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Why Should You Care About Virtual Reality? Because It's A Source Of Hope.

This is a guest post by filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and now Virtual Reality developer Hugh Hancock.

Virtual Reality's here. Woo. Yay. More tech toys.

The UK just voted to leave the EU. Trump's in line for the White House. Climate change is making its effects felt. Automation's really starting to bite. A lot of very smart people are starting to get very worried about AI.

So why exactly should you care about a bunch of nerds strapping really expensive phone housings to their face?

Well, I recently dropped a 20-year film career to go full-time into VR - specifically room-scale VR, the kind where you walk around and flail about. I've spent the last 2-3 months completely immersed in it, for full-on 80-hour-week crunch values of "fully immersed", developing Left-Hand Path, a Dark Souls-inspired room-scale VR RPG.

There's a reason for that. I've been doing the "futuristic tech" thing for a while and I've been involved in massive, super-exciting technology shifts before. I founded a rather successful dotcom during the first dotcom era, for example.

This feels as exciting. I'm pretty sure that ignoring VR right now looks a lot like ignoring that "Interweb" thing circa 1996. It's going to change the world.

And here's the important bit: it gives us a whole load of reasons to hope that it'll change it for the better.

VR Sets Physical Design Back 2 Centuries

In a good way, that is.

I was talking to a landscape architect the other day, and he explained that the single biggest problem in his job is visualisation.

Sure, you can draw plans. You can create CAD models. You can render nice renders. But at the end of the day, none of them are even close to actually being there.

VR is close to being there. VERY close to being there. I've seen people playing Left-Hand Path leap backward from monsters, get on their hands and knees to look under furniture, and giggle with glee as they realised they could pick up a burning branch and light a candle with it.

That's darn neat for games, but if your entire livelihood relies on being able to accurately visualise 3D things, it's life-changing.

VR enables architects to just build the damn building, then walk round it. It lets artists paint on a 25 foot canvas rather than a 24" monitor. It enables engineers to step around their creation, spin it, manipulate it with their hands like they're Tony Stark.

In short, it transforms what were 3D tasks awkwardly done through a 2D interface back into fully-3D work in a 3D space. That's what I mean by "sets design back 2 centuries" - it takes us back to a time when physical design was done physically, but adds all the advantages of computer modeling too.

The productivity gains here can't be underestimated. We could easily be looking at a 2-fold improvement if not more for all the industries affected. That's a big deal for industries that are massively affected by the uncertainty right now, which are pretty much all of the design-based ones: construction, engineering, and of course the arts. If there's one thing that a bunch of expensive, difficult industries going into tough economic times could do with, it's a new technology that makes them a lot more efficient.

And if you're not a designer? It'll still be incredible when you're considering remodeling your bathroom, buying a new car, or replacing the hallway floor. That's why the early adopters for VR include a number of big car manufacturers, and why one of the first apps to be released for the Vive was from IKEA.

VR Might Be The Biggest Shakeup For Public Health In The Last 50 Years

I've talked about this in the past, so I won't go on about it again, but let me just say: cardiovascualar exercise is massively important for health. It's particularly important in combating metabolic symdrome, which the NIH referred to last year as an "epidemic".

Most people don't get enough cardio.

About 20% of the world plays computer games regularly.

Computer games are about to become a form of exercise. VR games are serious workouts. And they're serious workouts that are already getting a lot of people who never normally exercise into strenuous physical activity.

I've heard people say that gamers will never accept physical exercise as a requirement. A lot of people have said a lot of things about gaming - that it would never appeal to women, that it would never require an internet connection, that MMORPGs would never take off...

Moving on.

VR Is The Most Successful Travel Substitute Ever Devised

I'm not talking about virtual tourism here. Sure, VR tourism is pretty cool, and sure, being able to feel like you're going up Everest without the oxygen deprivation and death is neat, but that's not the issue here.

I'm talking about the other reason for travel. The not fun one. Business.

Business travel costs 1.2 trillion dollars worldwide per year. Mostly, it's a fairly terrible experience. It eats hours or days sitting unproductive in hotels or on planes. But it's necessary, because a teleconference just doesn't deliver the same experience of presence and working together.

It's early days yet, but it looks like full-body VR just might.

Here's what a reviewer for Engadget said about AltSpace, the pioneering "put people together in VR" app right now, which is still in beta:

" It felt comfortable. Natural. Easy. Before long, I started to forget about the odd combination of robots and taverns and started to just enjoy hanging out with other people in VR."

Other reviewers report similar things.

Add to that the "physical design" advantages I mentioned above, and the fact that VR meetings also can, for example, feature an infinite wall of whiteboards to work on, and VR starts to look like a serious competitor to business travel for many purposes.

If I wanted to make money out of VR right now as my primary goal, as opposed to telling stories, this is the field I'd be hitting hard. A VR headset and PC to run it costs about the same as a single economy-class intercontinental business trip, if not a bit less.

And let's be honest, who wouldn't want to get rid of the dozen-hours-in-economy-then-another-dozen-in-the-chain-hotel experience?

Again, this is particularly important right now. Across the world the barriers to travel are increasing - visas required where they weren't before, US officials planning to ask for social media details, Brexit. VR tears down barriers to meeting and communication, just at a time when they're being raised.

It's also very interesting in light of the ongoing housing crisis. The more a virtual office can replace a physical office, the less requirement there is to be in an overpriced city like London. If you can get a decent internet connection - and you can - in the Isle of Skye, you can perfectly happily commute to the virtual office just as easily as you could from the Isle of Dogs.

VR totally changes physical togetherness

There's a corollary to the "business travel" thing. "Travel" with VR is effectively free.

That means that you more or less eliminate distance as a factor in many relationships.

The Internet has already done that to a significant extent, but whilst I can write on Facebook walls or even have Skype chats with my friends in the Bay Area, I can't play pool with them, or watch a movie with them, or go to the gym with them.

In VR, I can do all those things. In fact, one of the fastest-selling VR apps by a country mile is Pool Nation VR, which is essentially a pub games simulator. I bought it after seeing a couple of friends on Facebook talking about their game of pool last night - they're a thousand miles apart. I don't get to hang out with either of them very often.

Now I can casually challenge them to a game of pool in a virtual pub any time I like.

Just looking at my personal life, this could be a huge change. I can watch the superhero movies with my friends in LA (once Netflix works properly with the joint-presence movie players). I can play pool with my mates in Austin, New York, and Bangkok. Once they all have a headset, I can sit down for a game of Mansions of Madness with my boardgame-mad friends in Wales I never see.

And this will extend into the entertainment sphere too. Twitch has already shown there's a huge demand for live events, even if it's just a webcam view of one person. VR enables the physical gig again, only this time you don't have to find an audience in a single town - you can draw them from all over the world.

I'm not a musician, a comedian, or a theatre director, but I'm guessing changing the potential catchment area for any live event from "size of local town" to "world" is going to have an effect.

And again, the world can really use a technology that lets people from around the world get together and enjoy common experiences right now. On which subject...

VR Promotes Empathy

It's rather obvious at the moment that the world's polarising, badly. I'm not going to go into my personal theories of why that is (cough, social media, cough, filter bubble), but it's happening.

So it's a good thing that the up and coming tech has a rather well-noted side effect of promoting empathy extremely effectively.

VR gets closer to literally putting you in someone else's head than anything ever has. (I play with this in Left-Hand Path - many of my players have been somewhat surprised half-way through to realise that the body they're in doesn't have the gender they were expecting, and there are some plot twists beyond that which I won't reveal.)

