#1000: Voices of VR Retrospective on the Ultimate Potential of Virtual Reality

Episode #1000 of the Voices of VR podcast is a special, three-hour retrospective featuring over 100 of the best answers I’ve received about the ultimate potential of VR over the past 7 years. I hope that it serves as a primer on the scope and breadth of different XR applications across many different contexts and domains of human experience as described by a diverse range of subject matter experts who are on the frontiers of innovation within spatial computing. The episode starts with describing the power of presence and immersion, and then elaborates on the underlying neuroscience foundations of perception and embodied cognition that explain why Extended Reality (XR) technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) present unique affordances that go above and beyond what previous communication mediums can deliver. I believe XR represents a new computing paradigm that will be moving from flat 2D interfaces through windowed portals to volumetric experiences and worlds that are more embodied, immersive, participatory, social, and spatial.

There’s been a lot of recent buzz and hype about the potential and possibilities of the “metaverse” ever since Mark Zukerberg told Casey Newton on July 22 that as Facebook is “building out the next set of computing platforms, like virtual and augmented reality, to give people that sense of presence,” and that if they do this well enough then “I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.” What does Facebook mean by the Metaverse? Is VR just a fad? Or is this type of rhetoric overblown hyperbole?

After conducting over 1600 oral history interviews over the past seven years, I can say that there are some compelling reasons why I think VR and AR are on the cusp of becoming a reality. How metaverse will continue to unfold, whether it’s closed or open/interoperable, and what it will ultimately look like is still up for debate as it’s still being created. But what I can say is that there’s been a ton of foundational work that’s been done on these immersive technologies since the mid-1960s starting with the military and continuing on through academic research, and then through the first wave of enterprise VR in the early 90s, and now with the second wave of consumer VR that was catalyzed in August 2012 with the Oculus Kickstarter.

Virtual Reality was considered an emerging technology by Gartner’s Hype Cycle Map up until 2017, but since 2018 it’s not been tracked as an emerging technology as it has graduated through the plateau of productivity into an established market. Virtual Reality is here, and it’s actually happening this time around. This podcast episode takes a 10% sample of my first 1000 episodes of the Voices of VR podcast to show a wide range of immediate, near-term, and potential future applications across a wide variety of contexts.

The first Oculus Developer Kits (the Oculus DK1) were shipped in March of 2013, and I bought my DK1 on January 1, 2014. I attended the first professional conference during the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference on May 19 and 20th of 2014 where the excitement about the potentials of this new medium was palpable. I ended up recording 44 interviews over those two days because I wanted to capture what felt like a historical moment within the community of early adopters and innovators who would prove to become key figures in the development and continued evolution of what’s possible within the VR medium. I feel like I’ve been in a collaborative conversation with the broader VR community over the past 7 years helping to document the full range of applications, but to also tap into the more philosophical, ethical, and future dreaming potentials for where this could all go.

This episode is broken up into loose sections that cover XR applications and potential futures spanning everything from medicine, neuroscience & behavioral research, early education, training, hanging out with friends in Social VR, connecting to family, recording memories, travel, wayfinding, location-based entertainment, embodied AI & virtual assistants, telepresence & remote work, productivity, new spatial computing paradigms, interdisciplinary collaborations, new human-computer interaction paradigms, the metaverse, open standards like WebXR and OpenXR, empathy, immersive storytelling, journalism, documentary, porn, gaming, ethical considerations around addiction & escapism, trolling and harassment, risks to privacy via surveillance capitalism, risks to Neuro Rights of Agency and autonomy, identity, psychological implications of avatar embodiment, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, the philosophical implications of our first-person perspective, situated knowledges, pluralism, filter bubbles of reality and worldviews, activism, ecological and relational awareness, speculative design and worldbuilding, future dreaming, indigenous futurism, latent human potentials, expanding perception, consciousness hacking and transformative practices, cooperative models of AI development, simulation theory, virtual goods and resources, environmental sustainability, more equitable access to experiences, limits of simulation vs reality, being able to see reality in a new way, and being in right relationship to ourselves, to each other, to the planet, and to all aspects of reality.

Thanks for coming along on this journey so far, and please consider supporting this work via the Voices of VR Patreon. I wouldn’t have been able to come this far without the support from the community, and I have over 600 other unpublished interviews that I look forward to digging into many more insights and reflections on the ultimate potential of VR. More detailed shownotes can be found down below:


Links to episodes referenced in the podcast:


Neuroscience Foundations


Early Education, Training, & Behavioral Research

Hanging Out with Friends in Social VR

Connecting to Family & Recording Memories


Augmented Reality, Wayfinding, Location-Based Entertainment, Embodied AI & Virtual Assistants

Telepresence & Remote Work, Productivity, New Spatial Computing Paradigms, Interdisciplinary Collaborations, & New Human-Computer Interaction Paradigms

The Metaverse, Open Standards like WebXR and OpenXR

Empathy, Immersive Storytelling, Journalism, & Documentary

Is it Porn or Gaming that’s Driving VR Innovation?


Ethical Considerations Including: Addiction & Escapism, Trolling & Harassment, Risks to Privacy via Surveillance Capitalism, & Risks to Neuro-Rights of Agency & Autonomy

Identity, Self-Expression, Psychological Implications of Avatar Embodiment

Accessibility, Diversity & Inclusion, & Sense of Self

The Philosophical Implications of XR, Limits to First-person Perspective, Situated Knowledges, Pluralism, & Filter Bubbles of Reality & Worldviews

Consciousness Transformation, Activism, & Relational Awareness

Speculative Design, Worldbuilding, Future Dreaming, & Indigenous Futurism

Latent Human Potentials, Expanding Perception, Consciousness Hacking and Transformative Practices, & Cooperative Models of AI Development

Simulation Theory

Virtual Goods and Resources, Environmental Sustainability, More Equitable Access To Experiences, & Limits of Simulation vs Reality

Being Able to See Reality in a New Way, and Being In Right Relationship to Ourselves, to Each Other, to the Planet, and to All Aspects of Reality.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So today's episode is number 1000.

[00:00:17.775] Kent Bye: It's been seven years since I started the podcast and I've been on this journey of trying to figure out what this medium is and what it can do. So I thought it was worth taking a moment to pause and reflect and look at some of the best answers that I've heard from a question that I like to ask at the end of every interview, which is what is the ultimate potential of VR? I feel like I've been in a conversation with the VR community asking this question to dream about not only the potential futures, but also some of the risks and harms. So throughout the course of this episode, I'm going to be trying to map out the landscape of all the different contexts that I feel like virtual reality is going to have some part in helping to develop and reflect, because VR is also a mirror to allow us to understand more about ourselves. So the very first event that I went to was the Silicon Valley virtual reality conference that was in May of 2014. And I went there and recorded about 44 interviews. And my episode number 50 was with Karl Krantz, who started SVVR. SVVR was a meetup that was meeting in Silicon Valley. And then at the one year anniversary, both Karl Krantz and Somatic Bruce wanted to do something special. So they threw a conference called the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and Expo. That was the first gathering of the resurgence of consumer VR. So the energy and excitement was palpable. So with that, I'm going to go ahead and just play this first clip from Karl Krantz. This is what his answer was for the ultimate potential of VR.

[00:01:36.572] Karl Krantz: With a straight face, I can say that I believe that virtual reality is a seriously significant step in the development of mankind, of humanity. I think that it's more significant than the invention of the written language. I think it's that big, because we're taking the ability to not just tell people about an experience or tell people a story, but directly transporting someone into a new world and putting them in a story. I think it's less abstract than the written language, and it's an entirely new medium, and the most powerful medium that I can imagine. I think it was Labrash who said, it's not just a new medium, it's the final medium. You know, there's no higher level that I can imagine in my head than virtual reality, because you can do anything, you can be anyone. I think it's impossible to overstate how important it is.

[00:02:35.183] Kent Bye: So at the time, and even now listening to it, I was like, is this too hyperbolic? I go back and forth and completely believing everything that Karl says, but I've also talked to other historians about media history. And this is Rebecca Rouse, who's talked about the cinema of attractions, early phases of film. And she's studied the history of the evolution of these different communications mediums. And this is her perspective.

[00:02:57.330] Rebecca Rouse: I guess I see it as a part of this continuum of human invention and expression. So I don't see it as something discreetly different with each new medium. There's a lot of rhetoric about now more than ever before, now we subsume all the previous media. So I guess I see it more like a continuation, or an extension, and less like having a singular discreetly new potential. But it's further continuing our grand experiment as human beings in terms of how we represent and experience… experience.

[00:03:32.503] Kent Bye: So on the one hand, I completely agree with Rebecca that virtual reality is in a long course of history, just a continued evolution of humans finding ways to express themselves. However, I think there's also some things that are completely new and different, be able to trick different aspects of our perception. This is Cymatic Bruce, who is one of the co-founders of SVVR, but also a VR evangelist who actually created a number of different videos that I watched before I bought my Rift in January of 2014, and really convinced me to get into VR. And this is his level of excitement at SVVR in May of 2014.

[00:04:04.551] Cymatic Bruce Wooden: Wow, that's just, it's so huge. I think when I go back and, like, reread parts of Ready Player One, for example, I think that's entirely inspiring because I realize how incredibly close we are to something like that, where you have all these technologies out there I've read about, about the haptics, about the smell production, about fooling vision, about the binaural sound, all of these technologies out there in some form that just need to be packaged and brought together. And I'm just like so excited for that to happen. I'd have a situation where you have that presence, you're totally fooled, you're immersed and you have accurate body representation. You know, having your hands in the game, I think that totally changes things at a very, very base lizard brain level when you have that visual feedback and it's just a terribly exciting prospect to be like, wow, now I can do this, sky's the limit. Create what you want. Be where you want to be and who you want to be. And that's just incredibly, incredibly empowering for so many fields from gaming to industry.

[00:05:08.703] Kent Bye: So one of the big affordances of virtual reality is this sense of presence, this feeling of actually being there, which is above and beyond any other communications medium before. So Mel Slater is a VR researcher who has studied presence and has a whole theory of the different illusions that are involved in this sense of presence. And so here's Slater talking about the two illusions that are at the core of this sense of presence within VR.

[00:05:29.835] Mel Slater: I think there's two key components which I call place illusion and plausibility illusion. So place illusion comes from using your body to perceive in the way that you do normally. So, by moving your head, by bending down, by reaching, by turning around, this kind of thing. And when you use your body to perceive in a natural way and the virtual environment responds in a more or less natural way, the simplest illusion for the brain to adopt is that this is where you are. The place depicted by the virtual reality is the place you're in. So I call that place the illusion, the illusion of being in a place, it's a feeling, you can't really describe it to anyone else. And it is an illusion in the sense of you know you're not in that place, but nevertheless you have the illusion that you do. It's not a belief. So if you really, really believed you were in that place, there's no distinction from being in a real place. So that never happens in virtual reality. It's only an illusion. The second one I call plausibility, which is the extent to which you have the illusion that what's going on is real. So it's a dynamic illusion. You see some events and do you take those events as real? So when you have both of those things together, the illusion of being in the place and this plausibility illusion, then that produces a response in you as if you were actually in the real place doing those things, interacting with other virtual people and so on. So I think it has those two main dimensions.

[00:07:00.493] Kent Bye: So this sense of presence, of actually being there and that what is happening is real, is this new affordance of virtual reality. And there's so many different ways to be able to apply that across different aspects of the human experience. And there's a sense of excitement about what you could do with that. Here's Ebbe Altberg, who at the time was the CEO of Lindon Lab, the creator of Second Life. And here's how he was thinking about virtual reality back in 2014.

[00:07:22.459] Ebbe Altberg: Oh, I think it's ultimately it's unbounded, it's just a matter of time. I mean, it might be 3, 5, 10 years, but there's going to be a time where any of us can go anywhere and be with anyone about anything. And so it's all going to get to a point where you can really choose to do almost anything, anytime. And that's going to be a fascinating journey.

[00:07:46.101] Kent Bye: So this unboundedness was a key part of the early days of consumer VR, where there was this sense of limitless potential. And there's also the phenomena of hype and things getting overblown and things not actually being ready. I mean, we've been talking about virtual reality for decades now. So what makes it so different now? Well, a big thing is just the technology’s caught up and also things actually seem to be happening with virtual reality this time around. But there's this important takeaway that I got from Max Geiger, who was at the time working at Wemo Labs, which later became Weaver, and he had this really helpful way of framing the prospect of making predictions about the future. Here's what he had to say about that.

[00:08:23.464] Max Geiger: So, personally, I try not to do too much speculation about where VR is headed, either in the near term or the long term. I'm a big believer in Amara's Law, which is a name for Roy Amara. And what that law says is that in the short term, we tend to vastly overpredict the impact that a new technology will have, right? People tend to get very, very excited about what's happening the next year or two. And sometimes those expectations fall short. We're all familiar with the hype train, right? And things getting overhyped. And I think the law bears out in that regard. But then the second half of it says that in the long term, we vastly underestimate the potential impacts of new technologies, right? I don't think when text messaging was first envisioned, anyone would have imagined that it was going to drive, you know, money exchange and African banking, right? And yet, there it is. It's a whole booming new business model and a new innovation and a new sector that is driving development in the developing world. And so, I think VR in some ways is going to be very similar. Right now, it may seem like just a toy to many people and people are talking about, you know, not just game and entertainment applications, but also industrial, medical, scientific, educational applications. But I think in the long run we have no idea where this thing is going to go and the most surprising and exciting things are going to be coming down the pipe in a few years from now and it'll be great to be a part of that.

[00:09:47.068] Kent Bye: So in that spirit of not really being able to predict in the short term, but in the long term, we can maybe underestimate the impact they're going to have. I think in some ways, this podcast is going to be doing this review of all the different aspects of virtual reality, trying to give you a sense of, okay, these are the things that are happening right now, things in the near term, and maybe some stuff that may be out in the far future. It's hard for me to know what point these technologies of virtual and augmented reality are going to diffuse out and to be massively ubiquitous. But from what I'm seeing, at least, there's a lot of different effort from lots of different major tech corporations that are not only pushing it forward, but there's so many different applications across so many different contexts. There's not only the benefits of this technology, there's also some risks and harms. So this was an interview that I had with Saadia Khan at the Immersive Education Conference back in 2014, that there might be some deeper ethical questions that need to be looked at.

[00:10:37.909] Saadia Khan: I would say that anything and everything that we imagine it will happen, because when we think of something, it's the human condition and our brains can actually figure out and problem solve how to make it happen. So I would say anything and everything is possible. And keeping in mind your question, the big question is how do we keep it all ethical? and how do we keep it within bounds and have a balanced life when we indulge in all these new technologies? And how do we use them positively?

[00:11:13.950] Kent Bye: So as with any technology, it can be used for a weapon or it can be used to bring more justice and peace into the world. And I think it's really up to the culture as to how we start to use it. But I think at the same time, there's a lot of ways in which these companies are creating these technologies that are shifting larger dynamics within the culture. And so there's a backlash against technology because they have a lot of power and there's a lot of unintended consequences about technology. And so this is a quote from Ikrima Elhassan, who was one of the developers of an experience called Senza Peso, which is a very cinematic, immersive storytelling experience that was being shown at SVVR 2014.

[00:11:48.199] Ikrima Elhassan: I always joke with people is that whenever we put them through, first timers of the Rift, and we put them through Senza Peso, You know, they walk away being like, “oh my God, this is amazing. Did you guys make this? This is so cool.” And we're like, yep, totally made it. And I just want you to relish this moment because this is the moment where you are experiencing the downfall of humanity starting.

[00:12:12.743] Kent Bye: The downfall of humanity, that could either be something that's tongue in cheek or it could be an actual reality. Anybody who's involved with virtual reality has to realize that there's so much great potential, but also a lot of risks and potential harms that could be done as well. Here's Denny Unger from 2016. He's an indie VR developer of CloudHat Games, which has gone on to create a lot of really amazing VR experiences. But this is how he was framing it in terms of the dichotomy between the greatest potentials and the greatest harms.

[00:12:39.503] Denny Unger: I see this momentum building, I worry a little bit about where some of it is going, but at the same time, you know, there's equal opportunity for this to be the most amazing, connective technology we've ever had, or the darkest, most sinister technology we've ever had, right? So, I see a lot of emphasis from all of the major players to build their own version of the Oasis, and it's just a question of what corporation you want helming that you know and so that's the part that scares me. I just hope it remains open enough to be democratic I guess.

[00:13:15.343] Kent Bye: So that was in the fall of 2016. But earlier in April of 2016, there started to be some reporting from Upload VR about some of the potential privacy risks that were happening with virtual reality. And following the next conference was the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference of 2016. And I started to have a lot more discussions about privacy. Actually, this is the first time that privacy really started to show up in some of the different conversations that I was having. This is Azad Balabanian. He is a neuroscientist and was one of the co-hosts of the Research VR podcast.

[00:13:44.995] Azad Balabanian: I think this entire immersive tech can go in a really bad way. Like, right now we're dealing with privacy issues, right? You can even claim that privacy is dead. And we're having a lot of things tracked, like where you're looking, what your head is, where your hands are, what you're doing. I think you can do a lot of great things with this data, but you can really go down the deep end of it as well.

[00:14:04.780] Kent Bye: So I see the risks to privacy as one of the more significant issues with virtual reality technologies, and we'll be digging into this a little bit more later on. But one last quote before we start to really dive in is from Jacki Morie. She's been working in VR since 1989 and was one of the co-founders of the USC's Institute for Creative Technologies. So she has a lot of historical context on what this medium is and what it can do across different contexts.

[00:14:27.652] Jacki Morie: I think as a medium it can provide many of the same things that we have in movies, we have in games, we have in reading, you know, literature, those types of things, music. It can be an entertainment medium, it can be a training medium. It is a blank slate. It's going to be what people make it. So what we're doing right now in this, what I call the second wave of VR, is we're teasing out what do we know about humans, human physiology, human perceptual systems that we can use to deliver something that's meaningful to the person. Whether that is entertainment, whether that is how you go to school, whether that is how you relax and have stress relief or get your health care. I don't care what it is. It is one of those vehicles that is going to be very malleable and very powerful. And it's all depending on how we put it together and how well we connect it to the human who has to use it.

[00:15:26.133] Kent Bye: I really agree with what Jackie's saying here, which is that it's a communications medium that's a bit of a blank slate, and it's got affordances that are going to be applied across many different contexts, but it's kind of up to us to figure out how to make the best use of it. So in that spirit, I'm going to be diving into not only some of the underlying affordances and mechanics of what virtual reality is, but then how it's starting to be applied across all these different domains of human experience. And where I want to start is with the underlying neuroscience foundations for why VR is so compelling, especially when it comes to our perception. This was really brought home to me with James Blaha, who was able to use VR to cure his lazy eye. Here's James at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference in 2014.

[00:16:05.108] James Blaha: My name is James Blaha, and I'm making a virtual reality game for people who have lazy eye to improve their vision. We use the Oculus Rift right now and we take single objects in the scene and increase the brightness to the weak eye of a person with lazy eye and decrease the brightness to the strong eye. And in most people who have lazy eye, what happens is their brain has learned to disregard or suppress the information coming from their weak eye. Usually nothing too much is wrong with the eye, but the eye is not receiving that information. And so by increasing the brightness, we break through that suppression right away. And in my case, the first time I did it, I saw in 3D for the first time in my life. Over about 20 hours of gameplay spread out over five weeks, I went from my left eye being almost totally suppressed - if my right eye was open, I wasn't using my left eye - to having 3D vision. Now I can use both my eyes together at the same time in the real world and perceive depth when before I never could.

