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MASS INTEGRATION: The Race to Capitalize on a Virtual Future

Looking in on VR 2

Randy Johnson
21st Century Wire

Digital technology has increasingly and exponentially become a part of our lives. Virtual worlds and reality, as humanity has known it to be for millennia, appear to be on ever-converging paths.  Will humanity and digital reality be on a path of integration–or a collision course?

While the direct application of Virtual Reality was difficult to see in everyday life following the 1992 Hollywood film Lawnmower Man, the reality of such technology is now coming into focus.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technology (also interchangeably known as either AR/VR or VR/AR) are ideas that have been hammered out in the digital sphere with regards to concepts and applications of use. Along with the steady advancement of digital computing power, an AR/VR future might better be portrayed in certain episodes of Black Mirrorsuch as Fifteen Million Merits or Playtest.

Polygon Black Mirror
Black Mirror’s, Playtest: Season 4, Episode 2. A stare-down between perception and reality (Image Source: Polygon)

The possibility and potential of the technology has made it a magnet for investment. There are profits to be made in this growing realm, and the implications of what these emerging technologies could do for (and to) humanity is staggering.

So before delving into some current developments in AR/VR technology, let’s take a quick look at historically new technologies which are now a part of our real world, everyday, lives: the smartphone and the motor vehicle.

The Smartphone Stratosphere

On one hand, the smart phone is merely synthetic material with “touch” screens and circuitry. Now in less than two decades, there are those whose daily lives are hindered without one. The attachment is almost as emotional as it is literal in some instances. Many need them to communicate, be entertained, figure out where they are, purchase products, or even socially interact with others or the avatars of others. To many teenagers across the world and Generation Y Millennials, the smartphone has always been there.

It can be argued that society as a whole is becoming dependent and addicted to smartphones and other “smart” devices. In fact, with over 2.5 billion smartphone subscriptions world wide in 2016, corporations and marketers are counting on it.

Seeing a person interacting with any number of touch-screen devices does not garner much of a second look. Oftentimes, the person without the smart phone is the person who stands out in a crowd, as they are sometimes seen reading one of those archaic things we call a “book.” It is now commonplace that people can interact with thousands of different applications on countless versions of technological devices.

2-160H4010T60-LHooked: Not only can we take the physical work out of travel on mass-transit, we can also be oblivious to the journey along the way, as well as the work involved to make it all happen.  (Image Source: ne-asia.com)

After a few generations, many technologies simply become ‘integrated’ as it were. They become a part of us and our day-to-day lives, and are a part of the real world.

For comparative analysis, let’s take a look at the evolution of another well-known technology, the motor vehicle…

From Engines to Electric

In roughly 100 years, humanity has essentially integrated itself with motorized vehicle technology. The motor vehicle and all the industries that come with it, has shaped the world as we know it.

Driving a vehicle, and everything that comes with it–such as such as its design, manufacture, delivery, sale, gas and oil production, road ways, traffic laws, law enforcement, theft, accidents, smog, fighting over oil resources, etc., has effected nearly everyone.

The sales pitch and appeal of the motor vehicle have always gone together. From its early days, to current-day advertisements, automobiles have been marketed with the promise of freedom on the open road. In fact, the evolution of vehicular technology is a good indicator of how a specific type of technology can transform humanity in a very short amount of time.

UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 30: Advertisement for F85 Cutlass car, november 1964 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images) Technological Bliss: A promise of open roads and freedom (Image Source: NBC.com)

The promise of anything good always seems to have a catch. Ease of movement with the automobile is not without its environmental impact. Without the automobile in particular, we would not have terms such as gridlock, traffic jam, or road rage for instance.

ProgressProgress is not without its side effects.  (Image Source: kerma.wordpress.com)

The motor vehicle is a technology and a part of our world to such an extent that where we are dependent on it.

The environmental and health concerns of gas and oil extraction and production, as well as geopolitical maneuvering and even warfare based on assumed resource scarcity, the deep infrastructure roots and dependence of commerce is in place. To stop the flow of motor vehicles, would inhibit the freedom of people to travel, commute to work, and utterly stop industry and commerce in its place.

Electrically Re-energizing the Automobile

The current slow-but-eventual transition from gasoline engines to hybrid or fully electric ones is just an evolution of the technology. While electric car technology is believed to have been discovered in the mid-1800’s, it has only recently made inroads to the industry on a potentially large scale with the Roadster by Tesla Motors.