Stanford is studying the empathic effects of VR very closely. Creators are using it to put people into the experience of Syrian refugees, or disabled people, or simply people of different physical characteristics - like gender.

If there's one thing the world could do with right now it's an empathy machine. And VR looks like it's just that.

VR Lets Us Create Worlds

And then there's that.

Virtual Reality literally - or at least, for all intents and purposes - lets us create worlds.

We've been able to describe worlds before. We've been able to create pictures and even videos of them.

But now we can create a place, a town, a planet, a universe, and step inside it. Or invite others to step inside it.

I'm finding that to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Watching a streamer walk through my world and my story experiencing it, physically interacting with it, wondering over it and even getting frustrated by it, is just astonishing.

It's nothing like writing an article and reading the comments, or even making a movie and going to the premiere. It's something entirely new.

And that's why I'm so excited about VR.

There's a lot of horrible stuff going on in the world right now. And a lot of even more scary stuff that might be about to happen.

But that doesn't mean there's not also amazing stuff happening. World-changing, ground-breaking, potentially even humanity-altering stuff.

I'm pretty sure working, mass-scale VR is that sort of Stuff.

What did I miss? Are there other reasons to be thrilled about VR? Am I being too optimistic? Or is there something else even bigger on the horizon?



There is an English word, onism, which means, "The sorrow of having only one body and one life; the melancholy that comes with awareness of just how little of the world you will get to see."

An explosion of virtual worlds, each with its own immensely creative bent, freed of the resource costs (an concurrent economic ugliness) usually associated with creating vast and beautiful spaces, is going to make onism epidemic. Already, there's articles extolling watching television at 160% normal speed to help people watch "everything" great that's coming out of the networks. Imagine what it will be like when that sort of emotional pressure is put on architecture and whole environments. Already there are worlds in which people spends hours and whole days of their lives just to look at the magnificent artistry of a team that didn't have to lift bricks and weld steel to make great cities... or great ruins. The best video games encourage sightseeing.

The only solution I see is posthuman dividuality.


For business travel and the needs of businesses to cluster in London, how will VR succeed where Slack failed?


Let me ask you this. If I was Rupert Murdoch or Nigel Farage and I wanted to scare white people about immigrants using VR, how would I go about doing it? How could the "Breaking Point" poster from the Brexit debate be redone in VR?

Your points about VR increasing empathy is valid. However, there is a double-edged sword there. Anything that can increase empathy can also increase fear and hatred. As we've seen in the past few decades, people such as the gentlemen mentioned above are adept at using fear and social media filter bubbles to get their way. If there's a way to similarly weaponize VR, they're probably researching it right now?


It's a totally different experience having a conversation with someone or someones in VR to using a Slack channel.

They're not really comparable at all.

A better comparison might be Skype compared to VR, but again, the experience is very different - staring at a screen vs being in a physical space with someone else also in that space.

(Incidentally, if VR doesn't crack this, AR will. Apparently having meetings via Hololens is almost scarily like being in the same room.)


I'd actually prefer not to comment on that in case the Wrong People end up Google searching one day.

I'm, false modesty aside, an expert on both VR and advertising-style persusasion, so I have some pretty solidly grounded ideas on how I'd do it. But I really don't want to spell it out here.

Having said all that, I'm not sure that it necessarily follows that all things which can increase empathy can also be used to increase fear and hatred. For example, victim interviews for criminals definitely increase empathy - I'm not 100% sure how they could be used to increase hatred.


Easy: sow a seed of doubt and let the cognitive dissonance make it blossom. We are incredibly good at making sure the thought "I have done a bad thing" never crosses our minds, and, having done a bad thing, will grab any justification to make sure it doesn't.

So, for example, follow up a tearful impact statement about the loss caused by the theft of a piece of jewellery with irreplaceable emotional resonance by asking the victim "how much was it insured for, again? And what did you spend it on?" and let cognitive dissonance and the Just World Hypothesis do their insidious work...


I think the one thing we need to watch is escapism via VR will be an issue as it gets better and better.

Maybe we're 50 years off or more from it being an issue. But I've been an MMO addict and know how powerful the sense of achievement can be there when nothing is going right in your life.


Probably of little relevance, but 35-ish years ago Scientific American had a cover story on computer-aided architecture. At the time, I had some acquaintance with $SPIES and said to them, "Gee, wouldn't this be useful for virtually(*) preparing case officers for agent meets, brush passes, servicing dead drops, planning covert activities in general?" Went nowhere, of course, because That Wasn't The Way We Do Things.

Anyway, VR still seems to have a lot of potential for such activities.

(*) I doubt I actually said "virtually", but that was the idea.


You could probably use VR to get rid of the other major cost of business travel - the traveler.

The VR avatar doesn't have to look anything like the user. Throw in a little audio processing to get rid of the accent, and some guy in the Phillipines could be you for 10% of the cost.


35-ish years ago

Eek, make that 42 years ago. Where does the time go?


Computer Graphics in Architecture By Donald P. Greenberg on May 1, 1974

A computer programmed to generate pictures or drawings can show a prospective building in various settings, enabling an observer to "walk" through the scene. It can also produce detailed plans.


It took a while for architects to make use of real time 3D because the ability to do a decent rendering in real time is relatively recent. By "decent" I mean rendering with proper lighting solutions, tone mapping on the fly etc.

Floating point framebuffers haven't been in cheap hardware all that long in the grand scheme of things.

Rendered flythroughs have been around practically forever of course.

VR for engineering data has been here since the 90s and never went away. It has just been to expensive for consumers to notice. It's been getting cheaper and better along with anything else but vast numbers of candy coloured triangles look less impressive than small numbers of fancy shaded ones unless you know what you are looking at.

Having said all that, the new VR boom will make a big difference.

For starters the likes of the Rift should be putting the frighteners on the pro VR headset guys. It won't be but it should.

I would be prepared to bet good money that they firmly believe that their professional quality tracking and superior optics will save them. Just like 3DLabs and their superior AA saw off the likes on nvidia in the late 00s...


Meh... The VR preachers were saying the same thing about VR back in '96.

Nobody wanted to wear a bucket on their heads to play a game then, and you will be hard-pressed to convince me that stuff will fly today.


There is an English word, onism

That's an easy word to misread for onanism, which is funnily enough not at all tangential in a VR thread...


Ok, as an expert:

What's your opinion on the current VR issue over DRM, walled gardens and economic warfare being waged over the infant companies?


A lot of GGoobers are watching this to see if you know your stuff.


And yes: Feel free to link to public docs and do the research into company docs.

Hint: might have just advised a major bank / online vendor on this, so I'm interested to see your side of the equation.


If you can get a decent internet connection - and you can - in the Isle of Skye, you can perfectly happily commute to the virtual office just as easily as you could from the Isle of Dogs.

So, you can get a connection with sub-millisecond latency from Skye? Awesome!

(Given that current VR machinery uses 8ms of the 10ms budget you have to play with (before inducing discomfort in at least some of your users), that's what you need.)

Also, how do you deal with the user's loss of ability to monitor her real environment? (She might hear something, but be unable to see what it is.) I have read that that problem rapidly makes people uncomfortable when using VR.

I think AR has potential to improve productivity/reduce downtime, more at the slightly-augmented end than the full-replacement end. VR? Not so much, except in niche, highly-structured and mostly static situations. Board meetings: yes. Full-immersion language and culture training for diplomats, maybe. House construction or cafe service, no.