[00:17:05.065] Kent Bye: Wow. That's pretty amazing.

[00:17:05.065] Kent Bye: My mind was pretty blown when I first heard this back in 2014. And James went on and talked about these principles of neuroplasticity and how you're able to kind of rewire your brain. Here's how James was thinking about the ultimate potential of VR back in 2014.

[00:17:22.693] James Blaha: Before we had this technology available, before we had virtual reality available, especially so cheaply, we haven't been able to finally control the input we're giving to people's brains, right? So I think we have so many more options now with this technology and how we're showing new information, experiences, sights, sounds, and eventually more than that, right? And that's going to have so many more applications than anyone expects, I think. It's going to be a really interesting time when we're able to really control perception on a fine level.

[00:17:59.671] Kent Bye: This ability of virtual reality to kind of hack into our perceptual system and to be able to present us with sensory stimuli that recreates this feeling of having the direct experiences ourselves, you know, this is a huge thing, being able to control perception. And this is how Unity's VR dude, Pete Moss, was thinking about it back in 2015.

[00:18:18.530] Pete Moss: Man, that's a hard question because I don't think I can imagine what the ultimate potential for where this VR, AR stuff is going to go. But what I know is that as new tech develops, it gives us new pathways into the brain. It's all it is, if you think about it at the low level. VR is a new pathway into the brain and it's going to allow experiences, many of which we haven't even begun to dream of yet. All experiences that humans have are mediated by our perceptions. And when you start playing with the perceptions, you have new ways of coming up with stuff. I have some ideas on where things might go, but I'm probably wrong about all of them. We're all probably wrong about all of it, but it's okay. We don't have to know it all right now. We do know that this is a new pathway, it's a new way, and I'm interested in what the gamers are doing and what Hollywood is doing and all that, but what I'm really interested in is what are artists going to be doing with this? Because artists, like pure artists, are the best placed people to make the real future, the new perspectives on existence and reality possible, and this is a great tool to help with that.

[00:19:16.732] Kent Bye: This was an interaction that really stuck with me on a couple of levels. One, that VR is going to be able to be a new pathway into the brain and that is a new way of tapping into communicating as human beings, but also that it was going to be the artists that were really on the frontier of innovating with virtual reality technologies. And it turns out that Pete was really correct in that sense. If we look at a lot of the deepest innovations that have happened within the VR community, it's come from a lot of these artists and indie game developers and People with that spirit of really tinkering and experimenting with what is possible with this medium. There's a group of VR researchers and artists named eleVR and Vi Heart was a part of this consortium doing research into VR for a couple of years. And one of the things that they were looking into was this concept of embodied cognition, which is that we don't just use our brains to think, we actually use our entire body to be able to think about and to understand the world around us.

[00:20:05.855] Vi Hart: I kind of think of it, as I said, like writing or like literacy. Once we are all able to sketch and take notes, just as part of our daily lives, we're going to really be able to think better when we can use these tools of our bodies, which we've evolved for so long, and they're so good at so many things that we no longer really care about. Like, we no longer care about some of the amazing things our bodies can do. We don't need that. But we can still take those skills, those body skills, and when we can bring them into our mind, it's going to be so great. We're going to be much better at being people.

[00:20:42.513] Kent Bye: So the implications of embodiment is something that came up again and again and again, as I talked to different neuroscience experts and different people who had really looked into these concepts of embodied cognition. Chris North is a data visualization expert, and he was giving the keynote at the immersive analytics workshop at the IEEE VR conference in 2016. And so he was looking at in terms of the process of sensemaking and intelligence analysis and using our bodies and space to be able to understand how to think better. So here's what he has to say around this concept of embodied cognition.

[00:21:12.447] Chris North: There are many views about how embodied cognition works, and it's not a well-understood thing, but the basic idea is that it builds on the theory of distributed cognition, that when people think, they think not just in their heads, but they think using their body, they think using interaction by playing with information, and they think using the environments around them to do that. So that's the point of distributed cognition, that our cognition actually takes advantage of our bodily manipulation abilities within the environment around us.

[00:21:43.483] Kent Bye: So if our thinking is dependent on our bodies and how we're moving our bodies, then virtual reality technologies is giving new ways of moving our bodies in the context of these virtual environments, which is going to change the way that we're thinking. But it's not only being in these contextual environments, but it's also having these virtual avatar embodiments. And so even that can start to change the way we think. Here's Saadia Khan, who is a professor of psychology and education, who is focusing on this concept of avatar embodiment and how that is applied to things like education.

[00:22:13.068] Saadia Khan: If you look at the theories of embodiment as they exist right now, these theories suggest that bodily movement, whether you actually do that physically, or whether you imagine the movement or think about it, or whether you use a surrogate or a deputy to perform actions for you, all of these have over time been shown to help people improve their memory, to help them understand things better. For example, I'm talking to you, I'm gesturing. We all gesture all the time. So even that helps with cognitive abilities and cognitive processes.

[00:22:44.179] Kent Bye: So this concept of embodied cognition is a hot topic within the field of neuroscience. And as I was doing my podcast, I was invited to go to this future of neuroscience and VR conference that was held by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in 2019. And I had a chance to talk to some of the world's leading neuroscientists about how they're looking at virtual reality and how they're applying it to the different aspects of research. And this is Craig Chapman. He's a movement neuroscientist at the University of Alberta. And he says that moving is thinking. And so here's what he means by that.

[00:23:11.655] Craig Chapman: If you were to take a basic psychology course or open up a textbook, you'd see a very linear serial model of how we think the brain works. It's an information processing device, it gets input, it does some processing, it then produces an output. And so the output part is the movement system, and for Decades now in conventional psychological research, we just push that as that's the output, and the interesting stuff has finished before the output gets generated. But actually, when you start studying the brain, you quickly realize that there are no nice boxes and arrows in the brain. Everything is almost literally connected to everything else, and so you're dealing with a massively parallel and massively recursive system. And so, as a starting point, it doesn't make sense to draw these delineations. And if we look at the evolution of the brain, really the brain evolved to be a moving machine. It evolved to make the most efficient actions that it could to maximize whatever it was going to be benefit, either reproductive benefit or acquisition of food resources or whatever. Those things required that we process our world not in terms of how did it make us feel and what do we want to do, but rather how can I most effectively, most efficiently move to acquire the resource that I need right now. And those evolutionary pressures are still the most dominant way of understanding how our brains got shaped. So I think if we want to understand a higher order cognitive process like mathematics, our ability to do mathematics, it has to be derived from a brain that fundamentally evolved to produce sufficient movements. And I think there's actually a really deep and fundamental insights we can take away from that. So that's what I mean by moving is thinking, that we're designed to be moving machines. We can think incredible thoughts, but we need to understand the relationship between the two. And in doing so, we can actually see how the moving body is reflecting things that are going on inside my head at all times.

[00:25:01.835] Kent Bye: So if moving is thinking, then changing the way that we move could potentially change the way that we think, which I think is the heart of what VR is doing across all these different contexts. One of the other things that Craig said there was this recursive and interconnected nature of the brain. And there's a theory of neuroscience called the predictive coding theory of neuroscience. And I first heard about it from a neuroscientist who was studying psychedelics named Sarah Hashkes. She was also one of the co-founders of Miu.

[00:25:26.482] Sarah Hashkes: My only published work is actually a predictive coding model of what psychedelics does to your brain. And I really advocate for people reading a little bit about this predictive coding framework that explains our brain as a prediction machine that's constantly doing calculations with two sources of information. Whatever is coming from our body, the sensory input, but also the other source of information is what we've already learned. That's called priors. And doing a statistical calculation based on these two sources of information to create our perception.

[00:25:59.167] Kent Bye: So we have a lot of embodied experiences throughout our entire life, and we've created these mental maps and models about the nature of reality. And VR is trying to replicate as close as it can all that prior information to trick us into believing that we're in these other worlds. But another way that you could think about this brain as a prediction machine is that it just needs to have enough of the core parts of the input to add additional senses or replace existing senses that you don't have already. David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, and he was looking at this concept of sensory replacement and sensory addition. And so he created this haptic vest called Neosensory, and he was able to take the sounds from around the environment and be able to feed it through his body and to recreate the feeling of hearing through a different input channel. So he's essentially turning his torso into an ear.

[00:26:44.462] David Eagleman: Well, I've been very interested in this idea of sensory substitution, which is, can you feed information to the brain via a channel that it's not used to? And the general story is that the brain doesn't know and it doesn't care where it gets the data from. It just cares about the structure of the data and whether that is related meaningfully to something it can do in the world. And so what that's led me to think about is things like eyes and ears and nose and mouth and so on, things that we really think are fundamental I now at this point think that they're just peripheral plug-and-play devices that have evolved from this complicated road of evolution that we've come down. And there's nothing particularly special about them. They're just ways of transferring data, like electromagnetic radiation or air compression waves or whatever, into something that we can use. But when you look across the animal kingdom, you see lots and lots of peripheral detectors. And even the eye has been invented 14 times in evolution, like in different ways, different kinds of eyes. So what this suggests is that the brain is a general purpose compute device and it is simply taking whatever data it can get and figuring out how it can be most useful. And that's what got me interested in this question of, could I build a vest and cure deafness?

[00:28:00.183] Kent Bye: So this idea of being able to cure deafness through this haptic vest that's redirecting these signals to this different channel through your body, that's just one potential. I think this is something that's still the very early phases. So I'm going to be starting off here in the field of medicine, which is really at the intersection of what you can do when you modulate perception and what kind of therapeutic effects you might have. So here's Walter Greenleaf. He's a neuroscientist who's been developing VR medical applications and an organizer of VR conferences for over 30 years now. So here's what he has to say in terms of the potential for VR for medicine.

[00:28:31.540] Walter Greenleaf: Oh, that's a big question. I think because, again, my bias is medicine, and I'll speak to that. I think because virtual environments are very powerful tools for addressing some very, very difficult problems in psychology, psychiatry, and behavioral medicine. I think the ultimate potential is to - we talked earlier about how medicine is going from a physician-centered to a more patient-centered process - I think that it's gonna be virtual environments are gonna be the technology that make that possible. The other thing they're going to do is they're going to be able to extend the reach of the clinician. There's a lot of underserved areas right now that either for economic reasons or for being in a remote or rural area can't get good health care and virtual environments are a fantastic telemedicine platform.

[00:29:16.752] Kent Bye: So rather than having treatments that are more generalized, you have the potential with VR to have this very personalized medicine. And I think that's really interesting when you start to think about the different feedback loops that you can have that are really listening to what's happening in your body and be able to give you different stimuli. One of the applications that have already started to be used is in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder. So Skip Rizzo heads the medical VR research group at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies and Here's how Skip describes this process of PTSD therapy within virtual reality.

[00:29:47.981] Skip Rizzo: What we do in the therapy is, you know, the VR isn't just like automatically fixing people. It's just a stimulus context to spur on the narrative. So the patient sits there and basically will tell their combat narrative as if it's happening right now. And they'll retell that story. And while they're doing that, the clinician is updating in real time the elements of the virtual environment so it mimics what they had experienced in the story that they're telling. By that process, what happens is, what starts off as a very sanitized, cognitive retelling of a story, as you get more emotionally engaged in it, you start to hear the emotion come out. So instead of the story being the first time through, like, we were driving in a Humvee, we were approaching a village, hit an IED, my best friend died. End of story. Therapist got his work cut out for him, says, okay, let's take it back 10 minutes. Tell me about your best friend. You know, what were you talking about? What was he like? What were you thinking? What were you feeling as you were approaching that village? And as you go through this in the simulation and as the patient is telling the story, now, these emotions that have been pushed below the surface start to bubble up. And admittedly, it's hard medicine for a hard problem. And we tell patients, it's going to get harder before it gets easier. But by going through this process in a safe place with a good clinician that knows how to do this work, you see dramatic decreases in anxiety responding and more of a sense of empowerment that people can now go through these things, and they can talk about the things that have been haunting them, that they couldn't put into words before, that they never talked to anybody about. And I think you get a multi-pronged therapeutic effect when you do this kind of therapy. But certainly, when people first hear about it, they see what we're doing. If they don't understand the scientific principle that underlies this kind of treatment, they think, oh, God, why are you torturing that poor guy? Leave him alone. But, you know, the data seems to support that. And a number of published studies, pretty much every one of them has shown clinically meaningful as well as statistically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms following treatment.

[00:32:07.629] Kent Bye: I think it's really interesting to hear about how VR is able to really recreate some of the contextual dimensions to have an embodied visceral experience. And from there, to be able to really tap deeply into emotional catharsis in collaboration with the therapist who's able to help guide them through this process. There's a book that was written by Brennan Spiegel. It's called VRX, how virtual therapeutics will revolutionize medicine. He's the director of health service research within the context of Cedars-Sinai Hospital, looking at this intersection between the research that's out there and how to actually start to apply it within the context of these hospitals. So here's what he has to say about the ultimate potential.

[00:32:41.436] Brennan Spiegel: Yeah, no, like I said, I think in health care, which is my focus, I really want to start seeing clinics that are dedicated to using VR. You know, at Cedars-Sinai, we're working on developing such a clinic, beyond just the research. Because the research is great. I do research. But what I really want to see is that we truly have VR as part of everyday care. And in the end of the book, I sort of go through a day in the life of the virtualist, and it's a fantastical chapter, but at the same time, it's based upon technology that we have access to right now. Amazing stuff. Everything from using VR-based exoskeletons to help with spinal injuries, to stroke rehabilitation, to literally improving vision in people who are going blind. These technologies exist now. So, you know, we need to figure out, without getting too philosophical, just pragmatically at this point, How do we get this technology out to patients? I'm confident that it can save money, that it should be reimbursed by insurance companies, that it can improve quality of life. And we need to start doing that now and not just writing about it and talking about it.

[00:33:51.188] Kent Bye: Another potential use case for virtual reality technologies is to start to use it for medical diagnosis. And that's what neuroscientist Craig Chapman starts to talk about here.

[00:33:59.618] Craig Chapman: Yeah, so I'm really excited about VR's potential not just as an entertainment device, which I think is a great application and will continue to be fascinating to a lot of people, but as a research and clinical tool. So my most exciting thing is imagine if you needed to do a sensory motor diagnostic when you walked into your physician's office. So, you know, usually now they would go through some quick battery of tests like follow this light with your eyes, check your reflexes, how are you, you know, hold out your arms. And those are effective, but they're pretty limited. But imagine now I could put a headset on you, give you controllers, let you run through a five-minute really cool immersive experience. And while that's happening, I'm getting just a mass amount of data about how you're moving, what you're paying attention to, so how you're distributing your eye movements, and possibly in the future also how your brain is responding. There's no question in my mind that that will be an incredibly more rich and detailed measurement of your sensory motor function or impairment than is currently capable. So I really think that that's the opportunity for VR is these are low-cost sensory motor measurement devices capable of also providing really immersive experiences. So as a package, I think it just makes a ton of sense as a clinical tool.

[00:35:13.308] Kent Bye: The last medical quote that I wanted to include here was from Carrie Shaw, who's the founder of Embodied Labs. And she happened to lose her mother to Alzheimer's and wanted to use VR as a medium to be able to train other people who are caretakers to be able to understand all the different things that the people that they're taking care of might be going through. So here's her describing her journey of creating Embodied Labs.

[00:35:34.708] Carrie Shaw: This company for me was inspired by my journey as a caregiver for my mom who had early onset Alzheimer's disease. She got diagnosed when I was in my teens and then I went on and I studied public health and then eventually medical illustration and saw how powerful visual communication was and that we could cut through language and cultural and education barriers by having really strong visuals and when I discovered VR I thought what if I could now answer this question I always had about my mom's journey of building a world that would help me see what she was seeing and live her experience and then try and connect that back to being a better caregiver for her.

[00:36:14.210] Kent Bye: So that's actually a really good segue from medical context into educational context, because there's a lot of ways in which that this VR medium can start to improve the way that we learn, not only from early primary education, but also in our higher education and different vocational skills. So here's Aaron Walsh. He's a founder of the immersive education initiative and the organizer of the immersive education conference that I attended back in 2014.

[00:36:37.872] Aaron Walsh: One of the things that virtual worlds give you is the ability to be present in a shared experience, in an environment that is reflective of the learning that is supposed to happen. For example, if I'm teaching American history and I'm sitting in a class and I'm showing some slides on a screen or I'm showing some video, The students are not immersed in American history. They're hearing you talk about American history, and they're watching some video clips, and it's up to them to imagine what it might be like. And as educators, we know that step between presenting information to a learner and them absorbing it and understanding it properly is very, very difficult. You lose a lot of people in that gap. What immersive education allows you to do is put them on the front lines of the Civil War, engaged in a pitched battle with the actual technology at the time, cannons, muskets, fighting for your life, trying to win for your side. So you can immerse them in the experience and have them believe that this is it, I'm in it. The other advantage is simply engagement. We have students who are at risk, who just aren't coming to class, and if they are, they're not tuned in, they're not there. And one of the things that immersive education technologies allow is the ability for a teacher who's presenting the same basic material, but it's in a format that the kids get, they're excited about, they want to be in the virtual world, they want to participate. And when you have that, you have an engagement factor, as most teachers will tell you. If the student is not engaged, their mind isn't active and they aren't learning. So that simple act of using these technologies can change the way a student perceives the material because they're engaged. I'd say engagement and the immersion in the experience are the two major areas.

[00:38:15.457] Kent Bye: There's certainly a ton of potential within education and VR. And in the larger economic aspect, education is usually at the tail end in terms of having enough resources to be able to pull together and actually implement and disperse a lot of these technologies. And someone who was really making a lot of innovative moves in terms of being an ed tech entrepreneur was Kai Frazier, who created this company originally called Curated by Kai, but eventually renamed to Kai XR. She's talking about how she's using this technology to be able to bring access to experiences to underrepresented and marginalized communities.

[00:38:48.021] Kai Fraizer: I am a history teacher by trade. I worked in history museums on top of that. And VR for me was a way for my students who live next to museums, they could not afford the field trips to go to museums. So I wanted to make them virtual reality field trips so they could explore the cool things I was seeing in history museums. So I wanted to make VR experiences that could give them access to the world around them. And I wanted to make sure that they could afford it and that it was accessible. And then they get to see new jobs, careers, opportunities that they never knew existed.

[00:39:15.568] Kent Bye: And Erica Southgate is someone who's written a book called Virtual Reality and Curriculum and Pedagogy Evidence from Secondary Classrooms, also studying the impact of how VR could be used in the context of early education. And one of the things that she was finding was that it's not just about giving access to these experiences, but it's a lot about this aspect of agency and being able to actually be a participant and creator of knowledge within themselves, using the spatial medium to be able to teach their fellow students. So here's what she has to say.

