#952: XR Association Industry Survey & Lobbying Congress on XR Policy

The XR Association is a non-profit 501(c)(6) trade association with members including Facebook/Oculus, Google, Microsoft, Sony, & HTC. They’re focused on general awareness and education, lobbying Congress on XR policy issues, and promoting research and best practices. On September 20th, 2020, they released results from an industry survey covering “A New Reality in Immersive Technology” within Healthcare, Education, Job Training, Retail, Manufacturing, and Public Safety.

elizabeth-hymanI had a chance to talk with XRA CEO Elizabeth Hyman on September 28th to talk about the results of their survey, a bit of history and context of the XR Association, the Reality Caucus and Future of Work Caucus, their recent Supercharging the Virtual Workforce Webinar, previous relationships between trade associations and consumer privacy advocates, as well some of their overall strategies for educating and lobbying the U.S. Congress on policy issues that are relevant to the XR industry.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So in today's episode, I have Liz Hyman. She's the CEO of the XR Association. So the XR Association is a trade association. That means that there's all these big XR companies, including Facebook slash Oculus, Google, Microsoft, Sony, HTC, and Samsung was original founder of this group, but they've since dropped off since their strategy with XR is kind of up in the air right now. Apple's not on this and valve also is not on this but it's a lot of the big major XR companies that They're trying to come up with the things that they can agree upon at a policy level So it's a trade association. That means that they're able to lobby Congress and specific policy positions but also just generally educate them as to what XR technologies are what some of the considerations might be and But they're also able to do other things to be able to promote a common business interest and to improve the business conditions of an industry. So whatever that means in terms of doing surveys, education, and other things that could be supporting the larger XR industry. So the XR Association, they did a survey just kind of looking at what some of the trends are within the XR community, talking to about 750 different end users, focusing on specific topics just to see like what the awareness of XR is and what the common trends that they see based upon this survey. But they're also ramping up to start to deal with some of the different policy issues. And so just helping to interface with the Reality Caucus and the Future of Work Caucus in the United States Congress, and just generally do these different educational sessions and interface with the policy level of the US government. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Liz happened on Monday, September 28th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:57.471] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, great. Well, Kent, thanks for having me today. And so my name is Liz Hyman, and I'm the CEO of the XR Association. The XR Association is a nonprofit industry trade association, and we represent the headset manufacturers, the hardware manufacturers in the AR, VR, MR space. And I have been on board with them for a little over a year. It's been a fantastic year, very exciting. I come to this with sort of a varied background. I started in government way back when and had the honor to serve at the Department of Justice and at the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and at the Executive Office of the President. So as a young person, that was like an incredible opportunity to get to see and experience all of that. And then I practiced a little law because I have a law degree. And then I went on and joined a trade association back in 2005, the Consumer Technology Association, and started their international trade practice area and was really just taken with the technology back then, although I have an earlier story for when I sort of was first sentient about it all and then went to the Computing Technology Industry Association, which is another industry trade association for technology. I was there for about nine years and led their government relations efforts and then was thrilled to have the opportunity to come over and be the first CEO for the XR Association.

[00:03:30.317] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was just looking through your, your LinkedIn last night and seeing a variety of different places. You've been on a lot of different places, uh, and quite an impressive journey that you've had in your career. So maybe you could just give me a bit more context as to the XR association, what it is and when it came about exactly.

[00:03:48.235] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, absolutely. So the companies themselves actually got together back in late 2016, early 2017. And they felt very strongly that this was an incredibly exciting and great area of technology that the future is very bright. But there were certain common areas that they needed to come around to help with sort of the responsible growth and advancement of the technology. that they wanted to get out ahead of certain conversations that had taken place with other technologies. So thinking about sort of user comfort and safety, thinking about things like online safety in a 3D environment, starting to think about some of the conversations around regulatory and legal frameworks, And how could the companies come together and collaborate in those discussion areas? So they created a trade association. There were six companies originally. One has dropped off as they're trying to reframe where they're going to be in the VR market. But we have some great members. We have Facebook and Oculus. We have Google, Microsoft, Sony, HTC. And I've been just really thrilled to be able to work with them on sort of three pillars of the organization and one is public policy and we know that there are going to be significant conversations around regulatory and legal frameworks and Right now, we feel that a really good contribution here is to be able to educate policymakers about the technology, that we want them well informed so that as we partner and work with them over time, that it isn't sort of a blank slate, that they're not familiar with what these technologies do, what kind of data is involved, what kind of audiences are involved, how this all works. And so right now, sort of job number one is how can we do a better job of educating say, members of Congress or those in the administration or executive branch, maybe in the state and local level. So we're working on all of that. The second pillar of the organization is just general awareness. And you and I had the pleasure of participating in a conference over the weekend where there are some incredible thought leaders in the medical space when it comes to XR. And how do we take all this information and get it out there into the public again so that there's an understanding of what the technology is, how it works, and that we're starting to build a level of trust for the technology as we proceed in the future. And then the third area of the organization that we're really focused on is research and best practices. And we want to create and establish partnerships with researchers, academics, scientists, others, and within our own companies, we've been trying to bring together all of the experts, whether it's for user experience or product development, legal communications, you name it, and translate information into best practices. These are not normative. These are recommendations for the broader XR industry. on things around user safety, online safety, we are creating a guide, a developer's guide that can be used by developers and technology platforms so that there's sort of a recommended set of guidance that helps us to organize around these important issues and develop content and other concepts for the technology in a really good and useful way. So those are the three pillars of the organization. I hope that gets to some of the context that you were looking for.

