29 Jun How Do We Harness The Exponential Nature Of VR For Good?
If you are not yet familiar with the term Virtual Reality, now is the time to dive into this emerging medium and experience some of its possibility.
Virtual Reality is the use of digital technology to replace reality with a completely immersive simulation. While VR technology may be in its infancy, one thing is quite clear: we are on the verge of a disruptive leap in virtual experiences. In the same way, how we acquire information has shifted dramatically. From taking a trip to the nearest library to asking our pocket computer to search the internet, we are poised for a similar shift in how we consume that information. We are launching rapidly from our rectangular flat screens into completely immersive worlds that enrapture our senses, allowing the builders of these virtual worlds to help shape perception, create experience and design new realities.
As the great philosopher Marshall McLuhan says, “We build the tools and then the tools build us.”
So why is this important?
Why, if we want the world to evolve as a species for the better, are we looking at MORE technology that could essentially pull us even further from “reality”? Well, to answer that question, we really need to first understand the nature of exponential growth within technology. Author and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, gives a distinctive example of this pattern by having us imagine linear change by taking 30 linear steps (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…), by nature, after 30 steps you arrive at 30. However, Kurzweil explains that this is not the world we live in today. If you take the same 30 steps, but instead of taking them in a linear fashion, you take them exponentially (2, 4, 16, 256…) by step 30, you’ve reached 1 BILLION.
Modern day philosopher, Jason Silva, frequently mirrors a similar concept:
“Exponential thinking runs counter-intuitive to the way our brains evolved, which was in a world that was linear and local. Today, however, we live in a world that is global and exponential. Therefore, we struggle to wrap our heads around the implications of exponential change. Its why disruption, especially through technology, always feels like the rug being pulled from underneath our feet.”
By nature, exponential technologies are technologies that disrupt cultural norms by doubling in power or processing speed every year, while their cost halves. This rapid growth makes them accessible to the masses at a global scale. We saw this exponential curve in the rise of the personal computer, digital sensors in cameras, the cell phone, and are currently seeing it in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and the mixed realities space – including augmented and virtual reality. These exponential technologies are combining together in order to solve real problems, but how?
Jason extends further by stating that technology has always been disruptive, its just that this disruption would happen over many generations, and therefore was hard to notice the exponential curve of their growth. Today, however, modern science has brought this disruption to the doorsteps of our everyday lives, and its only through harnessing the increased production in these spaces that we will be able to begin to utilize their growth to help design positive feedback loops. We cannot fight the emergence of these technological beasts, so why not ride the wave of their growth to the shores of a new future designed with the planet, our relationships, and a systematic elevation of the way we understand the world, in mind.
We also have to understand that we are all hypocrites. Yes, I am a hypocrite. I drive a car. I use technology, and I care deeply about the earth. Our modern day technological society is built upon extraction of resources to be consumed and transmuted in most cases into trash. We have not built regenerative models as a cornerstone of our way of being. Even loggers know if they don’t plant trees in the places where they cut them down, they are going to run out of trees to use as resources. Planet Earth, or as Buckminster Fuller referred to it, “Spaceship Earth”, is a closed ecosystem that has a finite amount of resources.
With 7 billion human beings growing to become 10 billion in the next 40 years, we are consuming at an ever accelerating pace. We live in the golden age of consumerism, so how do we consciously alter the path of consumption towards regenerative business models when everything is constantly screaming BUY ME, I’M CHEAP! We have to use the very tools/technologies that are driving those messages, harnessing their ability to create the incentives for the world we actually want to live into. Thats where we, the conscious designers of virtual worlds, come in.
Imagine you could look down on Earth from space right now…an experience usually reserved for astronauts in orbit…and experience “The Overview Effect”- a perception shattering revelation in which the astronaut sees the planet in its entirety, and understands that the interconnectedness of all life on the planet is much greater than oneself. Now imagine if, while viewing the planet in its entirety, you could watch as a time-lapse over 10,000 years takes you through the life and death cycles of our celestial body of life. In one version, you see the state of the planet if we take care of it, and in another version, you are observing a planet without human life and very little life as a whole, brimming with the remnants of fossil fuel and human destruction. This experience cannot only be created, but fully distributed on a global scale by harnessing the power of VR.
When I began writing this article, I had my father read through the first drafts. In them, he continued to bring up how the word “disrupt” as it was discussed above made him feel uncomfortable. This was not surprising, as most people are fearful of change even though it is the only constant. We, however, have no intention of sitting back and allowing fear to consume how we build the next chapters of our world. It is vital to understand that real change only comes about when the current status quo is disrupted and a ‘new course’ is set. The power of positive disruption is an important concept to understand and to adopt. At its simplest – the concept is about making hard changes in the environment around us.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller-
Just like in all business, if you are not an agent for change, you risk falling behind competitors who are more innovative, adaptable and forward thinking. In the context of VR and the Realties Industry, this is where change becomes dangerous. We cannot say that everything being created in the Realities Industry is for good. In fact, the vast majority of content, games, and software being developed has no positive impact behind its inception and the porn industry was the first $1billion market in VR.
So what do we do?
Sit back and watch as a technology destined to consume the planet pulls users into a world of disconnected and addictive behavior patterns? Nope! Sorry, that is not how we were raised, nor is it the planet and legacy we wish to see left for our kids. Therefore, the time has come to roll up our sleeves and create a new conversation… inside this emerging medium. VR Director and producer, Chris Milk, sums up a similar approach in his incredible TED Talk last year:
Chris Milk @ TED: “The Birth of Virtual Reality as an Art Form”:
So, I am sure by now you are wondering how exactly VR integrates into everything we have been speaking about? Why, after looking at the countless global issues we could address with our work, have we chosen to dedicate ourselves to VR? Well, media is the single fastest way to spread a message across the planet and virtual experiences allow for a depth and fullness of information transmission that is unparalleled and globally scalable. Much like the internet provided a platform to share knowledge at a global scale, the Realities Industry will serve as a platform to share experience at a global scale. (In my next article, I will speak to the power of shifting knowledge to understanding through experience).
“What is it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Books allow us to imagine it, and movies allow us to see it, but VR is the first medium that actually allows us to experience it.” -Nick Mokey
Any one of us can improve the world for good and create shifts in our lives and the lives of those around us. Today, in the age of information, we have new tools at our fingertips to literally design the way we FEEL these shifts in our world. As Chris Milk pointed out, for the first time you don’t have to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, we can let you experience it for yourself. Books invite us to imagine, movies allow us to see and hear, but VR is the first medium that brings us directly into the experience. This creates a huge shift in how we can understand what is occurring around the world for everyone else, not just ourselves, helping us to shed some much needed light on the current paradigm.
We have a very short window to course correct many global grand challenges we have created as a species, and it will only be through a dramatic shift in empathy, compassion, and love for each other and our planet that we will be able to provide tangible tools and insights for generations to come.