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Answered With Insight – Is VR Really Upgrading Human Experience?

Immersive technology such as VR is inevitable: how it affects us all is the real issue.

Luciana Carvalho SeLuciana Carvalho Se: ‘the greatest disruption will be education’
Business development at VR content production company Rewind; co-chair of VR/AR Tech London Advocates.

“Virtual reality is inevitable and on a similar sort of trajectory, if not faster, than that of the smartphone. What is really interesting now is cognitive behavioural change in VR. Linguisticator is an application teaching language using visual and spatial cues with 3D objects in VR. Children with learning disabilities saw almost instant benefits: severely dyslexic eight and nine year olds, after an hour, could recite phone numbers backwards and forwards.

“Seeing this, I realised then that the greatest disruption – and this is a long-term thing – will be in education. AR apps where you can envision protons and neutrons when you’re learning chemistry. Putting on a headset to go back to medieval Britain instead of just reading about it.

“VR is so powerful in terms of the impact on our brains, and that is scary for some people. But this could mean advances in the medical world. At Oxford, UCL and Stanford, where they have human-virtual interaction labs, they are looking at the way VR tricks your brain into believing you are somewhere else and how this can be effective in treating PTSD and other mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

“Social media, we could argue, has led to an increase in anxiety and depression, despite its purpose to connect us further. VR could be used to counteract the filter bubbles. It’s the only tech that allows you to literally put yourself in someone’s shoes. More research is needed. Stanford did an experiment in which pre-school children wore VR headsets to swim with whales. A week later, half of them swore they had swum with whales for real. They couldn’t distinguish the VR memory from real ones. What does that mean for fake news possibly making fake memories?”

Greg WilliamsGreg Williams: ‘many uses but not all upgrades’
Editor of Wired.

“It’s hard to know if it’s upgrading human experience – it depends on how good the technology becomes and whether it offers superior qualities to real-life experiences.

“Take a couple of examples of how VR might be applied. One is meetings. For years, people wanting to do significant deals have been compelled to get on planes and look clients in the eye in order to get a transaction over the line. Will the coming era of high-quality augmented and virtual reality mean that there’s no longer any need for physical proximity, that we’ll be able to conduct business in the same way without leaving our homes or offices?

“If technology gets to the point where this becomes the norm – meaning that organisations are willing to sign off significant financial agreements in that way ¬– then clearly it’s upgraded human experience as it will decrease the amount of time we all waste travelling.

“The other use worth thinking about is amusement parks. At some point, virtual reality companies will design large, complex amusement parks with the same rides that you’d encounter at somewhere like Disneyland. My guess is that we’re decades away from creating something that, in this instance, is an upgrade on human existence, as going to a theme park is about so much more than just the rides.

“The virtual reality we’re likely to have in the next couple of decades will have plenty of uses and we’ll experience wonderful, life-like things and understand the world in richer ways, but I don’t think that could be categorised as an upgrade.”

What will be interesting is finding VR applications with purpose. But an industry is also driven by what sells

Adrian LeuAdrian Leu: ‘innovation alone isn’t enough’
CEO of Inition, an immersive tech company building projects for FTSE 250 companies.

“At the moment, our work at Inition is confined to the marketing space, but more and more we are looking at new areas: training, workflow optimization and education.
Ultimately, every company is looking to use immersive technologies in a transformational way, to achieve new revenue models. Right now, much of VR and AR, [augmented reality; a digital overlay on the real world] and MR [mixed reality; combining VR with real-world elements] is stuck between innovation and transformation. What needs to be addressed is how to add a useful service layer on top of an experience. Once you engage a customer, what can you give them?

“VR, AR and MR apply in different contexts. Sometimes they’re grouped together and that’s not right. VR is a subtractive medium, taking you out of where you are and putting you somewhere else in an interesting and powerful way. But it can’t apply to you doing something while you are doing that, in the way that AR does. AR is augmenting your world, superimposing it on your existing experience. To me, MR is just another way of saying AR.

“In VR, there will be a lot of training applications. We’ve just launched the first VR training tool for adoption and fostering, with Cornerstone Partnership, a social enterprise. We made VR content that puts you in the shoes of a child. It allows potential adoptive and foster parents, and the company’s employees, to understand more the journey of a child from the womb to mistreatment by parents.

“It’s powerful. Your perspective shifts. Learning is accelerated and more impactful, more emotional than a 2D video. What’s really interesting will be finding applications with purpose with this technology, in a world where a lot of technology is without purpose. But an industry, a movement, is also driven by what sells.”