[00:07:27.242] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really helpful. And I guess one of my frustrations that I've had with the XR industry is that it's taken five to six years for this XR association to even exist, because this is something that we've needed from the beginning. And that each of these companies have marketing budgets to sell their headsets. They have developer relations budgets to interact with developers. But all the things you're talking about in terms of like cultivating an ecosystem and this awareness building, and you know, there's a whole other policy angle that I'm sure we'll be able to dive into. But I guess I'm left with, why did it take so long? Like, why did it take four to five to six years for this to exist when we've really needed this from the beginning?

[00:08:04.141] Elizabeth Hyman: Well, I feel like they actually were moving in that direction. And as I said, back in 2016 is when they first started to come together. And they actually worked together to create the first version of the developer's guide. That was put out a couple years ago before I actually started with the organization. I'd love to be able to take credit for it, but it was there before I started. So I understand what you're saying, but I think there has been movement steadily. And now we're accelerating that process because there came a point where it was like, okay, we need to build out the infrastructure of this organization. And I was, you know, very honored to get tapped on the shoulder to do that. It's been a little interesting during the year of COVID to try to do that, but we've brought some great people on board. And, you know, I feel like we've in one year put a lot on the table and we're going to continue to accelerate through.

[00:08:55.675] Kent Bye: Well, I want to dive into some of the specific things that the XR Association is doing. But before that, I have one more question as a follow up, is that the cultivation of a community and ecosystem is something where there have been a lot of gatherings that have been put together at the grassroots level, whether it's meetups or whether it's people running conferences. I know Houston, they had an enterprise conference that they're putting together, but failed to get any support from the major companies. There was VRLA that, again, failed to get support from major companies. There was the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference, which again failed to get support from major companies. So again and again, there's been so many different community-driven efforts that have not had support from the major tech companies. So is the XR Association going to be supporting any level of community-driven grassroots evangelism?

[00:09:43.677] Elizabeth Hyman: We're going to be partnering with and reaching out to a lot of these groups. I was going to talk a little bit about a chapter to the developer's guide that we're going to be putting out, I hope, before the end of the year, maybe at the end of October, on accessibility. For example, we've been reaching out to seeking input and collaboration from the XR Access Initiative, which is a great example of a grassroots organization that is focused on a topic that we think is just absolutely vital. So mind share, sweat equity, whatever you call it, we're going to be reaching out as much as we possibly can. When we were about ready to put out the 2.0 version of our developer's guide, which is around culture, conduct, and content, that sort of online safety conversation, you know, we went to XRDC and we said, you know, we wanted to talk to developers and sort of hear what they had to say and give them a heads up that we were moving in this direction. So, as best as possible, you know, we're going to try to reach out to as many organizations and groups and so on and so forth and engage in those conversations. And we also view our job as an association is to be a convener, right, to bring together a lot of these disparate groups and conversations and see if we can bring everyone together to have constructive approaches to a lot of the issues that I know you've been talking about and that they've been talking about.

[00:11:05.973] Kent Bye: And so is XRA a nonprofit or is it classified as a trade association? Like what's the class of what this entity is?

[00:11:14.018] Elizabeth Hyman: We are a 501c6, which is an industry trade association, but it's a nonprofit industry trade association. So we can't go out and make a huge profit on whatever we're doing. We have to reinvest the money that we make back into the industry. That's sort of the bottom line of how 501c6s work. Okay, so different than a 501 c three, which is, I guess, more community interest rather than 501 c three, and we may end up launching that as well as a sort of educational foundation. But a 501 c six allows us the opportunity to do that work with policymakers that quote unquote lobbying, which I know is not always the most attractive of words. But if you think of it more as we're trying to educate and work with lawmakers as they start to gear up to address some of these issues and the 501 c six allows us to do that.

[00:12:04.583] Kent Bye: Okay. That's helpful to know. So let's dive into this survey that you did. So maybe you could give a bit more context as how the survey came about and, or some of the major takeaways that you had from it.

[00:12:14.546] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, no, thanks for asking. It was sort of a really cool exercise that we did where we talked to six different industry sectors. So a few months back, just to give a little context, we had partnered with a law firm Perkins Coie and BoostVR to talk about the industry perspective around XR. So the developers and content creators and hardware and others within the XR industry. And so what we released this past week was sort of a bookend to that, right, it was looking at the end users. So we surveyed 750 individuals across six different industry sectors. So it was healthcare, education, job training, retail, manufacturing, and public safety. That was the other area that we looked at. We talked to sort of decision makers within those industry sectors because we wanted to make sure that we understood if you had an opportunity to make a decision about the type of technology that you're using, how would that work? And we wanted to do this originally because some of the sectors that we were looking at have been real trendsetters with regard to the use of XR. But obviously in March, we also got a new kind of perspective here in terms of what it means in a global pandemic. And we got some really interesting results back, and we found that 75% of the respondents had actually heard of XR, that they had familiarity with the technology, which I thought was a very positive place for us to start. And that 80% of those respondents, for example, in manufacturing, 75% in healthcare, and 74% in education, and 70% in public safety. predicted that their organizations are actually going to spend more on XR technology over the next five years. So again, a very optimistic kernel of information to pull from this. And we also decided to ask a few questions about the pandemic. And what we found was that, overwhelmingly, the industries that we surveyed felt that immersive training and learning outcomes were the primary way that technology could help right now in a global pandemic. And we didn't just stop there. We decided we needed to ask also, you know, what are some of the obstacles or barriers that you all see to wide scale adoption. And, you know, lack of knowledge about how to effectively implement the technology was a big deal. And the cost of the technology itself, particularly if you think about higher education or healthcare and public safety, which are all being stretched to the limit economically, you can certainly understand why cost would be a big deal. And I think it's important to everybody as we start to see the cost of the various devices come down. So that was an interesting nugget. And then the last one I'd share is because we do focus on that relationship between the government and what we're doing. We asked them whether they thought there was a role for the federal government and 90% of them said yes and 49% of them said that one way to do that was to help in funding research and development. So lots of interesting little nuggets, we can sort of go in a little more detailed here and there. But what I take away from all of this is we're trying to send signal to the larger XR community and developers in particular, that there is an opportunity here in the enterprise sector. we traditionally think of XR, particularly virtual reality, gaming has really led the way. And that is an exciting and cool area. And it has been where a lot of the developer energy is. But I think what's interesting in this survey is to see that from an enterprise point of view, there are also a lot of opportunities ahead. So those are sort of the top lines.

