What is the social impact of immersive technologies? VR/AR
URB∆N TRIBE MOVEMENT MEETS VRSCOUT
The general response to immersive technology ranges from fear to strong curiosity. To demystify virtual reality (#VR), the Urban Tribe movement went to Los Angeles to meet with the experts of VR & immersive technologies, VRScout. VRScout is one of the world’s leading immersive media companies. The team is composed by a driven influencers, raising awareness on this rapidly evolving VR & AR industry.
UrbanTribeMov met with Malia Probst, partner at VRScout; Jonathan Nafarrete, Editor-in-Chief at VRScout and Eric Chevalier, Co-founder at VRScout. We were granted access to a black room with high ceilings filled with the latest VR experiences & immersive technologies at our disposition. Needless to say, a paradise for #digitalnomads like ourselves.
SOCIAL HIGHLIGHT VIDEO
INTERVIEW WITH MALIA PROBST & JONATHAN NAFARRETE OF VRSCOUT
Los Angeles 2017
Who is VRScout? Click to read interview —
Malia: Oh god. I wake up every morning and ask myself the same question. VRScout is an immersive media company. We’re based here in Los Angeles and focus on media publishing, covering the VR & AR industry. We also have a content studio and we host lots of fun events.
Kate: What is your mission statement at VRScout?
Jonathan: It’s about highlighting the creators who are building amazing things in VR. It’s that intersection between technology, immersive technology, and people’s passion points whether it’s education, art, music.
Malia: This technology, this medium will eventually affect every single industry and so it’s really about connecting with people around the things they are already caring about.
Connect with VRScout:
How does VR promote inclusivity?
Malia: I think we can speak to VRScout and bring back the curtain on what we think. The two co-founders are both men and I am a partner as well as a strong female voice in this company. I’m really lucky to be working with the two best dudes ever, every single day, hundreds of hours a week [laughs]. I joined a team that was already extremely focused on inclusion and equal representation.
When we have events, such as our monthly mixture series, we get together people in real life. I have to stress these are not virtual events [laughs]. We are actually bringing together people in the same space at the same time around particular topics. We always make sure that the panel discussion has equal gender representation.
We just did a monthly mixture on ‘Impact’ which focussed on different creators and companies that are doing amazing work around the world to progress human evolution, social justice and human rights. We had a fascinating conversation from a ton of different perspectives.
So speaking purely from VRScout, this is something that baked into our DNA. Something we always have in mind, whether it’s the people who attend the events, the writers and the people that we work with. Also how we assemble those panels and who gets to have a voice at the table. We always making sure that everyone is included and that not the five white dudes get to talk all the time.
Jonathan: We’ve talked about teleportation, where I can teleport somewhere else and enjoy VR. But there is also the idea where I can be somebody else. I can be in the 1st person perspective, see through their eyes and walk through their shoes. That is a very powerful tool. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen pieces that bring people to tears. Whether it’s seeing the life of an animal going through a slaughter house. Being able to see what it’s like to live in a Sryrian refugee camp. Those are all very powerful pieces. Besides this kind of escapism or teleportation, but to actually feel that.
Malia: Something I think you are really focused on are things that bring people together and things that connect people. If I can put myself in the shoes of a single mother in the deep south and really realize what her day-to-day is like. Or to Jonathan’s point, put myself in a Syrian refugee camp. Somewhere I’ve never been or someone I am really not in real life. The more perspectives we’re able to see of people that are unlike ourselves, the better it is for humanity. It fosters understanders that fosters compassion. There are a lot of people working on funneling that empathy and that compassion into actual, tangible, real-world action.
Kate: VR Scout promotes gender parity & diversity. Do you think that virtual reality as a whole does that? Or is it something still being worked on.
Malia: It would be hard to say that there is one mission statement for an entire industry. I also think it would be difficult to say there is one mission statement for something as wide and as emcompassing as the internet. So just as varied as the internet, so is the virtual reality industry.
I will say that in my personal experience, especially after working with Jonathan and Erik so closely at VR Scout, I’ve had the good fortune to meet incredible people that are dedicated towards equality & human progress.
This is purely anecdotal and purely a subjective observation, but I feel like the people that I meet in this industry tend to be more open-minded. Perhaps because we’re dealing with the very nature of reality. You have to be someone that is open to the fact there are other realities out there besides your own.
Like, we’re sitting here right now on the couch. Whatever is going on in your head is not what’s is going on in mine. I don’t know what Jonathan’s thinking about. We’re all here on the couch together sharing the same moment in real life, but we’re actually experiencing it through three different realities.
