“Telepresence is not science fiction.” That’s what cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky wrote in his essay, “Telepresence,” that appeared in OMNI Magazine in 1980. Minsky, who coined the term, believed that telepresence would change the way we relate to real experiences. Over 30 years later, Minsky’s hopeful vision of a telepresent future is being realized.

If you aren’t familiar with telepresence, it’s using virtual and augmented reality technology to appear and participate in a location other than where you are physically. Operating industrial machinery using virtual reality interfaces? That’s telepresence. When the Emperor appeared to Darth Vader via 70s VFX holograms? Also an example of the tech.

Telepresence is not only here, it’s becoming common in many different parts of life. And its cultural and technological ramifications are staggering.

From Your Home To The White House

There are many applications of the technology. You can be telepresent at work, with family abroad, or even pop up in exotic locales you’d never be able to go without it.

Telepresence has even made it into politics. In July, Alice Wong, the founder of the Disability Visibility Project, visited the White House and chatted with Obama and Biden. To do this, she used a robot comprised of a teleconferencing tablet on wheels, an incarnation of the Double robot created by Double Robotics. This robotic, communicative surrogacy isn’t restricted to such high-ranking use – Apple sells these things for $2500 a pop.

Over the past few years, medicine has begun turning to this new technology. A number of medical professionals have adopted telepresence robots to reach patients in places that don’t have advanced medical care and to lower the chance of catching viruses from potential patients. One of the most recent additions to the robot doctor family is the InTouch Vita, a giant friendly Skype on wheels.

People are flocking to telepresence, opting to work from home with the aid of such robot doppelgangers. And not only that, people are finding ways to adventure using mini drones that can mitigate flight disaster, 360 cameras, and VR hardware. Over the past few years, drone videos of famous sites have become really popular, and thinkers like University of Vienna’s Helmut Hlavacs are pushing for live telepresence experiences. Again, another amazing way of being anywhere and everywhere, all from one place.

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Bringing People Together Virtually

In a world seemingly divided by communication technology, telepresence using virtual reality and robotics is actually bringing people back together, even in the comfort of their own homes. Remember the Bruce Willis film Surrogates? Sure, not a masterpiece, but a reminder of how the technology allows for experiences free of human limitations. Although it’s a cautionary tale, it does demonstrate that more interactive VR machines let us do things we could never even dream of before said telerobotics.

This is, of course, prevalent in sex technology. Teledildonics machines can be coupled with virtual reality porn – there’s already a lot of content being produced, just look at companies like VirtualRealPorn – as well as synced up video conferencing software. This enables users to enjoy sensual activities from the comfort of anywhere with electricity and an internet connection. The incredible popularity of camming is proof alone that telepresence can foster real connections between people. Add mechanical inventions to that mix, and you have many of the sensory bases covered.

Telepresence Is Our Future

Anyone who still believes that Minsky’s idea that telepresence isn’t realistic, only needs to look at the variety of applications being implemented now. The state of this technology is quite promising. Each new advance brings us closer to telepresence being as convincing and compelling as literally being in the projected and simulated place. Imagine a Star Trek-style Holodeck inside every home, allowing us to be anywhere in the world, whether it be on a travel adventure, or in an intimate space with your partner miles away.

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