VIRTUAL TIME MACHINE

  • YEAR : 2020
  • CATEGORY : VIRTUAL REALITY
  • PLATFORM : OCULUS
  • TECH : UNITY 3D

IN A NUTSHELL

The Virtual Time Machine is a dynamic, non-linear story about the evolution of planet Earth, the path of which is different each time – the story of the Earth and its many outcomes as chosen by the audience as they jump through time in the evolutionary time-line of the planet. The story is narrated through a social media feed like that of Instagram where the planet is personified to have a profile where she is recording all the milestones of her evolution in the form of images which translate into various environments as seen in VR. The audience play God and take decisions for the planet which results in the planet taking a new route through its evolutionary process each time. 

 

INFLUENCES

The journey of The Virtual Time Machine has evolved over the years to finally become what it is today. The idea took birth from the word energy, evolving to the Butterfly Effect, Rube Goldberg Machines and finally to Unreliable Narrator.

I read the book ‘What if?’ by Randall Munroe a few years ago and some of the questions that came up were eye opening. The book contains ‘serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions’ as quoted by Randall on the cover of the book. Have you wondered – What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial

objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity? Or what would it be like if you traveled back in time, starting in Times Square, New York, 1000 years? 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? 1,000,000,000 years?

What about forward in time 1,000,000 years? These questions made me wonder how things would have turned out if history was different. How would the butterfly effect have panned out in the present if energy anytime in the past was altered. The idea of a hypothetical take on altering energy through time drove this project to tell a story. The story of energy as it moves through a Rube Goldberg Machine. So what if I build a dynamic Rube Goldberg machine which behaves differently each time thus altering the final outcome every single time.

 
Virtual Time Machine : Rube Goldberg Experiment with energy
Virtual Time Machine : Rube Goldberg Experiment with life

As my thesis evolved trying to find the relationship between energy and butterfly effect, I came across the movie Life Itself which opened up a whole new line of thought. It introduced me to the literary device of ‘unreliable narrator’. This movie compares human life to an unreliable narrator due to its uncertainty into the future and to some extent an unreliable past. Not very acclaimed as a movie this story inspired me to wonder what if we make a Rube Goldberg machine where the object in motion is life instead of energy. What if we make a dynamic Rube Goldberg Machine of life which behaves differently each time and hence the outcome of the life as seen at any given point is different every time, just like the way Jake Epping could go back in time through the back of a pantry into the year 1963 to change the present as we know it, in the book 11/22/63 by Stephen King. This book is a perfect example of how butterfly effect could work with human life and how even a single change to the past would resonate differently to everything around us. Each time he went back in time and changed something the present changed accordingly. The ripple effect.

 
 
Virtual Time Machine : Quote from 11/22/63

After having followed one of the most talked about TV shows produced by Netflix, Black Mirror, the much awaited interactive movie Bandersnatch became a game changer. It opened up a whole new scope of storytelling in films. It was the movie version of Choose your own Adventure books that we used to read as children. In Bandersnatch, the audience wasn’t going back in time but was able to control what is going to happen next through a set of two options to choose from which appeared on the screen periodically as and when a decision had to be made. This gave control to the viewer to make the film the way they want . This also gave me the idea for the Rube Goldberg Machine. A story made out of moving images. The Rube Goldberg machine now became a dynamic story made of moving images, the outcome of which is different each time. The story of life and its many possible outcomes as chosen by you.

Virtual Time Machine : Rube Goldberg Experiment with moving images and different story lines to choose from
Virtual Time Machine : Snapshot of the interactive movie - Bandersnatch

Adam Douglas’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy inspired me to write the story planet Earth as my Protagonist . The Virtual Time Machine was hence born. The theoretical physicist Sean Caroll in his book The Big Picture deals with the biggest questions, taking in quantum theory and free will along the way. Tim Radford in the Guardian reviews the book and writes “Some fundamental truths don’t bear thinking about. It is a sublime accident that we are here at all. We are all prisoners of the second law of thermodynamics, on a journey towards ever greater entropy. It is just your luck and mine that part of that universal trajectory from Big Bang to ultimate and inescapable cold and darkness includes an episode in which a little of the inexorable increase in disorder is here and there temporarily reversed, and sustained complexity – the sun, planets, you, me, trees and your friendly neighborhood cosmic physicist – becomes possible.” He also writes “….There may be no purpose or direction but once the Universe is there, things happen. Just as water can undergo phase transition from vapor to liquid to ice, so the cosmos can go from matter and energy to stars and planets and then from microbial slime to multicellular organisms to consciousness, the origin of language, the invention of machinery and of course to devising theories about the purpose of life.” So what if conditions on earth were not suitable for the microbial slime to become multicellular organisms? Would we have reached the concept of consciousness? Or in fact would we have even existed? That’s what The Virtual Time Machine explores.