[00:16:02.922] Kent Bye: Yeah. And who is the intended audience for this specific survey then? Is it just legislators or is it to also inform the wider XR community? Because in order to get access to this report, you had to like, I guess, become a member of the XR Association. And so like, who is this report for then?

[00:16:20.627] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, so most all of the results were actually in the summary, which anybody can get into. So we are a member organization, so we always want to encourage more people to join our organization, and that's hardware manufacturers. So hence, there's always a couple little nuggets that you want to reserve for your membership. But to be candid, most of the results were actually in that document that was online and available to everybody that is about, what, seven or eight pages long. But to your point, I would say that one, it is for the broader XR community. As I said, you know, somebody in the development side of things, thinking about content, I think there's some useful pieces of information about where various end user groups are and their thoughts about application of XR. And I do think that it is important and another great piece of information for policymakers and stakeholders that are watching this space and are interested in sort of what the pace of development and growth is for XR. So it has multiple audiences, but primarily it was really for our own XR audience and making sure that people saw some of the opportunities that were out there and some of the challenges.

[00:17:36.868] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I read through lots of these different things, I've, I guess, become somewhat cynical to some extent in terms of all these different predictions and, you know, when everything is turned down to a number. So when I see a report filled with numbers, it's like, okay, what is the big takeaway for someone like me? But I love that there was a section here where, you know, what are the primary ways that XR can help each industry recover from the pandemic? You know, you get more qualitative insights in terms of specific things that are there. So, but when you look at a survey like this, and you do a lot of quantitative, trying to reduce things down into these numbers, how do you start to incorporate or think about the qualitative aspects in terms of like the antidotes or the stories and like what happens to that data that you got from this type of initiative?

[00:18:18.817] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, I mean, you know, we actually did. It's all blind panels of people that we survey, but we also did some qualitative conversations and that helped us to create the quantitative document that we then put out for survey. And, you know, I mean, I think looking at the Perkins CUI survey that we partnered with that's more industry specific versus the end user side of things, you know, you start to get some big takeaways, right, where VR is leading the way, but AR is expected to surpass it. You're well versed in these conversations. That's not a huge surprise. But also thinking about the challenges that the public safety community has in trying to invest in these things. You know, it's helping firefighters and first responders do a better job and do it safely, but they love it, but they don't have a lot of money for it. So how is that going to play out over time. You know, talking to healthcare professionals. I think it's really interesting to sort of think about where we are in terms of training for providers for the doctors and nurses that that's proven to be a really impactful area and there are some very nice examples of that use during COVID. And I would expect that that will continue to accelerate. But there's so many nuances and regulatory issues that when we start to think about therapeutic uses, I think we're a long way away. And those are some insights that I think you can start to glean when you look at a report like this. And we'll be trying to put that information out and get some feedback and collect the anecdotes and try to share those things as we go along.

[00:20:05.981] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd recommend people go check out the executive summary and get more information and context on that. But I want to move on to the policy aspect because that does seem to be a pretty significant aspect for what the XR Association is going to be focusing on, especially this interface between what's happening in terms of legislation and policy, but also just keeping legislators aware I think generally, I'd start with just saying that whenever I watch a hearing with senators or congressmen trying to grill issues of technology, they seem completely out of touch and almost like five to 10 to sometimes 20 or 30 years behind for where the technology is actually at. So I guess it's first a challenge of that awareness and education. Like how do you deal with creating policy in a context where it seems that most of the people that are making these policies are just not up to speed as to what is even happening with technology?

[00:20:59.773] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, great question. And so there's a few ways to answer that. Number one, in Congress in the House of Representatives, they often create caucuses, which are sort of areas of interest amongst the members themselves. And they're intended to be a conduit for information so that they can bone up on those things. And I'm pleased to say that there is, in fact, a virtual augmented and mixed reality caucus. It's called the Reality Caucus. And the other day, we did an event with a media platform that's geared towards policymakers called CQ Roll Call. And two of the speakers were really interesting. One is the co-founder of the Reality Caucus, a woman by the name of Suzanne DelBene. And she's from Washington State. She is very knowledgeable on technology issues and has been a real driver for the creation of the Reality Caucus. And we're going to try to work with her and the other co-founders to see if we can really push this out to the broader membership in Congress and urge other members to join. The other member that participated was Representative Stile from Wisconsin, and he is the co-chair of the Future of Work Caucus. So just to give you an understanding and a sense of how these caucuses work, I mean, it could be as esoteric as, I don't know, people who like plastics or something. I mean, there's a whole range of caucuses, and it's up to the leaders of those caucuses to encourage their peers to get involved, and we want to help in that. And we actually did an event last July, not this past July, but the July before in 2019, on the use of XR for workforce training within the government. And that gets me to my second point. I think that there is often a really great opportunity to highlight what's already being done and encourage broader adoption of XR technologies within the government right now. And that's a very powerful way of encouraging and educating members because then if they go and they see that FEMA is using virtual reality to help educate its constituents about impact of flooding, that's a really great use. NASA is using virtual reality to a great extent in terms of collaboration between, say, the International Space Center and ground over various technologies. and issues that they're working on. The National Science Foundation obviously is the major conduit for funding of R&D and they have highlighted various uses and aspects of XR. So we want to try to encourage the U.S. government itself to become a consumer of XR technologies and that helps with the educational process as well. And then I guess the third thing I'd say is there are efforts right now in Congress and in the administration to highlight and support various emerging technologies. So 5G or quantum computing or AI, whatever it might be. And what we'd like to do is to try to get XR positioned as a technology of interest. So all of these things happen in a way that we can raise the profile, get people up to speed on how it works, what it's doing, what the interaction is with the user, and by their actually using and adopting and highlighting these technologies, there's a greater impetus for that education. So those are maybe three ways that we would like to engage with government right now to raise that level. So if there is a conversation, when Kent Bye tunes into a hearing, that there's some understanding of what this technology is about.

