Use of computer modeling and simulation to enable a person to interact with an artificial three-dimensional visual or other sensory environment. A computer-generated environment simulates reality by means of interactive devices that send and receive information and are worn as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits. The illusion of being in the created environment (telepresence) is accomplished by motion sensors that pick up the user's movements and adjust his or her view accordingly, usually in real time. The basis of the technology emerged in the 1960s in simulators that taught how to fly planes, drive tanks, shoot artillery, and generally perform in combat. It came of commercial age in the 1980s and is now used in games, exhibits, and aerospace simulators. It has potential for use in many fields, including entertainment, medicine and biotechnology, engineering, design, and marketing.
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Colloquially, 'virtual' has a similar meaning to 'quasi--' or 'pseudo-' (prefixes which themselves have quite different meanings), meaning something that is almost something else, particularly when used in the adverbial form e.g., "He's virtually [almost] my boyfriend". The term recently has been defined philosophically as "that which is not real" but may display the full qualities of the real. However, by definition, virtual (in contrast to energy and matter) only exists in the minds of the discerners.
Recently this conception of the virtual has been challenged and another core meaning has been elicited by (Denis Berthier, "Meditations on the real and the virtual" — in French), based on uses in science (virtual image), technology (virtual world), and etymology (derivation from virtue — Latin virtus ). At the same ontological level as "possible," "real," or "potential," "virtual" is defined as that which is not real, but displays the full qualities of the real — in a plainly actual (i.e., not potential) — way. The prototypical case is a reflection in a mirror: it is already there, whether or not one can see it; it is not waiting for any kind of actualization. This definition allows one to understand that real effects may be issued from a virtual object, so that our perception of it and our whole relation to it, are fully real, even if it is not. It explains that virtual reality may be used to cure phobias — which remains contradictory in any conception for which the virtual is a kind of potential.
Early motivations for applying 'virtual' to computers were sharing of actual devices by many users and coordination of multiple processes, as seen with the successful use of the virtual machine approach. Internet and communication technology fostered de-coupling of space where events happen, and storage technologies facilitate de-coupling of time between a message being sent and received. These technologies build the environment for virtual work in teams, with members who may never meet each other in person. Communicating by telephone and e-mail, with work products shared electronically, virtual teams produce results without being co-located.