[00:39:42.171] Erica Southgate: Well, I'd like to see it woven into the everyday fabric of the classroom. When you feel like, yeah, you know, that virtual experience will really enhance learning here. You know, it will really add something. It will really build a new skill or develop a new type of learning or allow students an exciting and creative way to demonstrate content mastery, for instance, or learning mastery. I would like to see it embedded as a normal part of the classroom, not in the way that you have often seen these pictures of students sitting in rows with headsets on, being directed to look certain ways. Not in that way, but in a way in which young people have much more control around content creation.

[00:40:21.480] Kent Bye: So this process of content creation, I think, has probably been one of the biggest things holding back virtual reality as a technology because it does require lots of knowledge about 3D production line and optimizing it to be able to run at the correct frame rate and the low latency. And it's just a lot of knowledge that you need to have. And most of that has lived within the game development community. But just as we think about translating all of this different information and knowledge into this new medium, that's quite a project. And so this is what Mark Pesce, who's the co-inventor of VRML back in 1994, is an early markup language thinking about the open web. But he's also a consultant and a speaker and a writer about virtual reality technologies. And here's what he says the potential of virtual reality technologies in terms of sensemaking, but also the task ahead of where we need to go.

[00:41:05.893] Mark Pesce: One of the things that we learned very early on from a project called Virtual NYSE, so this is 98, was that you could increase the human capacity to understand data that was being presented to them, you know if you took text versus well-designed VR, you could do it as much as 5,000 times. So we can make ourselves, I don't want to say smarter, 5,000 times smarter, but perhaps 5,000 times more capable of coming to an understanding. And that's probably your best case approximation. But even if we can do it 100 times, and we can do that on a regular basis, that's an incredible thing. I don't know that that's the final solution, but I think that opens the door to us. And just to the listeners, if you think about reading a page of text versus looking at an infographic: same information, but you're absorbing it almost instantly because it's being presented in a way that we want it presented. We have a generation now to figure out how to take everything we need to know about the world and to present it in a way that makes best sense to us. Once we do that, then maybe we get to start to ask questions about what the final goal is. I think right now what we have is a lot of what's going to be really interesting work, but also very important foundational work.

[00:42:24.274] Kent Bye: So I think that's a really important point, that there's a lot of foundational work still yet to be done. I mean, we're still learning about the language of spatial communication. So how do we translate all this information into this spatial medium? That's something that Mark says is going to take an entire generation. And I think that's probably pretty accurate. But I want to sort of also unpack this concept of having so much more capacity to reach a level of understanding - I mean, there's this old aphorism of a picture is worth a thousand words - so what about when you're able to be immersed within the actual experience being able to make a decision in the moment with all the surrounding contextual information there? That's essentially what has been happening at Strivr, which started with training everything from elite quarterbacks in the NCAA and the NFL to Walmart employees who are preparing for Black Friday, this once a year event that it's not a lot of other opportunities to train for it. So using the virtual reality technologies to be able to put them within the simulation of that context and to be able to see how they behave and to see what decisions they're able to make within that context. And so here's Michael Casale. He's a behavioral neuroscientist and the chief science officer at Strivr.

[00:43:25.817] Michael Casale: As a behavioral scientist, it's just always fascinating to me to think about being able to measure things in a meaningful context, people behaving in meaningful ways. We're able to get the power to really understand what's going on in their mind, moment to moment, through these sensors that can capture a lot of meaningful information easily. And so I think for just me as a behavioral researcher, the more realistic these environments get, the more you can interact like you would in the real world, but also control that environment. Like I was thinking a dozen years ago, man, what if I had the ability to take what I'm doing now, which was this abstract experiment with abstract stimuli on a 2D screen, and put people in a real environment, but one that I can control, so I can really understand how they're gonna react to different social interactions, how they're gonna react to different emotional stressors in their environment, and really get a better understanding of those fundamental things about human behavior, to be able to facilitate and improve and augment learning behaviors. I think that's a pretty cool proposition, so really excited for that.

[00:44:23.737] Kent Bye: So there's a huge difference between book knowledge and actually having the embodied experience. And virtual reality technologies are able to recreate enough of that embodied experience that puts that experience into somebody's body. But also you can test them and be able to put them in these contextual situations and be able to see how they actually perform. Because of that, virtual reality training is one of the biggest applications that I've seen so far. But moving on from education, let's start to look at social VR. Because within the context of these in virtual environments, you also have this sense of other people's social presence. And so this whole concept of social VR has been one of the most compelling aspects of virtual reality technologies. So here's one of the co-founders of VRChat, Jesse Joudrey, at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference back in 2014.

[00:45:05.249] Jesse Joudrey: Being in VRChat is almost the same as being in reality. You show up at a coffee shop to hang out with your friends, you see your friends, you talk to your friends, and you have all the same experiences you would have meeting people in real life. In fact, it's some of the most compelling virtual reality experiences we have so far because the fact that the other characters in your environment are actually other people from around the world, you automatically feel their presence in the room, and their presence in the room affects your presence in the room, and you feel like you are in a real place talking to real people.

[00:45:40.878] Kent Bye: One of the early VR evangelists was Kyle Riesenbeck, who had the Rev VR podcast and was talking to different people around the community, but also spent a lot of time within social VR, especially considering that he was living in the Midwest, completely disconnected from what was happening in the hotspots for where virtual reality technologies were evolving. So here's Kyle talking about his experience of social VR.

[00:46:01.703] Kyle Riesenbeck: I constantly struggle with being in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is the heart of nothing. And the virtual meetups give me an opportunity to interact with people all across the planet. And the VR community is very global. And when you're all sitting in a very intimate little theater or a chat room or a coffee shop or whatever it is we decide to use that day, it doesn't matter where we are physically because we're all in there having that conversation and then you disconnect and it's like thousands of miles have just suddenly been created in between you. It's kind of surreal actually.

[00:46:36.653] Kent Bye: With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, a lot of people started to turn to virtual events and virtual gatherings. A lot of things through 2D interfaces like Zoom, but there was something different about being embodied and immersed within a virtual environment because it actually recreated more of the dynamics that you would have if you were actually in a physical location, being able to locomote around and be able to run into people and chat with people. And one of the events that is really based upon that is Burning Man. So Burning Man had a number of different multiverses across these different platforms, and one of the platforms that they chose was AltspaceVR, because they had this one-to-one scale recreation of Black Rock City within virtual reality. It was absolutely one of the most amazing VR experiences that I've had, but it was also one of the experiences that were able to translate different aspects of a virtual conference and a virtual gathering that started to recreate that running into people in the hallway, serendipitous, what they call playa magic. So, Athena Demos is one of the co-founders of Black Rock City VR, who talks about the role of virtual reality technologies to start to simulate different aspects of Burning Man in 2020.

[00:47:36.138] Athena Demos: Right now, virtual reality is filling an immediate need. The community needs to be together. We come together in little tiny social gatherings and concerts and sporting events and music festivals and we're used to coming together. And we come together and we meet people and ideas are shared and there's this mixing and mingling of ideas, of creativity, of thoughts. And it's a way in which we maintain the web of global consciousness. And because of the pandemic, we've had to shut that engine down. And so the web of global consciousness was rattling. And social VR and BRCvr, that rattling came back together and we were able to share those ideas. We were able to meld and come together and have conversations. And that is the immediate need to keep that web going. And now it's actually happening on the web directly.

[00:48:40.781] Kent Bye: So back in 2014, at the SVVR conference, I had a chance to catch up to Ben Lang, who has been trying to document the evolution of this medium with Road to VR that he created back in 2011, which was a year before the Oculus Rift Kickstarter happened in August of 2012. So Ben had a vision and what he wanted to do with his friends. So here's what he had to say.

[00:49:00.648] Ben Lang: My friends and I, back in the day when we all used to be kind of located near each other, used to like to play poker from time to time and that was a, you know, that was a fun thing that we used to do. I think that we're getting to a point where in the next five years I'll be able to say, hey guys, grab this headset, grab this motion controller, and get this software and we'll be able to have a virtual reality poker game where we can all see our cards and, you know, throw chips at each other as we might have done in the past. You know, I'm really looking forward to being able to recreate that experience, not once a year when I have the chance to fly home or whatever, but being able to have that whenever I want through that virtual connection.

[00:49:34.162] Kent Bye: Ben's prediction that you'd be able to play poker with your friends in VR within five years of 2014 totally came true. You can not only do that, but lots of other things in VR. But this concept of being able to go home and hang out with your friends, but also when you go home, you hang out with your family. And so being able to connect to your family in new and different ways. Sophia Batchelor is a neuroscientist graduate from UC Berkeley who was coming from overseas. I had a chance to talk to her about what she wants to see within virtual reality at the Augmented World Expo back in 2019.

[00:50:02.863] Sophia Batchelor: This isn't the ultimate one, but I want to be able to hug my parents. I get tragically homesick, but I, on my current life path, don't have a way to be home. And so I try and call my parents every week, but sometimes it is hard. You know, I went through an injury which left me unable to walk, and my parents weren't there. And all I wanted to do was to be able to hug my parents. So what if my parents could have been there holographically at my hospital bed? What if my trainer could be there as I was going through rehab when no other person was in the room? You know, it's a uniquely human thing that can connect us.

[00:50:42.775] Kent Bye: So when you think about your home, you also think about memories. Sarah Hill is the CEO and chief storyteller for Story Up, and I talked to her back at VRLA 2016, and this is what she wanted to experience within VR.

[00:50:54.641] Sarah Hill: I really hope that someday, and perhaps somebody is working on this, I would like to go into home movies, you know, movies of our childhood that were in the fixed frame world. I want to step back into my purple-flowered, pink-flowered wallpaper room when I was seven years old on Clark Street in my hometown. I want to go back into, you know, my mother's birthday party and sit at the table. And, you know, maybe somebody's working on that, but I think that for memories, that's a really powerful tool to be able to go inside the experiences that were filmed with a regular fixed frame camera, and perhaps somebody will create an algorithm that we just upload that fixed frame video. And then, you know, much like we used to upload a VHS tape and it was converted to DVD, we can convert a fixed frame video into VR. Because if you figure that out, that's pretty powerful.

[00:51:46.827] Kent Bye: This concept of being able to use VR as a way to capture memories is something that has a lot of potential, but I think it's something we haven't seen a lot of so far. And somebody who really articulated this to me in a profound way was Janie Fitzgerald. She's a still photographer, but back in 1995, she started working with QuickTime VR and making these 360 degree panoramic scenes to document these different places around the world and in some ways start to capture her memory. So she talks about her experience of doing a memory capture of her family.

[00:52:16.045] Janie Fitzgerald: I made a VR of my family recently, just kind of spontaneously, and I went and watched it a week later and I was really moved by it. I didn't think I would be so much because I shoot so much, but when I saw my family sitting there in the living room, us all together, it just continues to be a very emotional experience. When I go back and I look at places that I shot 10, 15 years ago, it's really meaningful to me to be able to trigger those memories. And I mean, it does that when you look at just a regular photograph, too. But when you look at the VR in the headset, it does something, I think, more.

[00:52:58.336] Kent Bye: It's that something more that I think makes VR different than other media. You know, there's something that is allowing us to be fully present and to tap into our embodied memories of these different places. And one of the applications that came out at the fall of 2016 was Google Earth VR, which was, for me, one of the most mind-blowing experiences to be able to go anywhere around the earth, but specifically to go back to my home and different places that I lived and to be able to invoke all these different memories of these different places that I spent so much time during different phases of my life. And so here's Mike Podwal, who's the product manager for Earth VR, talking a little bit about their process for what they were trying to create with Google Earth VR.

[00:53:38.080] Mike Podwal: Google Earth has been around at Google for 10 years, and over that course of time has made access to knowledge about the real world available to everyone for free. And really what we want to do with this app is offer a brand new perspective on how you can explore that data set. It's on the HTC Vive, and that means that you can walk around Earth feeling like you're a giant. You can change your scale, you can stand on buildings, or you can go up to the highest stratospheres of the sky. But it's really just a breathtaking experience to be able to walk over a skyscraper or walk past Mount Fuji. The second thing that we're really excited about is the ability to really, as you said, go anywhere. And as far as we know, this is one of the first apps in VR that enable this kind of experience. So anything from places that are extremely difficult to reach, to places that matter to you personally that you haven't been to in a while, to a city that you've always wanted to visit.

[00:54:29.383] Kent Bye: So this is a good time to bring in augmented reality, because as we're talking about physical locations, you know, you can go into Google Earth VR and be able to go and have these different virtual experiences. But the big strength about augmented reality is that you're going to be embedded into the context of the environment around you, and you're able to overlay different contextual elements on top of it. So I'm going to bring in Sarah Northway, who is one of the co-developers of the game called Fantastic Contraption.

[00:54:54.024] Sarah Northway: I can see it replacing screens for sure, like down the road. Like ask Facebook, why did they buy it, right? Like they're not even that interested in games. They're interested in like people connecting socially and like being in a place and like, you know, all these weird ways that you can use VR that have nothing to do with entertainment necessarily. But I think AR is going to be a big thing, like being able to be in the environment with other people and maybe also sort of in the room that you're in. I really think that in the future we will not have TV screens, we will have glasses. But I don't know how long down the road this is going to be. But this is the start of it. It's very exciting, yeah.

[00:55:30.181] Kent Bye: So if you think about the amount that you use your phone screen or your laptop screen or your tablet screen, I mean, we have screens that are all pervasive within our lives. And the thing about spatial computing in virtual and augmented reality technologies is that we're starting to expand the capabilities of what those screens can do. And for us to be within these virtual environments, rather than something that's mediated through a 2d screen. So there's a lot of different discussions that have happened around AR versus VR. And so here is Raven Zachary, who co-founded Object Theory, which is focused on building HoloLens apps, so augmented reality applications. Here's what he had to say back in 2016.

[00:56:05.780] Raven Zachary: I think you're in this period, and you and I have talked a lot about this, this notion of this divergence period where AR and VR are on very clear, distinct paths, but at some point there will be a period of convergence where now AR and VR come back together. And once we do things like black shutter pixel HMDs where we can go from fully immersive to transparent, we're not going to think of AR and VR separately. We may call the whole space virtual reality. That term is sticking more than AR or mixed reality. So all of this just may be called virtual reality. And it may be as portable today as a HoloLens is. And you can go fully immersive or see through, partially transparent, and to have both sets of experiences. But I'm really excited about this notion of bringing the private personal into the physical world and then new kinds of sharing between human beings.

[00:56:50.765] Kent Bye: So there's been a lot of debates around the language about what we call these things. And I think generally an industry standard that's been emerging is that virtual and augmented reality live within this broader mixed reality spectrum, or more commonly referred to as extended reality, or XR, where the X can mean all the different R's of VR, AR, MR, or it could just mean extended. My podcast is mostly focused on virtual reality, but I did want to bring in one other big aspect of augmented reality, which is Pokemon GO, which came out in 2016. So here's Kayla Kinnunen, who was at the time the Roadhouse Interactive's VR director, talking about her experiences with Pokemon GO.

[00:57:25.058] Kayla Kinnunen: I like going for walks, like I walk to work, I walk around, I don't own a car, I don't even know how to drive, so walking is my primary reason of getting around and just a super enjoyable thing for me to do. So I've always wanted to have games that I can play while walking and Pokemon allows me to do that and it also rewards me for walking. I can hatch my eggs, I can go to different gyms, it allows me to change my direction of what path I take to kind of gamify my walk in a different way. And that's super compelling and super interesting for me because I can also then run into random people that are playing at various points along my route, meet some people. I've talked to more strangers in Vancouver over the last week playing Pokemon GO than I have in the 15 years that I've lived there. Just because you see somebody, you know what they're doing, you have that immediate way of breaking the ice with them and chatting with them about a common interest. And that's really fascinating for me.

[00:58:18.520] Kent Bye: So there are limits in terms of what you can recreate in these virtual reality environments in terms of our touch, our taste, our smells. And so being embedded within an actual environment, you're able to potentially do a lot of things that you couldn't do otherwise. I think it's going to be able to bring together lots of different people and have these emergent contexts that are evolving. But just to kind of wrap up this section, I wanted to hear again from Kayla talking about the other different types of applications that she sees in terms of augmented reality.

[00:58:43.743] Kayla Kinnunen: Sure, so right now it's socially unacceptable to pretty much not have a smartphone. Like if you meet anybody on the street that doesn't have a smartphone, they are at a huge disadvantage. From, you know, wayfinding, Google Maps, to finding the next bus, to keeping connected with people, it's right now almost a cultural imperative to have a smartphone on you at all times. 10 years from now, I could see the same thing happening for a need of having MRAR glasses on at any given time. And that's going to be how we do wayfinding. It's going to be how we figure out when the next bus is coming, because we'll see a heads-up display when that's happening. I could see cities using that as ways to dynamically change how streets work or how spaces work. Maybe streets are designated bike lanes at certain times and car lanes at other times. And maybe the only way you see that is through everyone's heads-up display and their glasses. The way we're going to be integrating talking to computers is going to be through a much more natural human based interaction. So look at more voice interaction with AI holographic bots is going to be the way we kind of talk about stuff. And so we're really going to be looking at the apps are going to change to being more physical objects and physical avatars that we have more human interaction designs with, and they'll just be living in the space with us. And I think the potential there is creating really robust, great experiences that also bring us more connected to the spaces around us and the people around us, and also share our computing experiences in a much more natural way.

[01:00:06.788] Kent Bye: Again, this themes of how we use our phones. Once we have these augmented reality glasses, are they going to replace some of those functions or is it going to be new things that you can do and new ways that we're interacting with these technologies. But as we've had this pandemic over the last year, a lot of people have had to transition into working from home and working remotely. And there's a lot of ways in which that we've just been using these 2D interfaces and missing out of what it feels like to actually be in the same place as somebody. But here's Jeremy Bailenson. He's the founder of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who starts to talk about what these virtual technologies have to do when it comes to work.

[01:00:43.620] Jeremy Bailenson: But my dream application is communication. And so my early work as we began this interview is really about social interaction and communication. I want us to go back. When you watch a movie from the 1970s, you'll often see doctors smoking a cigarette while they're operating on a patient. And you look at that movie and say, what? Can you believe that guy smoking a cigarette in a hospital, like in the room with a patient? You watch that and you say, I can't believe anyone ever did that. I want us to go back 10 years from now and look at the commute. Can you believe people used to pile into these metal boxes and then drive behind one another for an hour each way just so they could sit down at a desk and type on a computer? If you think about 40,000 deaths in the United States last year, 40,000 deaths in car accidents. Think about the productivity loss, the road rage. Just how, obviously, the damage to the environment. It's unbelievable that we're commuting to work. Now, there are some events, of course, that you need to be there for face to face, important meetings, etc. And I'm not trying to say we shouldn't travel, we shouldn't go visit loved ones, we shouldn't go out to bars and hear music. I'm saying that there is a large portion of travel that is not essential.

[01:01:52.389] Kent Bye: As Jeremy says, you know, you're just typing on a computer. Well, it is actually a lot more than that. You're with other people and there are certain ways that we are communicating with each other, with our bodies and stuff that isn't always necessarily translated all that well through these 2D interfaces. And especially having these hybrid work environments where you start to have specific things that you do remotely, where you're in these virtual reality environments working together with other people or potentially using augmented reality to be able to bring in these other virtual remote workers within the spatial context that you're in right there. But this is Darshan Shankar. He is the co-founder of Big Screen VR, which is thinking about the future of virtual reality technologies through the lens of what we're doing with our computers and this new computing paradigm.

