Virtual Reality, the New Reality?
From the Netflix rental store to saddling up with the RCMP, it seems like virtual reality (VR) is a trend that’s gaining momentum…or is it? Although the Wall Street Journal says the attention around VR is merely a bunch of hype, others think that this technology will play a much larger stake in our future.
So could augmented reality become our new reality? RED Program Coordinator and Junior UX Designer Andee Pittman decided to find out. Here’s what she learned…
Last month I attended the CVR Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre. As a first time attendee and rookie to the world of VR, I didn’t quite know what to expect as I entered the synthetic-fogged room packed with early-adopters, VR game nerds, and curious techies alike. The room was practically pulsating with pioneers excited to be the first to know what’s happening in this growing industry.
Virtual Reality and Addiction
Though I attended eight talks led by an impressive roster of experts, there were a few speakers who really stood out for me. Kevin Mack, the Founder of Shape Space VR, discussed how virtual reality will help make a positive impact on those struggling with addictions, phobias, and mental health issues. Mack stated that VR can be used as a psychonautic; a means to explore and enter an altered state of mind. He’s developed a program that induces a state of meditation, combining relaxing soundscapes and picturesque views. By altering human consciousness, “the possibilities are astounding” and may become an effective method for dealing with mental health issues, addiction, and other emotional barriers that affect millions of people across the globe.
He went on to say that “the thing about VR is it’s a transition for us as a species. This technology will get better and better until VR is indistinguishable from real reality. The boundaries between imagination and reality will dissolve, and we will realize that we are always in virtual reality, and always were.”
Social Ethics of Virtual Reality
This was one of my favourite talks of the day led by Mirjana Prpa, a PhD Research student at SFU SIAT.
There’s no question that emotions in VR are real. Many tools like EEG’s, MRI’s, and GSR’s (I’ll leave you to Google those) have been used to prove this. VR can trick your brain into believing you’re somewhere else. That is a very powerful tool, which is exactly why Mirjana started off her talk addressing her concerns when developing this technology for consumers, saying that “it’s not about accepting new technologies. It’s about accepting new realities.”
She explains the phenomena in VR that creates emotional and traumatic experiences, referred to as the sense of self embodiment. Not only is your brain tricked into believing you’re a part of the reality in front of you, but that the virtual body is your own. It can happen in one of three ways: sense of self location, sense of body ownership, and sense of agency.
The concerns with inducing self embodiment in VR surround self-perception, social interactions, and environments. Trauma can be inflicted when negative experiences occur in these areas. Just imagine you looked into a mirror in the virtual world and suddenly you have four arms, a hunch, and Trump’s blonde toupée in place of your hair. You may find it traumatic, to say the least.
When she speaks of virtual environments, I’m reminded of the movie Her. Set in the future, a man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his artificial intelligent operating system, Samantha (Scarlet Johansen). The OS eventually becomes too advanced and leaves, leaving the gentleman heartbroken. A similar story is proposed here: what happens when you continuously immerse yourself in an environment, and then it suddenly changes?
These challenges can be addressed with affective VR, a concept that is emerging alongside VR itself. It’s a method of mapping one’s emotions during the experience to detect whether or not the experience is safe. Using technologies mentioned above we can detect stresses and adjust the experience.
Never before had I imagined the possibilities of VR with such great magnitude. Before this conference, I had only thought of VR in the context of video games. Now I see it’s power. In the not-so-distant future I think it will influence everything in our lives, from how learn, purchase, and entertain ourselves. But with great power comes great responsibility, and it will be our jobs to ensure that we leverage this power for the good. For the creators of these experiences, we will have to continuously monitor our applications to ensure that our users are kept safe and free from bias or persuasion.
Have a thought you’d like to share on VR with Andee? Tweet @andeepittmanux.
Sean is our Admissions Director who’s got a lazer focus on making RED an educational paradise with the best and brightest students. He’s an aficionado of old-school hip hop, and has over 7 year’s experience working with small tech firms and start-ups, including co-founding and running his own company, Boatwyze.
His background in the vibrant tech scene, bundled with his love for education, fuels his massive enthusiasm for bridging the gap between the innovative tech firms who need good people and the students who need fulfilling jobs. On the weekend, Sean can be found sailing around Vancouver with his friends, mentoring young startup founders, playing beer-league sports and cooking up mildly-successful meals.