Jonathan: A lot of tech. industries whether it’d computing or hardware, it tends to gravitate towards engineering and these professions are not as diverse as we would prefer. Because of the openness of virtual reality and because the industry is based on content, storytelling and different points of views — it just brings a great diversity of people working on it. Everybody has something to say and that’s what’s fuelling the industry. The industry is in it’s infancy. We have a place and a time where we can impact how the industry moves forward and make sure that’s it’s inclusive going forward.
Malia: This is a nascent industry and as it’s being formed, we have an enormous opportunity to shape this industry. One of the things I’m helping shape and push forward is called Women in XR. It’s an actual fund as well as a collection of resources that goes towards female-led businesses in the space.
Having strong female voices in this industry, female-led companies and funding those companies directly is a huge initiative that we are super pumped to be part of.
Is VR not strictly about video games?
Malia: No. In fact, gaming is a vertical we cover, however, there are so many other things people are passionate about outside of gaming. We focus on people’s existing passion points, whether that is art, music or journalism because this medium will eventually affect every industry. It’s about connecting with people around the things they already care about.
Jonathan: We are so passionate about VR. It’s the future, one of the most exciting technologies to come out in years and decades. We want to make sure we share this excitement with others and the best way to do that is to find out what they are passionate about and show them how VR can be applied to that.
For an artist, it’d be giving them a VR headset to paint in VR, to create in VR and get them excited about the medium. What we’re providing them are tools to continue that passion in a completely different medium.
How are people using VR to create a positive impact on society?
Jonathan: A lot of ways. The most exciting things we’ve seen are coming out of the education and medical spaces. Simple thing as a cardboard headset can transport students into different worlds. In a way, it’s like a magic school bus. It can teleport these kids onto field trips they would have never been able to go, especially if they come from underprivileged areas where they can’t even afford a field trip to the local museum.
Malia: One of my favourite applications of this immersive technology lies in the therapeutic spaces and how this medium is being deployed to actually help people. In fact, this research was done back in the 90’s up in the University of Washington [Harborview Burn Center on Virtual Reality Pain Reduction]. As part of this study to see how VR can be used as a pain distraction technique, they placed people in a very rudimentary virtual world called, ‘Snow World’. The transportive ability of this technology was used to distract people from their current state of pain. Those studies showed that VR had the exact same efficiency on pain reduction as morphine.
Will people use VR technology to escape pain and avoid reality all together?
Malia: Yes, of course [laughs]. Like anything — VR, AR and all immersive technology are just tools. Just like a knife can be used to put butter on a piece of toast, it can also be used to stab someone. This is an incredibly powerful tool and medium, and it has to be done with consciousness. Will people use it for escapism? Of course they will. Humans have always used technology as an escape route.
However, there are positive ways this tool can be used and we hope that’s what’s going to come out of this. That’s how we can come together as a human race. Expand our consciousness and evolve humanity.
How would you say VR is promoting a social connection amongst people?
Jonathan: If you would have asked us a year go, VR tended to be more of an isolated experience. People would put on their headsets and be closed off from the environment around them. Immersed in this virtual environment, not really aware. But, what we’ve seen over the past year is how this platform and technology is now being used for social purposes.
Simple thing would be a chat room. Like, this conversatio we’ve having right now can be done in virtual reality. It’d be no different than reality except you would be an amazing avatar — and Malia would be standing there…
Malia: I want an amazing avatar [laughs].
Jonathan: [Laughs] you’ll get an amazing avatar too. I’ll be this kind of bobbly-avatar [laughs]. We’d be talking to each other and we don’t have to be in the same room. It’s what we’re seeing with web and video chats except now we actually feel connected. We can feel each other’s presence and all nuances of social interaction. To feel like I have to make eye contact with you when I’m talking, all those start to come out in virtual reality because it is so real.
How is VR interactive amongst people using the technology?
Malia: This is fundamentally a shift in how we compute— a shift towards immersive computing. When you’re looking at the history of computing, think of how huge the first computers were. They were bigger than this room! Then we had the PC revolution in the 80’s. It got smaller and people had them in their homes. Laptops came out and got popular in the 90’s. Now, all of us are walking around with computers in our pockets.
We’re now nearing the end of the mobile computing revolution. [Picks up cellphone] these are only getting this much better and this much faster every single time a new phone comes out. We’re nearing the end of those incremental improvements. Now, we are entering the beginning of spatial, immersive and 3D computing as the next era of how humans communicate, collaborate and educate.
So if you ask, what can VR be used for? An equivalent question would be: what are you going to use the internet for? Everything.
