Augmented, Virtual Reality: What the Heck is it?
“Are you Insane?” Since I’ve been immersed in the world of Augmented and Virtual Reality, I’ve discovered most folks don’t know what they are and, when I describe them, look at me funny. If they know me well enough, they might kindly ask, “Jodi, are you taking some new medications?”. If I do manage to […]
“Are you Insane?”
Since I’ve been immersed in the world of Augmented and Virtual Reality, I’ve discovered most folks don’t know what they are and, when I describe them, look at me funny. If they know me well enough, they might kindly ask, “Jodi, are you taking some new medications?”.
If I do manage to convince them I’m not a grown-up playing make-believe (and usually providing proof involves a direct demonstration, I take my AR samples with me everywhere), I’m asked to explain both what it is, how it works, and the implications for the future. After a brief overview (and I always enjoy this part), people often become far more concerned about the ethical, social, and cultural implications of a future world that integrates different versions of reality. Already we need three new words simply to describe something so solid and understood that here-to-fore it needed no descriptors, “reality” is now segmented into four pieces: reality, augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. Is it any wonder we are all still trying to guess what this means for the future? Or that we might feel concerned when the world around us, the ground we stand on, the sky is blue, might soon appear variable, moment by moment?
I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering the answers to some of the complex questions this new reality inspires. Most often, I don’t know the answers, and I think no one does. However, here is my attempt to guess at answers to the AR/VR questions I hear the most (after I’ve proven my sanity, of course).
I think of Augmented and Virtual Reality as just a high-tech way to make first-person shooter games frighteningly lifelike. I don’t play or build games, so why should I care about AR/VR?
You’re right: For now, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality primarily are taught in association with game development. And while both help bring interactive games vividly to life, neither is strictly (or solely) a game development technology. As I explain in a related article [Augmented or Virtual Reality Won’t Effect You? ], both AR and VR have numerous applications across many fields and industries, including education and healthcare. It won’t be long before schools offer degrees in Augmented and Virtual Reality for many related and newly created careers: Haptic (touch) and scent development and design, gestural linguistics, hardware and software engineering, VR/AR therapies, ARchitecture and the ARts. I’m sure there will be people in humanities and sciences observing the impact of the tech on society, the environment, the psyche. As the applications for these products and technologies become more obvious and mainstream, we’ll count game development as just one of many subsets of AR/VR tech.
I know AR/VR integrates fantasy and reality, but most of our mainstream fantasy-based games revolve around violence and gore. I don’t want that to be part of my reality. How can I continue to live a peaceful life?
Yes, the downside to integrating imagination – our own, other people’s, and the gaming industry’s — into our personal reality is that we may not like what we see. One person may prefer to experience unicorns helpfully guiding them while walking down the street, while another may desire to experience fighting an epic battle against aliens to save humanity on their way to work.
I’ve thought of two solutions to help mitigate the potential negatives of differing expectations in this regard:
1.The IEEE. This is the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology. It acts as an overseer to emerging and existing technology by guiding them towards best uses and practices, and creating global standards. With a growing community of more than 160 countries, the IEEE has launched the Digital Services Initiative to create international standards and protocols and establish ethical guidelines and safeguards for myriad emerging technologies – including Augmented and Virtual Reality.
Already the IEEE is working on developing standards to prevent the abuse of these tools. Though none have as yet been developed, perhaps a glimpse of what they are working on with emerging drone technology can give you a glimpse of the way they work. When approaching the emerging issue of personal drones, in the name of protecting individual privacy, they are considering building blocks to drone vision of backyards by integrating automatic video blackouts when a border on a map has been crossed (better update your land ownership records!). This gives you the tenor of IEEE’s approach to protecting humanity from the potential pitfalls of technology.
