1994 VR Conference Proceedings

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Keynote Address:Virtual Reality and Persons With Disabilities

San Francisco - June 9, 1994

By: Ray Bradbury

With An Introduction By: Ben Delaney

Ben Delaney

I want to welcome you all here. I'm very pleased that you could all come. I'm glad you found such beautiful weather in what we consider to be the best part of the world, the Bay Area here.

I am truly honored to be here as I have often said, the best part of my job is the people I get to meet and the experiences I get to have as editor & publisher of CyberEdge Journal. I get to play with all the best Virtual Reality toys. I get the people who are doing the real work, you, and I just write about it. The people often thank me for writing stories and I say, thank you for giving me the something to write about.

I think that what Dr. Murphy is doing is possibly the most important application of Virtual Reality that is imaginable. If we can help people with disabilities through this technology, then it will really be worthwhile. That will make up for all the stupid games, all the hype, and all the nonsense that is also a part of VR.

I was thrilled to hear that Ray Bradbury was going to be here. And then another thrill: as Chair of this conference, Harry Murphy told me that one of my jobs was to introduce Ray Bradbury to all of you today.

Ray and his peers, Arthur C. Clarke, and so on, were the people that I grew up reading. They were the people who gave me the idea of what the future was going to be like, and I know many of you here started thinking about the future because of Ray Bradbury as well.


Ray Bradbury's story, THE VELT, written over 40 years ago, was probably one of the first capsulations of the concept of Virtual Reality, long before any of us had a concept or thought of that term.

He's one of the most prolific writers I know of. He's foreseen many of the things that we're now dealing with technologically and socially. A great human being, a great raconteur . . . and my wife really likes him. Please welcome Ray Bradbury.


Ray Bradbury Keynote Address

June 9, 1994

Thank you. I realize that you're all my children. You're not just here attending a conference. I talk to you and you say, "I read you in high school" or "I read you in college", so I'm a grandfather to some of you and a father to the rest.

I feel very excited and privileged that many of the ideas I've been dreaming about, starting when I was 9 years old, are coming to pass. Think of the impact of the video cassette on our society during the last 16 years. Sixteen years ago it didn't exist. I came back from Europe and they threw me a banquet out at Northridge and gave me one of the very first video cassette machines. I didn't see at the time what it was going to do to the future of the democratization of choice in entertainment. My God, it's taken over and changed our world and mostly, to the good. It's one of those devices that we can't quite honestly say is terrible, because we have all sources of information available now that we didn't have 16 years ago.

So, if that's true for the video cassette, My God, 15 years from now what will we be doing and 30 years from now . . . . How I wish that I could come back every 15 years. Your impact on the world is going to be tremendous in helping people survive and helping people educate themselves to other peoples disabilities. I went down and had a wonderful experience at the Braille Institute 10 - 12 years ago. They had been asking me for years to come down and lecture and I refused. I was afraid to meet 100 blind people or 200 blind people in one afternoon. It terrified me, mainly because, when I was 10, I had been scared by an optometrist in my home town who told me that by the time I was 15 I would be blind.

I used to lie in bed at night when I was 10 and try to imagine what it would be like. It was terrible of course for a 10 year old boy. Then we went to a specialist in Chicago who said "No, no, you're not going to be blind. You're going to see dreadfully poorly for the rest of your life, but you're going to see."

Recollecting that, I didn't want to go to the Braille Institute. Finally, after a couple of years, they said, "You gotta come down; we assure you it's going to be a fantastic experience." So I went down and, by gosh, by a miracle, I bumped into someone that I didn't even know that I knew. I went into a room where they were making pottery and there was a black man over in the corner who looked familiar. I went over and watched him working on some pots and finally I spoke up. I said, "Sir, I think I know you; I don't think you know me." I introduced myself. I said, "You look very familiar to me; where have you come from?" He said, "I was a porter on board the Superchief going to Chicago." I said, "My God, I've traveled with you 10 times." So, I had an old friend here who then explained to me what he was doing making pots in the Braille Institute and slid me into the environment. This friendship relaxed me, and by the end of the day after meeting all these hundreds of people, I'd had the fantastic experience they'd promised me.

Now I want to give you a little background on myself and how I got here also. You got here through the same means. I think most of you read Science Fiction when you were 9, 10, 12 years old. I read Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and I collected Buck Rogers comic strips. I fell in love with the movies.

You are here today to talk about Virtual Reality. I crammed my life with images and with experiences from other fields, starting with the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" when I was 3 years old; a silent film with Lon Chaney, "Phantom of the Opera" when I was 5, done by the same man who did "King Kong" when I was 13. So I lived in a world of unreality a good part of my life, cramming myself with images from all the great fantasy films and deciding when I was 12 years old that I'd become a writer.

