Virtual and Augmented Reality: Just a Tech Dream or a Sleeping Giant About to Awaken?
Virtual and Augmented Reality: Just a Tech Dream or a Sleeping Giant About to Awaken?
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Is the tech industry responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?

Now we know why technologists are racing to develop virtual reality: so they can live there if Donald Trump gets elected. But here’s a better idea: the tech industry should take ownership of the role it played in creating Trumpism. If the industry did a better job helping society deal with all the disruption that technology throws at it, Trump might have fewer fans than the Tennessee Titans.Tech leaders tend to like politics about as much as cats like baths. But all of a sudden they’re joining the presidential melee, lining up against Trump, sometimes in creative ways. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman said he’ll put up a $5m (£4m) donation if someone reveals Trump’s tax returns. Rob Glaser, who long ago founded RealNetworks (iTunes about 10 years too early), set up a website to detail Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin.
A letter signed by nearly 150 tech leaders proclaims: “We stand against Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy and want a candidate who embraces the ideals that built America’s technology industry.” (Peter Thiel’s recent $1.25m check for Trump made most tech leaders throw up in their mouths a little.)That may sound like civic pluck, but it also smells like guilt. Technology has always been aimed at efficiency and automation, but for at least two decades its big prize has been disruption. Don’t just make something work better – instead, blow up the old way and replace it with something completely different and digital. Software eats the world, as Marc Andreessen put it. But software also eats the livelihoods of people who can’t adapt. You can see them on TV at Trump rallies.

Google Is Going In VR. Google has fully embraced the virtual reality experience and it is dedicating a lot of resources to it. In fact, Google Cardboard was once considered to be a side project for the company before it became a hit. Some people say that Google Maps' street view, which launched in 2007, was an early example of virtual reality. In recent years, Google hired a lot of people specifically for virtual reality and they are researching all aspects of it.

I have almost never heard tech leaders seriously consider the whole societal picture as they bulldoze ahead with their disruptivity. There is nothing in Google’s or Amazon’s credo about creating as many jobs as it destroys, the way a lumber company has to plant as many trees as it cuts. Uber’s vision is to operate fleets of self-driving cars and trucks, potentially upending millions of workers’ lives. Haven’t heard any hint of a program to help those people. Tech companies tend to do their thing and figure society will take care of itself – and if society can’t deal with job losses this time, well, the techies say, let’s install a basic income and pay people to not complain about not working.
Of course, tech innovation has benefited us all in endless ways. You can bet that no anti-immigration, anti-trade, anti-progress Trump voter wants to give up his or her iPhone or Facebook account, or go back to taking pictures with a Kodak Instamatic just to preserve thousands of film factory jobs in Rochester, New York.History shows that innovation and automation have always led to better standards of living. Yet progress can also hurt along the way, and some people never catch up. Tech folks generally think the fallout is not their problem, but now Trump is making it their problem.

The Stuntmaster and the Cybermaxx. The 1990s were huge for the development of VR, even though the devices didn’t truly capture the market the way they did now. However, they were nonetheless extremely immersive for the time. Two of the most notable head mounted displays are definitely the Cybermaxx by Victormaxx and the Stuntmaster. They basically had an LCD screen embedded in a visor, that had a head tracking system, colorful stereoscopic 3D with a price tag that was a bit below $1000. Both devices also had huge support from games on both console and PC, but they didn’t achieve the huge success the industry needed.

Technology also bears responsibility for the tone and divisiveness of this election. Over the past 20 years, technology has disrupted – or more likely obliterated – the way we’d long talked to each other about national politics. Back when almost everyone tuned in to or read mass-market media, those media felt a responsibility for fairness – both a civic and a business responsibility, since pissing off half your audience would be bad for business. So the broad population got exposed to all sides of a story, whether they liked it or not.

But technology disrupted media and splintered it into narrow factions. Niche outlets have more incentive to appeal only to their audiences – today, that’s good business. So now everyone peels off into his or her own silos of information, exacerbating the nation’s divides. Facebook makes it much worse by herding us into our individual echo chambers. Its algorithm is optimised for engagement and page views (i.e. making money), not for fairness or equal time or civility. The more Facebook’s algorithm chooses what news to show us, the more we see news that fits our predisposed likes.

It Enhances The Gaming Experience. It is difficult to talk about virtual reality without discussing the use of video game technology in it. The gaming world has fully embraced virtual reality and all of its elements. There are now some games that are designed specifically for virtual reality. In some of these cases, gaming companies would produce special props that gamers can use along with their virtual reality headset. For some gamers, virtual reality has enhanced their love of playing.

The result? For the first time in its surveys since 1992, the Pew Research Centre found that majorities in both political parties “express not just unfavourable but very unfavourable views of the other party”. In fact, 81 percent in a recent Pew survey said that supporters of Trump and Hillary Clinton don’t just disagree over plans and policies, they disagree over “basic facts”. Technology has led to such polluted discourse that, for the first time in history, provable facts have been downgraded to partisan beliefs.

Even if the tech industry helps defeat Trump, the underlying sentiments he stirred up aren’t going to disappear. And if tech doesn’t address such concerns, the whole situation is only going to get fouler as we become more digital and do more stuff online and surrender to even more software. Workers are staring into the headlights of artificial intelligence, wondering when they’ll turn into road kill.

Another Pew survey found that one in five of those with a high school diploma or less believes they’re in danger of being replaced by software. That’s not just insecurity – that’s fear. There are signs tech is starting to get it. IBM, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook recently got together to form an organisation called Partnership on AI, vowing to show some sense of duty. “We recognise we have to take the field forward in a thoughtful and positive and implicitly ethical way,” said Mustafa Suleyman, the group’s co-chair and co-founder of Google DeepMind.

It Can Take You Places. One of the best experiences of virtual reality is using the technology to travel to places that you haven't been to. The right simulation can allow you to walk around some of the most important places around the world. In addition, virtual reality allows users to watch special documentaries that put them right in the middle of the action. Some of the top film companies are now producing documentaries made specifically for virtual reality headsets.

Hopefully, these companies will follow through. Some in tech are saying Facebook and others need to be accountable for the dynamics they set in motion. “What algorithms aren’t optimised for is doing the right thing or for displaying any amount of transparency,” writes Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst Partners, a venture capital firm. (Full disclosure: I’m working on a book with Taneja.) “This has to change, and these companies themselves must take the lead in creating algorithmic accountability in their services.”
In mid-October, President Barack Obama addressed this topic in his opening remarks at a White House Frontiers Conference. He told the tech and science audience that they need to get involved in the issues technology raises, suggesting it will be good for business in the long run. “I don’t want this audience of people who are accustomed to things happening faster and smoother in their narrow fields to somehow get discouraged and say, ‘I’m just not going to deal with government,’” Obama said. “Because, at the end of the day, if you’re not willing to just get in the arena and wrestle with this stuff, and argue with people who may not agree with you, and tolerate sometimes not perfect outcomes but better outcomes, then the space to continue scientific progress isn’t going to be there.”

Virtual Reality's Future. Some people say that virtual reality might replace all reality in the future, and there are also worries about the future of humanity because of it. But those fears have no basis in reality. Virtual reality only supplements reality instead of replacing it. Numerous industries have benefited from the rise of this technology, and most consumers are also loving their virtual reality experience. The future looks very bright for virtual reality, especially as the technology improves.

In other words, if tech can’t or won’t tackle the problems it creates, it will wind up with an anti-tech Trump now, or some anti-tech second coming of Trump later. So the industry needs to step up. It’s either that or double down on VR.

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