Last week, one of the readings for class was Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s Bold Plan for the Future of Facebook, which dove into 3 specific areas of focus: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and bringing the internet to everywhere in the world. The segment that interests me the most is virtual reality, or more largely – artificial reality, for two reasons: 1) I feel like it is a buzzword right now and I am interested in the application of it, and 2) companies like Facebook and other startups of channeling billions of dollars to develop it. Evidently, people (and investors) think this is the next big thing that will reshape how we interact with the world.
Already, the emergence of new technologies mixing the real world and a virtual world is apparent and indicate the growing trend towards artificial reality. Facebook is one of many companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and Amazon which have teams and resources dedicated to the development of artificial reality. Augmented reality is already being adopted and utilized in existing platforms, which is the first step for virtual and mixed reality. Augmented reality displays digital images on a view of the real world. Examples include Snapchat filters that overlay users’ faces or viewing Pokémon characters on a city sidewalk. The success of these two products, and others like them, inspire future developments into virtual reality and mixed reality, while creating excitement for all the possibilities.
Oculus: A New Way to Connect
Mark Zuckerberg believes virtual reality is the next big technology advancement for how humans interact. Back in March of 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion dollars. Much of virtual reality (VR) to date is entertainment focused, such as interactive games and videos. However, Facebook’s plan to interact with VR is much larger. The chart below shows some industries outside of entertainment that could gain a lot from VR. According to a statement released by Facebook earlier in 2016, Facebook is “investing in efforts to explore immersive new VR experiences that will help people connect and share.” The long term goal is to create a way for friends living in different corners of the world to spend time with each other that feels like they are really together. Facebook has a “Social VR” team who has been tasked with the mission to explore the future of social interaction. Obviously Facebook has succeeded in connecting people thus far, but VR presents a whole new set of problems such as integrating new technologies on all platforms.
One Step Further…Mixed Reality
Beyond Facebook, there are other players in the virtual reality field, including one rather secretive startup, Magic Leap. Differing from Oculus, Magic Leap is concerned with mixed reality. Instead of just interacting in a virtual space, Magic Leap is developing technologies that allow users to interact in their own space with 3-D virtual images. These images are responsive to the natural world. For example, if a virtual box was under a table, the user wouldn’t see it unless he bent down and looked under the table. Magic Leap is the leader of mixed reality and has the financial power to back it up with a $4.5 billion valuation and $1.4 billion raised by investors. With huge funds at hand, Magic Leap has expanded its team to over 500 employees, yet it has not released any products. A few videos and articles offer insights into the head-mounted device Magic Leap has been developing over the last few years. In an article published by Wired, author Kevin Kelley was offered a first hand look into Magic Leap. Kelley reported that soon Magic Leap’s development team with convert to using all virtual displays. Not being confined to a computer screen or even a tablet will allow employees to interact and work in a whole new way, not to mention from any location of their choosing. Kelley also observed how concerns over lighting and display are keeping the virtual view from being completely realistic. Below is video that demonstrates the possibilities of artificial reality and showcases some of the work Magic Leap is pursuing.
Both Facebook and Magic Leap highlight the exciting possibilities on the horizon. Throughout my life, I have witnessed the changing ways we interact with each other from phone calls, to emails, to Skype, to social media and I am looking forward to seeing (and experiencing first hand) how artificial reality redefines our means of staying connected. Artificial reality technologies offer huge advantages for businesses and consumers. The way in which employees interact with coworkers would drastically change. Video chatting or conference calls are often not enough for important meetings, but this problem could be eliminated with developments of artificial reality. Personally, I look forward to the day when I have all the interactive tools I need to go about my work and don’t have to be glued to my phone screen or laptop.