Discussion on Virtual Reality and An Outlook of the State of VR

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Join a fun conversation as we dive into the state of Virtual Reality. We talk about the applications of augmented reality (AR) and VR in today's society and what we might expect from VR in the future.

Mary Daphne: Hello, Advanced English learners. Welcome back to another native English speaker conversation. I'm joined by the one and only Greg. Thank you for joining me, Greg. 

Greg: Of course. 

Mary Daphne: So as people who are interested in technology and future technology and the future, so to speak. You can definitely call these types of people, technologists or futurists.

I think we fall into that camp, and I think many of you do as well. Given the feedback on these kinds of conversations we have, we thought it would be appropriate to talk about the state of VR, so virtual reality. All right, let's get into it. 

All right, so let's first talk about what do we mean by virtual reality?

Greg: Yeah. So we've discussed this in a previous conversation, this idea that, and I thought you, you gave a really nice definition of it, which is essentially the world that we live in represented in digital form. The most, common example or I would say the most classic example of vr, virtual reality would be the ready player one scenario where it's like you can walk around and do things and interact with things in a purely digital form. 

Mary Daphne: So cool.

Greg: Right. 

Mary Daphne: It's just phenomenal because you have an avatar and there are things that you feel brave enough to do in that virtual realm that you might not be as brave to do in the in real life realm.

Greg: Totally, yeah. The idea with virtual reality is that it is attempting to replicate actual reality physical reality in as high fidelity as possible, right? And so the more advanced the graphics become, the more advanced the hardware gets, the better it can simulate reality, 

Mary Daphne: Right? So it becomes extremely immersive. 

And that can be, there are pros and cons to that. Obviously. One of the major cons would be you need to be able to eat, drink water, , have a bio break, right? Go to the restroom, that kind of thing. 

Greg: Yes, those are important. 

Mary Daphne: Sleep, right? These are things that we need to do to be able to function as human beings. And when you're so engrossed in a virtual world like that, that it is highly immersive, you might lose track of time, right? The concept of time. The concept of time escapes you. It changes. It evolves because suddenly you're not in real world time, you're on virtual time. 

Greg: Yeah. And this honestly doesn't even require virtual reality.

I can tell you that when I'm on my computer, when I'm, tackling a really tough coding problem or playing a really fun video game I totally get transported to whatever that is. And I forget about all the things you just listed there. And it can definitely be a problem. I can literally sit in a seat for five, six hours straight and my bladder's like screaming I gotta get up. I'm probably hungry, I'm probably dehydrated, but I'm just so engrossed in whatever it is that I'm doing that has become my reality for that period of time. That it, yeah it's it's just completely, totally immersive. 

Mary Daphne: So there's a great term for this that was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and he wrote a book called Flow State among others. So it's this idea when you're being productive, such as in Greg's case with tackling a coding problem or working on some sort of coding challenge, then, he enters flow state.

That happens to me too. When I'm creating, when I'm doing lessons, when I'm working on something for Advanced English or Explearning, I get really focused on what I'm doing and it's hard to step away from what you're doing.

Now that's work, which is also fun because we've designed it so that it is fun for us.

But when something is pure fun, such as in a game, I just wonder. If we're gonna be able to remove ourselves from that to be able to go to sleep or eat your dinner or whatever. 

Greg: Yeah, it's tough. And the point is, if it's in virtual reality, you don't have the same cues that you might when you're just in your office.

When you're in your office, you might have a window so you can see if it's getting dark out, you're like, oh, wow. It's later than I thought. There's people walking around your house so you interact with them and maybe your neighbor's outside, maybe there's a delivery guy, right?

You're actually doing stuff that sort of pulls you away from the computer. From the device.

Mary Daphne: You're reminded of the alternate world. 

Greg: You're reminded of the real world. Yeah. Yes. That's hopefully we're not calling it the alternate world. 

Mary Daphne: I'm just calling it the alternate world in this state, because in that moment, when you're in flow state, your world is whatever task you have, right?

Yes. And then the alternate world. Metaphorically speaking, probably Yes. Would be, the mailman comes or the, your dog needs your attention or whatever. 

Greg: Correct. And so anyways yeah. When you're in this, when you were in this VR headset, you're blocked off from all that. That is a concern.

What I can say is, at least at the current state that the technology is in, that doesn't really happen. And the reason is, because people experience dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. These devices tend to be kind of heavy, so their neck starts to hurt You pretty quickly run into physical limitations , that sort of prompt you to exit that virtual reality.

Mary Daphne: So the discomfort is the wake up call is 

Greg: The physical discomfort, 

Mary Daphne: yeah, the physical discomfort of the device. The hollow lens, the, what's the other one? 

Greg: Oculus. 

Mary Daphne: The Oculus I've tried them on. They're pretty heavy, they personally I've tried games with them. I get dizzy. I can't stomach, stomach them.

Yeah. But I'm still excited about the possibility of where it's going, the opportunities that it's gonna open up for us. So let's talk about the key players in the VR space. 

