I read something interesting in a computer magazine, I don’t know exactly when, late 1980s, early 1990s perhaps, that the concept of a “home computer” is going to become obsolete, not because there won’t be any home computers, but because there will be too many for the term to make any sense – like, which one, the one in the microwave, in the TV, in the HVAC thermostat, in the networking router… and it actually went farther, so now we have not only the computerized appliances, but also computers in many shapes and user-interface paradigms; voice-controlled watches, phones, tablets, tablet-laptop hybrids, laptops, all-in-one desktops and conventional desktops, gaming consoles, and also the super-desktops, also known as either workstations or gaming PCs.
The super-desktop is an interesting category, because it’s usually called just the “PC”, the same as an ordinary unit found in businesses, the word/excel machine, but it’s a wholly different beast, of the kind that was known in the past as either a supercomputer, or a desktop minicomputer, also called graphical workstation. You see, when something can drive several TV-sized 4K displays, run multiple virtual machines at once with no lag, render movies, or process terabytes of other kinds of data, it’s no longer in the same category of things as a machine that is of nominally the same shape, running the same OS, but is weaker than one of its virtual machines.
So, what is a super-desktop, or a “gaming PC”, as they are euphemistically called? What is a machine that can drive an Oculus Rift VR system? The most honest description is that it is an alternative reality creation device. It creates simulated universes you can interact with and join. If you run a car racing simulation and you wear Oculus VR goggles, and especially if you have one of those seats that re-create mechanical shocks, you are essentially joining an alternate reality where you participate in a very convincing and physical activity, much more so than a dream, for instance.
So, what is the main difference between this and an ordinary computer that can play immersive games? Only quantity, but the thing is, if you increase quantity far enough, it becomes a quality of its own. If you increase the mass of an asteroid enough, it becomes a planet. If you increase the mass of a planet enough, it becomes a star. If you increase the mass of a star enough, it becomes a black hole. It’s the same thing as with human brain – add more neurons and suddenly completely new phenomena start taking place. Have only a few, you have a worm. Add more, you have a fish. Add more, you have a frog. Add more, you have a lizard. Add more, you have a rat. Add more, you have a monkey. Add more, and you get a man, and suddenly it’s no longer just the mass-equivalent of many worm ganglia together, it’s the phenomenon that can launch robots on Mars, fly cameras near Pluto, observe the beginnings of the Universe, break matter in ways in which only supernovae do, and even know God.
A super-desktop computer is not just a PC, and a PC is not just a glorified Commodore 64. It’s a machine of such power, it can add another dimension to human experience. It can immerse you in a realistic alternate reality where you drive supercars on race tracks, fly fighter jets, or fight dragons. It can literally provide you with a dynamically generated, interactive sensory input, which is a definition of an alternative reality. But there is a danger to that. Alternative reality is another name for illusion, and having such powerful illusion-creating devices at your disposal can allow you to add another layer of indirection between your consciousness and reality.
If it allows you to escape from issues that you are supposed to face and solve, it can also allow you to waste your life. There’s only one tool at our disposal that can do that, and it’s called drugs. Drugs can allow you to escape real issues and bury yourself in a world where there is reward without necessity for achievement. Powerful computers can become a drug-equivalent, a wish fulfillment tool which removes the necessity of achievement from the equation. As all powerful tools, they can really fuck your life up. Also, as all powerful tools, they can allow you to do more and better things.