On the way there I collected Buck Rogers comic strips which put me into the future. I lived inside the comic strip. All these art forms are ways of living outside your body and moving yourself into the future. All the kids in the 5th grade made fun of me because I was living in the future and I believed it would really happen. Buck Rogers was it! I hyperventilated every night when I saw that strip in the local newspaper. God, they were terrific! So, I listened to these fools in the 5th grade as they made fun of me, and I tore up my Buck Rogers comic strips. That's the worst thing I ever did, and about three days later I broke into tears and said, "Why am I crying? Who died? Whose funeral am I attending?" The answer was, my own funeral. I had killed the future by tearing it up, listening to these damn fools.

I look back at myself at age nine, and, God, I love that young boy because he made the right decision. He said "I'm gonna go back and collect Buck Rogers and make my future whole and I'm never gonna listen to any other fools ever again in my life." When I was 52 years old, I got a phone call from Robert Dilly, John Dilly's son, who created Buck Rogers when I was nine, saying "Well, how would you like to write an introduction to the collective works of Buck Rogers?" Well the nine-year-old in me went right through the top of my head. Things work out, if you keep your passion going, if you stay in love.

A great thing happened when I was fifteen. I was still missing all those comic strips that I had torn up because there was no way to replace them. There were no comic magazines in those days, and I couldn't afford to go down and buy the newspapers they appeared in because they cost a nickel each, and I didn't have a nickel. I was visiting a stranger one night with a friend of mine in L.A., and it was one of those evenings where everything is brilliant and wonderful and you babble and you talk: you love locomotives, I love locomotives, you like photography, I like photography, you like Egyptology and King Tut, and on and on and on until midnight. I realized I had found a new friend.

When I got up and went to the door he said, "You look troubled; What's the problem?" I said, "Well, hell, I can't believe this evening; everything you have talked about is so exciting I'd like to come back some night." He said, "Tomorrow night?" I said, "Yes."

Then he said, "But you still look troubled; what's the problem?" I said, "Well, its been too perfect there's gotta be something wrong here somewhere." He said "Well, name some other subject; maybe we'll find something to fight about." So I named some other subjects, you know, and then I finally said, "I collect comic strips. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers."

He said, "Oh, Buck Rogers, you collect the comic strips?" I said, "Yes, but when I was nine years old, I was very foolish, and tore up three months of those strips and there's no way to replace them." Then he looked at me and said, "Do you want them?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You got them, they are up at Big Bear. I'm going up there next Saturday. I have them in a big box and when I come down I'll bring them to you." The next Saturday he came down with this box full of all my missing Buck Rogers strips from the age of nine and put them in my hand, and I wept, just wept. After that I was very careful never to tear anything up. Of course, it drives my wife wild. The house is full of junk, just full of junk.

It shows you something of my background anyway and my love of this whole field of bringing to birth ideas. I didn't know what I was doing when I started to write when I was twelve. I wrote my first Science Fiction about landing on the Moon and going off to Mars. Over the years people have said to me, "What are you doing? What is Science fiction?" I had no real answer, not a good answer. I mean it's easy to say, predicting the future, extrapolation, what have you, but that's not good enough. It's the search for the metaphor that has the meaning of life in it.

I read a poem by Clyde Yates a few years ago which gave me the answer to my life, and to your life really. His poem, the last line of "Sailing to the Zan Kim", goes as follows: "Of what is passed, or passing, or to come, everything that's already passed, everything that's passing in front of us now, everything to come in the future, the history of ideas, started in the cave."

The first Science Fictions were drawn on the walls of the caves one hundred thousand years ago. You could go into the caves of southern France and you see the pictographs there of gazelles and various deer and the hunters with their arrows and their spears, the bison, the mammoths. What were they doing? They were dreaming the future and they had very primitive technologies.

How do you kill a mammoth? Well you can't go up and hit him with your fist, he's going to hit you first. You can't hit him with a bludgeon or a knife. What do you do? You invent a way of taking off your armor and throwing it at him. That's called a spear. A spear is an extension of your will and your arm and your hand. Then you can kill the mammoth at a distance and drag him into the cave. So, you've invented something haven't you? You've dreamt about it, lying in bed at night for years, and finally you've found a way of killing the mammoth.

How do you cook the mammoth? How do you invent fire? It had to be invented. You saw it out in the wilderness and sometimes you brought it into the cave on a stick but you didn't invent it. You just brought it in and when it went out you were terrified.

So you had to find a way of making fire, either through friction or flint, keeping ashes smoldering in a horn, and carrying it across the country. One by one these inventions, these first Science dreams, Science fictions, went on the walls and they've been there for thousands of years.

