Much like we saw with personal computers, the internet, and mobile devices, VR will change the world. It’s already transforming communication, education, fitness, gaming, health, commerce, productivity, and so much more. We will continue to see a combination of virtual and augmented reality (XR), artificial intelligence, and blockchain technologies transform society in ways that empower people from anywhere with internet access to learn faster, be more productive, have improved health, and live more inspired lives. It’s wild to think about the children of today growing up in this immersive reality. By the time they’re adults, I think it’s highly likely they’ll be astonished that we once subjected ourselves to using tiny flat screens as our primary computing interface.
One of my favorite quotes is from William Gibson — “The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” This is really starting to ring true with the momentum happening in the metaverse space. As a key data point, Oculus was the #1 most downloaded app in America on Christmas. This is great, yet it’s also important to remember that a huge portion of our global population doesn’t even really know what VR is! We need to ensure that others around the world are being considered as we develop experiences and scale the technology.
There is a ton of nuance and complexity in the VR space around how things will evolve, yet as a foundation for thinking about the future, here are some of the main ways in which I believe VR will change the world:
VR Democratizes Experience
What if you could have access to any experience, anytime, no matter where you are in the world? This is made possible with virtual reality. With a headset and internet connectivity, you can effectively teleport anywhere. Imagine being able to travel back in time to see how people lived hundreds, or thousands, of years ago. You could explore ancient Egypt then jump forward and experience the peak of the renaissance in Florence. I personally think it would be pretty neat to hang out with Leonardo Da Vinci while he refined the Mona Lisa. You could also have the experience of a group fitness class, feeling the energy of the people around you, pushing you to go for that extra rep. The possibilities are truly endless.
VR Enables the Ability to Work from Anywhere
As time goes on, the trends seem to indicate that we’ll see a growing percentage of the workforce living and working remotely. This will allow people to live in more desirable locations and spend more time with their families. With VR, you can be just as productive (or more) from anywhere with an internet connection. You can leverage a virtual office, where the team feels like they are all together in the same space. Programs like Immersed have been pioneering this movement, and our team (which is entirely remote) uses virtual office space throughout the week for team meetings. With beautifully designed spaces, large screens in the virtual space to share your desktop, virtual whiteboards, and more, I’ve found it to be even more effective than traditional office spaces. We’re also starting to see more remote business use cases for VR beyond just the virtual office. Companies are using VR for design reviews, customer support, meetings, data analysis, and more. There’s a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes to save time and money by adopting VR technology.
VR Provides Access to Immersive Learning from Anywhere
When I was in middle school, back in the physical encyclopedia era, high-speed internet was just starting to become mainstream. As we’ve all seen, it has changed so much about how people learn and communicate — it even gave rise to new formats like blogs, MOOCs, podcasts, live streams, and so much more. The same pattern is happening with VR technology today as educators are experimenting with ways that students can learn from an immersive experience rather than a flat screen or piece of paper (as fun as mechanical pencils can be). Immersive learning opens up so many possibilities for global collaboration among individuals who live thousands of miles away from one another. With VR, they can interact with shared virtual objects as if they’re in the same space, and learn skills that may be dangerous or prohibitively expensive to experience in the physical world. Many universities have already started experimenting with VR in their curriculum, and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies, as well as many small and medium-sized businesses, are leveraging VR to train employees on new equipment, procedures, and other required skills.
VR has the Ability to Bring Space to YOU
In the physical world, if we want to experience a certain space, we are often required to bring our physical bodies to those exact coordinates on Earth. In the virtual world, we can capture space and bring it directly to us, no matter where our physical bodies reside. This is especially important for those who have limited mobility or are unable to travel. This is a foundational shift that I consider to be on par with breakthrough innovations such as sending real-time messages through the internet or using the written word to capture campfire tales for the benefit of future generations.
VR Will Create More Equality and Reduce Implicit Biases
Imagine a future where you can embody any avatar and portray yourself with any identity you desire. This may sound like science fiction, but the technology to do this already exists, and we’ve been doing it consistently at Axon Park for the last couple of years during our hiring process. By utilizing avatars and virtual spaces, you can eliminate implicit biases that are unintentionally carried into interviews, and for that matter, most social interactions that we have. In a recent VR study by Stanford University, it was shown that people who use VR for social experiences feel more connected and are more likely to express kindness towards others. With the ability to have a diverse range of social interactions in VR, we’ll see increased empathy and compassion across cultures as we become exposed to new ways of thinking and living.
In the future, I don’t think it will be uncommon for employees to work using a private alias, keeping their personal lives separate from work. Of course, this can also have negative implications, yet it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider WHO would benefit from a system like this, and WHY. Ultimately I believe this should be the choice of the individual and employer and could be truly liberating for individuals who have historically experienced an uphill battle fighting others’ biases.
VR Will Help the Environment
There are a number of ways in which VR can help the environment, two of which include reducing emissions and saving energy. When people use virtual reality, they don’t have to use cars, planes, or other energy-guzzling vehicles to arrive at their destination. This can lead to a significant reduction in emissions from transportation overall. We saw a glimpse of this during the pandemic when fewer people were traveling. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)’s Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, South East Asia saw a 40 percent reduction in the level of harmful airborne particles caused by traffic and energy production in 2020. Imagine being able to scale this even further.
VR Will Expand Our Minds and Cognitive Capabilities
We are constantly learning and evolving as humans, and VR will play a huge role in accelerating this process. With the ability to experience any environment or situation, VR can open our minds to new possibilities that would otherwise be unavailable to us. For example, imagine being eight years old and learning about the theory of relatively directly from Einstein while traveling through space on a virtual train. Or experiencing the foundations of quantum mechanics at the scale of a quark. This enables people to experience advanced concepts in ways that were once only accessible to those with exceptional imaginations or spatial reasoning abilities.
What Does VR mean for the World and Society at Large?
I remember back in 2014, everyone was speculating about what the “killer app” would be for VR. Some people thought it was productivity, others argued for immersive film/entertainment, others expected education, and others proposed that it would be mindfulness and meditation. I don’t think we’ve quite hit the “killer app” moment for VR with current adoption, yet it turns out that everyone seemed to be at least a little bit right with their predictions of how things would unfold. With 10’s of millions of VR headsets in the market, we’re starting to see content across pretty much every category make its way into the space. From my experience conducting thousands of VR demos at 500+ events over the last decade, I think it’s very safe to say that the vast majority of people are completely blown away by VR when they try it for the first time. As the hardware and platforms move into future generations, it appears likely that the VR space will grow at an increasing pace and have a deeply profound impact on how we interact with information, each other, and the world around us.
The potential applications for virtual reality are truly limitless and we’re just starting to scratch the surface! How else do you think VR will change the world?