[00:24:42.368] Kent Bye: Yeah, I actually watched a hearing last week about the Senate Commerce Committee talking about the FTC commissioners and getting insight in terms of the future of these privacy regulations as a big issue that seems to be coming up right now. So I talked to Joe Jerome. He is a privacy advocate and I did about an hour and a half conversation with him talking about there's been push for federal privacy law for decades now. and that it hasn't happened. It's really fragmented. It's piecemeal. It takes one little area at a time. The GDPR happened, Cambridge Analytica happened, and then California created their consumer privacy wall, the CCPA, which catalyzed a couple of years ago, even more people looking at this and Julie Brill, who is a former FCC Commissioner and now the Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, said that there's been more privacy legislation proposed in the last nine months than there has been in the last 30 years. So there seems to be consensus on both sides that we need some type of federal privacy law. But yet there's all these sort of nuances of private right to action, or to what degree is this going to be preempting the local laws from the federal laws? I mean, there's all these nuances of this. And I don't see a lot of bipartisan consensus around how this is going to play out. And Joe Jerome's actually kind of skeptical that we're actually going to be able to achieve that. But one thing that Julie Brill said is that this is something that's happening in the world in GDPR. This is the way that the world is going. That's moving beyond notice and consent and actually creating privacy as a human right and getting it embedded at a deeper level than just telling you what we're going to record, which goes back to 1973 when the first laws of privacy came about from the original commission that looked into this, the Health and Welfare Commission that produced this report. Back in 1973 is kind of like how we've still been thinking about privacy, and yet the whole world has been evolving to a whole other way of thinking about privacy. Julie Brill's point was like, unless the United States actually gets in line with what's happening in the global context here around privacy, then we're going to be just left behind with companies not being able to really keep up in a global international market that has privacy as human right. So in that context, how do you see the federal privacy debate that's emerging right now?

[00:27:02.836] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, so that's a big question and a few things to say. Number one, I think that also you have to handicap the fact that this is an election year and certainly for the next several months and through to the end of the year. I think it is highly unlikely. that we would see any legislation. That's true of most anything, let alone something as complex as privacy. So I'll start with that. I think that Julie Brill makes an excellent point and that we don't live in a vacuum, that we do live in a global community. And I feel that the role of a trade association, such as ours, is to actually bring together different stakeholders to have conversations, to bring all these perspectives to the table, so that we can start to work on building consensus that then gets translated or sent to some of the policymakers down the road. I can't predict what's going to happen in November and what that'll mean for some of the ways in which our government entities here in the United States are going to perceive or look at some of the privacy regimes that are out there. But I do think that that will be a very pivotal moment in terms of how we proceed. But it's our job to stay focused on how can we bring parties together to start to have these conversations around the frameworks that we need to develop and the general principles that we need to work towards. Joe Jerome, I think, has given a lot of time and thought to these issues and to XR in specific. and has been engaged with and working with something called the Future of Privacy Forum. We're a member of FPF and we plan on working hard to engage in that platform that brings together a lot of the stakeholders that I was talking about. And we'll be looking on our own to try and have those conversations as well. So we're trying to leverage all the platforms that we can to figure out where those areas of consensus are and how we build sort of momentum for them when we have a little bit more clarity around the political environment that we're going to see in 2021.

[00:29:12.810] Kent Bye: One of the things that Joe told me is back in 2015, when there was a lot of effort for legislation around facial recognition privacy, that there was actually a meeting between a lot of these trade associations that are representing these corporations that are doing facial recognition and the privacy advocates who wanted to have certain protocols that were in place in order to ensure that there were certain protections of privacy. but yet they just came to an impasse of the trade associations refusing to negotiate on any level. And they were left with walking out of that negotiation altogether. And so I guess that's a concern that I have is that, you know, you have very specific corporate interests that the trade associations are going to be advocating for, but how is there going to be maybe a middle ground that actually results in something that is protecting consumer privacy because the FTC has really been the sole watchdog for this, and they're underfunded, under-supported, and it's really beyond their capabilities to even keep up with everything. And in the last decision that came forth for Facebook, there was two commissioners that dissented that said, hey, this is not working. This whole trying to be the watchdog, it's cheaper for Facebook to pay the $5 billion fee than it is to actually follow the law. And so there seems to be the enforcement angle of the FTC not being able to actually enforce these laws. And so should there be a data protection agency is one of the things that is being suggested by EPIC, the privacy information, what's the E stand for?

[00:30:40.944] Elizabeth Hyman: Electronic Privacy Information Center.

[00:30:43.386] Kent Bye: Yeah, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC, you know, they've been doing lots of things with privacy. So they're advocating that there should be a data protection agency that is actually in charge of some of this rather than just the FTC because the FTC was all about you have to disclose what you're doing. And if there's a mismatch between what you're actually doing, what you said, then it's a false advertising. But to just like cast privacy in terms of it's okay to do whatever we want with your privacy, as long as we tell you what we're going to do is not any sort of concept of privacy that any philosophers of privacy that I know would agree with, or what's actually happening with the GDPR. So there's, there's a number of issues there in terms of like the FTC and, but also this dialectic between the consumer privacy organizations that are really trying to protect the privacy. And yet the trade associations that I think are going to make sure that the innovation is not stifled by overregulation. So like, how does that balance get played out?

