When Facebook executives took to the stage to introduce their virtual reality products, they did so with an unbelievable optical illusion. But, it turns out, that picture might have been so hard to believe because it was untrue.
During Facebook’s F8 conference last week, where it showed off new products including virtual reality technology made by subsidiary Oculus, executives showed optical illusions that they said showed humans are simply “inference machines”, and life is already an illusion. Oculus’s chief scientists, Michael Abrash, likened the idea to The Matrix and said that virtual reality could one day be like the all-encompassing world that humans are said to inhabit.
But one of the central optical illusions seems to be not as much of an illusion as it was claimed.
Abrash showed an image of two hands that appeared to be holding the red and blue pill from The Matrix, which character Morpheus uses as a symbol of deciding to stay in the virtual world or to move to the real one. The two different coloured pills were actually the same colour, he claimed, showing the fact that reality can trick us.
But the two pills seem to have been actually different colours. The image seems to use small nudges to help you see the pills as differently shaded — not changing the entire colour, but adding some extra pixels of the relevant picture to nudge viewers along.
While most of each pill is the grey shown in a follow-up picture, there is also speckles of each colour put into the image — so that the one in the yellow background looks slightly blue, and the one with the blue background looks slightly red, even when the background is taken away.
The colours are confirmed by Photoshop’s colour dropper, which shows that there is more blue present in the colouring of the image on the yellow background and more red in the one with the blue background.
Many of the images shown were still illusions — and the effect can still be powerful without the modifications, as was seen in the entirely unaltered image of the dress.
But the image, shown as a demonstration of the power of virtual reality, could also show that it’s still got some way to go.
“Your visual system isn’t interested in whether the photons coming from a tile on a random image are red or blue or grey.
“Knowing that didn’t keep anyone from being eaten by lions on the Savannah.
1/4 These aren't moving either
The effect comes from much the same place
2/4 And neither is this
Yep, this is also a still image
3/4 These circles aren't moving
The trick comes from the way that our brains scan images over and over
4/4 There's only two colours in this picture
The effect comes from the way that the brain receives different parts of the image at different times
“What it is interested in is identifying potentially relevant features, in the real world, under a variety of conditions.
“Your visual system constantly corrects for the colours in the scene. It is reverse engineering reality rather than just recording it. The colours seen are your brain’s ‘best guess’.”
“Welcome to the rabbit hole.”
But perhaps the image and the nudges that look to have been inserted into it by Oculus also show something more about virtual reality. VR has to overcome many of the most basic instincts of humans, since the difference between being tricked into seeing something and actually seeing it could have meant the difference between being alive or eaten for early humans.