2.Women and minorities. Yep, you read that right. We’re all keenly aware of the gender imbalance in STEM fields, and it applies just as much – if not more so – to the AR and VR industries. Although I’ve heard lofty pronouncements from corporate and governmental leaders about improving diversity, I don’t see much real urgency (or effective action) to end gender imbalance. I’m not being politically correct here, I’m stating a fact easily proven with existing data: A homogenous group of creators is a serious problem that provokes seriously missed opportunities. Real advances in AR/VR can benefit people world-over in countless ways — but this technology is only as powerful and relevant as our imaginations. To keep this life-altering, and life-enhancing, industry moving forward and enabling us to stretch the boundaries of its potential, we need diversity in our businesses, labs, and think tanks. We need to invest in female VR/AR entrepreneurs. By building and nurturing a large, varied global brain trust we can access and amplify creative, values-based, out-of-the-box thinking to drive the industry forward. For the most part, I don’t see women taking much time to create another, even more realistic, first person shooter game. What will they create? I can’t wait to discover the answer to that one.
So yeah, women. Lots more women! (As you might imagine, I’ve got a lot more to say on this topic. Interested? Check on my future article about ARVR Women and the school we are developing to train women in ARVR creation.)
I’m starting to envision a world that’s pretty out of control. It sounds weird, dangerous and unnatural. I’m wondering, is this going to be the most awful technology ever invented?
I guess that’s a valid response. Most people don’t like change, and AR/VR will potentially catalyze revolutionary change. But, like it or not, we need to prepare for a new way of thinking, doing, learning, and being. I predict this technology will open the door to a range of experiences from awful to astonishing. Life as we know it will continue, but with a new set of parameters about mindset, belief systems, and even core values. Each tech revolution brings with it both new benefits and new challenges. This one though? This could well be the weirdest forward leap we’ve ever taken in a single generation. So, in general, I do recommend holding onto your hat.
Wait, you’re implying that AR/VR will change the way we think and feel?
I am. I call VR and AR “almost teleportation devices”. Just imagine what it would be like to instantaneously experience something happening on the other side of the world. Maybe it’s something beautiful, like cherry blossoms blooming in Tokyo. Or maybe it’s something difficult, like befriending a family in poverty in Africa. You will be able to “transport” yourself to places we now only see on the news through video. They will be rendered and interacting with us in holographic form in our living rooms, as we will in theirs.
I wonder, will we continue to tolerate suffering or brutality of any kind when it’s happening in our living room? Will we be able to demonize people who we are sharing tea with in our kitchen? Or at least meeting with (dancing with) at citywide sister-city gatherings? Will AR/VR help us understand each other better? Will we empathize more?
It’s not difficult to pretend that children from other cultures aren’t like our children, but I believe It is hardly possible if you watch them growing, see their parents loving them, and understand how they come to be who they are.
Instagram is already beginning an initiative to make this a reality. http://www.details.com/story/instagram-teleportation-virtual-reality
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this doesn’t sound like the reality I’m living in, right?
You got it. Reality is defined as the state or quality of having existence or substance. Going forward, our individual and collective imagination will co-exist with us in real time. Not only will augmentation change what we see and hear, we’ll be able to augment what we touch, feel, even smell. The new definition of reality will be an integration of what we currently perceive as “reality” with anything and everything we can imagine becoming real. As complex and even far-fetched as this sounds, I’ll bet many of our children (and certainly, their children), as they grow up as AR/VR natives will have trouble comprehending our limited definition and experience of reality. What kind of world will they build? All I can say for sure is that it will be one well beyond the reaches of my imagination.
Pablo Picasso said, “Everything you imagine is real.” Turns out, he was right.
Jodi, you seem awfully calm about this, how do you feel about all these predictions?
I’m excited. I think AR/VR will reveal something critically important. None of us has ever been what we appear in “real” reality. Each of us is a compilation of our experiences, passions, and fears…and the meaning and story we create about them. With this technology, the most essential part of us will become much more apparent, almost as “real” as our real selves. As a result, we’ll get to know each other better (whether we want to or not!) – and understand each other, too. I’m crossing my fingers we’ll embrace kinder, more compassionate behaviors as we grow more familiar with each other’s inner worlds.
Also, Augmented and Virtual Reality can be really, really fun.
Although we’re still years away from mainstream adoption, I love pondering the possibilities for AR/VR in our daily lives. Having dinner at a restaurant? Get ready to be escorted to your table by a pure white unicorn. Missing your Aunt Sara who lives overseas? Invite her (well, her avatar) to join you for dinner in California. Remember, Aunt Sara loves tulips – so don’t be surprised when her avatar appears at your table with her fully present face…inside a delightful talking flower.
Got more questions? Send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org…