VR tech had to branch out into the world of psychedelics sooner or later. A hallucination machine developed by a British university makes it possible to trip out without taking illegal drugs.
Instead of experimenting with LSD and magic mushrooms, researchers at Sussex University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science have chosen a safer option that puts out more reliable data – a virtual reality headset designed to hallucinate in the same way that the human brain does.
Using the headset, researchers can turn the real world around us into a psychedelic hallucination without the high. The technology is based on Deep Dream, a computer program created by Google engineer Alexander Mordvintsev that enhances images using ‘algorithmic pareidolia’ – when the mind responds to a stimulus like a sound or an image by perceiving a familiar pattern where none actually exists. Academics hope that the virtual reality program will help them understand how the brain reacts when the rules of nature, time and space no longer apply.
Curiously, the program, just like the real and tangible human world, is filled to the brim with dogs – and researchers aren’t quite sure why. The algorithm seems to have blended a dozen or so dog breeds together, so the chance of a person morphing into some kind of dog-headed monster while you’re wearing the VR headset is very likely.
Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science postdoctoral research fellow David Schwartzman said the study is still a work in progress. “One thing people always ask us is why there are so many dogs. The short answer is we don’t know,” he told the Times.
So far Keisuke Suzuki and his team at the Sackler Centre have shown that the hallucination machine’s visual effects were similar to psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.
Next week the first results of the hallucination machine’s tests will be published in Scientific Reports.