Greg: Yeah. Before we do, I was just gonna say, that hardware hurdle is not gonna be there forever. 

Mary Daphne: That's true.

Greg: So if we think of brain machine interfaces. That's literally a machine that can interface directly with your brain. Suddenly you don't need that clunky hardware anymore. It could just send signals to your brain to actually see what the computer wants you to see. 

Mary Daphne: Now, is that gonna work with a chip implant in your brain?

Greg: It could be a chip implant. It could also just be a device you wear around you. You don't have to, it doesn't have to necessarily be in the brain, but it's much easier for it to be in the brain from the perspective of communicating high bandwidth data. Wow. Pretty terrifying. But there's steps in between that, right?

You have glasses are probably gonna be the. Step, right? Right now they're these big clunky visors. Yeah. The next step would be glasses. Kinda like those contact snap glasses you wear. Contacts are gonna be epic. I'm, that's what I'm most excited about are contacts. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. Tell us why. 

Greg: Just because they're really low profile, right?

The contacts you can't even see if you're wearing them or not. And you can turn onto full virtual reality or you can flip to what's called augmented reality , AR. 

Mary Daphne: So I'm more excited about AR. I think enhancing or augmenting our current reality is going to be so powerful because suddenly, you are completely enveloped, but you're not fully vulnerable, right?

You're still aware of your surroundings. You're still, participating in IRL in the real world, but then you have this component of augmentation. 

Greg: Yeah. What I think of when I think of AR is it's like having this assistant that's sitting next to you and doing things for you and showing you things.

You and I could be interacting and I, corner of my vision, I'll see, a little ID card of you, so I remember what your name is. I'll have your email if you were willing to share it with. I'll see what your job is. Basically, I might see your LinkedIn profile so that I remember your, and I can think of things as I'm conversing with you.

I can multitask, I'm interacting with you. I'm also looking at your background to keep the conversation going. 

Mary Daphne: There might even be small talk prompts. 

Greg: Yep, exactly. Or let's think of another example. You're driving around, right? Instead of having to look down at your phone to get your directions the directions can literally just be in your vision.

There can even be an arrow pointing where to go, where to turn the car. Frankly, you're probably not even driving anymore because it's driverless cars. 

Mary Daphne: At that point, we're probably gonna be so well in the future 

Greg: and this isn't that far away. 

Mary Daphne: So what do you think? When do you think this will be? 

Greg: Contacts? Probably a ways. That's probably like 10 to 20 years. 

Mary Daphne: Oh really? Wow.

Greg: But the glasses, that's probably much sooner. I would not be surprised in five to 10. Maybe closer to five years that we actually have glasses that can do this for us.

Mary Daphne: So Google tried in like 2012 with the Google glasses? Yes. And I had a colleague who had them and she was wearing them and she was really happy about them and I thought they were super cool, but I don't know, they didn't really ever stick. We didn't really hear about them after that. They fell to the wayside.

Now they're reintroducing some sort of Google glasses again. 

Greg: Yeah, so Google Glasses were one of those famous cautionary tales about the researchers and developers getting too excited about a technology that wasn't ready for primetime yet. 

Mary Daphne: So there was no real product market fit. The technologists and the people engineering them got excited, but there was no real need for them at that moment in time. 

Greg: Yeah, there just wasn't necessarily enough utility either. The glasses. The functionality was too limited to be useful. And they also pissed people off. Like other people.

Mary Daphne: In what way?

Greg: They had a camera that was always on. 

Mary Daphne: Oh, that's true. 

Greg: And so this camera kind of weirded people out. They didn't, if I'm talking to someone I see they're wearing the Google glasses, I don't want them recording our conversation. Yeah. Most conversations aren't meant to be recorded. Yeah.

And it annoyed people in that sense. They looked goofy. This was also still a little bit early in the era of nerds. Nowadays we're in this world where the coolest people are, the people that are building computer programs and software, right? The nerds have taken over. Back in that day it was still the finance bros and the jocks that were cooler.

And so ...

Mary Daphne: This was only 10 years ago. 

Greg: Yeah, it was 10 years ago but those cultural shifts take time.

Mary Daphne: For sure. Yeah, I mean there's definitely those cultural and paradigm shifts. Also, wearables, wearable technology, like smart watches, smart rings, this kind of thing wasn't really a thing at that time.

So people weren't as comfortable wearing technology as opposed to having technology in their hand in the form of a tablet or a device such as your cell phone. 

Greg: Yeah, definitely. That took time. Like you said, they're trying again now. Snap of course, has been working on their glasses and they have a version two out.

Don't think they're doing that well. What is, what has gotten really good reviews is the newest Oculus. From Facebook, from Meta. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. So let's talk about that. 

Greg: Yeah. What they've done with this one is they've made it a little bit lighter, so it's more comfortable to wear , they're starting to improve the software, though it sounds like it's still a little buggy, but overall the experience when they get it right, is done really well, and what they've done best is not games.

It's not the fun stuff per se. Yeah. It's the productivity environment that they've created. 