[01:02:32.714] Darshan Shankar: The way we look at VR is that it has the power to change the way we use our computers. It's the next computing medium. It's definitely a medium, it's the next medium, but it's also the next computing medium. So the ultimate potential for VR, from our perspective, is that it's how we will use our computers in five to 10 years. The laptop that you buy in a few years doesn't really need a 13-inch screen that's hard to use and constrictive and restrictive, and there's so little you can do with it. Why not just have a laptop without a screen and use a lightweight pair of sunglasses or a VR headset to do your day-to-day computing? So our ultimate vision for VR and the way we see things going, there's going to be plenty of entertainment content, content that we haven't even thought of today. It's going to be great for games. It's going to be great for movie watching and VR films. But it's also going to be great for your day-to-day computing, everything from your email to Reddit to YouTube to whatever you do with your computer today. VR is drastically going to change that in the next few years.

[01:03:32.988] Kent Bye: I think big screen success has shown the degrees in which that you can enjoy these other media within the context of VR. So you can watch a movie, you can play games, you can listen to music. That's a big part why Michael Abrash has coined VR as the final medium. Jeep Barnett is a programmer at Valve who helped to develop the LabVR. And I had a chance to talk to him at GDC of 2016. And here's what he had to say about the ultimate potential of VR.

[01:03:57.649] People call it the final medium because all other mediums can be contained within it. That's probably true on some infinite technological lifetime, and that is the potential. Not only can you contain anything that exists, you can make entirely new worlds and places, and that's going to be really interesting. You know, where I see it going in more the short term, and, you know, we don't know how many years out this stuff is, like, if you asked me three years ago when we would see this technology, I was like, oh, maybe when I'm 80. So, I would like to be able to see, when you go in a restaurant, you see people, you know, take a survey of the room, there's 20% of the people looking at their phone. I think in a couple years, 20% of the people are gonna be paying attention to their VR headset that's a pair of sunglasses at that point, or whatever it looks like. And so I think it's just going to be something that's more casually integrated with our lives just in the same way we have phones where you want a piece of information or somebody's talking to you about their house and they're like, oh yeah, you should check out and see what my new dining room remodel looks like. And you can just check it out while you're sitting there in the restaurant with that sort of thing. I think that's really what I want to see is just it integrated more with our lives in general and in social places where we can talk about and share these experiences.

[01:05:04.643] Kent Bye: So one of the things that VR is doing is combining all these other existing media and putting them all together, whether it's from game design and cinematic storytelling and affordances from human-computer interaction and web design and embodiment and theater and ergonomic design and architecture. So all these different design disciplines are being fused together. And this is a part of a larger trend that Nancy Bennett has seen over the last 30 years. She was the chief content officer at Two Bit Circus when I spoke to her at Sundance 2016. And here's what she had to say in terms of technology's influence of all these different domains coming together.

[01:05:35.944] Nancy Bennett: You know, one of the things that I have seen quite clearly in the past 30 years of being in film and television and tech is the dissolving lines between disciplines, which is magical because you always got stuck, you know, what is it you do? And engineers are as artistic as directors are cinematic and capable of cinematography or editorial art. And I think the more we have the ability to speak with all of the tools and the languages that are in our universe, the more interesting the conversation will be. And I think technology's advances have evaporated those lines.

[01:06:17.282] Kent Bye: As we think about those lines of all these different disciplines starting to be dissolved, architecture is one of those areas that has always tried to be interdisciplinary in the way that they're trying to pull in all these different aspects of the human experience as they build buildings. Keiichi Matsuda is somebody who was trained as an architect and at the time was the vice president of design of this hand tracking company called Leap Motion. And here's what he had to say in terms of the ultimate potential of VR.

[01:06:40.023] Keiichi Matsuda: I suppose this is leading to a situation where the interface becomes so close to us that we're kind of inside it, right? We've been tapping on keyboards, then we've been tapping on screens, and now we're kind of tapping in the air. But I suppose people with their head really in the future have been talking for a while about brain-computer interfaces and ways in which the line between virtuality and physicality can be purely demolished once and for all.

[01:07:05.721] Kent Bye: So that was a bit of a reflection on how these technologies are going to be able to use for work. One of the science fiction tropes that we've heard since 1995 with Snow Crash was the metaverse and this vision of what the metaverse is. Now we don't have a standard definition for what the metaverse is, and it's something that has been aspirational for a lot of people striving towards creating these virtual worlds that you can interact with each other and interoperate between them in different ways. But going back to the Silicon Valley virtuality conference, 2014, Aaron Davies was the head of developer relations at Oculus. And here's what he was saying about the ultimate potential of VR back in 2014.

[01:07:38.056] Aaron Davies: Well, it's the metaverse, right? I mean, we don't argue that we have delivered the metaverse yet. We do argue that we can deliver an amazing sense of presence. But that is the vision. That's the ultimate endgame, right? Is that we can help people not even necessarily escape, but move into an enhanced and a better reality that augments their current life experience, that can help someone who's handicapped to be able to do something that they could never do before, to help someone who's in a specific economic bracket to be able to take advantage of things that wouldn't have previously been accessible. So that's really the vision for us.

[01:08:11.628] Kent Bye: There's been a lot of debate recently around this concept of the metaverse. And Facebook has just recently started to talk a lot more about the metaverse. And there's been more discussions around what this actually means. And Vlad Vukićević, who is one of the creators of WebGL and was working at the time in Mozilla, I talked to him back in 2014. And at that time, he was really thinking about, okay, how do we start to bring the open web to the metaverse? And this was the very early seeds of how he is starting to define what the metaverse might mean.

[01:08:39.431] Vladimir Vukićević: Mozilla has done a lot of work with bringing 3D to the web with WebGL, and more recently we've done a lot of work in the game space with enabling high-performance games with engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, and others. And we feel that we're kind of on the cusp of a VR revolution, and we really want the web to be there as a first-class citizen, part of this new world. We think that the web is a fantastic way to distribute applications, to provide access to content, and we want VR to be there. People often talk about the metaverse and about what the next virtual reality is going to be like. We already have it in 2D and it's called the web. So let's figure out how we actually get that extra VR aspect into it.

[01:09:17.255] Kent Bye: From there, WebVR was eventually created, and then that was deprecated, and then WebXR came about after that. But Philip Rosedale was somebody who was a part of creating Second Life within the closed world garden. And when he was creating High Fidelity, he wanted to take a whole other different approach, which was this vision for how to make it scalable. Here's what he was saying back in 2014 in terms of his concepts of the metaverse.

[01:09:37.663] Philip Rosedale: Well, I think that what we can and will do is create a very large set of interconnected virtual worlds. That said, I think those virtual worlds can actually be adjacent to each other in a larger kind of a metaverse space. So where the internet is linked together by hyperlinks, one text link to one page jumping to another page, I think we can have a door opening on to somebody else's server or even your backyard bordering on, you know, looking out into the sky and seeing Google's planet floating in the distance. I think that's all things that we're going to want to do. And so there are things we're going to enable in the hardware layer. So I think the virtual worlds of the future will probably feel like a fairly well-connected set of spaces, simply because that's a navigational paradigm that we all understand. Now, there will be hidden servers that you can't get to, in the same way there are intranet websites that you can't get to today, unless you're, say, working for that company or whatever.

[01:10:33.725] Kent Bye: So in this vision of an interoperable metaverse, one of the key things is to create as close as an open platform as we possibly can to not have too much things that are locked down into these proprietary closed world gardens. And one of the really encouraging things that happened in the last seven years was the development of some of the open standards to build on top of to create this vision of the open metaverse that we want. We already have the specification for WebXR, but also we have the standardization of some of the fundamental SDKs that you need in creating these different virtual environments, which was eventually released as OpenXR at the end of February 2017 at GDC, where they made the announcement. So here's Joe Ludwig talking about OpenXR and the Khronos Group. He's a programmer at Valve who was a key part of the VR team at Valve.

[01:11:15.474] Joe Ludwig: We started working with Kronos back in October to spin up the standards effort. We basically have most of the VR industry on the platform side is involved in this effort. The standard is going to be called OpenXR. What we're working on right now is very much a standard for the VR industry, which we at Valve think is very important because of the impact that open standards have had on the PC and they've really been the foundation of our whole business. the ability to have this open ecosystem where anyone can participate and innovation can happen in a lot of different quarters all at the same time. There's a ton of functionality that's very much common between the different VR SDKs, and so we at Valve felt like it was time to standardize those things. One of the benefits of having an extensible standard like the one that we're working on with OpenXR is that that standard can form a foundation, and on top of that, you can build extensions that add specific additional features for things like, as you say, different senses, or for new peripherals, or other devices, or other application-facing features. Those can all be added as extensions on top of the common base. Standardizing that common base enables innovation, not just in the software or in the devices, but also in the APIs and the runtimes. That's one of the things we're hoping to accomplish with this standard.

[01:12:28.672] Kent Bye: When I hear people say that VR is just going to be a fad, I don't think they fully understand the level of interoperability and standards that have started to be developed here. OpenXR is something that Oculus announced in July of 2021, that they're going to be moving all of their proprietary SDKs over to this. And it's something that is going to be widely adopted across the XR industry. It's up to debate as to whether or not Apple is going to be adopting some of these standards. As we start to move out of the metaverse and think about these other aspects and applications, one of the things that comes up a lot is the process of storytelling and empathy and sharing experiences with each other. So I wanted to start with Robin Hunicke, who's a game developer and the CEO of Phenomena, and she created an experience called Luna, and this is what she had to say when I first talked to her at PAX back in 2016.

[01:13:13.828] Robin Hunicke: I started doing video games in 2000 and I was one of the first indie game jammers, which is the first game jam ever done. I started as a programmer and a curious sort of designer and ended up working on The Sims and then I went to work with Steven Spielberg on Boom Blox down at EALA. And then I went to work on Journey and Journey was kind of, I looked back after we made it and I was like, wow, you know, in the 10 years since I've been in the industry, games have suddenly become more independent, more artistic, more influential culturally than ever before and it's an awesome time to be a game developer and now I think we have the opportunity to not just be making games but to be making experiences which don't just come from the minds of the people that have already been in our community but really expand our community and reach a lot of young people from all walks of life. People of color, women. I think that now more than ever that there's a real sea change happening and that VR is the place to be for that. That's actually why I wanted Luna to be a VR enabled title even though we will ship it on the PC because we also want people to be able to afford to play it and not everyone can afford a VR headset right now but I think that this medium is going to be accessible to and create creators from so many walks of life and I just think that this is a it's really the golden age of game development and I think VR is a very powerful tool for the empathy, for the connection, for the ability to encourage new ways of seeing the world.

[01:14:40.708] Kent Bye: That cultivation of empathy and having new ways of seeing the world is a theme that I think came up again and again and again. At the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference in 2014, I had a chance to talk to Caitlyn Meeks, who was one of the creators and manager of the Unity Asset Store. And here's what she had to say in terms of the potential of VR.

[01:14:57.773] Caitlyn Meeks: For me, I'm very much an artist, I'm very passionate about the humanities, and I really feel that virtual reality promises to be one of the most significant developments in the humanities. And not just in storytelling, and not just in video games, but in the broader sense of human expression. And we're going to be creating worlds, we're going to be creating realities that can be beautiful, they can be human, they can be horrifying, they can be mechanical and alien. There's so many possibilities. My goal in life as a creative person is I want to see beautiful living morphologies emerge. I want to see worlds, spaces, characters and scenarios that really make us grateful to be alive. Things that we couldn't have in the normal world and things that make us more human in a sense.

[01:15:50.365] Kent Bye: So this potential of VR as a new expression of the humanities is a theme that I've seen over and over again, especially as I go to different film festivals across the country, talking to different directors that usually have a center of gravity within documentary filmmaking or film, as they start to bring some of their skills with being able to tell stories within virtual reality. So here's Paisley Smith. She's a virtual reality director who created Homestay, which was premiering at Toronto International Film Festival in 2018.

[01:16:15.502] Paisley Smith Well, you know, virtual reality has this amazing ability to allow you to connect to someone else's emotion or brain or see something from someone else's perspective. You can literally walk in someone else's shoes. And then you can add this layer of touch and audio and sound that the imagination that you can create with this space is limitless. Like, there's so much room for storytelling. And ultimately, for me, the most important thing there is connections with other people.

[01:16:42.383] Kent Bye: One of the early pioneers of immersive storytelling was Nonny de la Peña, who was bringing a lot of her background in journalism to virtual reality technologies. And she had a piece called Hunger in LA that actually premiered back at Sundance in January of 2012. Again, this is before the Oculus Kickstarter. And in fact, Palmer Luckey was using one of the early Rift prototypes to show Hunger in LA at Sundance in 2012. And so here's Nonny talking a little bit about the audience's reaction to the VR piece that she created.

[01:17:09.576] So one of my audience members, who was actually a reporter also, and she said to me afterwards, I can't stop thinking about what I experienced in your piece. She said, I feel like the memory is in my whole body. And I think that that's a real visceral difference in why there's an empathetic response that seems to me stronger than any other medium I've ever built in. I mean, you remember I did film and TV, and, you know, I've done a lot of other print, and the reactions to me are just unbelievable. And it may be that once you feel like you're there, that the experience is felt through your whole body rather than just seen through your ocular system. And don't get me wrong, you know, we jump in movies. So there's a lot of work about, you know, the whole phenomenology of cinema, of the way cinema makes our bodies feel. But this, where you can walk around and move freely, you seem to feel the story as much as to think it.

[01:18:01.476] Kent Bye: And here's Amelia Winger-Bearskin, who is a VR director and performance artist.

[01:18:06.280] Amelia Winger-Bearskin: I think that as human beings, everything that we make has the potential to be a perfect reflection of us. And I think the most powerful thing that virtual reality could do would be to help us become more empathetic and whole human beings. But that's not just for virtual reality, that's for everything we make has that potential. And it's almost like a requirement.

[01:18:28.557] Kent Bye: So empathy in VR was actually a big theme that started to come up into the public consciousness starting in 2015. Chris Milk had been working on a number of different 360 video projects, one of them with Gabo Arora called Clouds Over Sidra, which was tracing a young teenager's story and her life in the context of a Syrian refugee camp. And then on March 15, 2015, Chris Milk gave his famous TED Talk of how VR was the ultimate empathy machine. This phrase of the empathy machine was first coined back in 2005 when Roger Ebert was actually talking about film. Let's listen to what Gabo Arora has to say in terms of cultivating this experience of empathy within VR.

[01:19:02.688] Gabo Arora: When we did Clouds Over Sidra, I had some sort of intuitive understanding of how I wanted it to be. What I didn't want it to be is what most other PSAs for NGOs or UN stuff does, because those videos don't privilege the story of people. And you know, Paul Bloom, against empathy, and his thing was, You know, empathy doesn't always work because it's a bias because if someone looks like you or feels like you, you're more likely to relate to it. If they're too alien, then you don't feel it, right? And so for me, my thing was how do I get in VR you to feel like that other person even though they're obviously not like you because they are a refugee or they have Ebola, they're in Gaza. But there are that commonality of the human experience. It is those very, as the French say, quotidian, like everyday experiences that really make you connect to them. And then you are surprised. You say, wow, like we're playing soccer. Wow, we're having dinner. Wow, we're in the car. And then they'll tell you a little bit something about their story, about their inner world and their inner life that VR does so incredibly well.

[01:20:08.589] Kent Bye: So there's been lots of debate around VR as an empathy machine and the degree to which that we have this technological determinism, which is a machine that's giving someone empathy. I don't think that anybody's necessarily arguing that that's going to happen, but it does have the opportunity to present this information for you to start to listen to someone else's experience. And I think one of the more powerful experiences that I saw was this piece called Testimony VR, which was by Zohar Kfir, who's an experimental video artist. And the VR part was that when you looked at a clip, it would start to play. When you would look away, it would stop playing. And it created this whole immersive environment where you're able to just sit and listen to these women giving testimony about their direct experiences of sexual assault. So here's Zohar talking about her experience Testimony VR, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April of 2017, which was about six months before the whole Me Too movement started into the public consciousness in October of 2017.

[01:21:00.325] Zohar Kfir: Well, I mean, everyone has been talking about VR as an empathy machine or a tool for generating intimacy. It's kind of like old school news at the moment. But being with a background of experimental video and more on the art side, it's the only medium nowadays when people have like 100% full attention. You are by yourself. It is rare today to really be by yourself and really be attentive to something and be able to explore. I mean, this was my main intention in creating this work in VR. It's because it forces people to really listen. It confronts them with an idea and even like here I see like dozens of people pass by and they look at the sign and it's like, oh, sexual assault, like, and walk away. But then there are the people that see the poster and they will, oh, that's Testimony, the project about sexual assault. And they will sit and most people sit 20, 30 minutes long of a sit and they will watch the whole thing. And then they like lift the headsets and you can see that they really resonated with the testimonies and they really listened. And it's a pure essence of storytelling, the undivided attention that you are in a headset and you can really be in a story.

[01:22:13.481] Kent Bye: As I've been going to these different film festivals around the world, I've been seeing more and more directors with a traditional filmmaking background starting to experiment with virtual reality as a medium. A lot of them are starting with the 360 video medium because it's the closest analog to the storytelling conceits of film. Felix and Paul have been really innovating in terms of how to create this sense of presence within these 360 video scenes. And Felix and Paul actually collaborated with Roger Ross Williams in 2019 on a piece called Traveling While Black. Here's Roger Ross Williams talking about the power of the medium of virtual reality and how it's starting to relate to the broader documentary community.

[01:22:47.107] Roger Ross Williams: Well, I think that documentary is just beginning to explore virtual reality. I took on the challenge because I always want to be challenged myself as a filmmaker, as an artist, but I wasn't prepared for the power that virtual reality has to documentary filmmakers. And I'm the governor of the DOC branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which makes me sort of a leader in the DOC community and well-known in the doc community, and I've been talking to a lot of documentary filmmakers, and I think as documentarians start to explore the possibilities of using this medium, it's going to be a whole new explosion for VR that no one is prepared for, because I think, for me, the best use of VR is in the documentary format. For me, it was a 360. I thought, oh, I have to learn about technology and it has to be like animated or do have all these tricks. But no, it's a simple, basic storytelling that is tested for thousands of years. And that's the power that you can harness with VR. You can bring someone into a simply beautifully told story in a way that you can't in any other format.

[01:24:05.534] Kent Bye: There's some people within the VR community that say that 360 video actually isn't VR at all, that the only thing that's actually VR is these immersive, interactive, CGI-generated experiences. And I don't think that's quite right, because I do think there's some unique aspects of the 360 video medium that is above and beyond what you can do in a normal 2D film. But I think there is value of saying that, well, actually, the real potential of this medium is the interactive participatory aspects of that. So given that, I think that gaming is going to be a huge part of tapping into the inherent nature of what makes the virtual reality medium so powerful. But before we dive into gaming, I think another conception that a lot of people have is that with any new technology, that porn is actually going to be the technological innovator when it comes to these new media. So here's Cris Miranda, who does the InterVR podcast, and he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he started to attend the Silicon Valley virtual reality meetups. So this is his reaction at SVVR 2014 of what he thinks is missing.