Here's my opinion

VR Sets Physical Design Back 2 Centuries

I agree with this except for the 2-fold improvement in productivity. I think it is going to be closer to 1-fold. We already have CAD software, so some of the productivity increases have already been absorbed. I can only speak for aerospace engineering. I see some improvements in the fields from a life-sized CAD model, but it's nowhere near as impressive as you seem to indicate. Ergonomics aren't that big a component.

VR Might Be The Biggest Shakeup For Public Health In The Last 50 Years

We've already had this argument. I am not convinced this is anything other than a niche (speaking as someone who was >100 kg when I was younger). Going by my past experiences, your games don't really go around the mental blocks I had to overcome to lose weight (such as the fact that I wasn't a social person back then). But that's not a discussion I'm willing to have on this blog.


A minor nitpick

Modern full-body tactile feedback suits resemble skin-tight clothing so much they will cause social problems. Ignoring cultures which consider such suits immodest, I've spoken to several female non-engineers who point black told me that they would file a sexual harassment claim if she were required to wear one as part of her work. As one put it: "If I'm wearing VR glasses and a suit that fits tight around my boobs and butt, I can't see if a creep is staring somewhere he shouldn't be, and that scares me". Older women and women with different body shapes are also worried these suits will increase discrimination against them, and so will raise legal fights to keep these suits out of the office. I would imagine this attitude isn't limited to women.


Oops, should have deleted the "minor nitpick". Why I called it minor is because I realize that there are technological solutions to that problem. It's not a fundamental show-stopper for the technology. I am fully cognizant that it is a major social problem with VR as it currently exists. I just don't understand why designers actually think of these problems until after the fact?


Is the name of your game anything to do with Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness?

Also, I am excited about using this tech for roleplaying games. I've tried gaming online before, but it cannot compare to people being in the room, able to see people's faces, judge body language, throw up Youtube clips to entertainingly derail the proceedings, etc.


I'd suggest that relatively few genuine work-related purposes for full-body tactile feedback suits are likely to arise anyhow.


It would be easy as anything to modify the feedback suits for modesty. Or just wear a smock over it.


Nobody wanted to wear a bucket on their heads to play a game then

Oh, I was programming VR in the late 1990s too and likewise somewhat skeptical about the prospects for widespread adoption today.

But here I disagree, plenty of people wanted to wear a bucket on their heads then but they couldn't afford it. Today they can.

This is the steady quantitive improvements becoming a qualitative change. Back then, buying a VR system was the same order of magnitude as buying a new house. The only exceptions were "garage" VR systems which required maniac hardware enthusiasts to solder together and maniac assembler programmers to get just a simple wireframe fast enough.

Today, people are complaining that an Oculus Rift plus computer might cost as much as $5,000 dollars. Oh, the humanity! And instead of trying to implement matrix transformations in fixed point assembly language, we can throw together new ideas in Unreal or Unity.

The ideas our guest host puts forward might not work out. Won't matter. VR is now cheap enough for legions of experimenters to do their stuff. Sturgeons Law will no doubt apply, but the good 10% will succeed.


It takes away from the fantasy, but yes: you can wear clothes over a plug suit (so long as you don't mind them getting covered in LCL).

On the actual subject, being able to be touched by people on the internet sounds like the worst idea anyone has ever had (advertising slogan: reach out and grope someone). I don't see full-body tactile feedback suits being used for day to day tasks or business, as there's simply no need. If you want to shake hands in VR a pair of gloves will do fine.


The ubiquity of VR headsets is going to turn drones into a real pest.


In some areas they already are.


Well in that case, let me start by saying that on the DRM-and-VR issue, I don't know my stuff. I know it's happening, but I've been working 14-hour days building VR experiences during all the time it's kicked off, so my knowledge of it is layman-level.

Having said that, personally I'm not a big fan of overly-restrictive DRM, I'm not terribly interested in non-roomscale VR, and my experiences with Steam and Valve so far have been unremittingly positive. So I'm likely to be sticking with the non-DRMed platform.

I have an Oculus Rift CV1 but I only got it out of its box when my dev copies of the Oculus Touch arrived. I'm still trying to figure out how to sandbox the Oculus app so that it doesn't have full permissions on my system.

Frankly the platform wars are concerning. VR is still pretty small and in its infancy, and the DRM nonsense is giving it a lot of bad press and bad feeling. I'd rather see more cooperation going on.


Sub-milisecond latency is only relevant on the rendering end. Positional lag on other players due to network issues doesn't affect nausea.

The idea of having meetup / conference / collaborative VR apps available isn't theory. It isn't a pipe-dream I just made up for this article.

There are already dozens of apps offering multi-user experiences in VR, and they're wildly popular.. Pool Nation VR has a 97% positive review ratio. So clearly they work.

As for people getting uncomfortable that they can't monitor their environment: I've personally demoed the Vive to a lot of people, and I've never seen that problem. I've read the experiences of dozens or hundreds of other people, and they don't seem to have that problem either.

However, for the minority of people who do have that issue, the Vive has an external camera. It's literally one button-press to be able to see your nearby environment.



Given that, I would assume that these days there are quite a number of Vives and Oculus Rifts sitting around in various large three-letter agencies...


Given that you can walk around with a camera, take a bunch of random snaps and create a passable 3d model in photoscan with a few minutes* of number crunching there's not really much of a bar to authoring the data.

A bike with a gopro is all you need to do a 3D survey.

*assuming high end GPU.


Yes, it's going to be fantastic, and apps for precisely that purpose are already beginning to appear.

Also consider, for example, fog of war. There's no reason the GM can't see the whole table whilst the players only see what their characters can see.


I have some experiences with modern corporate teleconferencing and can say with great certainty that that animation quality avatars used in examples you cite will not be acceptable for most corporate cultures.

Nothing less than full HD video available in current teleconferencing solutions would do.

Until this is achieved, you can forget about displacing corporate teleconferencing or corporate travel.


I should also say something about currently available high-end corporate videoconferencing.

It is already indistinguishable from real thing as far as I am concerned. The only thing missing is ability to shake hands if we got a deal. Now, that would be a useful addition in VR teleconferencing, but same quality of picture is needed first.


I will probably get myself one as soon as I can motivate the expense, and maybe save a bit as it is more than a nerd can justify as an impulse buy. Regarding corporate travel and telcos, I think the answer is both yes and no. It can replace SOME travel, and improve telcos, but it can never replace the main draw of business travelling I have witnessed, which is going out for a drink after the boring "work" part is over and deciding things. Maybe because I am too close to grunt level, and my insights are limited, but I feel that projects and deals and decisions are not made in the meeting room and in the telcos but rather over a pint/glass/bottle and a cigar in a more or less casual bar/restaurant/pub afterwards. I don't see how the closeness and informal atmosphere could be duplicated in VR in a corporate setting. Conferences have the saying after all, "it's not the talks, but the breaks that matter".


Agreed. I don't think it'll replace all travel, and probably not travel-for-negotiation.

However, travel-for-collaboration - design meetings, review meetings, anything where people are already working together and just need to be in the same space to collaborate - that it can replace quite well.


I again repeat the point about quality of picture.

Corporations I worked at, would never accept teleconferencing meetings set in taverns using elf and orc avatars or their equivalent. (now, I know a couple of guys at London headquarters who would actually benefit from orc avatar, but I am afraid, the Communications department would never approve that)


I absolutely agree with the collaboration point. Admittedly, I work in research related to computation/simulation/science so our standards are lower than in let us say banking, but for collaboration the goal is to move forward, solve a problem, brainstorm and the language is informal enough. I also would not meet my research partners in a tavern with a dwarf skin, just like my work machine does not have D&D skins and my work office is not a role-play cave (Even though it would make for nice office talk depending on what one understands as role-play). But why would we not have a virtual office with lots of large floating powerpoints and work surfaces to discuss flowcharts, propose class hierarchies and so on... I think that VR for work =!= VR for play, just like games =!= office suite. I think I would be quite confortable though working with a low poly representation of a colleague, although in time MOCAP will probably solve that as well.


