The opportunities and risks of virtual reality

Today I was interviewed on the Daily Edition about virtual reality, in the wake of Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift.

You can click on the image below to watch a video of the segment.

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It is staggering that the very old idea of ‘virtual reality’ is finally about to reach its fruition with new technologies such as Oculus Rift, which have low enough latency to fool the brain into believing it is in a new world.

Moreover, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, clearly founded on a belief that these are transformational technologies, will be a massive boost in taking them into the mainstream.

There are clearly manifold applications and opportunities for virtual reality. Some of the implications of the acquisition include:

– Entertainment. Many will prefer feeling they are participating in the action instead of watching movies, taking gaming to a new level and spawning whole new fields of entertainment.

– Work. We will be able to use VR headsets to experience having a discussion with a group of people in a meeting room, from wherever we are in the world.

– Travel. As the VR meeting experience improves, we may choose to travel less as from the comfort of our homes we can work anywhere, explore any sights in the world, go to the world’s best concerts or lectures, and do these together with anyone anywhere.

– Technology landscape. Facebook and Google are now looking beyond today to what will drive the next phase of technology. Google has bought 9 robotics companies and is creating self-driving cars, Facebook sees the future in virtual reality.

– Sex. One of the obvious applications of virtual reality is adult entertainment, with companies long-planning to use Oculus Rift. Facebook may try to avoid these uses.

– Mental health. Virtual reality has been used successfully in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Used well, it can help people to gain personal control over their lives and the situations they encounter.

However we have to recognize that there are risks in the emergence of truly immersive virtual reality.

Once these worlds become sufficiently real, it is possible that some people will retreat into these worlds to live glamorous ersatz lives. This is a theme that has often been alluded to in science fiction. We may be getting closer to a time when it is a real issue.

As always, what comes from new technologies comes from our attitudes. Let us focus on the opportunities and immense value creation possible from virtual reality. There is plenty to entice us.