[01:25:02.506] Cris Miranda: I don't think there's enough porn. I've been looking around and there's great games, there's a lot of, you know, peripherals and applications, but I haven't seen not a single porn application. And we're talking about, like, the thing that is going to be the killer app here. We're not lying to ourselves here. We know that pornography is going to be one of the driving factors of virtual reality, and yet I haven't seen not a single teledildonics peripheral, I haven't seen a single, you know, Backdoor Sluts 9 sort of iteration for VR, I haven't seen none of that. And so that's interesting to see this year around, I want to know, I wonder what it'll look like next year.

[01:25:38.732] Kent Bye: So flash forward to the year later at SVVR 2015 and Ela Darling is an adult entertainer who had been creating holographic 3D VR porn. And there was a lot of this discussion around the role of pornography when it comes to innovating different aspects of the VR medium. And this is what she had to say back in 2015.

[01:25:55.803] Ela Darling: This is something that a lot of people point to, how porn pushed VHS over Betamax, online payment and streaming video, like porn had a strong hand in those things. That was back in, like, the golden era of porn. Porn today is, it's just not the same porn industry that it once was. And yesterday at the first panel, Palmer Luckey mentioned that porn isn't really pushing anything anymore. And that's actually pretty accurate, I think. Gaming is the thing that's pushing it. We don't have VR headsets because of porn. We have VR headsets because of gaming.

[01:26:29.087] Kent Bye: I think that's right, that the big technological innovator of VR has been video games and has continued to be a lot of video games. Now, that's not to say that there isn't any VR porn, there certainly is. And if there's anything that porn is helping to innovate, it's trying to create an open web ecosystem and other ways of getting access to these experiences because they're not going to be available in a lot of these mainstream stores. And potentially also these other peripherals that continue to be developed, but are not at the bleeding edge of technological innovation, because most of the people who are the early adopters and the innovators are from the video gaming scene. And so VR has started from its consumer launch as being a video game platform. So I'm going to start to dive into some of the different perspectives on games and why games are important. So here's Nathan Burba, who is one of the co-founders of Servios, which created a number of different experiences over the years, but at the time was working on Zombies of the Holodeck. This is at SVVR in 2014.

[01:27:20.736] Nathan Burba: I think virtual reality will let you not only get up and run around outside, but you're actually still inside. It'll let you feel human again. It'll let you feel what people have been feeling throughout time. It'll let you run around and jump and hunt and play sports and really gaming and doing things that involve playing games with other humans. That's what human beings have been doing for thousands of years. And games are very, very fundamental. And games with your body are very, very fundamental, and virtual reality will let us get back to that fundamental humanity that oftentimes in our society with our cars and our sitting down and drinking coffee and you know we don't carve out a portion of our lives to get back to our fundamental humanity which is running around playing games with each other. And so this really allows us to do that and then to explore completely different worlds and plus explore the depths of the human mind and human creativity. So it's really going to be a combination of those two things that makes virtual reality more impactful than literally anything else you can do.

[01:28:15.878] Kent Bye: Some of the games that I really enjoyed playing in the early days of VR were rhythm games like Soundboxing and Audioshield where you actually move your body in synchrony with the rhythm of the music. And at GDC of 2018, there was the first time there was public demos of Beat Saber, which is by and far the largest VR game in all of history. It became a huge smash hit. So I had a chance to play it at the SVR mixer, as well as at the Valve demo booth and a chance to talk to two of the co-founders and creators. So Jaroslav Beck is the composer of a lot of the music. And this is what he had to say in terms of the potential for what Beat Saber could mean for the rest of the industry.

[01:28:51.930] Jaroslav Beck: The reason why I did this soundtrack for this game was that I actually think that this game could help the future because it can bring on the board new players who actually never tried VR before because it's something what is actually fun to play and it's not the game which looks like super awesome you will play it once and then like yeah it's cool but like where's the point to play the same thing again but this actually is challenging it's actually easy for your brain or something that you are like relaxing when you are playing it so you actually want to get back which is not that common in VR and we actually got a lot of comments which sounds kind of incredible that this is the first most viral VR game in the VR history so we actually think that and we will work very hard on it that this game could bring VR industry in general to next level and this is our goal actually.

[01:29:43.319] Kent Bye: Well, there's a lot of prophetic things that were said there in terms of Beat Saber really being an engaging game. But I think the thing that a lot of the executives within Oculus missed for that first year was just how deep and sticky this concept of exercise within VR was going to be. Later that fall, in October of 2018, at the Oculus Connect 5, there was Aaron Stanton, who was a creator of the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, who was rating different virtual reality experiences to try to see what the equivalent of exercise might be. Was it like walking? Is it like being on the elliptical? Is it like running or sprinting? You know, like how many calories are being burned? And this is something that he saw that was happening with the VR industry. But even at that time, John Carmack was still kind of skeptical about the future of exercise within VR. But over time, that's been proven to be correct. But here's what he was saying in terms of the role of fitness and exercise when it comes to the adoption of new technologies.

[01:30:33.730] Aaron Stanton: I was playing AudioShield and I'd played more than 120 hours and I remember thinking to myself, you know, if this is actually exercise, my VR unit is by far the best exercise equipment I've ever owned, right? I have an elliptical and a treadmill and a rowing machine and I have not spent 100 hours on any of them, I promise you, combined or otherwise, right? The reason I think that we're going to get broadsided as an industry by exercise kind of exploding is because if you look at adoption by a non-technical crowd, exercise is one of the areas where technology trends faster than the rest of the market. Because I could not care at all about technology, but a Fitbit for me when I'm trying to get healthy is a big deal. And the number of people out there who are interested in being healthy for various different reasons is quite substantial. And so when you're looking for places where technology makes the leap from the hardcore to the general consumer, that's actually one of the groups that's been a pretty early adopter on a lot of certain things.

[01:31:25.999] Kent Bye: I love that reflection of all the different exercise equipment and never spending as much time as he's spent on the different types of exercise that he's been doing in VR. And I think that's proved out in terms of the ways in which that people are turning to VR to be able to get their exercise, especially during the pandemic. But Paul Bettner is somebody who is a technological innovator when it comes to Words with Friends and the iPhone, and then that sold to Zynga. And then he went on to create the Playful Corporation, which was doing Lucky's Tale. And so this is what he had to say in terms of the potential of gaming at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016.

[01:31:56.448] Paul Bettner: I think gaming is undeniably the most natural fit for virtual reality. I mean, even attempts to create things that people don't want to call games turn out like games, because it's hard to be a purely passive observer, and even then, just the act of looking around can feel active in some ways. So I just think gaming is the next generation's medium. It's the records of this generation, or the motion pictures of this generation, or whatever you want to call it. And virtual reality is its true home. It's interactive entertainment coupled with virtual reality is the most natural thing. And we can even look at science fiction and these things, you know, look at the holodeck in Star Trek. Those experiences, I mean, I don't know if you'd describe them as games, but they're exactly what I've been working my whole career to create, is that type of thing, the ability to truly inhabit a world and interact with it and see what the outcome is and enjoy that experience. And so I think that it's really going to be the only type of experience that is consumed ultimately in virtual reality, is going to be some form of interactive entertainment that we would call a video game, technically.

[01:33:02.645] Kent Bye: I love that point that even looking around within a passive 360 video is a certain degree of agency. And so there is this interactivity that is inherent within these virtual reality technologies. And Nicole Lazzaro is a game designer and a critical theorist who's got a framework talking about the different keys to fun. And she's been consulting in different game development companies over the years. And so she had some very interesting reflections on the ways in which VR is blending different affordances from the cinematic storytelling, as well as the game design.

[01:33:30.030] Nicole Lazzaro: I think the ultimate thing that virtual reality can create are worlds that you could really go in. We're going to be lost in these new experiences. And the sweet spot is they're experiences that you always wanted to have. You know, having a mystery, going to explore the pyramids, going out and doing things that you can't do in real life. You know, if you have on the vertical axis, if you have immersion with movies, you know, from Birth of a Nation to, you know, Inception. And then on the horizontal axis, you have, you know, Pong to, you know, like Mass Effect to Journey, you know, greater and greater emotional agency. So you have agency on one axis and immersion on the other. VR is in that sweet spot of those two interacting. And we won't get there with just language of cinema. We're not going to get there with just classic game design tropes. It's going to be a new kind of experience, but I think it can affect us much more deeply.

[01:34:19.713] Kent Bye: So a lot of what's been happening over the last seven years of people coming into consumer VR is having the first time to be able to experiment and tinker and see what different types of design affordances are coming from other media and fusing all these things together. And Felix and Paul has been really on the frontiers of pushing forward what's possible with cinematic storytelling. And they've been really focusing on cultivating these sense of presence and taking what they know from their backgrounds in filmmaking and cinematic storytelling, but being able to add these additional levels of actually feeling like you're present within these different environments. And so here's Paul Raphaël, who's one of the co-founders of Felix & Paul with Felix Lajeunesse. Here's what he says in terms of the takeaways after creating all these different types of experiences that are cultivating these different degrees of presence.

[01:35:02.955] Paul Raphaël: What I find really interesting is that art often imitates life, but life imitates art. And as we move away from these more abstracted forms of art, such as cinema, no medium has been that close to replicating reality as virtual reality. And as our art becomes that much richer, I believe it's actually going to enrich our lives and just the way we connect to a story but also the sense of presence that we talk a lot about in virtual reality I think is something that can translate to the real world and you know you can talk about presence in the real world well if you spend eight hours a day watching something that doesn't allow you much presence, like a two-dimensional film, versus spending eight hours, eventually, in a virtual environment. Well, once you get out of there, you've been trained to be more present, even in your real life. So I find that very interesting as well.

[01:35:52.897] Kent Bye: So talking about spending eight hours within a virtual reality experience is a good segue into discussing some of the potential ethical and moral dilemmas within these new immersive technologies. I had a very surprising conversation with Karl Krantz at Oculus Connect 2 back in 2015, where he was sharing about an experience of time dilation, meaning that there was a difference in what is perceived time and what the actual time was. And so this experience made him reflect on some of the potential dark sides of where this technology could go.

[01:36:20.569] Karl Krantz: Really, the thing that I think is that VR is going to force us to become better people, because we're going to have to face our demons. I mean, VR games are going to be addictive. There are companies that prey on that in the mobile space. That will carry over to VR. People's lives will get ruined. That's going to happen. But the good, I think, will outweigh the bad. But it means we're going to have to grow as people. We're going to have to really develop self-control, because when you can be anywhere at any time and do anything at any time, you really have to kind of pace yourself, right? You can't just dive in and go hardcore and binge and, yeah, it will have a negative effect on our lives. So I think it'll, by necessity, through kind of a bumpy road, it'll force us to become better, stronger people with more self-control.

[01:37:01.717] Kent Bye: Have you had to face your demons in VR with being able to have that amount of self-control?

[01:37:06.084] Karl Krantz: A little bit. I've had some really weird experiences where I've gone into VR and thought I played for three hours and then came out and realized I had been in there for 12 hours. I've had that happen a couple times, like my sense of time goes all wonky in VR. It's kind of inverse inception, where I feel like I'm in VR for three hours, I'm actually in there for twelve hours. I don't know how that happens. You know, you totally forget about, you know, eating and sleeping and everything else. And it's just like, how did that happen? Where did that time go? It's a little bit troubling for me, because I've had that happen in games where I felt like I was just giving it a little taste, but I realized the whole day is gone. Just like that. So yeah, I've had to face that a little bit.

[01:37:45.127] Kent Bye: I've never had as an extreme experience as Karl had, which is being in VR for twelve hours, but really only think it was three. So I think what Karl is saying is that we have to develop a certain amount of self-control because there are limits in terms of what you can technologically engineer. I mean, there's certain ways that you can maybe ask people to take a pause or a break, but at the end of the day, if people really want to be in these environments and they're more immersive than what's happening in their real life, then that becomes this question, at what point does it become escapist? Or does it become an addiction? And so here's what Philip Rosedale had to say 2014, when he's talking about this degree to which that these virtual worlds were escapist.

[01:38:19.808] Philip Rosedale: I mean, I think that what's happening is technology in this wonderful, relentless set of changes is giving us the ability to create worlds inside the computer which are every bit as sophisticated, complex, navigable, challenging as the real world. And who wouldn't want to go and explore those places? So I think they're only escapist if we're escaping from other people or simplifying things in a way that, you know, we want, but maybe isn't best for us. And that's just not true with virtual worlds. Second Life is a great example where to be really successful in Second Life, you have to be very smart and very entrepreneurial and capable. So is that escapist? I don't know.

[01:38:59.501] Kent Bye: And going back to Karl's point about mobile games and how there's certain games that hack into our fixed action patterns and getting us into these addictive loops, that's certainly happening in other mediums, and it's certainly going to happen within VR as well. It's just more of a matter of how do you navigate it? How do you ensure that you're not going too far? How do you maintain as an individual your right relationships with your life and all your different obligations that you have within your life? And when you start to not live into those obligations, I think that's when you start to get into aspects of addiction. One of the dimensions within virtual reality is same types of toxic, abusive, and trolling behaviors from the 2D realm in the virtual reality environments. And so how to deal with this type of online harassment and trolling is something that has been a fairly significant issue when it comes to different social VR experiences. And so here's Jessica Outlaw, who's a behavioral researcher who was doing a number of different surveys just to get a sense of how pervasive were some of these different abusive behaviors within these social VR environments.

[01:39:51.806] Jessica Outlaw: In 2018, Pluto VR came to me to learn what were people's overall social preferences about social virtual reality. I recruited 600 regular VR users to elicit their preferences and also ask about what were the experiences that they had already had in social VR. And some of the things that we learned were that a third of men have experienced some form of harassment in social VR, and about half of women have experienced sexual harassment inside of social VR.

[01:40:22.004] Kent Bye: I think a lot of times when people hear about sexual harassment abuse within these virtual environments, because it's a virtual reality, then it must not be real. But even though it's in a virtually mediated environment, it can feel just as real as any other type of harassment. Here's Jessica Outlaw talking about her own experience of harassment within VR.

[01:40:39.030] Jessica Outlaw: I would say as someone who has been sexually harassed inside of social VR afterwards, I had intrusive thoughts about the experience. Intrusive thoughts is actually one of the markers, which also frequently occurs in physical assault. And so I think the thing is, well, “it's not real”, like, well, then how do you explain things like intrusive thoughts or other symptoms that other people might bring up?

[01:41:03.428] Kent Bye: Suzanne Leibrick is a VR interface and user experience designer who, as a woman in VR, had personally experienced lots of different experiences of harassment as well, and started to think about what were some of the potential technological solutions to protecting the sanctity of your own personal space. And so here's what she had to say after writing up a post in May of 2016.

[01:41:22.142] Suzanne Leibrick: So I think social VR is something that is really important, especially coming as a woman who has lived on the internet for a while. I've experienced harassment. I know many other women out there have. And for me, the thing about social VR is I don't want a woman's first or anybody's first experience in social VR to be one that's negative, where they're feeling harassed, where their personal space is invaded, or they have people stalking them. I've had experiences where within 30 seconds of being in VR, in a social room, in a female avatar, before I even talk, I'm being harassed. I have people in my face making rude gestures, following me around, sort of teleport-stalking me. So I don't want other people to experience this as their first VR experience because what you're going to end up have happening is you put somebody into social VR, that's their first experience. They're going to take off that headset, put it down, and never go into social VR again. And I want social to be something that everybody can feel like is their space, is somewhere where they can be safe. So I actually started writing about potential design solutions for how you get around these problems, how you allow a user to set their own comfort boundaries. So one of my ideas was to have personal bubbles in any social VR application where you can set what your own personal boundary is. And if somebody crosses that personal boundary, they become invisible to you, you become invisible to them, and no longer have to interact with them.

[01:42:53.737] Kent Bye: Denny Unger back in 2014 at SVVR, he was making a prediction how he saw that most of the biggest innovation was going to be coming from NDE VR development. And for the most part, that's been proven out to be correct. But he also was looking at the influence of Facebook and Oculus in terms of the development of the virtual reality community. So here's what he had to say back in 2014.

[01:43:14.968] Denny Unger: Honestly, I think that there'll be this sort of new renaissance with indie developers doing all kinds of crazy, different VR experiences. I think there'll be a lot of low-hanging fruit, like horror experiences. Not that all horror games are bad, but it's the easiest one to get a rise out of people, especially in VR. But I think that what Oculus is going to be doing with Facebook is ultimately going to drive, or potentially drive, the market. And I think that if, like, Zuckerberg is really enthralled with the metaverse as he says he is, if that's really his thing, then we're going to see sort of a radical transformation of our social online culture and how we interact with each other. That will be sort of the killer VR app. Games will always have their place and we'll do that for entertainment or whatever, but I think the overarching sort of change in society will have to do with interacting in a virtual space for work, for training, for education, all that stuff, yeah.

[01:44:08.293] Kent Bye: So as these technologies continue to diffuse out into the culture and become more and more popular, then they're going to be moving just from being a toy in a game into some of these different social interactions and changing different aspects of culture. And so Shari Frilot is a senior programmer at the Sundance Film Festival, but also the creator of the New Frontier selection of new technology experiences. She started it back in 2007, and the first VR piece was Hunger in LA in 2012. And so she sees how artists and cultural creatives that are really pushing forward what's even possible, and eventually that diffuses out into the culture. So here's what she had to say at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, which is the same year that The Social Dilemma film premiered there.

[01:44:49.623] Shari Frilot: The challenge of the grip, the corporate grip that is on our immersive media environment, whether it's through social media, whether it's through the fact that, you know, a VR headset is the richest data collecting device that we have right now. Like, that is an immersive environment that has become dangerous on a large scale level. Now, that has to be corrected, that has to be engaged, that has to be adjusted, that has to be imploded to a certain extent, or it has to be met with another engagement of immersion and technology. I don't know the answer to that yet, and that's certainly where, as far as I've gotten, is what this show looks like. And that's why my curatorial statement is called Soul Power. I'm going back to the human and calling out the fact that our immersive environment has an agenda that is not really working for our best interests. To call it out, I think, is step one. I'm on step 1.5. Because I always look to the artists to find out, well, what are they doing? They're always making something new. They're inventing something that didn't exist before, and they will tell us the story. They will tell us the answer to this question. I guess the job has always been to stay a couple steps ahead of the devil. To provide a platform for an artist who's inventing something and then in five steps later it gets co-opted and then you just continue to stick with the artist because they're always going to run ahead of it and you know I'd love to find a way to magnify the ability of artists to stay five steps ahead of the devil.

[01:46:32.932] Kent Bye: So part of the reason why these immersed environments are so dangerous is because they can start to collect all sorts of additional physiological and biometric information about what is happening inside of our body and create these psychographic profiles and to doing this advertising that is trying to nudge our behaviors in small and different ways. And when I attended the Experiential Technology Conference in 2017, I had a chance to talk to John Burkhardt, who is a behavior neuroscientist at iMotions, and he was really concerned around taking some of this biometric and physiological data that used to only be within the context of either a medical application or research. And I think Burkhardt, knowing what was possible with physiological and biometric markers, was starting to be concerned in terms of what these surveillance capitalism companies might start to do with this type of data.