I am seeing it as an ultimate Earth saver. Saving transportation and entertainment energy could be huge (later one only rises). Not to mention that VR kids (and gamers) don't go around starting wars. Talking about saving everything right?

Also I think you missed complex biology. Complex biophenomena (protein folding and weak interactions/binding) are on the roll now. Since they are 3D thingies that are very hard to visualize, and big pharma and bio-industry has enough money to invest/buy VR for them, could be a very promising market.

I am very intrigued by VR, how would I react to standing on a cliff, even that I know it's VR.


On a more dystopian front however, could this be a singularity point for the breads and circuses and population control ideas? Could the minimum guaranteed income plus VR++ (maybe with tactile, maybe not) be a way to keep all unnecessary people laid off content indefinitely? And with the added benefit that if the VR is good enough escapism they would not need to bother with lesser biological escapism options like drugs and would retire themselves from the procreation market? And if all you need is the VR system and really really basic food and board, said guaranteed income would not even be too large. The question could even become, how to convince those who are needed to get out... as we cannot automate everything... What am I missing?


Hmm. I'll have some Dystopia: Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are already fully immersed in a reality entirely of their own design and now they want just to reshape the physical world accordingly.


As someone who... * likes 'stuff', and thinks involuntary Puritanism is bad in itself and as a fertile ground for fanaticism, * believes in fairness * fears that the world can't support ten milliard living as I do ...I think making most of our goods virtual and free were a very good idea.


Heck worse than that. If virtual worlds are cheap enough for home use, our entire society could collapse as living well IRL becomes unimportant.

See: The Unincorporated Man, which is about a Richard Branson type being awakened from cryosleep after a VR induced societal collapse. Part of the book deals with how the youth of the future are indoctrinated against VR.


I agree it is a solution towards sustainability, but I think the breakdown in necessary working people and the breakdown of most consumer goods production chains could lead to a potentially unrecoverable failure mode for our civilisation. Depending on autonomous robots/ A.I. development versus VR immersion things could still turn out ok, even if still distinctly dystopian with humanity "taken care of" like animals in a zoo by automated caretakers and eventually simply dying out, not unlike the scenario of OGH' Saturns Children. I think it likely that we will not necessarily deal with this failure mode ourselves bar other singularities occurring, but it can be that my son and his generation will.


It won't promote empathy because people will select and stay in their bubble just as they do with social media now.

In fact, it'll have the opposite effect. The military have found that VR training can fool the subconscious. It really is like being there.

So first-person shooter (and hack-'em-up) games will now have the same effect as -really killing people-.


Currently all VR is a one-way thing and there is a big technological barrier preventing it from being a two-way communication that has not been cracked yet - blocked face. When you put your VR goggles on, they block your face off from any external cameras and there are no cameras inside the googles, so there is no way to capture your facial expressions which are a key part of a face-to-face communication. Even a much simpler Skype call is more immersive, because both participants can see each others face as they speak. Until that is solved, the VR will remain a one-way thing.


Nice shimmy.

(For those not clued in - Facebook bought one of the three contenders to the throne, and has sought to wall garden it in via software / hardware DRM. i.e. locked to hardware via software. Host is being coy and flagging Steam's team as positive as a hint to where his loyalties lie).


The main issue is, Hugh, they're treating this like the old 1 vrs 1 technology battles. i.e. Videos - Betamax vrs VHS, or mini-CD vrs .mp3 etc. Or even Sony vrs MS on the Xbox / PS3 battle [remember - PS3s had a BluRay reader for cheaper than cost ~ mainly to win that battle of format on HD playback. You can go look up which side got pr0n onboard and won].


Meta Comment that cost someone $50-100k: This stuff isn't the battle ground.

Like Netflix and Blockbusters, the next gen[tm] stuff isn't something you can hold on a local HD (most computers now have ~ 1-2 TB storage), we're getting into interactive film / games with bandwidth like T1 connection minimum. You'll be needing to stream ~2-8 TB in VR setups.

The big boys [tm] are working on this.

And no.

The Hobbit was still shit and padded and a laboured cash cow that should never have been made.

But imagine it in VR!

You're the SEXY dwarf!

That's where the money's aiming at - no-one wants to get caught with pants down like Blockbuster or bricks n mortar game shops. [Hint: advised this a while ago: major investors in Netflix = hey, enjoy your pensions].


I have an Occulus rift it's pretty neat for some games (especially Elite Dangerous)

However it's still probably five years from being mainstream, too expensive (especially when you count the rig to run it), too clunky , too low rez and still work on the input side

I think it's one of those things were it's easy to over estimate the near term adoption and easy to underestimate the midterm. It's gonna change things seriously in the 5-15 year horizon

Also oculus disabled their drm in their last update I think . There are also a lot if tricks being implemented to decrease bandwidth requirements (no need to stream things that are not in your line of sight for instance ) so hopefully bandwidth requirements come down


So not Orcs and Taverns.. but how about Vanity software.. kinda like 'shopping yourself on the fly to give you that extra bit of gloss and polish? Clear up that nasty blemish that popped up the night before the big meet? just SmoothIt(tm) things a little..


...but how about Vanity software.. kinda like 'shopping yourself on the fly to give you that extra bit of gloss and polish? Thought that was a given[1]; also there is the possibility (which might not be implemented or accepted in some domains but probably would in others) that "mostly-true-to-life" (or purely made-up) avatars could be customized per individual viewer either by them (yuck!) or by the source (also interesting possibilities). The art of in-the-open private communications would become more of a delicious stunt, as people migrated to technological implementations of private subgroup communications of various sorts. Interesting; does anyone know of a fictional sci-fi treatment of this? I mean more nuanced and everyday than something like WJW's Aristoi's flashy parties.

[1] Recollection that a co-worker and I rejected it as too obvious for a patentable idea at least 5 years ago. But maybe not; don't recall ever doing a serious literature search.


I think it's obvious; I've seen the pretty avatar morph thing used in more than one SF story. The earliest variation I remember (non-software) was a vanity mask for video telephone calls, in The Jetsons.

I again repeat the point about quality of picture. Corporations I worked at, would never accept teleconferencing meetings set in taverns using elf and orc avatars or their equivalent. (now, I know a couple of guys at London headquarters who would actually benefit from orc avatar, but I am afraid, the Communications department would never approve that)

The organisations that are currently using the high-end virtual conference gear — sure. The VR folk are probably another 5+ years from making that kind of stuff even vaguely comparable.

However I believe there are lots of places that don't have anything vaguely like that who would benefit from VR/AR environments. It's the classic Innovator's Dilemma stuff — the high-end ignores customers with different needs and lower profit margins, gets disrupted by an "inferior" product that meets those needs better and then grows into the high end.

I spend stupid amounts of time on trains just to get around a whiteboard or a wall of post-it notes or half a dozen tables with other humans. Almost none of those companies has the $ for the high end gear. My small consultancy company certainly doesn't have the money for it. I have clients who regularly fly in their entire dev team together every quarter — because the productivity boost is worth it, and it's cheaper than getting everybody a high end Cisco TelePresence rig (or whatever).

