chance to sit in on a session with Jaron Lanier, the guy credited with popularizing the term “virtual reality” almost three decades ago. Did you know he worked at Microsoft now? Yeah, I didn’t, either, and the experience was, well, more than a little mind-altering.

So I was happy tonight when I stumbled across this backstage video interview of Lanier at Microsoft Advertising’s recent “Imagine 2011” conference. It’s an interesting piece if you can get past the opening image of Lanier standing in front of the Microsoft Advertising “You dream it, We deliver it” sign. Although maybe that’s appropriate in a different way.

In any event, from the video, here’s Lanier talking about the work of his research group and the possibilities of Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor.

What we’re doing is making some pretty extraordinary advances that we’re sorta not talking about yet, both in how computers can work in the server side in the cloud and also how they can work as personal objects on both sides, together. What we’re trying to do is reconsider the entire chain, not just take what’s given to us. …

One of the problems with virtual reality is that the term has been used so much that it’s hard to know what it means anymore. So far as I can tell there’s more virtual reality than sex in the movies these days, with Inception and Matrix and everything. It’s really hard to know what we’re talking about. To me the greatest advance lately is Kinect. It’s something that I was waiting for for decades.

Prior to Kinect in order to put on a full-body avatar you had to put on this whole suit, what was called a motion-capture suit. And those suits are fine if you’re a professional artist working in science fiction special effects and you want to turn into a creature and move around. But if you’re just a person who wants to experience being an alternate avatar or something, it was a nonstarter. Kinect broke through that.

The most important thing about virtual reality isn’t the idea that you’re seeing this dramatic 3D thing. It’s that you, yourself change. That you experience yourself in a different way than you ever have before. That you experience being a creature or being able to do things like fly, that you wouldn’t otherwise. And so, this ability to input yourself bodily using Kinect is something fundamentally different than we had before and something fundamentally beautiful and exciting.

Perhaps a little promotional, but notable at least for providing more clues about Microsoft’s direction with Kinect. Also: I love the look he gives after the first question.

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