Developers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong announced recently (see references below) that they have developed an electronic hand that can be plugged into a personal computer that allows users who are chatting with one another to feel movements the other makes. Initial tests allowed users to “shake hands” virtually when both had the device connected to their computer.
This new technology opens the door to all sorts of possibilities; imagine being able to “feel” a loved one’s hand moving in yours when they are thousands of miles away. Or taking the whole thing further, which is what humans always do, imagine if instead of just a hand, a person wore (and manipulated) a full body suit that allowed them to “be” somewhere else while they were wearing it. Then, if on the other end, there were a robot that had been made to look like the person wearing the suit on the other end, it might appear as if that other person were actually really there with you because it would be guided by the real other person. The possibilities seem almost mind blowing. Truly this is one of the first steps into the make believe world of science fiction that has existed since human beings were first able to put pen to paper to capture their most daring fantasies. Taking the above scenario one step farther, if you also were to put on one of these full body suits, which would then be hooked to your computer which would then make a robot move in the same room as the other person wearing their suit, what would that be like? Conceivably, the two of you could hug, and uh, do more. What would that mean for humans and reality? And relationships come to think of it.
It’s interesting to note that the technology to make a hand move across the Internet has existed for quite some time; it’s only recently that someone has actually done it. This is similar to the cloning of human beings in some respects. A lot of people know how to do it, but no one (that we know of) has actually done it because of the social implications.
It’s difficult to say what the implications of being able to physically reach out and touch someone across the Internet will mean, but it is no doubt an issue that will be much talked about and discussed when it comes closer to being something anyone can actually buy, which might not be that far away, some say as soon as Christmas this year.