[01:47:14.590] John Burkhardt: People think it's a joke, which it's not at all, that the fields of marketing and brainwashing have a long liberal history of borrowing from each other's research. And this sort of technology, this biometric research, slots very, very neatly into both. And, you know, you do have the question of, when you reach the point where you can accumulate so much biometric data with such high fidelity that you can genuinely predict or push somebody's behavior in a very specific direction, At what point along that link does it become unethical? At what point do we have to say, that's enough, we can't push this any further? We're not there yet. We're probably quite a ways from that. But that's the goal of marketing, right? That's the goal of advertising. People are trying to do that. And when do we say stop?

[01:47:59.518] Kent Bye: So there's this unknown ethical threshold that we're operating in where we're okay with some stuff, but how far can we go? When does it start to get creepy? And this is something that also was deeply concerning to Ian Hamilton, who has been covering Oculus since he was at the Orange County Register writing his first articles in 2012. He's since quit and became the senior editor of Upload VR. And I had a chance to talk to him right after the keynote at the F8 Facebook developer conference. And at the top of his mind was the ways in which that these technologies could be going down a dark path. So here's what he had to say in April of 2019.

[01:48:30.268] Ian Hamilton: I basically quit my job as Orange County Register reporter in 2014, right after Facebook acquired Oculus, and bought a DK2 with my final check from the company and started trying to freelance write. And by the next summer, I had my second child. And I keep coming back to them and thinking about their world that they're going to grow up in. And I have to constantly balance whether I'm doing enough to make sure that their world is fair to them. Like, I don't want to grow up in a world where there's so many sensors around us that their choices are taken away from them before they even realize. I constantly think about that. If you are gathering enough data, then you can control choices. And that's alarming as heck. And yeah, that's the ultimate potential of this is control, right? I want to have control over my life and my choices. I want to help my family and other people have more control of their choices. I got to also think about the people who might be trying to work to take those choices away. And I think these technologies can do that in subtle ways we may not even see sneak up on us until they're already here.

[01:49:49.310] Kent Bye: One of the things that behavioral neuroscientist John Burkhardt was telling me is this concept of a fixed action pattern, meaning that you start to get triggered into certain patterns of behavior by a certain stimuli. So can you start to figure out if there are these sequences of these fixed action patterns to be able to subtly manipulate and control people that is undermining their rights to autonomy and agency? So here's how he phrased it back in 2017.

[01:50:13.195] John Burkhardt: The concern is there are a lot of behavioral sequences, behavioral chains that we learn, context-dependent, sure, but a lot of them are common across populations, across individuals. When people get enough biometric data, enough behavioral data, enough neuronal data, and can read the codes from all of these, what happens when they're able to trigger a series of behavioral responses in us? I would argue that's clearly unethical, but at what point is that unethical? We already do that. We already do that with advertising, with marketing, with interactions. And so we're okay with a level of that, but if that goes beyond a certain level, that becomes a very big ethical problem. What is that level? No one's really addressed that question yet.

[01:50:54.647] Kent Bye: At the Consumer Electronics Show back in 2017, I had a chance to run into Sarah Downey, who's a VC investor at Accomplice, and she also has a law background. And so she's very familiar with the relationship between privacy and the different laws and how they relate to a fundamental check and balance of power and government, but also our own rights to privacy. And she just made the comment that there's so much of our privacy that's being eroded that maybe these metaverse places are going to be one of the last bastions of privacy if it is architected from the ground up to be able to ensure that they are private. So here's what she had to say about that.

[01:51:26.531] Sarah Downey: You know, what's interesting is the private space in the physical world is shrinking, often with technology, right? Like there's light posts in various cities that are also cameras. You know, there's cameras everywhere. There's tiny microphones that are surveilling people everywhere. Often it's for things like gunshot detection, right? But the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, is based on a reasonable expectation of privacy. So there's a subjective component to that. It means, what is reasonable? What do people think is reasonable? And that's been eroded a shocking amount over the last 10, 20 years, especially with things like social networks. So there's an actual legal effect of these kinds of things creeping in on us. To me, that's why the metaverse and virtual reality are so much more important in a way, because if somebody designs it correctly, it could be the only really, truly private place that we have.

[01:52:21.165] Kent Bye: In order for the metaverse to really be this last bastion of privacy, Sarah was saying that it really requires this privacy-first architecture, which we haven't necessarily seen. We haven't seen new models around privacy, and it's something that I've been exploring in lots of different podcast interviews. That could be its own whole two-hour episode, just covering a lot of that. But I want to go back to Sarah Downey talking about the importance of privacy and why it's important, because as we transition into the next context here, which is about identity and self-expression. So here's why Sarah Downey says that privacy is so important.

[01:52:50.892] Sarah Downey: To me, the privacy issue is a free speech issue more than anything else, because when you know that you're being watched, when you know you have an audience, you don't say the same things that you would. Like, I say different things around my grandma than I do to my best friend, than I do to my boss. And we all do, and that kind of allows us this sphere of privacy to be who we are and say what we want to say. And I think that the virtual reality world offers the biggest benefits in terms of self-expression, but also some of the biggest risks, if you look at the amount of data and the personalization of that data.

[01:53:21.880] Kent Bye: So a lot of aspects of privacy is putting these contextual boundaries so that you can feel free to fully express yourself. And I think one of the other big dimensions of virtual reality is to be able to create these new contexts, new domains, new rules, to be able to have new social dynamics, but also to create a context that maybe allows you to tap into different aspects of your personality that are hard for you to really tap into. So here's Glenn Cantave, who's an augmented reality artist. Here's what Glenn says in terms of the potential for these immersive technologies.

[01:53:49.131] Glenn Cantave: I think the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality is that it can open up the door for new worlds and new paradigms, new structures, new institutions that can actually benefit the people. You can go into places where the rules are completely different and you can operate in a different space. And you can be you. Whatever you is, there's a place for that. Like right now, the internet is the first iteration of that. If you look at Reddit, there's interests across the board. So why not amplify that into a physical space and just be you? As long as you're not hurting anyone. That's really what it's about. Like everyone has their quirks. Be you.

[01:54:32.882] Kent Bye: There's been a lot of neuroscience research in terms of the impact on us as we embody these different avatar representations. And here's Sook Lei-Liew talking a little bit about that. She's an assistant professor at the University of Southern California and the director of the Neuroplasticity and Neurorehabilitation Lab at USC.

[01:54:48.197] Sook Lei-Liew: And there's been decades of research all throughout neuroscience on this topic of adaptation and plasticity and how fast we can adapt to different scenarios. So I mean, I think that's part of what makes us human. And I think that what virtual reality is, is just another tool that lets us test different plasticity mechanisms, essentially. So it's a tool that we've never had before, but you can actually embody a whole different body. And I think that that part is the most interesting to me.

[01:55:14.093] Kent Bye: And as we are able to embody different types of bodies, then Donna Davis is looking at what is this able to do to open up new opportunities for some demographics. She's an associate professor at the University of Oregon, and she's done a lot of ethnographic research studying the process of forming relationships within these immersive and virtual environments. And so here's what she has to say in terms of the impact of these avatar representations on our expression of our identity.

[01:55:36.762] Donna Davis: VR has an extraordinary opportunity to give people access to visual representations of beings that are nothing more but visual representations. And if we start looking at each other that way, it's just a visual. What's underneath that layer is what's really important. And I think VR is going to give us those opportunities. If we can engage in those spaces in meaningful ways that provide access and opportunity for people regardless of their ability or disability, of their age, race, gender, income level, or any of the other things that create a demographic profile of a person, and to create opportunities to create and learn from each other, and to engage with one another, just as other humans, but in digital form. I think we could learn a lot about each other globally in ways that might help us get through some of the prickly things that are happening in our world today.

[01:56:42.586] Kent Bye: I think there's certainly a lot of things of what Donna is saying is true, but there's also the potential risk of thinking that virtual reality technologies can be completely colorblind and ignore a lot of the real aspects of systemic oppression that we have in our society. Jenn Duong is someone who has been advocating for diversity and inclusion within the broader industry. Jen was a co-founder of SHIFT, which stands for the Shaping Holistic Inclusion Within Future Technology. And so here's what she had to say back in 2016.

[01:57:08.147] Jenn Duong: I hope that this is something that turns into a completely different generation in terms of we're not so biased against each other and we're not living within social constructions anymore and it's not scary to be different. It's not scary to do something that's outside of the norm and I hope that, I think VR has this ability to open minds. It's really opened my mind into realizing that the way I see the world through my eyes is going to be completely different than the way you see the world through your eyes.

[01:57:37.872] Kent Bye: So M Eifler is a XR artist who is a part of the LLVR Research Collective and also identifies with a number of different intersectional identities. M talks about how virtual reality can start to deal with some of these different intersectional identities.

[01:57:52.508] M Eifler: New ways of thinking, new ways of developing mental flexibility from a very young age, developing ways of changing the category that you currently have someone placed in. We're in this very sort of intersectional state right now, intersectional feminism and people with non-binary genders and like this kind of thing and people with you know, like mixed race backgrounds, the categories that we've lived with for a long time in human culture are starting to fade and get a little more flexible. And I think that VR is a great tool and AR is a great tool for developing that mental flexibility for a wider range of things.

[01:58:31.247] Kent Bye: Nitzan Bartov is an architect and game designer who was a part of a Hyphen Labs collective that created the Neurospeculative Afrofeminism, which was at Sundance of 2017, and this is what she had to say in terms of the ultimate potential of VR.

[01:58:43.621] Nitzan Bartov: I think it's a great medium to allow people with disabilities to have broader experiences, to explore, to be abled through that embodied experiences and have tailored interactions that would allow them to have like full agency in VR. And that's like one path that I think can really help humanity and VR as a valid technology that's more than a form of entertainment.

[01:59:14.515] Kent Bye: Following on on that point of giving access to new types of experiences, the Immersive Education Summit 2014, I met Inarra Saarinen, who is a founder at this ballet company within Second Life, where they were doing these dances within the context of Second Life, giving access to people who wouldn't normally have access to this type of experience. And here's what she had to say about that.

[01:59:34.403] Inarra Saarinen: My name is Inara Saarinen, and I'm the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of Ballet Pixel, which is a company that performs all original ballets in the virtual world of Second Life. And we have dancers who dance through avatars, What they say is that they really get the kinesthetic experience of performing, and some of the dancers may be physically disabled, some are retired, some have been hurt, some never could afford to take dance classes, all kinds of different backgrounds, and they're able to really get on stage, really perform, they're really dancing, they're not scripted robots, And they get an emotional feeling of what it's like to be on stage and dance.

[02:00:24.297] Kent Bye: So the final point of this section of talking about accessibility and diversity and inclusion, but also identity, is Andreea Cojocaru, who's an architect and founding partner at Numina. She's been thinking about this intersection between architecture and embodiment and identity. And so here's what she had to say and what virtual reality is doing in terms of her own sense of herself.

[02:00:43.771] Andreea Cojocaru: The ultimate potential of virtual reality is to make you feel like another you. It's the connection between who we are, not in the sense of, okay, I'm female, I'm blah blah, in the sense of how does it feel to be me because it feels in a certain way to be me and it feels in a certain way to be you and I'll never experience how it feels to be you or anyone else, I'll just always experience how it feels to be me, which is a totally random thing because i was just born into being me and I'll never break out of that. But the ultimate goal is to find a way to break out of that. Because there are certain key experiences that are so profound that shake us in such a deep level that we don't know what hit us. And I think when that happens, that I don't know what hit me, that is that shaking up of who I am. For that one millisecond, I wasn't Andrea anymore. And then my way of tackling that is through space and through asking the question, where am I? With the implication that asking where am I is asking who am I?

[02:01:51.608] Kent Bye: So moving on to the next section is looking at some of the deeper philosophical implications. And I think a good place to start is with Colum Slevin, who, when I talked to him at Sundance 2019, was the head of experience at Oculus.

[02:02:02.711] Colum Slevin: I believe, you know, cinema was the defining art form of the 20th century. It existed because of the collision between art and science. It existed because people would push technological boundaries and then creators would respond by putting those technologies to use and to tell stories. I think the ultimate potential for VR is a hundred times that. You know that this technology, once these possible experiences start to unlock and start to unravel, I think the sky's the limit. So I think it's fundamentally a transformational and transcendent medium and I think that it's going to be ubiquitous and it's not a matter of if but when.

[02:02:40.646] Kent Bye: I agree with column that there are so many different compelling aspects of the virtual reality medium that it does seem like it's a matter of when not if the other part is how much more powerful it can be. And what is it about that? I think there was one experience that I saw back at Sundance of 2016. It was called Perspective Chapter 2: The Misdemeanor, a story of two cops that were engaging with two young black teenagers and arresting them and one of them gets shot. And so it ends up cutting between those four different perspectives from four different episodes. So you watch four of the episodes and you get all four of the perspectives of the entirety of the experience. So this is Rose Troche talking about some of the insights that she had from creating this piece called Perspective.

[02:03:18.942] Rose Troche: You have the opportunity to see it from all four people's perspective. You have opportunity to see the whole story. But if you're sort of pro the kids or pro the cops, like, you're going to choose who you see, so it presents a challenge to the viewer. The key factor in this piece is that everybody in the entire thing makes mistakes. That's all part of the narrative. So if you look at being all four of these people, what I hope is that you have sympathy all around. The piece is absolutely about using 360 for where your eye is. It's challenging the first-person perspective. The first-person perspective is faulty. We all know that, like, people have been, like, put in jail for the rest of their lives and have been put on death row from a first-person's account. So the piece is really to show you, in this really subtle way, being in a body and being there is not having an objective opinion about what happened. It's only having a completely subjective experience and your influence by how one tells a story.

[02:04:16.705] Kent Bye: So there's something about the virtual reality medium that is focusing on your perspective and being able to embody different points of view and being able to gain new insights on things as you are changing different perspectives, which is something that's been explored within film, but I think within VR, it's something that is endemic to the medium itself. So here's Catherine Rehwinkel. She's a filmmaker who had recently finished her master's degree in computational and systems thinking at NYU in 2016 when I talked to her.

[02:04:42.430] Catherine Rehwinkel: Filmmaking is watching a string of events from a certain perspective, and that gives you a certain level of certainty about those events. Because you are seeing those events from that perspective, you know that that is how you are meant to view the events. And I think now we need pluralistic perspectives. We need to be able to make choices about how we view events based on our specific situation. You know, Donna Haraway talks about situated knowledges, like the importance of being able to acknowledge that where you're viewing phenomena from impacts your understanding of the phenomena and then in turn impacts the phenomena. And VR in general holds the promise of opening people's minds to understanding that there is no one way to view events. And if you can change the idea that there's not just one way to see reality, reality becomes emergent if you can view reality from different perspectives.

[02:05:52.484] Kent Bye: As I look back on it, I think Catherine Rehwinkel bringing in these different aspects of feminist philosophy with Donna Haraway and situated knowledges and pluralism started to open up my mind in terms of the deeper philosophical implications and principles that are really driving what this medium is and what it means. And the idea of pluralism, meaning you're able to accommodate many different perspectives, and there's a certain amount of which our culture is in these deeply polarized points of view and perspectives, and that you kind of have to choose one or the other. And to really resolve some of those tensions, you have to be willing to sit in the tension of those opposites, of those competing different perspectives. And so Marilyn Schlitz is someone who is a social anthropologist and consciousness researcher who is the former president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which has been on the frontier of consciousness research since the 70s. And so she's got this amazing perspective that I keep coming back to, which are these fundamental capacities that we need to be able to learn to be able to survive in the 21st century, and how these immersive and virtual reality technologies can start to help train us. And so here's what she had to say at the IONS conference in 2017.

[02:06:50.453] Marilyn Schlitz: One of the most fundamental skill sets we're going to need for the 21st century is our ability to manage paradox and to be able to live in a situation that isn't this or that. It's both and possibly a lot of other things, things beyond our normal sensory range. We know more and more that we have all these inattentional blindnesses. There are vast realms of possibility that we never track because we don't expect to see them, we're not cognitively wired for that. So that's where you start to see something like virtual reality offering a window into this multi-dimensional nature. And that's where I think some of these immersion experiences can you know, give people a little opening to that. So another skill set for the 21st century, I would say, in addition to paradox, is this ability to hold the multiplicity of ontologies and recognize that there are these kind of meta-ontologies, which are, we're all different. We all see the world through a different frame and that we need to recognize that because that controls us. And for the most part, these worldviews are invisible to us. We don't know that we have this navigation system that's been conditioned into us throughout our whole life. And so, first of all, becoming aware. And I think virtual reality and some of these tools could help us to become more aware of where we're tripping ourselves up. And then to know that other people have alternative worldviews and that we may conflict with those perspectives, which we see in the world today. There's also co-option. One truth system tries to dominate another one, which is problematic. And then there's this creative convergence where we recognize that we are living in different little reality places. and that maybe we need to learn the skills of interaction, of empathy, of compassion, whatever the tool set is, in order to really be able to effectively understand and learn from people representing these different truth systems. And then, you know, maybe there are these non-dual aspects that ultimately all the different truth systems meet someplace, and it is that great singularity. These are just possibilities, but we're here at this Institute of Noetic Sciences conference, and it's all about possibilities, so why not?

[02:09:05.258] Kent Bye: So this concept of being able to give someone an immersive experience that opens up their mind to be able to see the world in a new way, I think is a theme that I hear in a lot of different immersive pieces and creators that are really pushing the edge and innovation of what's possible with these immersive storytelling media. One in particular is Punch Drunk and Sleep No More is this famous immersive theater piece that's in New York City that opened in 2011. But they've also been dabbling and experimenting with virtual reality technologies in different ways. They created this piece called Believe Your Eyes, which I happened to see during the Venice Film Festival 2019 in a separate exhibition by the Phi Gallery. And I had a chance to talk to Kath Duggan, who is with Punch Drunk and one of the directors and co-creators of the Believe Your Eyes VR piece. Here's what she had to say about the ultimate potential of VR.

[02:09:47.988] Kath Duggan: I still really feel like it's allowing the audience to look at the world around them and the people around them through different eyes, even for a moment. Because I think you'll have a different connection with that world. And the experience of looking at the world around you differently can allow for different personal human interactions after having an immersive experience.

[02:10:16.802] Kent Bye: You know, the importance of seeing the world in a different way is that the Institute of Noetic Sciences have often said that, you know, a lot of the biggest crises that we have in the world today is more of a crisis of consciousness. And so at the IONS conference of 2017, I had a chance to speak to the president at the time, Cassandra Vieten, talking about some of what she sees as the ultimate potential and promise of virtual reality technologies.

[02:10:37.538] Cassandra Vieten And I think the promise of virtual reality is that people can go into a realm of consciousness where they can play with these ideas in ways that you just can't do. Like, the most mundane example is we teach people to meditate and we say, please pay attention to your breathing. Well, a lot of people have a really, really, really, really hard time doing that. There are now virtual reality apps where you say “pay attention to your breathing” and you see when you breathe out a sparkly cloud go out of your mouth and then a sparkly cloud go back in when you breathe in. So for people who have a hard time imagining, that's just a beautiful training wheels or scaffolding for that experience. So I think there's just enormous potential. I think we've barely scratched the surface into the science of consciousness and I think that if we can be as bold and courageous as people were when they were flying to the moon at inside of ourselves, really looking at the core of our consciousness and how we think, the really important point here is that every major problem that's facing society and humanity right now, almost every major problem other than let's say natural disasters, are caused in part by limitations in human consciousness or they can be solved by a shift in human consciousness. So if you look at inequality, racism, sexism, imprisonment, environmental degradation, climate change, war, violence, sex trafficking, anything that people are worried about, it's something about humans thinking in a totally messed up way. So if we can start to investigate how people think and experience the world and how to shift how they think and experience the world, that is key to the future of humanity more than any other technological development that we could be involved in.

