Fearless, Fit and Visionary?
Fearless, Fit and Visionary?
Mixed Reality (a combination ot the real world, augmented and virtual reality) is a technology and medium set to play a big role in the future of industry and entertainment.
How the technology will fit into our lives and values has yet to be seen: Will it be relegated to only videogames and pornography- or will these devices take on a wider range of utilities and functions? Here are a few predictions for how it will affect our lives from what I'm seeing out here in MR land.
#1 You’ll be able to literalize your imagination.
Have you ever had trouble explaining your ideas? I bet you have. You know the feeling; The idea is crystal clear in your mind. It’s a vision for your dream home, kitchen or whatever else. It is SO clear in fact, that it almost feels real. But it’s not real. It’s stuck there, in the front of your mind, not in front of your eyes. This issue, the fact that this idea is indeed only in your mind, makes it nearly impossible to share that vision with someone else. MR has the potential to improve the translation of ideas to reality.
Imagine being the owner of a plot of land, with a very detailed and specific idea of what you intend to build and the sorts of experiences you expect to take place within these space. Conventionally, you jot down your ideas on pen & paper, documents and emails, and forward them to the relevant parties such as contractors, architects, designers etc, unknowingly subjecting yourself to the risk that your partners will fail to effectively see your vision and implement it accordingly, forcing you to explain things again, and again, and again, with ever increasing detail. Ughhhh…. **Face Palms**
This exhausting and expensive process can turn your dream into a nightmare. But why does this happen? Because nobody can see the vision in your head. You have to guide people through it. You’ve got to explain yourself over and over again until they get it, or until you settle for what they’ve already got.
Fortunately for you, and for the rest of us , something is coming that will make this common experience a thing of the past. In the coming years, Generative Design Technology will empower you to explain your idea once, to your computer, in as much detail as you like, press a button and then boom, your idea is transformed into a high resolution 3D version of itself. You’ll then be able to share this experience to anyone with an internet connection and a device. With this new shared (mixed) reality- you and your partners can collaborate together in this virtual space with newfound clarity and shared vision.
Instead of explaining and re-explaining yourself, you will be able to craft your idea in a visual, interactive way that can be experienced instantly and fully by all those who need to, allowing them to see EXACTLY what you mean by what you've described to them, and vica versa. And in the 21st Century, our ability to effectively work together, may be what makes all the difference.
These innovations are new, and the implications for industry and society are still unclear. Companies like Microsoft are building devices to enable this reality at the hardware level, but from a software perspective, there are only a couple products on the market today which leverage the transformative power of generative design technology. Today, much of the technology is leveraged by companies involved with manufacturing. As far as the masses are concerned, the technology is in its infancy. Researchers at MIT CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) and the Max Planck Institute are working hard though, rapidly developing machine learning tools to advance the technology at the fundamental levels.
Whether it be in a year of a decade, It’s highly likely that our shared future will be one where more people than ever are literally realizing their imagination, and as far as I’m concerned, that is a very good thing.
#2 You’ll be fearless.
At some point or another, we’ve all been paralyzed by fear or anxiety. Like me, you probably have something in your life that represents the ultimate terror. To be clear, I’m not talking about the fears we have pre-programmed into us, because fear and anxiety oftentimes keeps us alive. I am talking about those irrational, ‘ruin your day’ type of fears. For some of us, it’s public speaking, for others it’s swimming. If it’s not that it’s dogs, clowns, driving at night or one of a million experiences that are capable of stopping us in our tracks.
There’s an old saying that everything you want in life is on the other side of fear. The question that desperately needs answering though, is: How do we get to that ‘other side’ ?
Teams of researchers at Stanford have been trying to answer that question with mixed reality. Andrew Huberman, PhD - an associate professor of neurobiology - has been attempting to gain a better understanding of fear as defined by your neurocircuitry. He believes that if we get a better understanding of what in the brain drives fear, scientists can develop better techniques for coping with, or reducing the fear we experience in life.
“We’re hoping to learn how to turn gazelles into lions,” says Huberman.
His team has found a critical link between our visual stimuli and the brain components that trigger responses to said stimuli. Apparently they’ve found a small part of the brain that, when appropriately activated, give us the ability to act courageously or at least defiantly in the face of fear. It’s called the ventral midline thalamus, or vMT. The vMT is a peanut sized section of your brain that, figuratively at least, transforms back breaking cowardice into bravery.