Something that's the price of a couple of high end laptops on the other hand… suddenly that looks affordable. And a lot better than the half arsed combinations of slack / / trello / jira that we end up using for most remote work.

From my POV I spend a lot of my time dealing with distributed teams, or dealing with co-located teams when I'm largely remote. Low-end VR if it was cheap and vaguely pervasive would, I think, make a significant difference to me and a lot of the companies I work with.


Anyone have a rough idea what we're probably talking about spec-wise on these upcoming "Google Daydream"-ready handsets?

Interested in getting my feet wet with some baby VR, but I've a sneaking suspicion these phones are going to be $1,500.


It will depend on what it's combined with. Comparing VR to The Internet is not apt. It's better comparing it to winged glider technology. It's not that powerful in itself, but it can be combined with other technologies very productively, and the combined functions will surpass the basic model before long--based on stuff learned with the basic model. The exercise application, for example, will require other machines to go with the VR, stuff to provide resistance or something, not just waving your hands and jumping. Maybe some kind of padded frame. And ultimately it will all be replaced by the airplane, or rather direct stimulation of the sensory centers of the brain.


That bread and circuses dystopia exists already with all forms of regular 2d screen entertainment. In a way you could say it has existed since the advent of entertainment. As in, the original bread and circuses. There was a story a few years ago about a couple who spent all their money on a big screen TV so they could play video games nonstop and let their child starve to death in the next room or something. And the Roman upper class, always down watching gladiators rather than attending to business. Same thing. It scales.


I spend stupid amounts of time on trains just to get around a whiteboard or a wall of post-it notes or half a dozen tables with other humans. In my experience there is a world of difference between collaborations among people who have interacted in meat-world at least once (including eating and socializing at least a small bit), and not. But once is usually enough; from then on the mental model (or current videoconferencing) is fine. Not personally sure decent VR would serve as an adequate substitute, though it would certainly fill in the time gap between start of collaboration and first face-to-face. Dunno, maybe this is old-think. Maybe what is needed is novelty, e.g. steady occasional surprise about some newly observed personal facet (or change) of a collaborator. (Again, room for mischief (including playing) here but that's part of human interactions.) Sort-of-related: rapid microexpressions and body language shifts are important. Unclear whether VR would capture them reliably ("bandwidth" as an excuse), or whether senders would filter them out, in a sort of whole-body virtual botox to prevent inadvertent reveals.


VR won't replace all business travel, but it could replace the lower levels of interaction.

From research I did a decade ago when helping teach a VR course, the various Computer Aided Collaboration people have found there's various levels of importance, and the higher the level, the less likely people are to abandon face to face interaction.

Bottom level is being social, AKA chit-chat, gossip, news. We're demonstrably comfortable handling that with just plain text email and SMS. (But sometimes there are failures, hence smiley faces and emoji.)

After that it went something like proposals/brainstorming, negotiation/evaluation, and finally judgement/decision making. And at the top level, especially when real money is at stake, you need to be in the same room to get all the voice subtleties and microexpressions and whatnot.

I'm not sure VR, at least in current form, will replace the social level. Putting on a headset is more encumbering (formal term for 'stuff you have to carry around and fiddle with') than a phone and VR itself is overkill.

Top level judgement and decision making, nope. The speed of light rules it out for long distance if nothing else.

So I'd suggest the growth in VR is going to be in long distance presentations. Powerpoint slides, photos, 3D models, Word docs, stick them all in a virtual space with walk arounds and zooming and editing.


Don't underestimate the development part. I think that the combined idea of one face to face for the deciders and a big face-to-face meeting with all rungs of the ladder followed by VR-supported productivity could work for a lot of business models, and if we're talking across the pond, one trip is easily enough to finance the device. (And I expect the price to go even further down in time.) So I believe as someone that hates flying and likes sleeping at home I am heading towards good times at work.

Regarding the dystopia thing, I fear the difference in quality that VR brings compared to other forms of entertainment could be significantly more encompassing and the World of Warcraft effect could be much stronger. Why would one need more than 1 room with a bed and the VR system and subsistence food if VR works? I don't believe that 2D entertainment is that enrapturing. Many of those in my circles do not even own a TV, and many of those that do use it as a jumped-up monitor. All do own a computation device and use it as a form of entertainment, but not as the primary one. It seems to be a secondary always-there comfortable option for when organizing something more rewarding is not possible. But what if the fun we can get out of VR (w or w/o friends) is better than hanging out with friends in real life?


(I thought I wrote this in the morning; either I dropped something or the software did.)

I think you are referring to something I remember, except that they (Koreans, as I heard it) were playing games in an arcade while their daughter starved to death at home. The mind-boggling thing was that the game they were addicted to was a sort of human tamaguchi thing, virtual childraising.

This is obviously too good to be true for the purposes of moral panic, so perhaps it wasn't true. Or maybe we should panic, I have no privileged info on this one.


you basicallyu need enough bandwith for 2 hd films at once. 4-5 meg/sec


top level decision making can probably operate with lag up to 500ms quite easily


Nope, 500 millseconds will rule out top level decision making.

According to Wikipedia, and I've seen the same figure elsewhere, latency above 200 millisecs is the maximum acceptable for phone conversations. Above that, or even well before that, people become aware of the latency.

It's not one-way like listening to a podcast or watching a streamed movie, where you don't care if you're 500 milliseconds behind. VR means round trip conversation, so the critical time is I speak to you hear, then you speak and I hear.


This one?

A South Korean couple who were addicted to the internet let their three-month-old baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online, police said.

The pair fed their own premature baby just once a day in between 12-hour stretches at an internet cafe, the official Yonhap news agency reported.

The 41-year-old father and his 25-year-old wife were arrested in the city of Suweon, south of Seoul, earlier this week, five months after they reported the death of their baby.

An autopsy showed her death was caused by a long period of malnutrition.

The couple had become obsessed with nurturing a virtual girl called Anima in the popular role-playing game Prius Online, police said on Friday.

The game enables players to interact with Anima and as they do so, help her to recover her lost memory and develop emotions.


I'm trans, and am basically never properly gendered except by people who I've introduced and explained myself to, and they're mainly being polite. If I could combine a VR pub app with some kind of voice filter so that I don't sound like a dude (not sure if such tech exists, but hey it works in the movies) then I would be a very happy girl indeed. With a female avatar, the scars of my testosterone poisoning wouldn't be an issue. I think such a setup would be helpful for a lot of people who are questioning their gender, as it would allow them to experiment with different gender presentations in a much higher "resolution" than current online interactions allow for. It would be a great help to lots of scared kids, I think.


Yep, that's it.

What do you take away from this, Robert?


TATAE JAPA SEJEA indicate lacks glorify-edness that's not important PARAU TUSA APAPUA JUMEA understander displays populatingness sortedness you are a person EMATPAPO ETAMPAPO ARAPUA JUJUA JAPA SEJEA (gestating)populate, (seeding) populate sayingness decidingness lacks glorify-edness saying "man or woman" isn't important


There have always been neglectful parents, the game is a symptom not a cause.

I'm quite familiar with the experience of devoting my life to a game and ignoring the world for a few weeks. I'm also familiar with looking after screaming pink goblins.

I know it's a mistake to extrapolate from personal experience but I'm certain that most people can prioritise.


Voice changing should be very possible. Especially with today's hardware.

The GSM voice compression algorithm works by building two models of the vocal chords, throat and nose cavities (the model is an variable frequency impulse generator followed by two tunable cavities).

The compression works by continuously tuning the parameters for the local model so that it tracks the local audio "well enough", then sending those parameters to the remote model, which then replicates the sound.