Jonathan: That phone right there is why we have VR back front & center. That phone, screen and all the sensors is what’s powering a lot of this technology. You’re almost wearing a phone on your face. With this medium, we can create immersive worlds where anything is possible and infinite. Is that the last medium? Can anything going forward from here on now — can it just be built into virtual reality? And that’s it.
How can VR be incorporated into traditional businesses?
Malia: Virtual conferences are interesting. You can be back in Montreal and we can be here in Los Angeles in real life. But then, we can meet in the same virtual space, being represented by avatars of our choosing that perhaps represent our personalities. Like… maybe I wanted to be a 10-foot wolf! [Laughs] then that’s the avatar I can pick.
If we can get together in these virtual spaces no matter where we are in the world that would give people such a better window into business. You get the sense you’re in the same space in real life. Not only does that help forge, nurture and maintain business relationships, but it also cuts down on travel expenses and carbon ignitions. It’s far better for our planet in general to be having more virtual meetings.
How could this technology be used in your day-to-day routine?
Malia: The social media and virtual meeting thing is huge for me. Being able to meet people in a space is important. I do like to look at people in the eye. At least be able to tune into their body language in some sense.
Something I am excited about is bringing together real sports, e-sports and virtual reality. I’m not a gamer. I genuinely don’t care about the new games, it’s not something that resonates with me. However, if I can get inside the video game, be Lara Croft, run around, jump and actually get a workout— sign me up.
Jonathan: Virtual reality right now as it stands today is a little pricey. It’s a lot of hardware and technology. When the iphone first came out, it was pretty much the same price as a VR headset today. Next year, the price of these headsets will start to compress and then everyone can start using it.
Anything is possible in VR. All social functions are possible, so we can start having interactions with people in countries that we would never expect. Just teleport ourselves and be holograms.
Kate: That’s amazing. We’re talking about teleportation [laughs]. Holograms, avatars, and being able to communicate with people from across the world.
Malia: Some interesting use cases that have popped up are bringing virtual reality experiences into nursing homes for people suffering from dementia, cognitive decline, or physical illness— they can’t get out into the world for whatever reason.
They are bringing these virtual experiences to transport elders to somewhere back in time of their youth. Take them to a beach or to an exoctic place they have never been before. Seeing the expressions on these people’s faces when they realize a dream they’ve always had and now they are able to virtual check it off the bucket list. It just opens a whole new world for people that maybe didn’t have the chance to do so.
We’re talking about physical limitations and about social experiences. A friend of mine shared this story with me. She held an event in virtual reality a few months ago, a sort of feminism, art, and political event. One of the woman that attended this event virtually is based out of New York and she is a quadriplegic. She would have never been able to leave her apartment, get on a place and go to this event in real life. She was able to access it through virtual reality and bond with so many people.
Although technology is expensive at this point, there are a lot of amazing ways this access can open doors for people and open up entirely new worlds.
Jonathan: It could be said that virtual reality is our teleportation at least for our generation. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything closer. It wouldn’t be safe for us to actually sci-fi teleport, like dismantle all your atoms and try to send them somewhere else. If we wanted to be on top of Mount Everest [picks up phone] this expands to all of it and is completely safe in that regards.
“Now what we’re entering is the beginning of immersive computing, the next era of how humans communicate, collaborate, educate and do anything.”— Malia Probst
While some #VR experiences strive to help individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or phobias, others enable those with limited mobility to have virtual presence at live events.
VR technologies face a variety of challenges, such as making VR headsets affordable and accessible, the isolating component of #immersivegaming and the lack of regulations in regards to pornography & violence. The importance of equal representation of gender and race in #immersivecomputing technologies is a growing requirement in order to express the real needs of society-at-large. In fact, the cardboard headset designed by Google Cardboard has been designed to provide VR experiences at an affordable cost.
As Malia mentioned, there is a lot of value in being involved in this nascent industry, as ethical regulations takes more time to be implemented than it takes technology to advance. A lot of questions regarding the current application of VR and the insight on the widespread range of impact were discussed with the VRScout team. It was refreshing to witness influencers share subjective & objective descriptions of virtual reality.
“In a way, it’s like a magic school bus. It can teleport these kids onto field trips they would have never been able to go, especially if they come from underprivileged areas where they can’t even afford a field trip to the local museum.” — Jonathan Nafarrete
There is a lot of value in having passionate individuals documenting this #immersivetechnology as it gains momentum. It is important to orient our resources towards the formation of an inclusive, diverse and safe society where technology can be globalized while being used for #socialgood.
“The most exciting things we’ve seen are coming out of the education and medical space.” — Jonathan Nafarrete
Together, we go further.
Education & awareness is the key for success.