ethical-issues-xr

daniel-robbins
Ethics in Mixed Reality is a hot topic, and I moderated a panel discussion at SIGGRAPH. This panel was attended by a number of people in the immersive industry including HTC’s Daniel Robbins, who works as a principal UX designer at HTC Creative Labs incubating immersive XR technology possibilities that haven’t already been productized. As a designer of next-generation technology prototypes, Robbins is very much interesting an ethical framework that allows him to evaluate the various different tradeoffs for what type of culture these emergent technologies could produce. He takes a values-driven approach of trying to identify the underlying ethical principles or moral virtues that he wants to cultivate, then traces down a “values ladder” to see how the technology could start to shift culture.

Robbins and I talk about the open questions and challenging dynamics of the ethical and moral dilemmas of mixed reality. I mentioned that it’s difficult to get big companies like Google or Facebook on the record to talk about the ethical implications of emerging technologies before they’ve actually shipped a product with some of those specific features. Robbins advocates that the time to be having these types open-ended and difficult questions is now before we get to the point of producing the technologies, since by that time it may already be too late if the proper ethical frameworks aren’t already in place.

We also talk about a lot of the other design challenges for mixed reality related to progressive trust versus binary trust, the risks of biometric data that may turn out to always be personally identifiable given enough samples over time, the risk-mitigating behaviors of some of the major XR players, the special considerations in figuring out what SDK features should be made available to third-party developers, designing glanceable notifications in AR to preserve your situational awareness and safety, and the challenges of moving from explicit input to implicit input with eye tracking and biometric data.

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Music: Fatality

facebook-horizon

jon-oakes
Jon Oakes is the Technology Labs Coordinator at the San Jose State University Library, and he’s also been quite involved in helping to organize the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Meetup and Conference. He held a VR Connect gathering at SJSU the day after Oculus Connect 6, which had a number of different talks and demos.

I had a chance to catch up with Oakes there to talk about some of his thoughts about Oculus Connect as a gathering, and to some of his thoughts on the social VR strategy of Facebook and his initial impressions of the Facebook Horizon. I had a chance to actually try out a demo of Facebook Horizon, and so I share some of my first-hand impressions as well as some of the feedback I got from AR/VR content marketing head Meaghan Fitzgerald & director of AR/VR experiences Eric Romo (I did an interview with them, but Facebook didn’t want me to record audio and so I share some highlights from my conversation with Jon).

Jon and I also talk about what he’s doing as a VR evangelist and enabler of immersive education there at San Jose State University. Libraries are turning into interdisciplinary learning centers, and so he’s been working with professors at SJSU to figure out how they can start to integrate different aspects of VR technologies within the curriculum there. We also talk about the challenges of archiving and indexing virtual reality experiences, and Oakes is actively looking for insights for how to help the librarians start to treat immersive XR experiences as seriously as they are for other rich media such as photos and videos.

We also talk about the evolution of the community fostered by the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference, and some of the market dynamics that have had Oculus take the lead on facilitating what is the most interdisciplinary community gather of XR creators each year at Oculus Connect. We lament the loss of some of the community-lead spirit of SVVR, but the entire conference industry in Silicon Valley isn’t set up to support community-lead initiatives. So we talk about some of the history and evolution of the community at SVVR relative to how things shifted once Oculus started also holding their annual Oculus Connect conference at the San Jose Convention Center starting at OC3 in 2016.

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Music: Fatality

nathievr

nathie
Nathaniel de Jong is a VR content creator on YouTube as “Nathie” who is focusing on Virtual Reality games. I had a chance to talk with him at the Oculus Connect about the VR content ecosystem for games, the curation policies of Oculus and the ticking time bomb dynamics of Side Quest to side load unofficial game onto the quest. We also talk about some of the VR influencer dynamics that he has to navigate as an independent content creator both from interacting with independent VR game developers, but also with trying to navigate the logistics and communication with huge companies like Facebook. I was definitely impressed with how much due diligence and behind-the-scenes communication that Nathie has with the indie developer community, and I was happy to finally get a chance to catch up with him at the end of Oculus Connect 6 to capture some of his highlights and frustrations from the event.