[02:12:35.341] Kent Bye: So being able to use different communication media to bring about specific change within society, not only requires changing the thinking, but also changing the actions, which is a big point that Michaela French was making. She's been creating large scale immersive full dome experiences since 1999. And At the IDFA DocLab in 2019, I had a chance to see her climate crimes piece, which was trying to connect the dots between our actions that we're doing as an individual and what is happening on the impact of the world and how we can start to bring about some collective change. So here's what she has to say about the inherent value of virtual reality technologies.

[02:13:08.990] Michaela French: I think the best they can enable is changing thinking. That's the best they can enable. And that possibly, with a bit of luck, they might change action as a result. That's the best they can do. I think it's dangerous territory to think that they in themselves are something of value because it actually relies on action as an outcome to make change. Change doesn't come only through thinking, it comes from action.

[02:13:43.021] Kent Bye: One of my own personal experiences of being changed by a virtual reality experience happened in 2017 in Park City, seeing a piece by Danfung Dennis and Condition ONE, it was called Fierce Compassion or also known as Operation Aspen VR. They went into a factory farming for chickens and they did this direct action where they were not only saving chickens that were about to die, but also showing the living conditions of these different chickens. There was something about being immersed in that environment, being able to see the conditions that really made me make a consumer choice to only buy cage-free chickens and to not buy chickens that had been caged. So that was one example of me having an immersive experience and then changing my direct action afterwards. And so I had a chance to talk to Danfung in 2017, and he had this broader vision for what the potential of VR could do.

[02:14:27.380] Danfung Dennis: I believe it has the potential to relieve all suffering. I think it is a tool for us to improve ourselves and get out of this dark time that we're in, and to evolve into a more moral species, in one that we respect all other human beings, all other species, and the environment around us. And it will allow us to cultivate this feeling of unity, that we are all in this together. We are all passing through this life and we will pass out of it and we will go back to that same source. So I think there is this tremendous potential to cultivate compassion, to relieve the suffering of others.

[02:15:15.050] Kent Bye: You know, as I listen to that, I obviously hear a lot of the Buddhist influences. What would it mean to relieve the suffering of all others? That would mean operating in a way that is in right relationship. So as we start to move on to the next section, I wanted to dive into this concept of world building and speculative design, starting with Adi Robertson, who's a senior reporter for The Verge, who's done quite a bit of reporting on VR and different immersive storytelling experiences.

[02:15:37.372] Adi Robertson: I guess there's the ultimate potential of virtual reality as it exists, which is that it could become a really interesting medium in the way that games are an interesting medium, that it lets us do things that we don't know how to do in art right now. And then there's the potential of Matrix VR. which is that we could literally design any world that we wanted and change the way that we see reality. And I think that the first thing is kind of keeping us from the second thing because it makes us limit our imaginations and I'm hoping that that changes, but I think that that's just this amazing science fiction dream that everyone has.

[02:16:14.348] Kent Bye: Science fiction certainly had a huge impact on the development of virtual reality technologies as a whole. And here's Blair Renaud, who's an indie VR developer, talking about the role of science fiction in the context of his cyberpunk VR experiences that he's been creating.

[02:16:26.999] Blair Renaud: The thing about good sci-fi is that it's kind of predictive, right? So like all of the good sci-fi novels have generally, something from them has come to fruition. So I keep that in mind. So in Technolust we've got like 3D printing has become ubiquitous, which is happening right now. Government corruption based on corporate takeover and whatnot. So that kind of near-future sci-fi stuff, it's a no-brainer right now, right? And it fits well with cyberpunk. And as far as the game goes, the technology of virtual reality itself affords a lot of opportunities to do things that you could never enjoy or even think of in a standard game, like, jacking into virtual reality from within virtual reality and then having, like, a back end into the program inside that secondary virtual reality, right? Like, layers of reality, which I think is going to be really neat and a little mind-blowing for some people

[02:17:28.966] Kent Bye: Arthur Gillard is a VR enthusiast who's been looking at the role of virtual reality technologies to be able to invoke these different aspects of lucid dreaming. And he had some interesting insights in terms of this process of collective dreaming a better future.

[02:17:41.592] Arthur Gillard: Virtual reality can be a way of collectively dreaming better futures. Like, if we create models of societies or ways of being or practices or relationships or anything, and experiment with them in virtual reality, which, as with dreaming, is a consequence-free environment, free from constraints or judgment, and we can play with possibilities and figure out what kind of societies do we want to have, what works better, and try to create more utopia scenarios rather than dystopia. And so I think that virtual reality potentially offers us a way to collectively dream better futures into being.

[02:18:23.756] Kent Bye: Arthur goes on to specifically call out Monika Bielskyte, who is a futurist and science fiction world builder who has been advocating for these concepts of protopia, which is different than utopia, this idealized state of perfection. Kevin Kelly originally coined this concept of protopia, which is much more the idea that we're just trying to progress and to move forward in incremental tiny improvements, and that these minor improvements every year over year, that's compounded over decades to be able to become better and better civilizations. So Monika gives her vision of how she starts to interpret how virtual reality technologies can start to be used to imagine these different potential protopia futures.

[02:18:58.722] Monika Bielskyte: When I speak about science fiction, I try to remind people that it's actually not the technologists, not the Sergey Brin's and Elon Musk's and Larry Page's that are the most powerful agents of the future. I firmly believe that it's those who control the fantasy that control the future. It's people that create fictions, right? Because fictions, if they're compelling at all, always bleed back into reality. And all of these biggest technologists and scientists initially were inspired by something to go and build technologies for this particular world that they thought that they want to inhabit. And it usually started with a science fiction book or a movie or a game or something like that. And so that power of imagining a reality that we can be in and that we can be part of should never be underestimated. And today, when we are mostly experiencing the reality of violence and indifference and cruelty and ignorance, we keep creating technologies for that kind of world. And if we could bring people, not just in a format of a film, which is still a storytelling, a narrative, but really bring people into this alternative reality that is about caring, caring for each other, caring for the environment, caring for our own bodies, caring for our own minds, caring for our own souls as well. That reality of listening, that reality of being attentive, that reality where success is not monetary, where success is not about what you get but what you contribute, and would make it compelling enough, then maybe, maybe, the future generation of scientists, technologists, innovators could set out to try and build that kind of world that would make us believe that a different kind of world is possible. A world that is more conscious and a world that is more caring.

[02:21:03.711] Kent Bye: So I think this process of speculative worldbuilding, a future in a world that doesn't quite yet exist, is something that I think is extremely powerful. And it's something that I've seen in the context of indigenous futurism in a series of different experiences that I saw at the Symposium IX conference back in 2018. And I talked to Jason Edward Lewis, who's a part of the Aboriginal Territories of Cyberspace, who created a number of different VR experiences with different indigenous creators. And so here's Jason talking a little bit more about these indigenous futurism experiments of speculative worldbuilding and immersive storytelling.

[02:21:33.043] Jason Edward Lewis: I co-direct a research network called Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, or AbTeC, and we do a variety of different things, sort of all revolving around looking at how Native people and Native communities are using digital media technology of all sorts. We've done some virtual reality work. We produced a couple pieces as part of a series called 2167. This was a collaboration between our Initiative for Indigenous Futures, the Toronto International Film Festival, and imaginNATIVE Film and Media Festival, which is the world's largest indigenous media festival, where we invited, at the end, five indigenous artists to make VR pieces, and the context that we gave them was, imagine 150 years in the future, what will life look like for your family, your community, indigenous people in general in North America. And that was a response to the celebrations up here in Canada of the 150 years of Confederation, which is very loosely analogous to say Independence Day down in the United States. You know, essentially it's a celebration of 150 years of colonialism. That's not the sort of thing that Native people are really excited about celebrating. And so we, the partners in the project, decided that we wanted to spend our time thinking about the future and what the future might bring. You know, there's often a narrative of discontinuity when it comes to talking about Native people on this continent and, you know, that everything got broken and shattered and da-da-da-da-da. You know, clearly things got broken, but we didn't get broken in a fundamental sense. And internally, the people that I know, they see a narrative of continuity and evolution. And so we like to think in terms of, not necessarily say just before colonization or during colonization, but just in sort of the long sweep of history and thinking about where things might be going.

[02:23:24.640] Kent Bye: This power of world building is something that Kamal Sinclair was able to experience firsthand with all the years that she spent in Sundance New Frontier program. And she eventually left and went to become the founding executive director of the Guild of Future Architects. She had these different world building practices that she started to bring together these different artists and creators and writers. And during the pandemic, they had done all these different brainstorming sessions looking at Octavia Butler's work, and at Sundance 2021, they had a series of different speculative design pieces called Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler. So here's Kamal Sinclair talking about this process of worldbuilding and speculative design.

[02:23:59.797] Kamal Sinclair: One of the big learnings that I personally had an opportunity to see in the New Frontier community was the power of the practices like world building that came out of the gaming space, connecting with the power of cinematic storytelling, interactive storytelling, all of these things. And, in looking deeply at the world building work, particularly I was influenced by Afrofuturists like Adrienne Maree Brown, when Sundance had done some work with the Detroit community around allied media projects and seeing how workers in the work of racial justice and all the different kinds of areas of social justice were really recalibrating the conversation from not just a look at what our history has been, but look what our present is in terms of systems of oppression, but let's also really have a liberation of our mind by allowing ourselves to have the audacity of bold imaginations around a future where those systems are not in place, where there is a healing from that trauma, where there is a future of reconciliation and where people's potentials are unleashed and we can all benefit from being in that much more healthy space. And then also I've been working with Alex McDowell through Sundance at the Worldbuilding Institute and we created a residency together around the future of work. And by going through that process of looking at how creative foresight, collaborative foresight, the dynamics of that for not only imagining worlds that we could actually potentially move into through our actions, but also really the kind of healing relationship of liberating our minds from calcified understandings of what has to be.

[02:25:39.938] Kent Bye: One of the collaborators with Kamal Sinclair was Ari Melenciano, who's a creative technologist and the founder of Afrotectopia. And here's what she had to say in terms of the potential and power of using these immersive technologies for world building and speculative design.

[02:25:52.569] Ari Melenciano: The more you practice these ideas, they start to manifest. And I think that's just a really important thing to do, especially within the Black community, of just, I learned a long time ago of a part of the brain that shrinks because of trauma and PTSD and just all the experiences that you're navigating through as a person of a marginalized community. And so when that happens, it's very difficult to imagine futures and to just even think of what you're going to do next week because you're constantly thinking day to day. So I think to flip that and to give people an opportunity to think vastly in the future and then potentially work backwards is, OK, what do I need to do now so that I'm a great ancestor to the people that are coming behind me? I think that's just a really important practice and it ends up manifesting in really healthy ways.

[02:26:33.511] Kent Bye: Being able to think vastly in the future reminds me of this indigenous concept of the seven generations, where you're able to project out far into the future to escape a lot of the inertia from the culture and the institutions, where you're able to maybe think about how things could shift. And maybe in the short term is not as realistic, but thinking out into the far future, you're able to have this world that you want to start to live into. And I think that's the power of this world building. So moving on from future dreaming and speculative design, let's move on to this process of consciousness hacking. So I'm going to start with this quote from Cassandra Vieten, who was the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, but this was at the Awaken Futures Summit in 2019. This was looking at the intersections between psychedelics, different contemplative spiritual practices, as well as these immersive technologies, and what can happen when you start to blend all these things together. One of the big points that Cassandra was making was that we have different ways in which our genes are expressed within our context. And so can it change our gene expression as we're going into these immersive environments and changing our context? Can we actually unlock some type of latent human potential?

[02:27:32.841] Cassandra Vieten: One of the things we can do in virtual reality, and to an extent in augmented reality, and certainly happens in psychedelics, is that we temporarily are freed from the limits of Newtonian physics. So in virtual reality you can walk through walls, you can fly, you can... do all kinds of things. You can even shift the environment to be all one color or to be moving. You know, there's limitless things that you can do to that illusory environment. And I think that there's the possibility that when we are exposed to those environments, it won't just change how we think about things, but it'll change us at a molecular level. and that possibly we have capacities that we don't even know exist because we've never been exposed to those conditions before.

[02:28:27.293] Kent Bye: unlocking certain latent human potentials was certainly a theme that was explored in Lawnmower Man. You know, it makes me think back to the principles of neuroplasticity and the way that James Blaha was able to basically train his brain to be able to see in 3D for the first time. Are there other ways in which that these immersive technologies can allow us to train our bodies to do something that up to this point had never really been possible to do before? Unlocking these latent human potentials that we don't even fully understand yet. I think that's exciting to think about. But this other trend of transformation and integrating these different spiritual and contemplative practices is something that Mikey Seagel, the founder of consciousness hacking, was thinking about for a long time. And I had a chance to talk to him at the Institute of Noetic\'s conference in 2017. And here's his vision in terms of the capability of all these different transformative modalities and technologies connected to us through some sort of smart artificial intelligent matching program.

[02:29:18.073] Mikey Seagel: One of the spaces of development that I think is really interesting is solving what I call the matching problem. The matching problem is where, on one hand, you've got tens of thousands of different interventions, from meditation techniques and yogic techniques to different types of therapy, even different types of technologies or breathing patterns, whatever it is, exercise approaches. And then on the other hand, you have lots and lots of people that are in need, people that are suffering, people that are looking to actually be helped in some way. And you have a whole kind of spiritual marketplace that exists right now where basically it's sort of marketing that's casting all these wide nets trying to draw people in and the matching is happening on basically who is attracted to what type of marketing, its kind of how it works, right? And most of what happens is kind of a one-size-fits-all approach. So Eckhart Tolle, or whoever, will, like, publish a book and expect that everyone that reads this thing has to conform to that one book, right? But the amazing thing about technology is it can do something different. It can be dynamic. It can actually use large amounts of data to help understand things better. It's infinitely patient. And it has a certain type of potential intelligence. And so what I see as emerging is an AI system, sort of like the way Netflix works, that can begin to match, as a marketplace, these interventions to the people that are in need. And the way this is showing up is starting off pretty simple, sort of very, a coarse kind of way. You know, you show up, you fill out a bunch of stuff, almost like a dating website about your personality, what your needs are, what you want. Maybe you even use some sensors to kind of measure where your brain is at, where your heart is at. and then it might leverage data from 100,000 other people that have done the same thing and say, okay, actually, the thing that you should focus on right now is like yoga and running, or you need to change your diet in this way, and also you should try this kind of transcendental meditation. But as this thing progresses and gets more sophisticated, you could imagine that maybe it starts to seem a bit more like Siri, or maybe it doesn't say to you, oh, you should try transcendental meditation, maybe it actually guides you in a meditation. And maybe while it's guiding you in the meditation, it's actually monitoring your brain and your heart. And it's actually changing the words. And it's changing the tone of voice. And it's changing the subtle nuances of how it's guiding you to best meet you and match you. And then maybe it helps you by like throwing out a few things on Amazon that you should order that are healthy kinds of foods or something like that, and then maybe it guides you to take a walk in the park, you know, and it can sort of be multimodal and weave into different aspects of your life. And so imagine now that this intelligence, if it's not corrupted, right, by greed or by fear, but really stays with the true intention, gets more sophisticated and more intelligent and more sophisticated and more intelligent. All of a sudden what you've created is an incredibly powerful artificial intelligence, but one whose sole purpose has evolved over time to get better and better and better and better at understanding what people's needs are on their own transformative or developmental path, and understanding how to interface with them to best move them along that path.

[02:32:49.255] Kent Bye: Part of the underlying assumption of this world that Mikey Seagel is putting forth is that some of these technologies are really looking out for our deepest best interest. I think a lot of the technology platforms are created in a context where they're not always looking after our best interest. There's a piece at the Sundance 2021 called Beyond the Breakdown, which was doing a lot of speculative world building as a collaborative conversation and thinking about designing different AI to help us not only facilitate conversations, but manage your own personal transformation. So here's Lauren Lee McCarthy, who's an artist who was working on Beyond the Breakdown, thinking about these concepts of ancestral AI and different peer-driven and community-owned technologies that go beyond the baseline of consumer capitalism.

[02:33:29.232] Lauren Lee McCarthy: We are surrounded by software and technology where the values behind it are dubious. You know, we don't have a lot of say into what values they're based on. They don't necessarily align with ours. People are often seen as the product within these apps where your data is the thing that's being taken and sold. So yes, there's a lot of user experience design that we encounter, but it's not necessarily designed to empower us to make or live in the world that we necessarily want to be. So with this experience, we were really trying to think about like, what would it look like to build technology that's directly based on the values that we shared as communities? You know, maybe it needs to be less of a top-down model of the company model, and we need to start making things that are more community-based and responding to our immediate needs and desires and intentions.

[02:34:20.613] Kent Bye: So the next section that I want to dig into a little bit here was this concept of a simulation. What does it mean for us to be inside of simulations? And what is happening with our own perception within itself as a simulation within our mind? And so here's Robin Arnott. He's a VR developer of the experience called SoundSelf and also the author of a technodelic manifesto of how to use VR to transform our consciousness.

[02:34:40.747] Robin Arnott: I think one of the real potentials of virtual reality is to teach us something about reality. So your mind allows you to simulate things. And to try things on. You get to run a simulation in your mind. You know, what happens if I just, I don't know, I'm at the post office and I'm pissed off. What happens if I just hit the postal worker? If I just hit them? Well, I could run that through in my mind as a simulation, and I could decide not to do that, because, you know, I could run better simulations than that. So we have this incredible capacity, and I think it's unique to humans. Maybe dolphins and whales can do this too, I don't know. But as far as I know, it's unique to humans. We have this incredible capacity to run simulations. That's kind of what the mind is for. So much so that we tend to lose touch with baseline reality because we just live in those simulations in so many ways. I think that virtual reality can not only give us another layer of simulation to run, to run on and run in and share with each other, but it can also, because you can't really easily slip your mind off and on again - we do that when we go to sleep, and we can do that with meditation, but for the most part - Another way to do this, this is a great thing to do! I really - this is, this is, I'm going to give this as homework to everyone listening right now. A colleague of mine talks about having temporary belief systems, which means to go out in the world and find something that you don't believe, and rather than rejecting it, take it in and allow yourself to actually really believe it. And you can always let go of it later, but that's the kind of virtual reality right there. And I've done that with lots and lots of different things and it's taught me so much and sometimes it's really genuinely changed my mind and other times it's just given me a more sophisticated understanding of my reality. So this is a long-winded way to go about once we're in VR and we're used to taking on and putting on headsets and taking on and putting on different realities and co-creating different realities. I think it might not only be another layer of simulation we can run, but also be, like, add complexity and richness to our own relationships with our own personal simulations that we're running all the time. And with that flexibility, give us more practice of compassion for the simulations that other people are running when they might not happen to be running the simulations that are the same as us or conveniently, let's say, non-abrasive to our own simulations.