[00:31:40.838] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, so I can't speak to what happened in 2015. I actually wasn't involved or at the table for those conversations. What I can say is that, you know, you've actually summed it up that, and I recalled you saying this before, there's a spectrum here in terms of where regulation will go and what the right balance is in order to protect people's interests versus the ability, not versus, and the ability to be able to innovate and create the technologies that people want to use. As a trade association in the XR space specifically, I guess I can't say that we're going to be the organization that takes on privacy writ large. There are a lot of associations over the years that have argued in favor of increased resources for the FTC. So it's not always as cut and dry in terms of the industry trade associations approach these things. I just feel that we have to continue to try to bring people together to sit down and find those commonalities in the areas that we can agree on and try to figure out how to build principles and frameworks that are going to work for everybody. So for us, you know, we definitely want to be at the table, but we want to be focused on those things that are unique and important to sort of virtual augmented and mixed reality. That could be facial recognition, it could be biometric data, etc. But we haven't really weighed into the bigger conversation around what's the right organizational framework for data privacy and privacy writ large. We're trying to stay focused because we only have the resources that we have and the attention that we can bring to our particular area. So I don't mean to duck, but I don't really have a view on what's the right government entity to address these things. I think over the years, you've seen a desire for the FTC to be better funded and to have the resources that it needs. and that may have a tension now with what's another agency that's needed, or is that creating overlap that might create confusion for everybody? I don't have the answer to that. I just raise that as those are usually the questions that are on the table for those types of things.

[00:33:52.223] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, one of the trends that I see within VR generally, like across all the industry, is that it's an interdisciplinary fusion of all these different things that are coming together, whether it's neuroscience and game design and cinematic filmmaking and interaction design. And, you know, it's fusing all these things together. And I think similarly, it's going to likely catalyze a interdisciplinary way of taking this existing fragmented law that we have right now and having something that is a little bit more cohesive and ties all these disparate things together. So whether it's financial privacy, education privacy, health information, HIPAA, so there's all these existing privacy laws. And I think that's part of the meta discussion around privacy and why it's so different is that it is crossing all these different contexts. And so as we move forward in trying to resolve if there is going to be some sort of comprehensive federal privacy law, Is XR Association going to take any specific stances of saying, okay, this is the legislation that we support? Is that something that you're going to come out and publicly say? Or is that something that is only going to be happening behind the scenes where you're going to be supporting a specific branch, but no one's going to really actually know where any of these companies stand on any of these?

[00:35:03.253] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, no, no, no. I think the idea is you have to bring people together to consensus and then you publicly support what you support. So part of the process right now is, again, bringing the companies together, bringing external stakeholders together and really kind of educating one another, at least from my perspective, So that we can get to a set of principles and hopefully to an area where we're supporting some legislation and maybe not others, but that we're getting to a point where we can be very forthright and vocal about it, but I think it's good practice to try to bring people together and to work out as much of that consensus ahead of time so that you can be very supportive and vocal of what you're in favor of.

[00:35:47.466] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I think that there's actually been a lot of other issues that are coming up in terms of algorithmic transparency and the influence of these networks that are over 3 billion people, which then become a potential national security risk. And so my concern is that you have a company like Facebook in particular, just, you know, Facebook is the one of all the ones that we're talking about that I think are in this over section between consumer social media networks and VR. And they're also like one of the biggest players. So there's all these other companies that are also doing stuff in their own disciplines and domains with Microsoft and enterprise XR, Google, we'll see if they'll make a consumer play at some point. And Sony has their own walled garden when it comes to what they're doing within their consoles. But Facebook is unique in the sense that they're bigger and more powerful, arguably than a lot of governments around the world in terms of the influence that they're yielding within this network. And yet, Facebook is run by Mark Zuckerberg with a 58% majority voting share of Class B stocks, meaning that he can, as a one person, unilaterally control everything that happens in this entity with over 3 billion people. So it's essentially like a technological dictatorship with one person in charge. And as we move forward, there's all these issues that are starting to replicate government. We have justice. So what is the way in which that people can either have access or be banned? Or is there any trial process of prosecution? Is there an appeals process? Is there a Supreme Court deciding who can say what? Content moderation is an issue there as well. And this is already happening in the social media sphere. And VR is so nascent that we're not at that point. But we'll get there if VR is going to get as big. And my concern is that this is essentially private property that is not a public space. It's not a public utility. It's owned by one company with that many people. And yet there's no mechanisms of any level of constitutional democracy to have constituents be able to vote or have any say in how these algorithms are played out and was essentially another layer on top of reality. So how do you start to address this issue of moving towards a world where we're creating these technological dictatorships with very little constitutional democracy or feedback accountability or transparency.

[00:38:05.568] Elizabeth Hyman: Well, all I can say to that, Kent, is that as a trade association for a number of different members, we don't get into the business models of our specific members. What we are trying to do is create consensus among our membership. For example, when we put out the developer's guide, whether it's on user safety, online safety, or soon-to-be accessibility, That has to be a project that is undertaken by all of the membership that brings expertise from all of their appropriate disciplines within their companies, whether it's people that are engineers, user experience, lawyers, whoever it might be. They all come to the table and we have to have agreement on what we're putting forward as a trade association on the industry's behalf, right? So that question that you've asked is probably something better to be put to a specific company. That's not where a trade association comes in. A trade association comes in with those areas where we can put forth and let people know how we want to take on responsible development of the technology as an industry, not on behalf of one company or another.