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Music: Fatality

tested

norm-chan
Tested editor Norm Chan has been covering the evolution of Virtual Reality since seeing a early prototype of the Oculus Rift at CES 2013, which was after the initial debut at E3 2012 & the successful Kickstarter in August 2012. So Chan has been reviewing virtual reality hardware consistently for nearly seven years now, and has attended all of the Oculus Connect gatherings. When I attended GDC in 2015, I didn’t have a press pass and was unable to get in to see a demo of the HTC Vive that was showing at the Vive booth, and so I eagerly watched Chan & Will Smith deconstruct their experiences with what was hottest demo at GDC 2015.

I had a chance to talk to Chan at Oculus Connect to hear about some of his highlights from the conference, as well as some of his thoughts on the future of XR input. He covers a lot of other topics on technology as well as the maker culture, special effects, niche communities and pop culture gatherings like ComicCon. We talk about some of the VR games that he really likes to play, as well as his interest in immersive theater and the future of experiential entertainment. We also talk a bit about why he doesn’t cover issues around design ethics or privacy as they’re more focused on the technological road map and engineering tradeoffs.

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Here’s some of Chan’s Oculus Connect 6 coverage for Tested

Oculus Link and Oculus Horizon Hands-On Impressions!

Oculus Quest Hand Tracking Demo and Impressions!

Live from Oculus Connect 6!

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond VR Hands-On!

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Music: Fatality

andre-elijah-kent-bye

andre-elijah
Andre Elijah is an independent VR developer who recently launched Viewport Interactive working on branded experiences for car companies and beyond. We talk about the Elixir Quest Handracking demo that he tried at Oculus Connect 6, and how it shifted his sense of embodiment by having different representations of his hands. Elijah and I have also had a number of debates on Twitter over the years, and so we had a chance to come to a place of agreement between his desires for bootstrapping the industry and not unnecessarily slowing down adoption of VR while I’ve been advocating for deeper discussions around the ethical frameworks to be able to navigate the many moral dilemmas around privacy that are introduced with biometric data and the ability to capture a digital representation of the world around us. We explore the tensions between his economics of his pragmatism and the ethics of my idealism, and we were able to bury the hatchet and come to a place of understanding from our previous sniping at each other on social media.

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Music: Fatality

inclusive-design

doug-north-cook
Doug North Cook is an assistant professor at Chatham University, and he holds an immersive design residency at Fallingwater architectural landmark in Pittsburg. North Cook is trying to synthesize the many different design frameworks and principles ranging from industrial design, user-centered design, universal design, inclusive design, and architecture in order to come up with new frameworks that are uniquely suited for virtual reality. He’s also very much interested in accessibility and trying to break down some of the fundamental affordances of different types of VR input, and trying to figure out how to design VR for the most number of people.

North Cook and I also deconstruct different aspects of the keynote at Oculus Connect 6, especially around what wasn’t being talking about around the deeper ethical and privacy implications of where the technology is headed. He gets concerned over some of the somewhat religious zealotry language of being “true believers” of the technology without a broader conversation around the underlying business models that will sustain it, or some of the ethical design principles that could steer the technology more towards dystopic futures of surveillance, safety, or manipulation. We also talk about his efforts to be as inclusive as he can in empowering underrepresented minority artists and creators, and some of his recent experiences in the recently released Half + Half by Normal VR.