Mary Daphne: For example, having a video call with someone, doing a collaboration on a work project where you are talking to your colleague or your colleagues and you're transported to maybe an office environment as opposed to being in your living room, hunched over your kitchen table with kids screaming in the back and dogs and stuff.

Greg: Yeah. It's this idea that you can meet in virtual space. Part of the issue with working from home for all its benefits, part one of the issues is that just you get the zoom fatigue, right? You're staring at the camera all day and you feel distanced from the people. 

Mary Daphne: And what they found with the zoom fatigue, it's not so much as doing the meetings, which can be very exhausting of course, cuz you're always on.

You have to be prepared, you're participating, you're listening actively. But it was more so the panel of faces staring back at you. That's what they have found as being one of the predominant forces behind fatigue. 

Greg: Yeah, totally. And I can attest to that. What this does instead is it places people around a room, around a table in a way that's much more natural as if you were really there talking to everyone.

And I heard a really cool account of this using the new Oculus for business purposes. From one of my favorite tech writers a guy named Ben Thompson, and his blog is called Stratechery. And he talked about using it and he mentioned that his recollection of an important business decision they made was not and he they all made this remotely, right?

They were all in their own offices, but his recollection of making that decision was not in his office. It was in this virtual reality. So isn't that crazy? This virtual reality space actually became a physical memory in his brain. That's where the decision was made. 

Mary Daphne: I believe it. Because there are, you've had this with video games, like when you're playing Wow.

Or I've had it with like dreams. I sometimes forget if that was a dream or if that actually happened. And you talked about, you told me once when you were playing Wow. And you were in a forest, you felt like that was so real. 

Greg: Yeah. What I can say is when I'm walking around in real life, I will have nostalgic flashes from the video games that I've played, right?

They've made such an impression on me that they actually have taken position alongside memories in real physical space. And I can only imagine as we spend more and more time in these virtual worlds Yeah. Whether they be for professional use or for entertainment. Yeah. That's going to happen more and more, right?

This these virtual worlds taking up memories in our brains. Whether or not that's a good thing, I think has yet to be determined, but it's happening regard. 

Mary Daphne: What I'm excited about is, for example, doing one of these conversations with the audience members, with the listeners in virtual reality.

I think that would be super cool. I think that would be a lot of fun. It could be more participatory. You could ask questions, you could chime in, we could have a discussion, a back and forth. So I'm excited about the productivity aspect of it and the, the educational component to it. So learning and collaborating and communicating.

I think that's super fun. And of course the fun aspects of, learning is fun one, but also like doing a game. Being in a game, that kind of thing is exciting. 

Greg: For me, it's access. That's what a democratizing access, that's what's most exciting to me about VR and AR. Yeah. But VR in particular, in this case, it's democratizing access.

You can be anywhere in the world and, be work alongside the brightest minds just by joining the same virtual room that they're in. Yeah. You may be geographically restricted from travel. Maybe you're in a, covid lockdown, maybe 

Mary Daphne: your plane was delayed and you can't catch a flight 

Greg: plane was like, or maybe you just can't afford a flight, right?

Yeah. Maybe you can't get to somewhere, but you still wanna participate. A lot of different industries have conventions. And those can be very expensive and difficult to attend. You have to pay for hotels, you have to pay for travel, all that stuff. Yeah. If you can attend these things virtually and that their main sort of exhibition is done virtually, suddenly everyone can participate.

All you need is an internet access. Yeah. And internet access is getting cheaper and cheaper. So the threshold for people to participate is getting lower, which means a larger percentage of the world can interact with each other and lift each other up and, collaborate and contribute. And I think that's such a beautiful thing.

Mary Daphne: I agree with you. Yeah. Just all the applications of being able to converse with people from all over the world with different backgrounds, different worldviews. It just enriches our lives in so many ways. And that transfer of knowledge becomes even more powerful because, again, that access that you were talking about. So a lot of exciting things.

We need to keep abreast of this information. Keep plugging in. Stay tuned, right? Be aware of what's going on because these, the technology, if we're not, if we fall behind, then the world keeps moving, but then we stay stagnant and that's not a good thing.

We wanna be evolving with the times.

Greg: That's the thing. Yeah. I think a lot of people are afraid of technology taking their jobs or rendering their work obsolete. The number one defense against that is to keep up with the tech is to participate in it. Let it enhance your life instead of being something that you're fighting against.

The more that you embrace the sort of advantages that it offers the better equipped you'll be to keep up and succeed. Now, of course, on the other hand, there are important aspects of your non-digital life that you need to maintain. You wanna make sure you're staying healthy.

You wanna make sure you're not inundating yourself with social media and all the bad things that come with that. Being selective about how you use the technology is also important. But the key is don't let it turn into an enemy, right? It should be your friend and you have the power to work for you instead of you working for it. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah, I think that's well said. I like the point about being selective and thinking about, how is this gonna enrich me versus stealing my time from me? 

Greg: Very good. Yeah.

Mary Daphne: It's a good thing to keep in mind. All right we hope you enjoyed this discussion.

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