[00:39:18.646] Kent Bye: Oh yeah, and I appreciate that. And I guess part of my frustration is that I have been trying to ask these questions. To Facebook, but I have not been able to get anybody to speak on the record about any of these questions. And so you're actually the first person that is a proxy for some of these issues that are larger policy issues, but I think it reflects the steeper frustration that I have which is that there's no democratic way to interface with these entities that are so big and so powerful that there's no democratic process for even the media people like myself to have these questions answered. And there's like a lack of discourse that's happening. And that is, I think what is the most concerning is that these companies collectively, there was a whole antitrust hearing that had a lot of these big companies that were, you know, being represented. I mean, Amazon, it's not a member, but at least Google slash Alphabet, as well as Facebook, Microsoft has already dealt with a lot of those antitrust issues. And, you know, you also, you know, have Apple, which is not a part of the trade association here, but two of the major four that were at this antitrust hearing, we have these potential anti-competitive behaviors that like, I guess there's a deeper question here. Like, what do you think the relationship between technologies and people should be. Should there be more democratic processes? Because we're going to be living in these realms, these virtual realms with algorithms that are going to be driving behavior for tens of thousands, millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, and even eventually billions of people. They're going to have algorithms that are driving collective behaviors, but yet the Section 230 of the Communications Act where you sort of have this liability shield that has enabled this level of innovation, but yet there's very little accountability or democratic process. And so it's a larger question for what should the relationship be between customers and the corporations.

[00:41:11.733] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, I want to come back to an earlier question you had, which is around the legal formation of a trade association of 501 c six. So the beginning of all of our meetings we have an antitrust statement right so In other words, we have to keep very separate from individual business decisions and exchange of information as a trade association. What we're trying to focus on are where can the industry come together around conversations and efforts to advance the industry as a whole in a responsible fashion, right? So when it comes to the conversation around privacy, I can't speak on behalf of individual companies and what type of approach they're going to take as a business decision, what I can do is try to work with our member companies to find areas of principles that we all agree upon and to communicate those out to the broader world and to also refine those based on input that we're getting from all the stakeholders that we're talking to. So we're not an island unto ourselves. We are open to engaging in conversation and dialogue to figure out what do these principles look like for the industry writ large, not for an individual company. Each company is going to make the business decisions that they feel are appropriate for their company. That doesn't really come across our transom as a trade association.

[00:42:35.795] Kent Bye: And I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on this Shrems 2 decision that happened a few months ago, the European Union Justice Court, where they had this privacy advocate, Max Shrems, who has brought a number of different privacy related cases. And specifically in this case was reported a number of years ago around PRISM, which was the relationship between corporations to be able to give information to the government under the FISA Act, and that Max Rimm said because there's information that could potentially go from these private companies into the national security context of the US government, then this privacy shield between the European Union and the United States should be invalidated. So because of the third party doctrine and this open sharing between information that is seen as public and the government can get access to that, because of that interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and how information can go from companies into the government if they want it, and they can ask for it for either a warrant or without a warrant, then this is dissolving of a privacy shield between the EU and the United States. And even in Germany has resulted in Oculus having to pull out, even selling, you know, they voluntarily pulled out, but there's still these deeper questions of the coupling of GDPR or other things that are happening in Europe with what's happening with their regulations. There seems to be this increasing tension of how European Union companies are going to be able to collaborate with U.S. companies when you have things like the privacy shield be revoked because of the third party doctrine to the sharing of information to the national security state, causing concern around surveillance, and then dissolving this privacy shield. So I don't know if you have any specific comments on the shrimps too and what's happening between the EU and the United States here.

[00:44:17.668] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, I don't have a lot of specifics on it. I'll be honest with you, you know, as a new organization and for myself, having been on for about a year, we started, as I mentioned, with trying to build guidelines and approaches to a number of different issues of responsibility around the technology, right? Whether it starts with just basic comfort and safety, moving on to Online safety and now accessibility, those are in and of themselves very large tasks that we're taking on one at a time. Simultaneously, we are now gearing up, as I mentioned earlier, to try to have good in-depth conversations around all of these issues. We view ourselves as an organization that needs to have interaction with the international community. Obviously, what's happening with Shrems and and sort of the balkanization of data and what the future will look like is something that we need to sit down and have those conversations. And again, we're still at the beginning phases of that effort and then trying to leverage platforms like the Future of Privacy Forum, bring in some people to meet with us one-on-one. Maybe there's other convening sessions that we can produce to start to develop some more meaningful conversations and responses to a very good question, but we're not in a position at this point in time to weigh in.

[00:45:41.164] Kent Bye: It seems like that in terms of policy, it's going to be a little bit of wait and see after the election and probably be more movement towards that. But I wanted to ask a question about accessibility because I know that the W3C, when they were looking at the WebXR standard, they saw that one of the things in terms of their principles for the W3C in general is that accessibility. And accessibility is so difficult and challenging with XR because I guess we've spent so much energy and time just trying to get the technology to work for able-bodied people. Now, how does the technology work for people who are not fully abled, people who may have hearing impairment or vision impairment? And so what are some of the ways in which the XR Association is going to be looking at all the variety issues of accessibility?

[00:46:25.237] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, great question. And as I mentioned, we are working now on this third version of our developer's guide. So it's geared towards the developers and the technology platforms. And there's a reason why. You make a great point that at this point, the hardware conversations are really trying to figure out how to make the form factor smaller, the compute power stronger, all of these different things that are relevant no matter who you're talking to, whether you're able-bodied or not. And right now, there is impact to be made certainly on the software side of things and how technology platforms look to the content that they're putting on those platforms that can be made accessible. So the guide itself and, you know, we're still trying to finish it up. And in fact, we have reached out to and have sought input in collaboration with the XR Access Initiative so that we're getting the right voices to the table, but it's looking at, you know, what are some of the software applications that we can do in mobility, in audio and verbal issues, cognitive, all across the spectrum of people that are living with disabilities, but it also is about inclusive design. And at the end of the day, what we want to make sure is that anything that we put out is talking about making this technology live up to its values of being a democratizing technology and that as many people as possible can have the opportunity to experience and enjoy XR technology. So, you know, I think about there was the Sony game that came out recently that the disabled community was very excited about some of the efforts that they had made at the beginning to make this a really inclusive and complete opportunity to play a game in virtual reality that was open and accessible to them. There are interesting applications. I want to say something like mobile VR, which now is allowing somebody who has mobility issues to be able to turn and manipulate that virtual experience with their hands rather than with their legs. So these are the types of solutions that we're seeing out there, and we want to draw attention to that, and that developers now can bake these things in earlier in the process. So even if the hardware is still becoming smaller and more effective and more interesting, there are things that we can do today and that will evolve over time. And so that was what we really wanted to draw attention to.

