VR/AR/MxR: Time for a reality check?

Changed reality, be it augmented or virtual is hot stuff right now. But is it just hype? Or could there be a dark side to it? A NEXT17 panel explored the issues…

A panel discussion featuring:

What are the benefits of these technologies?

Thomas Bedenk: It’s a new medium, and that means new ways of communicating and socialising. It’s an immersive experience, and that means fewer distractions - if you caught their attention in the first place. That is great in marketing - and in therapy.

Omaid Hiwaizi: AR has two sides. The commercial side will allow brands who have huge amount of assets to make use of them, as long as what they do is useful, not just clutter. But at a fundamental level, it’s about overlaying a digital layer on the world - and machine vision means we might be able to share information about everything in the world with everybody in the world. That has medical uses and educations uses.

Adrian Leu: We are dealing with media that will allow you to actually immerse yourself in the situation of others. It can create empathy - and we need more of that now. IT’s a new media that will revolutionise how we understand everything.

David Wortley: 360 video gives a global audience a chance to share a rich immersive experience. There are lots of technical issues - this is a very dark room, for example. But we’ll deal with them. On the medical front, dementia and Alzheimer’s happen when the brain starts to solidify. Giving people experiences from their past can prevent that. I’m recording my experiences for that reason.

TB: It works because it makes you move your body in the same way, and that’s an experience you don’t get in other ways. VR is more than 360 video, because it involves interaction, and when you have interaction, your body is more involved.

We bend reality, we twist it - and we achieve visible results. But what about the invisible results? What is it doing to our brains, our social interactions?

AL: With any new technology there needs to be research - and it’s happening. But we can guess a few things. Under fives do not clearly distinguish between the real world and fiction. How would VR affect them? Until we know, let’s make use of the good things, and watch out for the bad.

DW: These technologies are just part of an ecosystem of technology that is changing the way we live and work. And unlike previous technology revolution, they’ve been consumerised. It’s all consumer tech - but we know so little about the effects of these game changing technologies. I have serious concerns about that.

OH: My colleagues are sounding a little like the naysayers who thought you’d suffocate if you went too fast on a train. One of the human characteristics is the ability to be adaptable. It might change things - but who are we to say that the way things are now is the best way there could be? My kids - the eldest is 18 - don’t communicate the Sam way as me, so I’ve adopted their way. It’s becoming their world.

DW: I’m an enthusiast and evangelist for technology. Thomas Cook formed his travel company because he was inspired by the railroad. He was part of the temperance movement, and thought that travel would broaden people’s minds and make them turn away from drink. That didn’t exactly work out. We’re motivated by self-interest, and our self-interest can do harm to our good intentions.

TB: Yes, but there was still a positive impact of what Thomas Cook did, even if it wasn’t what he intended.

OB: What we see anyway is an imaginary world, created by our brain. We’re just talking about other imaginary worlds - maybe ones that will be better for us. IT might be more life-fulfilling.

AL: Let’s not forget that we can use augmented reality to filter our realities.

TB: No textbook in history really made a student understand how big a blue whale is. VR could do that. We’ve been used to text or button interfaces up until now. These technologies open up the possibilities for much more natural interactions with machines.

DW: Too many people are in university being trained to do jobs that won’t exist in 10 years. They need to focus on things that AIs and machines can’t do.

TB: Yes, but that could free up people to do jobs that matter more and which are undervalued, like care. Jobs that require or benefit from human touch.

OB: We’ll have wearables that allow us to navigate the world through AR, being reminded of things and making better decisions.

TB: Step by step, we’ll find we don’t need to travel so much. Everyone expecting a massive change right now doesn’t really understand it. But in 10 years?