At the highest compression levels (yielding 6 kbit/s or so) No actual sound is ever sent - and yet we can recognize who is speaking. Quite amazing really.

The model derived speech compression is (I hope) the reason there are a kind of ghost voices heard when music is being played.

Anyway, the point is that if we can tweak* the model parameters before sending them, we can change the character of the voice in the receiving end because the model doesn't know better - it just simulates a throat speaking; if the model parameters are set to "$female-voice-assembly", the voice will be female.

*) Bit o' development work needed, since we don't want the voice to be weird or creepy and we also want it to be distinct - recognisable.


First reaction was that this would be a really good teaching/educational tool. Consider being able to see how molecules interact, how various bits of the human (or other animals, plants, etc.) body move/change throughout a process, through the day or even (fast-forwarded) over a lifetime. Or even doing tricky surgeries.

Then there's the less sexy but more practical how-to version/application. While YouTube videos definitely have helped DIY-ers, but there's still room for lots of error. Imagine being able to walk your entire body/sensorium step-by-step through building a boat, deck, PV system, etc.

Also, how about a full body VR suit that includes pressure. Useful as a pre-screening as well as initial training for military, rescue and adventurers. Variable pressure could mimic conditions at various depths and heights.

Two-way VR for conferences and meetings -- So every attendee would have to have a similar number of umpteen feeds, one per attendee? Either the attendees' bodies/brains would shut down from overload or there'd be so little difference between the VR feed and an old-school video conference that people would just go meh after the first trial run. Or, only the most senior attendee would get the benefit of full VR which does not give me any happy thoughts.


There have always been neglectful parents, the game is a symptom not a cause.

I suppose the no-moral-panic side could argue that in the pre-Intertoobes age, dumbass parents like that would have neglected their daughter to death in another way. Down the pub, for example, though British pubs would give them more time in which they had to go home and feed the kid. South Korean bars, no information.

I suppose what bugs me, here on my not-sure-whether-to-panic side, is the whatever-you-call-it, irony perhaps, of neglecting her to death in order to play a game of not neglecting a virtual daughter to death.

YMMV, but I fancy this is an exceptionally grotesque case of a general, usually less fatal, principle, of a choice between activity X1 in the real world (or meatspace, if you like that term) and activity X2 in the virtual world, where X2 models X1 and is preferred to it.

This covers the way in which some Millennials take their phones to bed and put love-making on hold to answer text messages. This jars on my old-school assumption that the person with you in the real world should have priority. I get the feeling that it's not about who is interrupting whom, which might suggest that she likes the other guy better, but about the medium in itself: the person in meatspace is simply less real than the person on the screen, whoever that may be. Just as, for the Koreans, "Anima" was more real than the starving infant at home. In a quite different context, Umberto Eco coined the term hyperreality.

Related are the young East Asians I watched in Switzerland two summers running, who fly half-way around the world in order to utterly ignore where they have come to. It's well beyond taking selfies of themselves against the Matterhorn, which people did in the 19th century using different technology, it's about taking 500 selfies of their own faces, and/or being glued to their smartphone screens, and not sparing the Matterhorn a single glance.

All right, now tell me what an evil Luddite curmudgeon I am.


I will just point out that the fact that it happened in South Korea and managed to be news as far away as the UK suggests a certain rarity.

The fact that the couple were engaged in middle class pursuits rather than just drinking too much or taking heroin is notable. Affluence makes people invisible to social services unless they have form, so you would expect this sort of thing to be happening all the time if it was a real problem.

At the very least people would be talking about passing lists of internet cafe regulars to the local child protection.


Sorry, but I disagree. I remember when the Segway was going to Change All Life Forever (go look at the early PR). 2. What you're saying is that it will fragment society, and friendships, and families, tremendously. As it is, it's hard enough to get a teenager to stop playing long enough to come eat dinner. And then there's the daughter's now-ex who, with a minor (but real, in a house they were about to sell the next day) had to finish a level before he'd come down and do anything.... 3. Why meet a real person, when you can look exactly like your/their lying post (the 47yr old overweight guy, claiming on craiglist or elsewhere that they're a HOT 23 yr old blond)? 4. Ok, given 3), it might massively reduce world population (which would be very good; trouble is, the nut-case funnymentalists of all stripes would ban it, and they'd be the ones reproducing. Great: the Matrix, with them as the enforcers. 5. You need VR for exercise?Really? So Nintendo really didn't make a mint off the Wii? 6. The next person who stands in front of me, and talks about computer User Experience, I'm going to pick up by their lapels and shove their head through a wall, so they'll understand the difference between "an experience" and "entertainment claiming it's an Experience". 7. Of course, feeding into 3) will be that people will be encouraged by this to retreat more and more into VR at the slightest unpleasantness in real life. 8. Beyond 7, how's it going to help RW bad experiences, say, major fights with parents or spouse? Or having someone die that you cared about? (Be careful if you care to answer this: I lost my late wife close to 19 years ago, and no, I do NOT WANT SOME ASSHOLE'S simulation of her.

Finally, give me a break: you know, it's only Obi Wan who's our Last Hope!


Question for Hugh:

At what point does VR transmogrify into AI/ascendance?


Don't underestimate the development part. I think that the combined idea of one face to face for the deciders and a big face-to-face meeting with all rungs of the ladder followed by VR-supported productivity could work for a lot of business models,... This is precisely where I'm coming from. When a collaborator is a voice on the phone plus some text interactions, and maybe a low-res picture of uncertain age, it is nearly impossible to build an accurate mental model of them that improves communication. It is not clear how much VR would improve matters, unless it captured all the cues that people capture (at least unconsciously) when interacting in meat-world. (Some of them very subtle, and difficult (never say impossible) to capture with VR gear.) And this applies to all levels, not just "decision makers". Question for people on the autistic spectrum (or whatever words are preferred); do you find in-person meetings useful?


Well, thanks for not savaging the Luddite anyway, dpb. You're a gent (or lady).

Absolutely take your point about affluence and form. I the rich man am eccentric, thou art troubled, he the poor man is crazy.

As you say, that it made it into our news suggests that it doesn't happen every day. I repeat my point that the horrible irony of leaving a child to starve to death to play a game about not starving an infant to death might have made it a "perfect storm" of a story, much more morbidly appealing than a story about two fuckwads starving the child to death in favour of drink or drugs. Si no e vero, e bene trovato?

That does not necessarily mean we can forget all about it. Can we agree to say that the story encapsulates the unease that some people feel about Da Toobes and social media and virtual anything? I doubt I am the only one.

I am still disturbed by the behaviour of those young Asians in Switzerland, although they didn't hurt anybody by it; I think this was for me an "uncanny valley".


Ok, I'm back

I disagree with your claim that VR will deemphasize clustering in large cities like London. Again, the spread of high-speed internet has increased such concentration, not decreased it. Actually, that's simplifying things. What high-speed internet did was wipe out the middle of the tech market. The lower end stuff was outsourced out of the developed world, while the high-end tech industries have clustered together even tighter.

That creates two problems. First is the fact that the lower-end stuff was where most of the jobs were in the programming field. The higher-level stuff produces the news, but it's the lower-level stuff that produces the jobs.

Second is the fact that I don't think that being able to interact in a virtual space will counteract the forces which cause centralization. The main force which is driving this is proximity to investors. For this, I have a question for you Hugh. You are currently established. Think back to when you were starting out. How would VR have changed your younger self's strategy in getting his first investors?


