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FESTIVAL '90 : Reality's Different at CyberArts Convention : Electronics: Interactive technology lets people control an environment with a computer, even simulating the sensation of flight.

September 08, 1990|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Why can't people fly? Why can't people walk through walls?

--Dominic Milano, chairman of CyberArts International

Career mind-bender Timothy Leary calls it "the electronic equivalent of LSD."

But the people behind the CyberArts International Convention in Los Angeles this weekend prefer to call it "virtual reality," the next wave in interactive media technology that may someday allow you to change the rules of logic, physics and gravity in the convenience of your home. The computer simulates reality and various technological tools, including an electronic glove, allow the participant to control it.

Continuing through Sunday at the Biltmore Hotel, CyberArts is part of the Los Angeles Festival's Open Festival.

"The idea of this whole conference is to bring in artists from all walks of life, people who are authors and storytellers and movie makers, so they can start dreaming about the possibilities," Milano said. "Why do you simply have to simulate the real world? Why can't you change the world?"

Virtual reality has been developed to high levels of sophistication by the military, which uses it to simulate realistic testing fields for weapons, said Dominic Milano, chairman of the convention and editor of the music industry's Keyboard magazine. What appears at the convention is much less impressive. But compare the price: The military systems may cost $16 million; the home systems demonstrated here average about $10,000.

Representatives of Disney, Imagineering, MCA, Columbia and ABC will be among the 2,000 or so visitors expected to attend. But it's not cheap: An "exhibits-only" pass costs $25 for the entire event, which opened Friday, and participants in the various lectures, performances and demonstrations must pay $165 per day.

Speakers include Leary, Los Angeles Festival Director Peter Sellars, Jay Riddle of Industrial Light and Magic (who created the mysterious "water tentacle" for "The Abyss") and whiz kid Jaron Lanier, demonstrating computerized clothing that transports the wearer onto "an alternate plane of reality."

Many of the exhibit booths feature new technology for musicians and home video software, most available to try out. At the Light and Sound Research booth, visitors may don a pair of "mind machine" glasses for 15 minutes of total relaxation.

The highlight for virtual reality buffs may be a visit to the Sense8 Corp. booth. Through the use of a helmet equipped with "eyephones" and earphones and a special electronic "power glove" marketed by Mattel, visitors seated in a chair can move around their own computer-generated landscapes, including buildings, an airplane, geometric objects and other toys. They can change the position of objects in the environment, alter gravity and even walk through walls.

Information: 892-8580.

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