Well, I had fights with PBS over this. They said "Take out the crutch." I said, "Are you kidding, that's the metaphor." "Well the people are not going to like it, the handicapped are going to hate you, and all the other people are going to be embarrassed." They said "Take it out." I said "No, I won't do that, it's the center of the story, the center of their freedom." They said, "No, you have to take it out." I said, "I'll tell you what, if you take it out, I'm leaving, take my name off the show, and I'll walk out that door." They said "My God, that's blackmail." I said, "It sure is. It sure is, the crutch stays in because when the TV show reviews comes in people are gonna mention the crutch and say how beautiful it was and how they wept when they saw that symbol of freedom from gravity go down through space." Sure enough, the program went on, the crutch stayed in, and the reviewers spoke of that crutch. So. thank God, I held firm against these later idiots in my life, the same Buck Rogers people I had to put up with when I was nine.

I'm working on a new novel now called "Seed Bed Seven". It's a story of a group of religious people from all the denominations moving away from our Solar System. Their destination, seeking some of the secrets of the Universe, and the secret of creation, which of course can never be found. The scientists of the world and the religious people all have the same problem: we live on acts of faith, hoping that the physical laws that we've observed remain constant; but we haven't the faintest idea why those things work the way they do. What is gravity? What is mass? Why the sudden explosion to create the Earth? Why did the oceans form? They have no answer. It's all seemingly accidental, but beautiful and superb. The miracle of being alive on this Earth is constant with me, constant from the time I was born. I remember being born; I'm one of the few lucky people who can go all the way back and go through the terror and exhilaration of being born. So, I'm writing this novel, but in order to go way out in space on a journey that may take hundreds of years, they're gonna have to take you people along. You're going to have to provide the equipment for the imagination so that they can return to Earth anytime they want. They can put on the devices, they can relive experiences, they can see loved ones otherwise, but they'll never be able to make that fifty year journey or that one hundred year journey. They'd go crazy. One of the solutions is to freeze people, semi freeze them. You've seen in many films now all the popsicle people shown to us. An even better way is what you're going to provide for the astronauts when they have a long journey, starting with going to Mars sometime in the next few years. It's going to take hundreds of days and they're gonna need all the libraries they can possibly take with them. You will provide the new libraries so that they will remember why they're going there in the first place; so that when they make landfall on Mars sometime in the next twenty years all of humanity will stand there with them on the edge of the great abyss. It's even bigger then the United States in length and breadth. Stand on the edge of that great Grand Canyon and we'll all celebrate together, including you because you will have helped them get there.

One of the very important things you're going to be doing is making substitutes for television, along with video cassettes. You're going to give people relief from all the dreadful programming, between you and the video cassette people, we could eliminate most of the lousy TV. Gradually by osmosis, you'll take over and people will be using your equipment as well as video cassette equipment to have a democratic choice about what they're watching during the evening. Of course, your influence in the hospital will just be amazing. My mother in-law was in the hospital recently for two months and she hated television because there was nothing on there to watch. You can give her the stuff to watch, can't you? Something better than all that.

Now, finally, I think I've given you a pretty good idea of some of the things I've written over a period of time, and I'd like to give you an example of how I get an idea and what I do with it.

I was on board a ship coming back from Europe a few years ago with Carl Sagan, the astronomer. We're old friends. I went out on board ship in the middle of the night to look at the stars and said to myself, "My God, we creatures, we humans are the lucky people; we can look at the stars and know what we're looking at, and know that the reason we have eyesight and we see the stars is to create space travel. If we couldn't see, we would have no knowledge of the stars or the planets, and we wouldn't be going into outer space." So, I said to myself, " No other creature in the history of the world has seen what we've seen; all the beasts, all the dogs, all the cats have never really looked up and seen the stars or known, if they did see them, what they were looking at."

So, I wrote part of a poem and took it to Carl Sagan. I'll read part of the poem to you, then I'll tell you what Carl Sagan said to me, and then I'll tell you how I rewrote it.

Okay, here it is: "You have not seen the stars, not one, not one. Of all the creatures in this world, in all the ages since the sand first touched the winds, not one, not one, no beast of all the beast has stood on meadow land or plain, or hill and known the thrill of looking at those spires, our soul admires. What they, oh they have never known. Five billion years hath thrown the turning spheres, but not once in all those years has lion, dog, or bird that sweeps the air looked there. Oh look, look, look there; oh God, look there."