I can witness that from personal experience. I have been severely deaf since childhood, and have compensated for it, but it means I need an extra 0.5-2 seconds to decode speech (depending on its audibility and complexity and my state of alertness). Free-for-all conversations are a nightmare, and it's impossible for me to get a word in edgeways without being accused of interrupting.

It's also critical that the vision and sound are synchronised to something like the 50 mS level, and that also applies to glitches. Skype is NBG, even if I look away, as were digital codecs for the first few years after telephones started to use them. It's not JUST frequency distortion and noise that interfere with speech comprehension. The point here is that I am fairly typical of a lot of older people (and that means past 50) - while my hearing may be worse, my adaptation is better.


"Sub-milisecond latency is only relevant on the rendering end. Positional lag on other players due to network issues doesn't affect nausea."

Don't bet on it. Once you have multiple (even two) player interaction, a small discrepancy can cause serious confusion and make some people dizzy. I agree not sub-millisecond, but 50 milliseconds will do it, easily.


"On a more dystopian front however, could this be a singularity point for the breads and circuses and population control ideas?"

Yes. All technology can be and, in the current political climate, will be abused. In the early days (1960s and 1970s), the general belief was that universal networking would lead to a better informed and more educated populace. Hah bloody hah! As I teach the kiddies in an IT context, the Web of a Million Lies is a gross underestimate. Let's leave Brexit and similar to the other threads :-(


The problem with games, which is only going to be made much worse with VR, is the illusion of easy accomplishment. For many people it will be terminally seductive. Why spend 10 years getting good at something (anything) in the real world when you can be a king of your own world in far less time? Not being bothered enough to get out and vote will be the least of our problems. It presages a total disconnect from baseline consensus reality. Who runs the real world then?


Question for people on the autistic spectrum (or whatever words are preferred); do you find in-person meetings useful?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Useful only inasmuch as they make it easier to concentrate on the presentation. When listening to a conference call, it is far too easy (for me, anyway) to get distracted and to space out. To see the people who are talking somewhat inoculates against distractions. However, a multimedia presentation which illustrates the topic of discussion is vastly better at such inoculation -- and could benefit greatly from VR.

When my colleague is describing a particular database, I do not want to see his face -- I want to see the database.


Two-way VR for conferences and meetings -- So every attendee would have to have a similar number of umpteen feeds, one per attendee? Either the attendees' bodies/brains would shut down from overload or there'd be so little difference between the VR feed and an old-school video conference that people would just go meh after the first trial run.

Just what kind of "feeds" are you imagining here? During a face to face conference I only pay attention to one person at a time, maybe two. Even when I am the one speaking. Why should VR be different?


"Question for people on the autistic spectrum (or whatever words are preferred); do you find in-person meetings useful?"

Yes. But not to present data - only to debate issues and challenge claims.


I think there are at least two different factors involved here: social expectations of instant response in conversation, and the characteristics of the mechanism the brain uses to process that kind of sensory input (both in terms of monitoring new external input, and in terms of its feedback checks on what the output mechanisms are doing).

As the delay increases from zero, it is not at first consciously noticeable, but nevertheless something "seems wrong". Larger delays increase the "wrongness" feeling, and also cause the processing demand to shoot up without you being aware of it. A lot of this is down to the feedback mechanisms for monitoring your own output getting confused. Once the delay reaches a significant fraction of a second, the brain stops trying to use the delayed feedback at all, and the processing load drops back again; at this point "feels wrong" has turned into the definite "it's delayed".

There is an experiment to demonstrate this where you replay someone's voice to them with a controllable delay, and they find it harder and harder to speak until with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds they can't speak at all for more than a syllable or two continuously, then get back to normal as the delay increases beyond that. In everyday life, this is highly relevant to the matter of using a mobile phone while driving. The faint echoes of your own voice - and also your non-speech breath noises and stuff - coming back from the other end after two sets of codec delays trigger this effect, and the unconscious diversion of processing power to deal with it means that you are far more distracted from the road than in the cases of conversing with a passenger or over an analogue two-way radio (no delay), or a one-way-at-a-time radio (no feedback) - without being aware that it's happening. This justifies the legal ban on using a mobile while driving, and also answers common objections of those who consider the ban a lot of nonsense. (Then there are things like noise gates and echo cancellation which are a whole new can of worms.)

Pure input-side effects, as opposed to delayed-feedback effects, can be demonstrated by trying to re-sync the audio and video streams of a recording which is out of sync. When you've got the sync error down to a few frames one way or the other, it becomes really incredibly fucking hard to eliminate that last little bit of error. You can still tell something's wrong, but deciding how much to adjust it and in which direction, and then telling whether your adjustment has made things better or worse, is ridiculously difficult.

Like you I have big problems with free-for-all conversation, but in my case it's not the sensors that are fucked but the higher-level processing. When it's just me and one other person, I find myself saying things like "uh?" and "you what?" after nearly every one of their utterances - not because I genuinely haven't heard what they said, but because they are expecting me to give some sort of immediate response and I can't fucking do it. I'm not actually listening while they repeat themselves; I'm just using the time to translate the words they said the first time into a meaning, formulate a response, and then translate the response into words so I can say it. It gets a lot worse when they say something that is more social convention than factual content and I don't even understand what sort of response they are expecting in the first place. If there's more than one other person involved, then what usually happens is they speak to each other and I end up hardly saying anything at all.

Also, I can't keep track of the context beyond more than a couple of sentences back. So as regards Bill's question, my response is the opposite of yours. Face to face meetings to debate and challenge stuff are worse than useless, because after a minute or two I have no clue what the fuck is going on and can't do any more than just wibble. Email, email, all the way, so I have the entire context in front of me to refer to and don't lose track, and I can take as long as I like to consider what I want to say and formulate the best response. The absence of all the interactive-social-cue bullshit is an advantage, too: removes a huge distraction and makes it far easier to exchange ideas on a purely rational basis.


Corporations I worked at, would never accept teleconferencing meetings set in taverns using elf and orc avatars

There is no way to stop that if someone decides to have his/her VR set show the meeting in such a setting and the other people in the meeting would never know.

On another level it's already going on with phones. You can give every number it's own tune to play when someone gives you a call.

I had a colleague who had

for his boss. Laughs all over and the guy never knew.


When my colleague is describing a particular database, I do not want to see his face -- I want to see the database.

On the rare occasions when I have been exposed to PowerPoint I do not want to hear some person ungifted at exposition repeat the words I can see on the screen. I can read for myself, dammit, I learned at the age of four, and five times faster than you can read aloud.

Perhaps there is a way of doing Power-Point alternative to faithfully droning out every word of it, but if so, most people don't know about it.

It's not just the tech. A doctor gives me a brochure describing my condition, and wants to sit next to me and read it aloud. This has to be a bug in human social software. Is the invention of writing so recent that some protocols have yet to catch up? Or is it some power demonstration?

I suppose the equivalent in VR might be someone who follows you in and laboriously describes, in corprat prose, what you are seeing in front of you.


Those two overlap more than you might think - I am particularly sensitive to this for the reasons I gave. But, yes. In a well-ordered and chaired meeting, you can generally get the next slot by raising a hand or whatever. But, in something that is closer to a hustings, no chance. And, while your problem is very different from mine, I recognise the translation issue - and, of course, my meetings are mostly highly technical, so anything worth saying needs some thought even for a quick response!

I fully agree that Email is better when discussing anything complex, even for people who find face-to-face useful for resolving dissent. But, unless the questions are clearly understood in advance, the latter is a disaster area and tends to let the demogogues ride roughshod over the analysts.

