The idea virtual reality is an isolating experience and thus won’t scale to the masses without a multi-user winning application, always puzzles me. There are plenty of challenges, yes. Indeed, it’s a tall order to ask someone to strap on an awkward chunk of plastic over their eyes. And if they do it, there’s gotta be a serious reward. Lots of brilliant people around the world are working on that part right now, as I write.
As for isolating. Yes and No. No matter what gadgets or technologies come to bear there are many things that humans like to do alone or better yet can really only do alone, like:
I could go on, but I won’t. You get the drift. Many centuries and many gadgets later, we are reading more books than ever. I bet nothing in the world, at least in my lifetime, is going to change that. Virtual reality will find a place as it’s singular purpose is realized. I’m beting on that too.
Like many millions, I regularly use Power Point (presentations) or Excel (spreadsheets) or Microsoft Word (documents). You probably do too, or have. I think about this suite of products and the relationship to the evolution of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. There is a connection.
First though, making virtual reality and augmented reality content is real hard right now. The software, hardware and the nature of the content is rapidly iterating, not settling quickly. It’s the ubiquitous notion of trying to change the wheels on a car speeding down the Autobahn in Germany (there is barely a speed limit).
I just spent three months on a virtual reality project, and while I have produced hundreds of video for broadcast and the internet, meaning I have a lot of experience making visual stories, live action 360 video is a beast; an entirely different process. The work flow doesn’t flow like preparing for the stage or a 2D film or 2D digital video. Why? The output itself, a 360 degree moving picture is not like any of those others.
We have far more questions than answers. Are we telling stories, a narrative or creating experiences? What might a story look like when the USER can choose to look anywhere in that spherical space, and so on?
What does that have to do with Microsoft? While technologists built those utility pillars, they could then hand to the masses, and say carry on. People can and do use them for anything they choose from personal journals to professional financial modeling.
These emerging technologies actually work in the EXACT opposite way, meaning while VR and AR technology is cool, it has almost no meaning without a specific application. Consider, a surgeon having a conversation with a technologist.
Technologist: “We have some cool tech that makes 3D digital assets, how might that help you?”
Surgeon: “Medical images, say X-rays or MRIs would be great to have 3D versions in augmented reality.”
Technologist: “Great, what type of features will help you diagnose a patient’s issue?”
And so on. The technologists need direction from domain expertise whether it’s educators or doctors, real estate developers, industrial manufacturers, human resource professionals or those working in sports, media and entertainment. Materially beneficial applications, products, will only have meaning for those who are using them in the course of daily use, particularly in enterprise or professional capacities.
We live in a 3D world, it’s fantastical to believe the ability to create 3D digital products, tools and assets will not have fundamental uses across the way we live and work. Right now, the problem is we don’t know exactly what that looks like, except to say, the winners will be busy collaborating across disciplines with technologists and domain experts at the table. Let us not forget in every technological evolution someone, some company, some team comes up with a winning step. There will be winners.
“I’m a skeptic,” a seasoned filmmaker, let’s call her Mary, told me not long ago standing in the middle of a VR festival. “I’m a skeptic when it comes to virtual reality.” No matter how many times I hear it, I am always perplexed. I gave her my standard comeback, “What are you skeptical about exactly?” adding, “I honestly don’t understand because we don’t know what it is yet.” Mary makes wonderful movies and while she said the word skeptical, her eyes screamed disbeliever. She’s convinced stories can’t be told in the waters of this evolving three dimensional technologies.
She’s not the only one, I meet lots of self-described skeptics logging miles among technologists, entrepreneurs, educators, investors, health providers, multi national corporations, creatives, governments, corporate leaders, and basically, anyone interested in the Fourth Revolution (see chart above).
Routinely, I also ask them all to hold off a minute and better yet, dig in, check out what’s being made (seeing as much of the content is being created for the first time), keep an open mind and even better think about how this might actually work in their domain of expertise.
Keep in mind, among the cyber-physical system sit emerging technologies of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and artificial intelligence. It’s not just one technology that is the question, it’s a number of viable technologies, like computer visualization and mobile computing power, that are driving incredible possibilities among emerging technologies. They are huge buckets of potentially life changing tools defined by the nature of the hardware if any, software, content and application.
We live in a three dimensional world. It’s virtually impossible to think that this ability to manipulate things in and about our world in 3 dimensions will not find relevance and scale accordingly. Life is nothing but change and tech is innovating faster than most would have imagined even 50 years ago. I mean, Google’s not even twenty years old and many of us, certainly above a certain age, cannot really recall the world before the search engine arrival.