[00:48:59.483] Kent Bye: So speaking of accessibility, I think that there's a paradox, which is that there's going to be types of immersive technologies that are going to increase the level of accessibility, but there's also going to create these new moral dilemmas. As an example, brain control interfaces that can read your mind. So speech synthesis is something that the University of California, San Francisco, UCSF has shown being able to put invasive ECOG nodes on your brain, on your neurons, and be able to do speech synthesis, which is essentially, when you're thinking, you can translate those thoughts into spoken words. So it's literally a mind reading device that right now is with invasive EEG, but within five to 10 years, I was told by neuroscientist experts that we'll be able to do that with non-invasive technologies. So what's it mean within the next five to 10 years to have technology that can literally read our mind? And, you know, when I talked to Joe Jerome, there's consumer privacy and then there's privacy from the government. And with a third party doctrine, if Facebook is recording my thoughts, then now all of a sudden, the government could potentially have access to my thoughts. So you have introduction of like minority port-esque thought crimes that can start to be going down. So there's a lot of big issues there in terms of what happens to the data, where does it go, and the implications of biometric data, I think, are unique from above and beyond what the existing consumer privacy advocates are even thinking about. So this is heading down this road where it's very exciting to be able to have a device that can read my mind. But I guess I'm concerned who gets to read my thoughts and does that get in the hands of the government.

[00:50:29.992] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah, you know, these are really, really crucial questions. And I know I sound a little bit like a broken record, but they're exactly the things that we're trying to bring people together right now to have a conversation about because you're right. It is incredibly powerful for a person with disability to be able to have these types of technologies that are going to help them, whether it's eye tracking or the issue that you just mentioned in terms of thoughts. these are going to be groundbreaking. And, you know, we have to sort of sort through what kind of information is that going to be collecting, for what purpose, how that gets accessed, where is it stored, all of these things. And we need to be transparent about the conversation. We need to make sure that the right people are at the table and to try to sort through what you're right is a very complex set of equities you know, where we want to help as many people as possible really live up to that inclusive design theory, but be respectful of people's privacy. And, you know, I don't have the answer today. I can only tell you that we are just deeply committed to making sure that all of those things are surfaced and that we're able to have a good, solid conversation that we hope leads to a set of principles and understanding about how this type of information is used. We don't, you know, at the end of the day, people have to have trust in the technology. Otherwise, it's not going to take off. It won't be the thing that people talk about in five or 10 years, because they couldn't develop that sense of trust. So that is a driving force in all of this. And I personally feel very strongly that that's how we have to undertake these conversations and get to some results. There's no question.

[00:52:19.457] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:52:28.224] Elizabeth Hyman: Yeah. I mean, that's such an easy question, and I could go on for hours, right? I mean, having done this study on some of the enterprise use, again, it's numbers, but it's a signal. It tells us where things are going. And if you think about accessibility, for example, in the context of workforce, You know, to make sure that this technology can enable people to engage in their livelihoods in a way that they've never been able to do before and it brings everybody along, that's huge. To experience the travel and location that we otherwise could not experience, amazing. and to save lives. You know, I think about some of the public safety applications and the idea that you can, you know, now understand and experience what a burning building is like and perhaps avoid a situation that might be life-threatening because you were able to experience this in a virtual environment. So there's so many things I could go on. I talked this weekend at SHIP Medical about the doctors, up-and-coming doctors, that are getting surgical training. I have a hip replacement. I think I would have been even more comfortable knowing that my surgeon had done hundreds and hundreds of repetitions of a hip replacement in virtual reality, although I was very happy with my surgeon. But I just can't even begin to get my head around all the really incredible opportunities that are out there. And I'll just finish by saying I've become very popular with my friends and their families because just the sheer entertainment and enjoyment of being able to get into those worlds is worth the price of admission. Seeing people with very big smiles and laughter on their face. It's been great.

[00:54:11.925] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:54:16.168] Elizabeth Hyman: No, just other than I really appreciate the opportunity to join you. I think you're asking great questions. I wish I could answer them all definitively today, but I hope that what people walk away with is that we are really truly engaged in having these conversations, but not just for the sake of chit-chatting. We want to get to some solutions, and we view that as very much part and parcel of what our mission is. That's the responsible development of XR. that leads to good and positive societal outcomes. And I think we all share that. We're just going to have to figure out how that comes together collectively.

[00:54:55.773] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the policy side is the thing that I've personally been taking more of an interest in, because I do think it's really important we're getting to that point. So I appreciate the XR Association starting to look at some of these issues and helping to navigate them. And I look forward to keeping in touch in the future, just to help track as all these different discussions continue to unfold and evolve and to get your perspectives and to facilitate that broader conversation. So thank you.

[00:55:17.587] Elizabeth Hyman: Absolutely. Great. Thanks, Kent. I appreciate it.