[02:37:14.203] Kent Bye: this concept that we may be living in a simulation goes back to the matrix and even further back into philosophy. But in 2003, Nick Bostrom talks about the simulation hypothesis. And then Elon Musk in June of 2016, was asked at the code conference whether or not he thought we live in a simulation, and he believes that we actually are already living in a simulation. So this simulation theory is something that has been a part of the modern resurgence of virtual reality technologies. And so So here's just a number of different quotes in terms of what's it mean to be able to create a simulation and be in a simulation and the underlying metaphysical possibility that we may already be in a simulation.

[02:37:48.582] Paul Bettner: In some ways, perhaps it could be said that the reality we live in now could be someone else's virtual reality. And so if you think about it that way, what we're building now could potentially be the beginning of that. It could be the beginning of a whole other existence, a whole other universe. I mean, it's hard not to imagine that that's where it would get. In my mind, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. And sure, when could be hundreds of years. I don't, you know, who knows, depending on whether you subscribe to Kurzweil or whether you subscribe to, you know, like, different people have different opinions of this, but I do think we're standing on the precipice of the last most important medium. And, we're just going to tumble into it. Like, we're not, like, going to gently glide down, that's just not how technology works. The human race is just going to fall into this. And I don't think any of us can imagine what that's going to mean in 10 years. But I try to describe it to people, and it just sounds ridiculous. But then again, if you had tried to describe a bunch of people walking around with iPhones 15 years ago, it would have seemed utterly ridiculous, the things that we do with this technology. So, the impact that this technology will have is virtually limitless across all fields and all human experiences And we're just seeing like the 1% of the 1% of that right now, but it will happen so quickly.

[02:39:06.937] Kent Bye: There's some people within the VR community who have already gone full in into this simulation theory. So here's VR director and producer Celine Tricart

[02:39:10.312] Celine Tricart: You know, I'm one of those weirdos who think we are in some kind of simulation right now. So we are creating another layer of simulation on top of all the simulations. And I guess if whatever we do, we do it in this kind, loving mindset, I think we can make the next layer more safe and happier than this one, and that's what I hope virtual reality will help create.

[02:39:43.225] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have no way of knowing whether or not we live in a simulation or not, but I really appreciated this perspective from Hassan Karaouni, who was one of the winners of the Oculus Launchpad, and I had a chance to talk to him at the Oculus Connect 3, 2016.

[02:39:56.273] Hassan Karaouni: You know, I am totally open to the fact that we might be living in a simulation. It is tough to come to terms with, you know, because it's different than what I've thought for a long time. But I will also say that if we're not in a simulation, it's to be expected that one day we will create a simulation and things in that simulation will be having these same thoughts. I like to think about how writing programs as a computer scientist, like, you press play and everything comes to life in a way, at least for a brief amount of time, and then you hit the stop button. So we're already starting to make simulations in a way. They're like somewhat more basic than what we're talking about right now, but it's totally reasonable to think that one day we will get to that point. So then it becomes the question of, why wouldn't we be the ones in the simulation? Maybe we are the simulation, or if not, we're going to create it. But we'll see.

[02:40:53.922] Kent Bye: For me, I don't like the simulation theory personally, even though I've featured a number of different perspectives, I think it's part of the conversation. But for me, I think there's a deeper part of potential and this ability for us to actually be a co-creator of the world that is unfolding, that it's not completely decided. You could still have simulations that are like that, but still within the context of a simulation, you're bounded by what has been coded within that simulation. So, I want to just throw in a perspective here from Matt Segall, who's a process philosopher looking at the work of Alfred North Whitehead, who's got a very specific perspective on this concept of potential.

[02:41:26.037] Matt Segall: Our universe itself contains potentials because the future is not yet decided upon. And in the present, there's this cresting wave of potential where creative decisions are being made as to which potentials to actualize. And Whitehead develops a systematic interpretation of the relationship between potentiality and actuality. This is how he unifies relativity and quantum theory, by understanding the role of potential in nature, because the classical picture of a mechanistic universe left no room for potential. And even in Einstein's favored interpretation of relativity, there's no room for potential either. The future is just in the fourth dimension already actualized. It's just that our illusory perceptual experience doesn't give us access to that. You know, so Einstein and Bohm as well tend to have more of a view of the universe as an eternal whole that's kind of already finished from the God's eye perspective, whereas Whitehead has a very different vision of a universe that is still in the making.

[02:42:35.158] Kent Bye: So I personally really resonate with this concept that the universe is still in the making and that there's certain potentials and that we're able to participate. If you look at virtual reality as a medium and video games generally as well, it's this whole concept that their agency and your participation can actually dictate how things unfold. And that's a big part of where this future of immersion is coming from, is that you have that plausibility. And a lot of the plausibility comes by being able to interact and see that things are listening to you, that it's a medium that is paying attention to your actions and being able to respond accordingly. So I think that's a big part of the virtual reality as a medium, is this whole concept of the potential in your participation. And it's an unknown question as to how far deep that participation goes. But let's move on to this next section, talking about the concepts of resources. And as we move into more of these virtual representations, then can that create new dynamics of what is often referred to as the experience economy? So here's Robin Hunicke again, talking about how she sees the potential of these virtually mediated experiences to be able to change our relationship to material reality.

[02:43:34.720] Robin Hunicke: I think the ultimate potential is that it can give people the sense of having things without having things. I think that there's a really great way of supplementing our need for things and our need for experiences with the imagery of those things. In the same way that films and books can give you access to the emotional interior of characters that you will never meet, I think that virtual experiences can give you access to physical places and emotional experiences that you couldn't possibly have had - due to your scale, or the planet that you were born on, and the way that you breathe air - all those things. I think it's very possible to expand beyond many many of our physical limitations in those experiences and that's really powerful. Whether we decide to build a universe of jump scare experiences and shooters or whether we do the other thing is, that's a whole different discussion, but I think that the potential is there.

[02:44:28.785] Kent Bye: This is a theme that came up again and again, moving into an experience-based economy. The title of the book that Jeremy Bailenson wrote in 2019 is called Experience on Demand. I did an interview with the CEO of a haptics company that was originally called Axon VR, but they renamed to Haptics. And Jake Rubin expands upon this concept of virtual reality as an experience machine.

[02:44:49.047] Jake Rubin: …because human life is experience. And, you know, beyond our basic needs of food and water and shelter, everything that we value is ultimately an experience. And so when you have an experience machine, which is what we're building and what a lot of other people in this community are working toward building, then you can create any of those experiences, and it takes this, you know, I think of the sphere of experiences that we all can have on a day-to-day basis, and it's this tiny little, you know, dot of experiences within this massive volume of experiences that we can imagine and that we would want to have. You know, we want to fly, we want to go live on Mars, and that dot in the middle is the experiences that we can practically, feasibly have on a day-to-day basis, limited by economics, by the laws of physics. Virtual reality, augmented reality, you know, ultimately this level of realism removes all those constraints. And so it opens up almost the entirety of that sphere. And I think the impact of having that much of a possibility space on humanity is going to be just enormous.

[02:45:45.159] Kent Bye: So Tipatat Chennavasin is a general partner of the VR Fund, which has been an early stage venture capital investor for a bunch of different VR and AR companies. And for a long time, he was really looking at this transition into this experience-based economy. So this is what he has to say in terms of the implication of this experience economy.

[02:46:03.285] Tipatat Chennavasin: But then, you know, I also think with VR, we're going to do just interesting things where I would love to see us move away from a materialistic economy, where we value goods and things that we own, but if we can replicate it virtually and make it feel just as good or more compelling, and if we can give access to experiences like traveling around the world and being more cultured, but do it in a way that has no environmental impact or doesn't cost too much money, then we can really move to, like, an experience-based economy. Do I really care to have a nice fancy car when, you know, I can fly in a spaceship, right? Like, no! And so this idea of like, okay, well, you know what, what is important? You know, it's not what I own. It's what I do and who I spend time with, right? And I feel like that idea is very powerful and very interesting, and what I get excited for, for what VR and AR can bring about.

[02:46:51.425] Kent Bye: Hilmar Petursson is the CEO of CCP Games, and he's done a lot of thinking about virtual worlds and digital economies. And this is what he had to say back in 2015, after giving a whole lecture about the future of economies within these virtual worlds.

[02:47:05.518] Hilmar Petursson: I think through virtual reality we will be able to transcend our current bodily and physical limitations in a way that a Buddhist monk can, just in his brain. But I think we can create a world where you can have amazing experiences, where you can do things where you can only dream of today, and it's not going to hurt one atom on the earth.

[02:47:33.086] Kent Bye: So not hurting one atom of the earth is really emphasizing this relationality between ourselves and the technology in the world around us. And in order to really be sustainable as we move forward, we have to create a world where we're in right relationship to the world around us. In some ways, we need a big paradigm shift into creating more of that relationality. One philosopher that I look to is Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy, which is really emphasizing the relational nature of our reality, not only at the core level, but also how we relate to the world around us. And a lot of his ideas have really fed into the development of this more ecological way of thinking. So Matt Segall, the Whitehead scholar and process philosopher, asked him about the ultimate potential of process philosophy. And so this is what he had to say, what that type of relational thinking could bring.

[02:48:18.530] Matt Segall: I mean, there are so many implications. Most importantly, perhaps, it would allow us to reevaluate our values and to have a sense of value not as a human construct and certainly not as just a monetary construct. I think right now, the dominant cosmology or religion, if you will, is consumer capitalism. And there's a certain conception of value, a very reductionistic conception of value that is our common sense right now, which is that if it's not worth money, it's not worth anything. And that's not completely all pervasive yet, but it's certainly rushing in that direction. Everything about human life, every facet is being modified. And Whitehead's conception of value allows us to just break us out of that narrow, anthropocentric, solipsistic, self-enclosed bubble to recognize that we are one member of an Earth community, and the health of that community is absolutely essential to our existence as a species, and that our commodified understanding of value has been ignoring the presence of these other species and their values, the things that they need to live. And as a result, we've been sawing off the limb that we are perched upon, and we desperately need renewed sources of value that are cosmically grounded, and ecologically grounded, because if we don't break out of our anthropocentrism, we're going to destroy ourselves. And Whitehead's view, because it is so grounded in the sciences, I hope will be especially convincing to the technocratic elites that are shaping the worldview that's currently dominant on the planet. He can speak the language of modern science and he can point the way towards an interpretation of the sciences that reveals these deeper sources of value.

[02:50:21.121] Kent Bye: So this shift from thinking about things in terms of these isolated aspects into more of how things are related to each other in these processes and these relationships, I think is a big part of that. And as we go into this shift from 2D computing into spatial computing, I think we're also making this additional shift from the physicality and the real into the virtual and these experience-based economies. We're just having these relationships to these representations and these experiences. And as long as it's able to replicate the heart of that experience, then you start to unlock all sorts of different capabilities of what type of things are going to be more widely available. So just as books are able to capture information and knowledge, virtual reality technologies are able to capture the essence of the human experience. So Jules Urbach is the CEO and co-founder of OTOY. They've been working on a lot of different rendering and digital light field technologies. And so this is what Jules has to say in terms of the ultimate potential of VR.

[02:51:10.767] Jules Urbach: I'd like it to be a great equalizer in the sense that, I mean, if we were to talk about virtual reality in the way I was just describing with these light field displays where you could actually be anywhere, you didn't have to go to places to experience things and to learn things and to go to school or to have opportunities. That's something that is really interesting. Now, also, I think as far as, you know, being able to learn things in spatial ways, I mean, that's also pretty great. But the potential is simply the digitization of the physical world. I mean, if you just don't need to actually have things other than maybe medicine and food that's 3D printed, energy comes from the sun or fusion reactors. I mean, it really, what we've seen with humanity is that when physical things that we thought we needed get digitized, whether it's, you know, DVDs that now, you know, we have video on demand and, you know, newspapers get turned into basically, you know, the internet webpage. I mean, when that happens with everything in the physical world, things will change. And I think that has to start with things like energy and fossil fuels. But I do think that people's homes and their lives and just the standard of living will go up when things are holographically beamed into your ambient environment and you can experience that with everyone else in the world at the same time. That would be amazing. So that's my vision for VR.

[02:52:14.693] Kent Bye: So there's this aspiration to recreate different aspects of reality that are indistinguishable from reality. Android Jones is a visionary artist and VR developer and calls himself a digital painter who is creating this immersive body of art. And his work tends to have a lot of influences to psychedelics and altered states of consciousness. And through that, he's become a little bit more skeptical in terms of to what degree can we start to recreate different aspects of reality.

[02:52:37.953] Android Jones: If you look at Pong, and you look at these new games coming out, and you look at the disparity between the two, and you're going to say, oh, in another decade, it's going to be indistinguishable. I think that's a total fallacy. If you think that what we can do with technology is ever going to recreate the molecular resolution of reality, you're not paying close enough attention to how amazing the world is around you right now. I can't imagine the amount of fractal algorithms, maybe AI could do that, but little monkey brains? Not in my lifetime. No way. Putting that out there. However, if we were to develop VR and if there was some type of like chemical that was injected at the same time as the headset went on that put the mind in like a more flexible, like a lucid state, kind of like a dream, and maybe it's not a chemical, maybe it's some type of like a binaural beat, or maybe we find some way of like hacking an electrical charge that releases like a serotonin or an endorphin. But if we could figure that out, I think we could get to the place where a virtual reality experience would feel quote-unquote real, like the real world is. Because our versions of reality are incredibly subjective. There's a lot of wiggle room in what we consider real and not real. And I think that's the aspect from the psychedelic experience that's taught me time after time again. Like as soon as I think I have something figured out, or I'm like at the zenith of the pinnacle, I realize I'm like a fly on the windshield, you know? And that upper eschaton has an eschaton behind it. And again and again, from like a fractal nature, even going back to the sutras, like nothing's new. It's all this dance of maya, like recreating itself. And I think it's exciting to really be a part of that right now.

[02:54:21.087] Kent Bye: So I agree with Android that it's going to be difficult to replicate the molecular level of reality, and that it is quite amazing. But I do think that there are going to be certain experiences that are going to be good enough to be able to have within these virtual reality experiences. You know, one of the first times that really hit me was at Oculus Connect One back in September of 2014, when I was talking to an architect who was talking about the ultimate potential of VR. So this is Jon Brouchoud, who's an architect at Arch Virtual, talking about what he sees as the ultimate potential of VR.

[02:54:48.015] Jon Brouchoud: I sort of have this vision or a fantasy at some point the fidelity of virtual reality will get so real that it'll be indistinguishable from reality and in my world you know building virtual creations of architecture before construction starts I have this imaginary idea that someday people will be standing in the space considering whether they should build this building and what's wrong or what's right about it and they'll realize that they no longer have to actually build it because they're already in it together talking and meeting and collaborating and And I see that as the ultimate in sustainability. There couldn't be anything greener than not building a building at all. And so I see it as the ultimate in sustainability. And that's something I think we're talking about many, many years from now. But it could be a pretty amazing day when we can interact and build any kind of architecture we want on the fly and not actually have to build it in the real world.

[02:55:39.012] Kent Bye: And as we're talking about the virtual and real, I want to go to Jaron Lanier, who is one of the pioneers of virtual reality and also coined the phrase of virtual reality. He's a computer scientist and composer, artist, author, and philosopher who's done a lot of thinking about the ethics and possibilities of these technologies, especially VR technologies. And so I had a chance to talk to him in 2018, and this is what he said in terms of some of the ultimate potential of VR.

[02:56:03.099] Jaron Lanier: To me personally, the greatest gift of virtuality is the moment when you take off the headset and I think you can perceive reality then with fresh eyes, because you never get a chance to compare reality to much. And I think this clarity about this miracle that is reality, it's easy to take that for granted, but it's actually astonishing, and I think virtuality will forever be lesser in a way, you know. It's one of my predictions is that people will keep on getting more sensitive as VR improves, so we'll always be able to tell what's virtual and what's real. And so I think just giving us the gift of appreciating reality is the best thing virtuality can do. So in a way, negating itself is its most sacred mission.

[02:56:39.232] Kent Bye: So I think that's a really provocative idea that as we continue to progress that virtual reality will keep getting better, but our ability to be able to discern the differences between the virtual simulation and actual reality will continue to become more and more refined. And so in some ways, it's training our senses to be more appreciative of the reality that's around us. And this is actually a concept that I had heard from somebody else who's been an innovator and pioneer in the world of virtual reality, which is Tom Furness, who has been working nonstop in virtual reality for well over 50 years now, since the middle of the 60s in the Air Force and all the different things that he's done with the original early days of augmented and virtual reality, then creating the HIT Lab in Seattle. And he's gone on and created the Virtual World Society. And so I distinctly remember talking to him in 2015 in Seattle, being really surprised by his answer to the ultimate potential of VR.

[02:57:28.003] Tom Furness: The ultimate reality is reality. You know, nothing takes the place of the real world. Virtual reality will help us realize how incredible the real world is. We can appreciate its parts better than we could otherwise. But there's some things you can't do in a real world. Like fly and walk at the speed of light and turn yourself into a teapot and visit with people that are around the world that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise - go to places you wouldn't be able to go. So I believe that this transportation system for our senses, it will unlock intelligence and link minds. And I see this future as making the world more a village and more a community of cooperation. So I believe that we have an opportunity to lift our civilization by bringing these minds together.

[02:58:14.250] Kent Bye: So there you go. That's a little bit of a tour of the ultimate potential of VR. First thousand episodes of The Voices of VR and lots of different insights across many domains of human experience. And for me, I come back to this is a technology that can help us connect more to ourselves, to connect more to each other, to connect to the Earth and the world around us and all dimensions of reality. So thanks for taking this journey with me on this episode number 1000 and helping to celebrate a little bit. And I just wanted to give a shout out to all my Patreon supporters who I wouldn't have been able to do this podcast for as long as I have without your support. And if you would like to support this podcast, and please do consider becoming a member of the Patreon over at Patreon.com/VoicesofVR. It's been really quite interesting to be able to capture this history as it's been unfolding and to go back and listen to what we thought about way back when. And there's still so much stuff that I've recorded and haven't released yet. I mean, about two-thirds of the stuff that I've captured so far I've been able to release. And so I've got hundreds of other unpublished interviews. So I hope to be able to continue to dig into a lot of these different historical interviews, but also to track the evolution of the medium as it continues to unfold. As I've started to look at the future of these technologies, I think that if we look at and really interrogate these technologies through the lens of the human experience, then we can at least have at least some sense of where this is all going. And like I've covered in this podcast, there's lots of ethical and moral dilemmas that have yet to be resolved. But this technology is like a mirror. It's like reflecting these things back to us. And it's catalyzing us to try to grow and evolve as a culture, but also to figure out what are the other things that we need in terms of the laws and what do we need in terms of our culture. And what do we need in terms of the technological architecture and maybe even the market dynamics to really facilitate the most exalted potential of this technology? Again, it's really up for us as a culture to collaborate in this process of future dreaming into what the possibilities might be. And thank you for participating in this ongoing dialogue and conversation as we continue to figure out the ultimate potential of VR. Thanks for listening.

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