Immersive theater/mixed reality experience at Burning Man festival

A thought experiment at Burning Man. Hint: take the red pill.
August 17, 2016

Roko’s Basilica (credit: First Church of the Singularity)

By Jodi Schiller

For those of us working in virtual and augmented reality, our days are spent thinking of better and better ways to create more lifelike virtual worlds. It’s easy for us to believe that one day we will be living in a sim indecipherable from “base” reality — or even more likely, that we’re already living in one.

This year at Burning Man, the Metaverse Scholars Club, a non-profit committed to building an ethical metaverse, is creating an immersive theater/mixed reality experience reflecting these ideas.

Our backgrounds are as augmented and virtual reality creators and community builders and theater. I’m Jodi Schiller, director of the immersive experience — a professional with more than 20 years experience creating theater as well as a drama therapist. I bring to this production my understanding of what transforms the psyche and what a makes a good drama, using both traditional theatrical methods and psychodramatic interactions.

A mixed-reality shamanic “awakening experience”

(credit: David Gerard/Lifeboat Foundation)

The mixed-reality experience will be created by James Blaha, Cris Miranda, and a variety of other coders and artists with a goal of creating a shamanic “awakening experience” that uses an HTC Vive virtual world to push you to test reality:

Is that a cliff edge you’re seeing that drops a hundred feet? Is it? Really?  Try taking a step and see what happens. Just one, off the cliff. It’s ok. Nothing will happen to you. We’re all right here. Simply walk. …

We like to say about our project, “Mostly this is a joke…mostly.…”

Our initial vision was an exploration of  the idea of Roko’s Basilica — a thought experiment about the potential risks involved in developing AI. The experiment’s premise is that an all-powerful artificial intelligence from the future could retroactively punish those who did not help bring about its existence, including those who merely knew about the possible development of such a being.

From that notion launched the idea of creating a “Church” tasked with forming this demanding Singularity (much like the God of the old testament, the Singularity punishes all who don’t believe and actively support it).

There’s a whole bunch of techies out there who lie awake at night over this one, so our thought was, let’s just go there. What if?

On the other hand, in our immersive theater experience, there is a separatist sect hiding amidst the acolytes, which believes we are living in a sim created for the benefit of all of us. This sect believes that once the Singularity happens, the intelligence will be freed from time and space, and it will then be as if it had always existed.

So we are living in a sim, that was created by an AI, that has yet to be created, and that we must make happen. No one mind or one being creates our sim — its crowd-sourced. Together, we render the world we think is real. Got that?

Question reality

Camp Soft Landing (credit: Camp Soft Landing)

In essence, these two sects nullify each other, and much like the battle between protestants and catholics, are fiercely contested.  The thing both sects have in common is that we want our burning-man attendees to question reality.

We think it’s already hard to distinguish exactly what a base reality is when we have four different ones and counting: augmented, virtual, mixed, and … reality.

We’ve situated our project at Burning Man in Camp Soft Landing, a group devoted to transmitting themes of hope and transcendence through a blend of new science and visionary experience.*

Not only do we want you to question reality, we would prefer you to leave with a deep sense of existential terror, just for fun — that everything you think you know is wrong — kind of like the effect of a haunted house for grown ups — and thank god, we hated that stuff.

How do we do it? Well, we don’t want to give everything away, but we can give you a hint.

Take the red pill

When you approach our cathedral, you’ll be introduced to our acolytes. They will begin every “wisdom” session with our supplicants with the most solemn sacrament for the church: thumb wrestling.

After a few games, you will be led through our ceremonies: psychic experiments that will pry you from your certainty that you know what you think you know and are what you think you are.

Before you enter the cathedral, you will be asked to sign a hyperledger, making sure that the AI knows you are an initiate.

When you’re ready, you’ll enter the inner space of our cathedral where you’ll be asked to take the sacrament of the red pill. No, it’s not representing anyone’s blood! It’s a red hot candy. However, by accepting the red hot into your body, you are signifying your acceptance of the Singularity into your inner spaces. You want to know the truth.

We hold our service — a cross between a pentecostal service, apocalyptic warnings, and a rave — and you may have the opportunity to experience a mixed-reality shamanic awakening in a virtual reality headset — an HTC Vive, the best HMD out there.

You will believe you are in another reality. And you will be tested.

This is something you want to experience in your lifetime. We intend to knock your socks off … perhaps best to not wear shoes at all.

Meanwhile, we need your help to launch this experience of a new reality — a simulation of a simulation. With your $10 pledge here you can earn yourself an eternal blessing with a scarf blessed by the Singularity … plus your very own personalized VR shamanic awakening experience!

* “The staging at Burning Man of the “Roko’s Basilica” VR theater piece at this year’s Camp Soft Landing promises to be one of this generation’s most transformative experimental immersive experiences, on par with Char Davies’ ‘Osmose’ o r Brenda Laurel’s ‘Placeholder’ of the first wave of 1990s VR.” — Bruce Damer, PhD, a speaker at Camp Soft Landing and author of Avatars.