The team has been using Mixed Reality to capture and replay scenes that would normally generate a classic fear response- even going so far as to create a special VR chamber where they subject people (probably those poor Stanford undergraduates ) to experiences specially designed to scare us, and hopefully trigger our vMTs.
Eventually Huberman hopes to introduce hundreds or even thousands of participants, including people with post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorders or a variety of phobias, to the chamber. This will teach him and his team valuable more about what fear ‘actually looks like’ from a neurobiological level. These findings will be paired with new techniques for coping with and overcoming fear, also being devised by Huberman’s Lab.
The aforementioned research is similar to work being conducted by Huberman's colleagues at the Stanford Virtual Human interaction lab- who in 2016 led a groundbreaking study called “Empathy at Scale” which was designed to put people in bodies not their own. In this study participants experience life as a virtual avatar who was in some major way different than them, in race, age or social class. Not only did participants gain a visceral experience of what it was like to ‘walk in someone else's shoes’ - but most participants would go on to score lower in tests of subconscious racial bias.
Critics of using MR to explore human physiology base their concerns on the premise of treating “real” problems with “artificial” experiences, claiming that any empathy felt through VR isn’t real or lasting empathy. To those critics, Sarah, a researcher in the study says, “We’ve learned that VR stories can light up certain emotional processing centers in the brain. To me, whether that is ‘real’ depends on the person and whether that feeling lasts beyond when they take off the headset.”
It is still unclear as to whether or not there are long lasting impacts on the brains of those who participate in fear or empathy training exercises in VR. One can only hope that they do, and if so, I expect these research findings to be craftily packaged into a portable mixed reality application that can be used in mainstream society to better manage our fears. Imagine, if you will, a world with a little bit less fear in it. Doesn’t that sound like a future you’d like to live in?
#3 Your Health Will Level Up.
While skeptics of mixed reality technology are fearful that the new medium will hijack our attention, and turn us into obese vegetables who only leave VR to change our adult diapers; I am a tad more optimistic. On the contrary, I believe that MR, specifically Augmented reality, has great potential to improve health outcomes in America, and help us avert the greatest health crisis of a century.
We all aspire to health, strength and wellbeing- wanting to look and feel good is a universal human condition. But as you probably know, it’s much easier said than done. Whether it be due to lack of motivation, or a lack of supportive environments, we often find ourselves waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and on the wrong side of the scale. MR might help us leverage virtual support systems for health and wellness.
A common dictum of the health industry, is that if you are to achieve success, you need someone to hold you accountable. For this reason, the personal trainer industry is booming. According to the US Dept. of Labor, the multi-billion dollar industry is growing at upwards of 20% per year. For many of us though, a personal trainer is not a viable option, and even if it is an option, the best trainers are few and far between.
But what if you could receive custom coaching and instruction without leaving the room you’re in right now? Techniques for bringing virtual avatars into your life to improve your health, like those being pioneered by Icaros (bay area VR Health Startup) are poised to bring world class yoga instructors to your living room, and celebrity chefs to your kitchen, digitally at least. And while it’s true, the instructor is not in fact, ‘really there’ showing you how to execute a proper downward dog- their virtual presence represents a major improvement over seeing the same technique executed via a Youtube Video. The wildly popular indoor cycling company, Peloton, lets its users join a class going on with others all around the world, and for the instructor to see the participants and communicate with each one about their performance, giving the rider the feeling of a one-on-one experience.
Mixed reality has a unique ability to create unparalleled visual experiences in a positive and utilitarian manner
If the Mixed Reality Revolution is to resemble the smartphone revolution at all, it won’t be because of the cool games we can play with these new devices. It will be because of the unique and fundamental benefits of leveraging the technology to do things that are impossible otherwise. You love your smartphone because it empowers you, inspires you, and enables you to do more with the limited time you have. One can only hope that Mixed reality unfolds similarly, leveraging its unique ability to create unparalleled visual experiences in a positive and utilitarian manner. I am cautiously optimistic that this new age of 3D interactive media will have huge benefits to all of mankind, in ways that we cannot yet articulate or imagine.
We live in unique times, where the cultures of the world mix and intermingle, while our physical and digital worlds begin to blend together. What will this new, ‘mixed’ world look like? No one is certain, but I for one, am excited to strap into a headset and find out.