Richard CohenRichard Cohen: ‘’billions of users to be truly impactful’
Founder and director of Inception VR, a VR destination alongside a VR and AR studio.

“The technology will enhance people’s lives. There’s nothing inherently bad or good about any technology. We, as consumers, make the choices. I am a believer, of course, but I do think mainstream adoption is around the corner. There are so many applications for medicine, the aged, the impoverished, the disabled. Children who can’t get out of their wheelchairs can barrel down a black run on a ski slope.

“VR has been around for years, but now, the platform is very much of its time. In the 1950s and 1960s, the talk was of mainframe computers. In the 1980s it was PCs; laptops in the 1990s and the 2000s were all about mobile. If VR now is analogous to mobile, then we’re still in the big, awkward, walkie-talkie-style handset phase, and we still have to get through the flip phones and the Nokias until we get to the smartphone era.

“But the technology is escalating rapidly and we are about to start benefiting from VR, MR and AR. Some of the projects we’re working on I’m excited about because they mesh with my moral compass, in the health and education sectors. Other entertainment products I’m no less excited about because of the learning we get from them.

“It’s a kind of Wild West phase for developers, both in terms of purposeful VR and pure entertainment. Everyone is using the technology to learn how to tell a new kind of narrative – because no one knows how yet. But in this period, we can learn and explore how best to create narratives for the medium. We have an app, with a million installs. A million almost doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of technology. It’s with tens and hundreds of millions, and billions, where things become truly impactful.”

Seena RajalSeena Rajal: ‘AR will upgrade more compared with VR’
CEO and founder of 3D Industries, which has built a search engine that searches the physical world in the same way that Google searches the text-based world.

“Market analysis and some user feedback suggests that VR is unlikely to grow as much as AR and MR, not least because we’re not going to get to a point where people spend all their time wearing VR headsets for entertainment. The human brain isn’t so comfortable when it’s totally encapsulated in an environment that is totally detached from the physical world.

“AR and MR are the true integration of the physical and the digital, which is something we’re been evolving towards since the internet was created. We’re increasingly getting better and better at bridging the gap between the digital and the physical. Instagram and photography brought them one level closer together. Immersive 3D environments created with AR and MR are the richest integration of the two, and that’s where we’re heading.

“If you look at the market and the pattern of investment in the sector, it seems that all the big players are thinking like this too. More headsets coming to market are for augmented reality, and the VR headsets already out are being repositioned for AR usage. Facebook is talking about augmented experiences with the Oculus headset, which was conceived for VR.

“Microsoft has the HoloLens, Google is bringing back the Glass headset and have invested heavily in Magic Leap, which is making an immersive-experience headset. The iPhone X has a 3D sensor, which is perfect for AR. Sony has released a 3D-capapble phone. Google’s Pixel 2 smartphone is made to deliver augmented experiences. Smartphones with AR capabilities could be the way that immersive tech makes it mark on the mainstream.”

Dave HaynesDave Haynes: ‘it will bring people together’
Business Development at TheWaveVR, a platform for viewing and hosting music shows.

“Many think that VR is an isolating experience, but we believe it’s a truly social medium that really comes into its own by connecting us more deeply with other people. With AR and MR, the ability to augment our own reality isn’t just a toy or a gimmick. Combined, these technologies are a paradigm shift towards a new immersive computing platform that will revolutionise the way we work, communicate and enjoy our leisure time. But developers need to ensure that there are enough great experiences to convince consumers to adopt the new technology.

“TheWaveVR recently worked with the artist Ash Koosha on Ninja Tune. He is Iranian and unable to tour the US due to President Trump’s immigration ban. So we built a venue for him in VR to play to his US audience from London. It was an amazing show.

“Our focus is on giving people incredibly rich experiences around live music, something that people universally enjoy across the world. But we’re also incredibly excited about AR, MR and VR as platforms for creativity in general. Creation tools such as Google’s Blocks and Tiltbrush are incredibly simple, but both professional and amateur artists have made amazing art in VR.

“From an investment perspective, I’m also excited by opportunities in health, science and education, where platforms like Engage and Labster are dramatically reducing the cost of learning and training. As with any new technology, there are things that we will need to be wary of, from technical issues to changing societal norms. But given the huge upside, I’m optimistic about our ability to adjust and tackle the key challenges as they arise.”