Okay, that's as far as I got in the poem. I took it to Carl Sagan and he said, "Oh, no Ray. Come on. There are creatures that have seen the signs." I said, "Oh". I was very put out with him; I hate people with facts. "Haven't you heard of those migratory birds raised in the planetarium a few years ago by the planetarium scientist, in the egg? They came out of the shell. They were protected by their parents from any knowledge or navigation, and they raised them inside the planetarium. When they were able to fly and migrate, they let them loose in the planetarium; but they put images of the Southern Hemisphere, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, and reversed it to the North, and North to the South. The birds flew up and flew toward the false south. They flew north and then when they reversed the pictures and put the south back with the south and the north stars back in the north, the birds flew correct direction towards the south. Which means what?

Imprinted in the genetics of their brains, and in the retina was the remembrance of the Southern Hemisphere stars, and there was no other inclination which embedded into position; so they flew correctly within the planetarium." Well Carl told me this, and I went back and finished the poem. Here's how I finished it: "Oh Yes, perhaps some birds, some nights...." They don't mess with me.

It's an exciting world. I don't understand people who are bored. I don't understand the doomsters. Every time I get around the people who are predicting the end of the world, I put up with it; but when I was a kid of thirteen, my brother and I looked at the newspapers, in Arizona, and there was a headline that said, "The world will end tomorrow, May 24, 1932."

Well, my brother and I could hardly wait. We got up the next morning, and packed a picnic lunch, ham and egg sandwiches, pickles, Coca Colas, Seven-Up, Dr Pepper. We went out and sat on a hill outside Tucson trying to decide how the world was going to end. My brother said, "Well, what if the Earth fell into the Sun and we got fried?", I said, "Well, what if the Sun exploded, that might be more fun?" My brother said, " Well, what about a big earthquake that knocks all the buildings down?" Then I said, "Well, how about a flood?", he said, "We've done that already." We talked all day, ate the sandwiches, drank a couple of Colas, the Orange Crush; at 5:00 in the afternoon, sorely put out, we threw up and went home. So, I've never believed in the end of the world since then. So, I've led my life so that whenever I'm around doomsters, I cheer up, crack jokes, and ruin their day. That's my job. That's your job. We're going to make the future together, all of us. It's going to continue to be exciting. It's going to be full of problems, but our triumphs will be so great. Because I believe in space travel, I want to see us go back to the Moon and to Mars.

I was there in London the night we landed on the moon, twenty-five years ago. David Frost invited me to come on his show. I wanted to go there and say what I've said to you: "The immortality of mankind is in space, in moving out through the universe, in taking the gift of life with us."

I realize we are bad at times; I accept the fact that we're imperfect. We've only been out of the cave a couple thousand years. Remember a little forgiveness for God's sake. It's not easy, there are a dozen wars going on in the world right now. That's been true forever, but were going to make it beyond the Earth. So, let's take our children and our children's, children's, children with us, because we believe in the gift itself. We are the representatives in this part of the Universe. We don't know what else exists way, way out beyond; we're still seeking other life forms. But right now we're the receptacles of the gift, and we are beholden and must pay back. I must pay back every day of my life.

So, I wanted to go on the David Frost show when we landed on the moon, to tell people of my hopes for the future in space. So, I got on the show. We landed on the moon at 8:30 at night London time, and we all wept. Everyone in the world, all of you who are old enough to remember; we all wept together, with joy, with joy. We put on the show, and David Frost made a big introduction; I thought he was talking about me. He said, "The American genius, the talent...", and all these things, and I straightened my tie, and got ready to go on. He said, "Here he is, Englebert Humperdink".

Steam started coming out of my ears and then this guy came out and sang this stupid song. Then the next guest was introduced as another American genius, and here he is . . . Sammy Davis Jr. Well, I'd met Sammy before, a wonderful man. I had been on the set with him and Peter Lawford and Jerry Lewis. I took all my daughters out; we had a grand day. But, I'm sorry, Sammy Davis can come out later in the show, we just landed on the Moon, and he's not a space expert; and God, I've been one since I was eight or nine!

So I walked off the show and ran outside, and the producer came running after me. He said, "Where are you going?", I said, "I'm leaving." He said, "You can't do that." I said, "Watch my dust." "You sir," I said,"are inadequate, and that man in there is an idiot. He spoiled the greatest night in the history of the world, this single greatest night we'll remember forever. A million years from tonight, this particular night, will be remembered by generations who hold us in value because of what we've done this year, on this night. Now let go of my elbow; I'm gonna go across London and do other broadcasts with other people." He let me go.

I went across London and did a show with Walter Cronkite and a lot of other people. I was on Telstar all night, all around the world, crying all night, crying all night with joy. In the morning I had a wonderful experience; while I was walking through London, people recognized me, saying, "Hey, Yank; Well Done!, Well Done!"

But, the greatest thing was coming to a small London newspaper that had a small headline that said, "Astronaut walked at 6 a.m.; Bradbury walked at Midnight".

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