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Music: Fatality

oculus-connect-6

walter-greenleaf2
Walter Greenleaf has been involved with the intersection of virtual reality and medicine for 35 years, and I had a chance to catch up with him at Oculus Connect in order to get some of his impressions from the keynote announcements. He was at the same time excited for the new announcements, the momentum of tetherless VR like the Quest due to it’s ease of use and potential medical applications, but he was also concerned about the lack of honest conversations around the deeper ethical and privacy implications of immersive technologies. Facebook talked about the future of the AR cloud and how it would be possible to capture your personal environments with photogrammetry scans, but the lack of any discussions about privacy-first architectures was somewhat disturbing for Greenleaf. There’s also going to be a lot of possibilities for the technologies to be able to make medical diagnoses, and he suggests that some of the biometric data that will be available may need to be regulated by something like HIPAA if Facebook doesn’t try to proactively architect to protect the capture and use of biometric data. So we cover some of the ethical and privacy implications of VR, as well as a brief update as to what he’s seeing in terms of the medical applications of VR.

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Music: Fatality

believe-your-eyes

kath-duggan
Punchdrunk is a 20 year-old immersive theater company who likes to blur the line between what’s real and what’s an imaginal dream-like storyworld. They collaborated with Samsung in 2016 to create a blend of immersive theater and virtual reality in an experience called Believe Your Eyes. The Phi Centre sponsored a VR Gallery at Venice, which included VR experiences by a number of contemporary artists as well as Punchdrunk’s Believe Your Eyes.

I was able to catch up with one of the directors and co-creators of Believe Your Eyes Kath Duggan in Venice to talk about their experiential design process, some of the cinematic and embodied language they use to communicate with each other, and how they’re committed to putting the audience at the center of the experience while continuing to blur the lines between what’s real and what’s a dream-like fiction. She says that dreams are an associative, non-linear structure of experience that people are comfortable with the fragmented and cut-up nature of, and a lot of the work of Punchdrunk aims to try to replicate that dream-like quality of presence.

This conversation is spoiler-free for the experience of Believe Your Eyes as we try to abstract out the deeper experiential design principles that Punchdrunk uses.

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Music: Fatality

7-lives

sabrina-salvo
7 Lives aims to explore the underlying structure of fluidity and interdependence by taking a non-narrative, symbolic, and embodied poetic approach. You witness an experience, and then time freezes as you’re able to explore how that event is related to the memories of the other witnesses of that event. It’s a surrealistic experience that feels a bit like a cross between a psychedelic journey and out-of-body, near death experience.

I had a chance to talk with writer and designer Sabrina Calvo about the design of 7 Lives. She did quite a bit of world building of the experience through writing, and she talks about some of the design intentions of the experience for how play with perception and create an altered liminal space that explores transitions and unfolding processes. We also talk about poetry and how she sees games as a form of embodied poetry. She leverages symbolic French poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s definition of poetry as being the process of extracting essence of the things and to evoke the feeling of the things without using the things itself. We explore a lot of interesting experiential design insights and reflections that don’t require you to personally experience 7 Lives, but it’s also available on Viveport for $5.00.

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Music: Fatality

bodyless

hsin-chien-huang
Bodyless was one of my favorite VR experiences that I saw at the Venice International Film Festival. The experience was the most like walking into someone else’s dream that I’ve ever had in VR. The experience alternated between an on-rails guided journey mixed with some open-ended exploration where you could raise your hands and point them in a direction in order to fly around. Director Hsin-Chien Huang is from Taiwan, and he uses the medium of virtual reality in order to metaphorically explore his childhood of growing up during martial law in Taiwan as well as sharing ancestral rituals that are a part of the cultural heritage of Taiwanese culture.

I had a chance to catch up with Hsin-Chien Huang at the Venice International Film Festival where we talked about his journey into VR, and we unpack many of the personal and cultural metaphors that he included within Bodyless. The experience stood on it’s own without having to know about the deeper meaning behind all of the metaphors and symbols that he included, but it also provided an embodied and experiential context in order to connect deeper about his history and culture. There’s also a lot of interesting virtual reality work that is coming out of Taiwan, which was recently summarized by Variety. If you have a chance to see Bodyless, then I highly recommend it as I think that there’s a lot of interesting uses of metaphor, dream logic, and the flying mechanism is particularly effective.

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Music: Fatality