Worlds Fair Nano 2017: The Future of VR Will Be Another Moral Panic

Saturday, 16 September 2017 - 7:53PM
Technology
Virtual Reality
Saturday, 16 September 2017 - 7:53PM
Worlds Fair Nano 2017: The Future of VR Will Be Another Moral Panic
VR is finally here, but where is it headed? That was the question asked at Worlds Fair Nano NY's Future of VR panel, which brought together Kimberlee Archer (a member of the virtual reality marketing team at Samsung), Ola Bjorling (the Creative Technical Director at Here Be Dragons), Svetlana Dragayeva (the creator and CEO of Virry and Fountain Digital Labs), and Nick Felder (the Global Group Director for film, video, music production at Coca-Cola).
 
One of the initial questions for the panel was what makes VR special as a medium, as compared to AR or 360 cameras. Dragayeva, whose VR app Virry was featured at the Fair, explained that VR is unique among mediums because it has the ability to "make the impossible possible." In her case, that meant creating a VR experience that allows people to get up close to endangered African animals and make emotional connections with them. Rather than just watching a documentary in their living room, people who use Virry can become fully immersed in the experience. For Dragayeva, the level of empathy that Virry creates is only possible in VR.
 


Another question the panel dealt with was why VR isn't widely adopted yet, like smart phones or television. Felder explained how Coke was working on making a product similar to Google Cardboard, but with Coke's existing packaging—essentially turning a six-pack box into cheap VR headset. The goal, he says, is to bring VR to people in rural China, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and other remote places.
 
Bjorling and Archer brought different perspectives to the question. For Bjorling, VR is still "Gen 1" and isn't fulfilling all its potential—it's still expensive and less capable than it needs to be. It still requires a 10-by-10-foot room, and necessitates isolation. For Archer, the problem of price has already been mitigated by using smartphones instead of dedicated VR headsets, and the real problem lies in the fact that 80% of the population still hasn't experienced VR. It's up to the rest of us, Archer said, to encourage other people to try it.



However, isolation was the most persistent topic when it came to issues with virtual reality as a medium: when someone puts on a VR headset, they're immediately cut off from the real world, leaving them alone in their own, private virtual world. According to Archer, VR is going to become a new social media platform where you can interact with other people and even re-live the old chatroom days where you log in to meet new people. Dragayeva, on the other hand, said one of the advantages of VR lies in isolation—she says it's good to be alone, away from social media, and to have time to contemplate.

Finally, the moderator asked the panelists where they saw VR heading in the next 5 to 15 years. Bjorling took the lead, saying that resolution, fidelity, and audio needs to improve in order for VR to achieve a new level of verisimilitude. He spoke specifically about replicating the feeling of sun falling on one's skin while walking through a forest, and said that though the tech wasn't here yet, "We'll get there...We'll keep fooling you on higher and higher levels until you can only tell it's VR because you have a memory of putting on a headset."
 
This led to an interesting question from the audience at the end of the presentation: how close are we to a reality similar to The Matrix? According to Bjorling, the fictional property we should be worrying about is actually Doom: following the Columbine massacre, violent video games (including id Software's Doom) were blamed for inciting the violence—the shooters even used the game's level builder to replicate the layout of their school and rehearse the shooting. 



For Bjorling, mistaking video games for reality isn't a real issue, but VR is different: "VR is trying to be reality," he says. Because of this, the moment when VR is blamed for inciting or enabling violence is "inevitable." According to Bjorling, "It's going to be a reckoning."

Stay tuned for more Worlds Fair Nano coverage on Outer Places!
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