[00:55:21.038] Kent Bye: So that was Liz Hyman. She's the CEO of the XR Association. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, there's a lot of policy specific things that the XR Association is going to be doing. But right now, we're in the midst of a election cycle. So at least until after the election, until early next year, when the political landscape changes, then I expect to see a lot more movement when it comes to the different policy decision making that is going to be happening amongst all these different entities that are part of the XR Association. So a big thing that they're going to be doing in the future is getting all the different stakeholders together, trying to see what they agree upon individually and then collectively, but also working with these outside consumer groups to be able to talk about some of these different issues. So one of the challenges that I'd say talking about like policy when it comes to XR issues is that VR is so nascent and so early that there really isn't a lot of evolved thinking that's happening around XR policy I mean, it's not big enough for a lot of people to dedicate staff to look at a lot of the policy issues. And the people that are looking at are kind of looking at their spare time, starting to see some more active movement with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But aside from that, it's just kind of like a vacuum of not a lot of folks that are looking at stuff. So the XR Association is going to be working with all these different companies and trying to help educate other people to bring them into the conversation. So I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges, first of all, is that a lot of the folks are just not really ramped up on the technology or some of the different policy implications that are even there. So the other thing is that this is a group entity. And so as I asked different questions, then it's a little bit of Liz can't speak on behalf of a single company. It's like, I have to go and speak directly with those companies to ask some of those specific questions. One of the things that Joe Drum told me is that a lot of these big companies like to hide behind these trade associations. And so they'll let the trade associations be the front facing spokespeople when it comes to like their policy decisions. And so Rarely do you see some of the individual positions that are coming from these big major companies. And so that's what I expect is going to happen in the future. And I guess my underlying concern is that there's a lot of questions that I have about these issues, but I just don't see how the journalistic process is going to be integrated into this as much. It seems like a lot of these things happen in private discussions, behind closed doors. So that's, I guess, the thing that I would flag is like, yes, there's all these companies that are cooperating with each other, but yet how are we going to know what they're actually agreeing upon? And how do we, as a civil society, interface that in the absence of having these well-funded groups that have an established reputation, that are working in these realms already, that have a long history of successes when it comes to policy issues? So it's happening in a vacuum. And I think that's a little bit concerning for me just as we move forward. because I want to have more discussion there. And I've just been personally finding it difficult to have public context to have these different conversations. I'm still trying to have some of these different types of conversations in a public context with like, say, Facebook slash Oculus, to see if they want to talk about any of these specific issues, or even some of the more specific ethical issues, or the privacy issues that I have. And as I listened to myself in this interview, there's a bit of frustration that I just hear in my voice, just because it's like, There's a overwhelm of different questions and this underlying frustration of not being able to find a proper context to be able to have some of these in-depth discussions about some of these topics. The XR Association is still very early, so a lot of the very pointed questions I'm asking about these things, they haven't really looked at it enough to be able to have an opinion on it. It's going to also require a bit of consensus amongst this group, which includes like Microsoft and Facebook and Google and HTC and Sony. So there's a lot of different interests there just in terms of their business model for how they're interfacing with their markets. So Microsoft being a lot more in the enterprise space and Facebook being a lot more in the consumer space as well as, well, we'll see what Google is doing. They're kind of been a bit of AWOL when it comes specifically to VR and AR. You have this software side of using the Android phone, but you know, with the future of what ends up happening with either the next iteration of Google Glass or Project North or whatever they end up doing within the XR space if they end up eventually coming up with a 2.0 version of Daydream since that has since been killed off. So I guess it's a bit of a wait and see on all that. Just a couple of other points I'd just make is that, you know, there is a Reality Caucus that was founded on May 3rd, 2017, as well as the Future of Work Caucus that was founded on January 15th, 2020. So these two caucuses that have Congress members that are looking at specific issues that would have immersive technologies included into the dialogue. And so just trying to have different groups to be able to do exploratory research into what's happening. One of the things that Liz said is that it'd be great if the government themselves were using some of these technologies so that they have some direct experience with how these immersive technologies are being used within government. And that would help to then shape the future policy for whatever happens with XR. And, uh, yeah, just that they've been doing these other aspects of education and awareness. One of the things that I saw just generally within the XR industry was that there's a lot of these grassroots organizations that just had a hard time getting support from these major companies. And don't think that the XR association is going to necessarily solve that and provide any more of these community resources, even though part of the whole initiative of the 501 C six is, is to promote a common business interest or to improve the business conditions within the industry. I see that a lot of the grassroots organizations that have been doing these meetups and these different gatherings and conferences and whatnot, they're doing that, but they just hasn't had a lot of support from the major tech companies, especially as there was like a proliferation of those different events. And then eventually the support for those got cut off. And then that's why you see the death of the Silicon Valley virtual reality meetup and conference, the death of VRLA and on and on and on in terms of other grassroots community initiatives that have not really gotten enough support from the wider industry. So I think that's just sad just to see it turned out like that and now all of a sudden an entity that would be able to support something like that is going to be mostly just focusing on educating Congress and working mostly in the DC spheres and trying to take those common interests and they have to avoid antitrust and to not collude between them. So there's certain rules that have to follow, you know, so they have to be careful in that sense. Their main interest seems to be to make sure that whatever discussions and debates that are happening at the policy level, that makes it a conducive condition for them to be able to continue to do the type of innovation that they want to do. And also they have the executive summary of their latest survey that's available on their website, looking at these different issues of healthcare, education, job training, retail, manufacturing, and public safety and VR is leading the way. And that there's different challenges with public safety in terms of just resources. And they don't have enough money to be able to actually do it, even though they were interested in it. And that, you know, there's just gonna be a lot of training opportunities for doctors and nurses and. Yeah, just generally, there seems to be increased awareness for XR technologies and that, you know, as we move forward, and I think the pandemic is certainly going to be a big part, then they're also looking at specific ways in which the technologies could help each of these different industry sectors deal with things that are unique to the context of the larger pandemic. So that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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