For almost four years now there has been a yearly influx of new headsets, applications and creations into the marketplace. New. It’s all new. Before we dismiss virtual or augmented or mixed reality, envelope it in a choke hold of skepticism, let’s first truly investigate how it might be relevant in your life or your work.
The truth is stories have not changed a bit in centuries. The tools to tell stories have. I mean really, ten years ago how many of us envisioned Giphys?
We have computers, the internet, pictures, video, film, radio, books, plays and now virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
As I fight my way into the new world- working on a big VR project- trying to crack the challenge that is 360 video, I’m looking to all sources of inspiration. There is so much that has to get better in VR, starting with pre-production tools. How to even think about a narrative experience that is in great part driven by user choices, how to borrow time honored traditions of blocking originally from stage, and truly understanding what the experience of presence means. Essentially, the idea of helping the user feel like they are there.
I’m looking back to look forward, one of my favorite activities. Why reinvent the world every time on everything? Willa Cather who wrote my all time favorite book, “My Antonia,” had this to say about stories, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened.”
I’m re-reading, two profoundly great books on writing fiction specifically, yet are universal in application. See them below, along with one of my favorite quotes from each.
“[G}ood ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.“–Stephen King
“The most important thing I’ve found about writing is that is is primarily an unconscious activity. What do I mean by this? I mean that a novel is larger than your head (or conscious mind). The connections, moods, metaphors, and experiences that you will call up while writing will come from a place deep inside you.”--Walter Mosely
Both are short books especially respective to each writers usual work. Some of King’s books might weigh more than a world encyclopedia, while this one comes in at a paltry 291 pages. Moselys’ is much shorter, coming in at 100 pages of text. I would advise reading in that order. They are wonderful reads.
Thanks Willa, Stephen and Walter. Your words sure are helping this week. Check them out and wish me luck!
“Everyone is trying to decide the rules of VR and AR, because it’s a big mess. By Hugh Langley”
It’s tough for media makers. Technology is changing fast. I’ve sat in dozens of corporate offices the past few years listening to executives, in great frustration, try to figure out the future. The future products, team make up; right mix of skill sets who can build media products that- they desperately hope- will dazzle consumers and enterprise clients.
We have learned, the wizard that is technology casts inventions faster than corporations can respond, and there are far more questions than answers; basic questions like what is virtual reality, is 360 video really #VR, or mixed reality, what is that? What kind of content will cross over from enthusiastic gamers to the masses? Will it be news, entertainment, enterprise applications that drive demand? What are the ethical questions we know of and how do we prepare for the ones that will come up? Who should be in the room thinking about these questions? Developing products? Commercializing?
It’s enough to make anyone avoid topic, dismiss the immersive tech trends and concentrate on clicks through rates; though as the media giants know well, there are no easy answers there either.
This article by @HughLangley on Wearable.com, titled, “Everyone is trying to decide the rules of VR & AR, because it’s a big mess,” is dead on. Mess might be a strong word, given, it’s not intentional but merely a function of monstrous evolution of new technology. But he speaks well about the struggle, and attempts by many including, the IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and CTA, the Consumer Technological Association,to take the first step.
It boils down to the first step. And executives might think about that as they build teams or look at internal teams grappling with the future. New challenges, call for new thinking. Not new as in, radical, but new as the makeup of the people tackling the questions.
We know this. With each new evolution, from books to radio, to network television, to cable television. Two basic things have happened: 1. Someone had an idea, then it was eventually executed and 2. That new something drew a cross section of people who had little, if any direct experience because inherently no one could of since there was previously no product and no market.
The iconic Bill S. Paley, founder of the CBS network, as the story goes, started in the family cigar business and ended up in network television in a quest for advertising distribution. Or take, Geraldine Laybourne, who started as a teacher and went on to built Nickelodeon into what we know today and co-found Oxygen television, selling to NBC Universal.
There are endless examples for a simple point. Digital consumption is today, it is the future. Immersive technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality are also the future, though we have little data to know for sure what it will look like in five, ten or twenty years. If history is any guide, the people who drive discernible change are unlikely to be the usual suspects.
We are at a point in time where keeping an open mind will in hindsight look like a brilliant strategy. That is to say, look at people who have successful track records in tech, or film or digital and then something else, perhaps in education or journalism or art, then keep looking, perhaps they are stage set designers or carpenters and so on who have a great interest in these emerging immersive technologies. The wider the aperture of each individual involved, the more profound the collective will be in seeing new possibilities.
I am betting a lot on this. The “unconventional” team will win and they will win big.