Virtual reality, like personal computers, the internet, and mobile devices before it, will change the world. It is already changing communication, education, fitness, gaming, health, commerce, productivity, and a variety of other fields. We will continue to see a combination of virtual and augmented reality (XR), artificial intelligence, and blockchain technologies transform society in ways that enable people to learn faster, be more productive, have better health, and live more inspired lives from anywhere with internet access.
It’s mind-boggling to consider today’s children growing up in this immersive reality. I believe that when they are adults, they will be astounded that we once subjected ourselves to using tiny flat screens as our primary computing interface.
“The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” says William Gibson, one of my favourite authors. With the momentum in the metaverse space, this is starting to ring true. Oculus was the most downloaded app in America on Christmas, according to data. This is fantastic, but keep in mind that a large portion of our global population has no idea what virtual reality is! As we develop experiences and scale the technology, we must ensure that others around the world are taken into account.
There is a lot of nuance and complexity in the VR space about how things will evolve, but here are some of the main ways I believe VR will change the world as a foundation for thinking about the future:
Virtual reality makes Experience More Accessible.
What if you could have access to any experience, anywhere in the world, at any time? Virtual reality makes this possible. You can effectively teleport anywhere with a headset and internet access. Imagine being able to travel back in time hundreds or thousands of years to see how people lived. You could visit ancient Egypt before moving on to Florence to experience the Renaissance at its pinnacle. Personally, I think it would be fascinating to spend time with Leonardo Da Vinci while he worked on the Mona Lisa. You could also go to a group fitness class and feel the energy of the people around you push you to go for that extra rep. The options are truly limitless.
Virtual reality Allows Users to Work From Anywhere.
The trends seem to indicate that a growing percentage of the workforce will live and work remotely as time goes on. People will be able to live in more desirable areas and spend more time with their families as a result of this. With virtual reality, you can be as productive (or more) from any location with an internet connection. You can use a virtual office to make the team feel as if they are all in the same room. Immersed has been a pioneer in this movement, and our team (which is entirely remote) uses virtual office space for team meetings throughout the week. I’ve found it to be even more effective than traditional office spaces, with beautifully designed spaces, large screens in the virtual space to share your desktop, virtual whiteboards, and more. Beyond the virtual office, we’re seeing more remote business use cases for VR. Companies are using virtual reality for design reviews, customer support, meetings, data analysis, and other purposes. Adopting VR technology provides a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes to save time and money.
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Virtual reality enables access to immersive learning from any location.
When I was in middle school, back in the days of physical encyclopaedias, high-speed internet was just getting started. As we’ve all seen, it has transformed how people learn and communicate, spawning new formats such as blogs, MOOCs, podcasts, live streams, and so much more. The same thing is happening with virtual reality technology today, as educators experiment with ways for students to learn through an immersive experience rather than a flat screen or piece of paper (as fun as mechanical pencils can be). Immersive learning opens up a world of possibilities for global collaboration among people who live thousands of miles apart. They can interact with shared virtual objects as if they were in the same room, and they can learn skills that would be dangerous or prohibitively expensive to learn in the physical world. Many universities have already begun to incorporate VR into their curricula, and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, as well as many small and medium-sized businesses, are using VR to train employees on new equipment, procedures, and other necessary skills.
Virtual reality has the potential to bring space to YOU.
In the physical world, we are frequently required to bring our physical bodies to the exact coordinates on Earth if we want to experience a specific space. We can capture space in the virtual world and bring it directly to us, regardless of where our physical bodies are. This is especially critical for those with limited mobility or who are unable to travel. This is a fundamental shift that, in my opinion, ranks alongside breakthrough innovations such as sending real-time messages via the internet or using the written word to record campfire stories for future generations.
Virtual reality will increase equality and decrease implicit biases.
Consider a future in which you can embody any avatar and portray yourself as any identity you want. This may sound like science fiction, but the technology to do so already exists, and we’ve been doing it consistently at Axon Park during our hiring process for the last couple of years. You can eliminate implicit biases that are unintentionally carried into interviews and, for that matter, most social interactions by using avatars and virtual spaces. According to a recent Stanford University VR study, people who use VR for social experiences feel more connected and are more likely to express kindness to others. We will see increased empathy and compassion across cultures as we become exposed to new ways of thinking and living as we have the ability to have a diverse range of social interactions in VR.
Employees working under a private alias to keep their personal lives separate from work will not be uncommon in the future, in my opinion. Of course, this can have negative consequences, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider WHO would benefit from such a system and WHY. Finally, I believe this should be a choice between the individual and the employer, and it has the potential to be truly liberating for individuals who have historically faced an uphill battle fighting others’ biases.
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Virtual reality will Be Beneficial to the Environment
VR can help the environment in a variety of ways, two of which are emission reduction and energy savings. People who use virtual reality don’t have to rely on cars, planes, or other energy-intensive modes of transportation to get to their destination. This has the potential to significantly reduce overall transportation emissions. During the pandemic, when fewer people were travelling, we saw a glimpse of this. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, South East Asia will have a 40% reduction in harmful airborne particles caused by traffic and energy production by 2020. Consider how much larger this could be.
Virtual reality will broaden our minds and cognitive abilities.
As humans, we are constantly learning and evolving, and VR will play a significant role in accelerating this process. VR’s ability to immerse us in any environment or situation can introduce us to new possibilities that would otherwise be unavailable to us. Consider being eight years old and learning about Einstein’s theory of relativity while travelling through space on a virtual train. Or experiencing the fundamentals of quantum mechanics at the quark scale. This allows people to experience advanced concepts in ways that were previously only available to those with extraordinary imaginations or spatial reasoning abilities.
What Does Virtual Reality Mean for the World and Society?
Back in 2014, everyone was speculating about what the “killer app” for VR would be. Some predicted productivity, while others predicted immersive film/entertainment, while still others predicted education, and still others predicted mindfulness and meditation.
With current adoption, I don’t believe we’ve reached the “killer app” moment for VR, but it turns out that everyone seemed to be at least a little bit correct in their predictions of how things would unfold. With tens of millions of VR headsets on the market, we’re seeing content from almost every category make its way into the space.
Based on my experience running thousands of VR demos at 500+ events over the last decade, I believe it’s safe to say that the vast majority of people are completely blown away by VR the first time they try it. As hardware and platforms evolve, it appears likely that the VR space will expand at a rapid pace and have a profound impact on how we interact with information, each other, and the world around us.
Virtual reality’s potential applications are truly limitless, and we’re only scratching the surface! What other ways do you think VR will change the world?