The Tesla Model S, has a 2017 manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $69,200 dollars, while the most recent (2015) “US Real Median Family Income” was listed as $69,929.

With the success of Tesla, the amount of established gas and oil engine automakers is lining up to diversify their portfolio for their consumers, is “who’s who” list of the auto-industry. BMW, Chrysler-Fiat, Daimler (Mercedes),  Ford, General Motors, Honda, KIA, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Volvo, all have their own hybrid or electric car lines. After decades of profit, these industry giants can’t wait to show the consumer that they too are environmentally conscious. Likewise, the consumer appears ready to accept “guilt free” and environmentally responsible driving as the electric car continues to improve, lowers in price, and becomes more widely available.

Emerging Patterns: AR/VR technology

With many integrated technologies in our lives such as smart devices or motor vehicles, if it feels like “we’ve seen this pattern before,” it is because we have.

First the technology is new. Next commercialism, industry, education systems, entertainment, pop culture, and the government, all conspire to get in on the action; during this time, the race to integrate and capitalize on a technology in the name progress can induce a Gold Rush type of feeding frenzy. Then pre-established corporations are already pre-positioned, with the ready capital, assets, and resources to pounce on “the next big thing.” And finally, over a generation or so of different improvements and variations, it is hard to remember a world without said technology for those who inherit a world with it. Whether real or imagined…  it becomes a necessity.

The likely integration of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR/VR) into our daily lives will likely follow the same pattern as other technological advances. Similarly, with regards to forecasting its future integration in our lives, the saying “follow the money” applies.

First though, what exactly is AR/VR as it is currently understood to be?

Augmented Reality (AR) uses the world around you, but a device introduces virtual items, characters, etc., into the real world that a person interacts with. This is popularly seen with the downloadable application for smart phones, with the game Pokémon GO.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the glasses/headset set-up where you are visually, and often audibly, immersed. Put on the glasses/headset, or similar gear such as Oculus Rift, or VIVE and you are in a whole virtual world.

ARVR

Both technologies are primed for upward momentum.

Although economic forecasting has not always been an exact science, the monetary forecast for AR/VR technology seems to point upward.

Business Wire notes:

worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market to reach $13.9 billion in 2017, an increase of 130.5% over the $6.1 billion spent in 2016.  AR/VR spending is expected to accelerate over the next several years, achieving a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 198.0% over the 2015-2020 forecast period and totaling $143.3 billion in 2020.

It is important to note that the above figures are amounts projected to be spent by companies to further advance AR/VR technology. So the expectation for profit is most likely in the trillions.

Does this sound far-fetched? For a ‘real world’ success story with regards to these emerging technologies in terms of profit, then Pokémon GO has been there, done that, and cashed the checks.

By some estimates, Pokémon GO has made Niantic over 900 million dollars in 2016.

Using Pokémon GO as a barometer of future profits, the potential is huge. Especially when you consider that in the ever-changing gaming world, many already considered outdated, requiring updates, fixes, and new features by many of it’s users.  If Pokémon GO calls it a career or not, the fortune has already been made.

picachuVirtual scavenger hunts are fun!

That kind of money has already inspired a similar styled “brand-supported” game in its early stages, called SnatchBesides the puzzle and scavenger hunt aspects of Snatch, players will be immersed into an augmented reality with a commercialized, brand name, token-based, application where you can “snatch” items from other players to win prizes.

If you do not fully “get it” perhaps the below video can help explain what it’s all about.

You heard it hear first; if it hasn’t happened already, playing Snatch is likely to start at least one physical, real world, fight over the potential of having a prize “snatched” by a player nearby.

Immersion, Entertainment & Investment

All of the AR/VR technology is still “finding its sea-legs” so to speak and is still in transition with more “immersive” worlds. Along the way, AR/VR has been undergoing a natural progression and fusion with the gaming world. Gaming, and entertainment, appears to be the seductive gateway application for AR/VR technology development and profit potential.

As games and game consoles have become more immersive over the years, it appears that AR/VR is expected to advance with it.

The addictive element to immersive games is often literal in some cases as seen in the WebMD.com article Video Game Addiction No Fun:  The lure of a fantasy world is especially pertinent to online role-playing games. These are games in which a player assumes the role of a fictional character and interacts with other players in a virtual world … [according to Kimberly Young, PsyD] an intelligent child who is unpopular at school can ‘become dominant in the game.’ The virtual life becomes more appealing than real life.”