The dynamic non linear story now became the story of planet Earth the evolution of which is different each time. The story of the Earth and its many possible outcomes as chosen by the you as they jump through milestones in the timeline of the Earth.

 

Dreams of Dali created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P) in partnership with The Dali Museum as part of the exhibition Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination and Datum Explorer’s interpretation of converting UK’s woodland into digital installation gave context to what the visual context and style of the story might look like. It also made The Virtual Time Machine a VR experience. The experience of jumping through various environments in time and altering future of the planet.

Virtual Time Machine : Dreams of Dali by Goodby Silverstien and Partners ( GS&P)
Virtual Time Machine : Datum Explorer's installation

With the recent outbreak of Corona Virus, social media has evolved to occupy a primary part of our lives. It is through the windows of these social media that we keep ourselves updated with the necessary social distancing movement. This made me wonder what Earth’s social media profile might look like if it was personified. The story of the evolution of planet earth as seen on a social media feed.

STORY OF EARTH

The idea was to personify the planet earth and give the planet a social media profile which
acts as the medium of interaction with the experience. The narrative is the story of the evolution of the planet earth and how the audience can alter the evolution of the earth to generate whole new realities or a whole new present. With the increase in socio- environmental issues causing much harm to the planet earth and depleting its natural resources its time to take a step back and look at our actions. This story will give us a chance to envision a completely different perspective of how evolution of earth would have been if different decisions had been taken.

 

The story starts 13.8 million years ago when the universe started expanding resulting in the Big Bang and the beginning of everything. There are multiple story lines illustrating various hypothetical scenarios of the various evolutionary paths that Earth could have taken if the ideal case did not exist. It is a take on what the parallel universe might look like. In Erwin Schrödinger’s experiment, it is believed that as long as there is no observer, the state of the cat is both alive and dead as there is no way of knowing what’s happening inside a sealed box. Hence at this point one has to consider an equal probability of all possibilities. But the minute an observer is put in this scenario, the exact state of the cat is revealed and all other possibilities are proved wrong. According to some scientists who believe in the concept of parallel universe, claim that all possibilities are executed, but in parallel universes. However we are able to only witness one of the possibilities as we have access only to one reality. But what if we can sneak peek into all the other parallel universes? The Virtual Time Machine gives us an opportunity to take a peek into another parallel universe where the other possibility takes place.

Virtual Time Machine : The story of the Earth

USER JOURNEY

The user journey starts with the user first wearing the headset after which the experience starts with a short introduction to set some context after which the user can start choosing the environments that he wishes to explore and then start changing the future and fate of the planet. There are mainly 3 ways in which the user can end the experience.

  1. When the story abruptly ends due to the storyline of Earth coming to an end
  2. When the user finally reaches the present.
  3. When the user voluntarily ends the experience.
Virtual Time Machine : User Journey

FUTURE SCOPE

I would like to keep The Virtual Machine a live project so that it is continuously updated as our planet crosses milestones. I would also like to make a public profile of the planet Earth on social media like Instagram and host a Virtual Reality Experience in collaboration with Instagram. I also want to explore allowing the audience to build their own storylines of their imagined Earth and somehow make it a part of the experience. In the long run, I want all of us to become more mindful of our actions and think about how the Earth might end up due to teach of our small decisions.

EXPERIENCE

Virtual Time Machine : Some screenshots of the experience
Virtual Time Machine : Some screenshots of the experience
Virtual Time Machine : Some screenshots of the experience
Virtual Time Machine : Some screenshots of the experience
Apart from a system, we should definitely engage ourselves to imagine and retrospect our past and think about what lies ahead and how our decisions can be the beginning of a ripple affect which can impact millions of people. 
So we should remind ourselves that we may move on in a few years but our species has a long way to go. 

SEE THE PROJECT IN ACTION

Apart from a system, we should definitely engage ourselves to imagine and retrospect our past and think about what lies ahead and how our decisions can be the beginning of a ripple affect which can impact millions of people. 
So we should remind ourselves that we may move on in a few years but our species has a long way to go. 
This was a part of my thesis project while doing my Masters. If you are curious to know more, you can check out my thesis paper.