And, to Ludvig Holberg, I agree.


On a more postive note, I may have missed something, but one of the things current partial VR is used for is training physical abilities (e.g. flight simulators). However, there is a LOT of scope for that - think physiotherapy for people with various handicaps or recovering from damage (e.g. strokes). But the same could be done even in sports - Improve your putting with Virtual Tiger! - and they could well be used as a training tool for professional athletes I don't see the cardiovascular aspect as being particular successful, and there are much simpler solutions to that, anyway, not that they are being considered. And, of course, "physical togetherness" :-) Sex suits are here, and will be one of THE main uses, but the same applies there.


Agree about PowerPoint, but it is almost never used at my company. More common is for the presenter to connect his laptop to a projector, and to actually go through the steps of some software, while explaining what the steps do and why. That's enormously more productive than PowerPoint.


At least with the doctor it might be in case you are one of those people who are illiterate or nearly so, but are very good at covering it up.

Yes, it is very unlikely, but the consequences could be quite severe.


Also, I can't keep track of the context beyond more than a couple of sentences back.

Does it ruin theater for you?

Live plays are mostly wasted on me because you are expected to keep track of the dialogue, and once I lose that track the rest of the play makes no sense. Movies are better because they usually do not rely on the dialogue so much -- and besides, I always watch movies on a computer, so can pause and rewind.


I get that, but while that might be true of Patient X the first time he presents, my doctor ought to know me better than that. Perhaps it is the S.O.P. they are taught at med school, for precisely the reason you adduce. If so, it is probably related to the fact that our doctors always tell you something six times; because for many people, five times is as good as zero.


1) to make sure you understand it and are not just telling the doctor what you think they want to hear, 2) for something to do! Have you ever given someone a piece of reading material and then not had something to do until they finish reading it? Standing around them waiting can be painfully awkward.


Your (1), I find just as insulting on the part of the doctor,

but your (2)

is good! Never thought of that, but yes I have been in that situation and yes it is!

[[ HMTL fix - mod ]]


At least with the doctor it might be in case you are one of those people who are illiterate or nearly so, but are very good at covering it up. Sort of related; with a new doctor or specialist, I usually try to level set by asking them to draw or describe the diagnostic tree or something similar. First, it's interesting, and second, it's better when the doctor feels freer to give untranslated info.


Not that I'm a big theatre fan in the first place, but no, not really - I think for two main reasons. One is that since I'm not expected to talk back, it is much less stressful, which means the keeping track of things department can function more effectively. The other is that the actors (if they are any good) will be communicating a lot of the sense of what is going on non-verbally as well as verbally - so Shakespeare actually makes more sense to me in a theatre, as the acting makes up for the difficulties in understanding that arise from the archaic language and the 400-year culture gap.

(The problem I do have with theatre is of a different nature entirely: the universally poor ventilation. The temperature and all that exhaled CO2 can make it a real struggle not to fall asleep, regardless of how exciting the show may be.)


the universally poor ventilation

Me too, even before I developed a bugger of a prostate problem.

I once went to the AGM of a political party, held in a seminar room of City Hall (brutalist seventies high-rise). The heating was on full blast and the tiny windows were screwed shut, presumably to keep Spiderman from intruding without paying his membership. I was half an hour early, to schmooze, but I had to leave before the meeting even began.

If this is general, hypoxia might explain something about politics.


I was imagining that people using such technology would actually end up being more physically wired into that tech (or vice versa), and that this tech could/would be monitored. This would limit the participants' ability to disengage. And, if the CEO is giving the talk, then there's a pretty good chance that he/she will ensure that everyone is getting the message. In a real-life (all attendees physically) present, there are social signals that people use to keep track of where to focus their attention. Not so with monitors/electronic feeds. Similarly in a VR conference where the feed is being managed, you wouldn't be able to look out the corner of your eye to see whether anyone's squirming or fidgeting.

Next, the ability to consciously cut off one's attention in a noisy environment requires learning, practice and energy expenditure in terms of concentration/focus. People get more tired and less able to think well when over-stimulated, and that's when they end up following/zoning in on the loudest voice/signal ... e.g., mob mind. Basically, constant over-exposure to stimuli is not good for physical, mental or cognitive health. (Think of it in terms of different brain regions having to compete for limited resources.)

(Example: If the CEO just wanted to mess with your head, you'd get a really mushy, hard-to-understand VR experience apart from the 2 or 3 bullet points that he/she wanted to deliver as the take-away.)

Abstract below pretty much confirms what Elderly Cynic said. This might also be one of the reasons your GP is reading the pamphlet to you, i.e., checking for understanding of the terminology (blank looks), etc.


A dynamic interplay is known to exist between auditory processing and human cognition. For example, prior investigations of speech-in-noise have revealed there is more to learning than just listening: Even if all words within a spoken list are correctly heard in noise, later memory for those words is typically impoverished. These investigations supported a view that there is a “gap” between the intelligibility of speech and memory for that speech. Here, the notion was that this gap between speech intelligibility and memorability is a function of the extent to which the spoken message seizes limited immediate memory resources (e.g., Kjellberg et al., 2008). Accordingly, the more difficult the processing of the spoken message, the less resources are available for elaboration, storage, and recall of that spoken material. However, it was not previously known how increasing that difficulty affected the memory processing of semantically rich spoken material. This investigation showed that noise impairs higher levels of cognitive analysis. A variant of the Deese-Roediger-McDermott procedure that encourages semantic elaborative processes was deployed. On each trial, participants listened to a 36-item list comprising 12 words blocked by each of 3 different themes. Each of those 12 words (e.g., bed, tired, snore…) was associated with a “critical” lure theme word that was not presented (e.g., sleep). Word lists were either presented without noise or at a signal-to-noise ratio of 5 decibels upon an A-weighting. Noise reduced false recall of the critical words, and decreased the semantic clustering of recall. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

FYI, the impact on cognitive performance is even worse in young kids.


Me too, even before I developed a bugger of a prostate problem.

Probably not intentional, but this phrase evokes some... ouchy!... images.


I see. Basically, you were thinking about VR which forces itself into your brain whether you want it or not. I can see some people loving the idea... and others doing their best to make it illegal.


I am fairly sure that anyone who will love this idea, will NOT be on the receiving end of such VR experience.


My kid started with a Wii. And plays all the time, and even took VR-programming class.


A doctor gives me a brochure describing my condition, and wants to sit next to me and read it aloud. This has to be a bug in human social software. Is the invention of writing so recent that some protocols have yet to catch up? Or is it some power demonstration?

Ask your doctor. Over here, I suspect it would be so the doctor could document that they gave you information in case you decide to sue them later. You have a written copy for future reference, and they went over it with you individually so if you had any questions or didn't understand something you could ask for clarification.

A friend who’s a dentist told me she can't see as many patients as she used to, because the required* documentation of all clinical conversations takes so much time. Something I understand, as a five minute conversation can take ten minutes to document (allowing for recording context etc and also for careful composition of what may be a legal document).

*"Required" as in you need this if the patient decides to sue you.


Thanks for the references. Those look interesting.


Perhaps there is a way of doing Power-Point alternative to faithfully droning out every word of it, but if so, most people don't know about it.

Most people don't know how to present at all, so they use powerpoint as a crutch. I have seen equally awful presentations in the past where people simply read out indistinct and badly hand written ohp slides. Same failure mode.

I try to get the headlines in the slides and talk about the reasoning and context. That's the important bit after all.



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This page contains a single entry by Hugh Hancock published on June 27, 2016 5:20 PM.

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