Also, let there be little doubt that any psychological aspect of marketing to churn out profit will be used, as the video-gaming world is a 100 billion dollar industry globally. That’s hardly child’s play.

The greater the entertainment immersion and the technological bliss, the bigger “the hook” to the consuming public will become. So despite a slow-yet-increasing public acclimatization with regards to AR/VR, investments keep pouring in.

According to Digi-Capital, the investments for AR/VR start-ups in 2016 came in at a cool $2.3 billion dollars.

These numbers for start-ups are in addition to previous acquisitions such as Facebooks‘ Mark Zuckerberg’s now famous $2 billion dollar purchase of Oculus Rift.

Investments also include such companies as NextVR that can deliver live events in a VR format.  The investors are a “who’s who” of present day media empires in the United States.

We see the following from nanalyze.com:

Laguna Beach California startup NextVR has taken in $115 million in funding so far from investors that include Time Warner, Comcast, and The Madison Square Garden Company. In addition to these strategic investors, FOX Sports, Live Nation, NBC Sports, HBO/Golden Boy, Turner Sports, and CNN have all partnered with NextVR“.

The object for up-and-running companies like Next VR, or their investor Live Nation, is to bring entertainment events such as concerts or sporting events to the masses.

In addition to the actual gate at a sporting event or concert of say, 50,000 people, you could also charge a virtual gate, if you will, for another million people who were never even there.

Another company starting to make some real world profits is Utah’s THE VOID.  The company is in continually advancing their Dream Park in Utah.  They have themed virtual reality (or hyper reality as they refer to it) type of  “experiences” in New York and Dubai.

Below is a trailer for their Ghostbusters hyper-reality experience in New York City.

That’s right…  you too can don a nuclear power pack and save New York from the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

To be fair, besides entertainment purposes, there will be benefits of AR/VR technology. Uses for design, training, and experimentation within a multitude of industries, science, and research and development, can all be enabled by VR. Medical students can practice on “fake” patients, soldiers can train in virtual combat with no casualties, researchers can get inside of a molecule, designers or architects can better visualize or display their concepts, and so on.

For example, in April 2016, the United Kingdom’s Medical Realities used its product The Virtual Surgeon, which is a “learning program … developed for head mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR“. The live-stream was a first of its kind showing a live surgery allowing for a 360 degree view, and was witnessed live in places as far as China and Tunisia according to their site.

Medical RealitiesVirtual Medicine (Image Source: Medical Realities)

The other side of the AR/VR coin

Keep in mind, however, that there this is likely a trade off for well-intentioned purposes realized by the implementation and advancement of AR/VR. These same advancements in AR/VR will also almost undoubtedly have profit, control, surveillance, and culture-shaping, as drivers for its very implementation and integration to our lives.

AR/VR, like art, books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, graffiti, radio, television, and the internet, is a medium which can be utilized. With social norms, economies, and forms of government to influence the masses thrown into as variables, the acclimatization to AR/VR by society is likely to be many things to many people.  Even today, we have News and Fake News. President; not my President. Facts and Alternate Facts.  All of these types of psychological shaping of reality could be further jammed into Virtual Reality.

Even within education. Subjective topics, or viewpoints on historical events made to be realistic for experiential learning purposes could be abused. No different then a book or website, a VR lesson will have an author, a bias, and will be an area rife with the potential for politicization or propaganda infusion.

Like motor vehicles or smart devices above, AR/VR also has society-changing potential. The possibilities for mass-level use, consumption, and integration of virtual technology could very well change our reality; literally and figuratively; shared and personal. The implications go beyond the industry and commercial implications of its use and delve into what makes us human and into what is real.

We hear it all the time, but social engineering is what it sounds like.  The direct implication of the phrase is that aspects of society can be engineered and designed towards a desired effect or result.

The outcome desired for those at the top of our current power structures and institutions might entail use of technology to socially engineer with a nefarious slant: to conform the masses, infuse propaganda, create thoughtless compliance, and degrade critical thinking in favor of living a blissful other life, elsewhere in another digital reality.

Morpheus The Wise 1As the great celluloid philosopher, Morpheus, from the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix, once pondered, “What is real?  How do you define ‘real’?  If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see… then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Might the world literally become whatever anyone wants to make of it?

Are we choosing for ourselves, or are we all merely like “fish in the ocean” being swept up unawares in a tide of social engineering?

A technologically controlled, artificial, designed, and immersive environment could possibly redefine reality, and what it means to be human along with it.

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