This week, CES in Las Vegas kicks off it’s 50th year of launching the future of the technology we’ve increasingly grown attached to using on a daily basis. Interestingly, I have heard a number of people saying that VR has entered the “Valley of Death” or is in a disappointing phase. Today the Financial Times wrote:
“Last year, virtual reality was hailed as the breakout hit of CES. Yet this year, VR’s best-known pioneer, Facebook-owned Oculus, will have no stand on the show floor, after what is widely seen as a slow start for the category in 2016.
Analysts at IHS Markit expect consumers spent $1.6bn on VR last year, rising to $7.9bn by 2020. Senior executives at Silicon Valley companies warn that VR may not begin to offer the right consumer experience at an affordable price until 2018.”
These short term issues certainly do not mean we are pessimistic. Far from it. Recently I had a conversation with Emerging Future Institute’s advisor on virtual reality, James Hanusa who is on the ground at CES in Las Vegas this week.
What led you to entering this space?
It was partly living in Seattle, which is one of the centres of the industry. But it was also the enormous business opportunities that are emerging. Goldman Sachs thinks that the industry will be worth $80bn by 2025, and as sizeable as the computer industry today.
What’s the Fourth Transformation?
The fourth transformation is the next wave of computing: mainframe -> PC -> mobile and now VR. Or others see it as computer -> internet -> mobile -> VR.
Robert Scoble – who you’ll be interviewing this month – has some great material in his book “The Fourth Transformation” that explores the intersection of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Where are we today?
Today the industry is essentially divided into 2 spheres. First there is the cinematography. Like 360 degree film. The other is more interactive. At the moment the former is more common. But eventually the interactive will become bigger as the graphics power gets bigger.
And who are the players and where are the opportunities?
Today most of the big tech companies are involved: HTC, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Autodesk, Sony, Nvidia, Intel, AMD, Verizon, etc. VCs are looking for content and applications, I think haptics will be hot this year. Haptics allow you to feel VR experiences. I also see augmented reality getting a boost, surprisingly possibly from Snapchat, but also early competitors to heavyweight, Microsoft Hololens, and startup underdog, Meta, as new entrants into the market.
Where is the industry, it seems that Seattle is one major epicentre?
Yes that’s right. The “Grandfather of VR” Thomas A Furness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_A._Furness_II ) is based at the University of Washington. And we have Microsoft, Valve and many tech professionals from the enterprise and gaming industries in the area. Of course the Bay Area is strong from a startup community and L.A. from the film and content community will be significant hubs. The West Coast is really well positioned to own this industry going forward.
However, I wouldn’t overlook other countries. China is a huge market and are the early adopters from a consumer market. Taiwan based industry leader, HTC has created the VR Venture Capital Alliance, with $12 billion of deployable funds. They meet every 2 months in Shanghai or San Francisco. We are also keeping an eye on Europe, we see a lot of talent in the Nordics and Netherlands and a handful of other hubs like Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and Vienna.
So what are the mind blowing opportunities for VR?
Well of course, there is the Star Trek Holodeck application – that is, you can feel like you are anywhere. Oculus VR founder, Palmer Luckey, told Wired recently “because virtual reality has the ability to put you in places in a much more real way, it has the potential to be a much better canvas.” This will be obviously be awesome for gaming. The potential for major motion pictures is also ripe for blowing minds.
In education you can imagine the opportunities for doctors to learn in a 3D environment. And field workers will be able to use augmented reality to go out and fix complex machinery. You can imagine the complexity of a jet engines. With AR the workers will know exactly what each pipe or wire actually is and be walked through the process of repair step by step in front of their eyes. Read as: massive training cost reduction.
But there are many other applications. There are people in the development side on therapeutics. Everything from dealing with PTSD, depression, dementia and many other mental health conditions as well as replacement for painkillers. Read as: lookout pharmaceutical industry.
How does that work?
I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t know exactly and it depends on what you are trying to treat. My understanding is primarily is that we can rewire our brains, which is the basis of neuroplasticity. There have been experiments done with child burn victims where they played a snowball throwing game, while having bandages removed and replaced, a painful process, and they didn’t feel a thing. In regard to PTSD, the therapists build a model to experience the past traumas in a safe environment to acclimate the person to the pain experienced and move on.
How about the enhancement of empathy?
Yes this is one of the most exciting opportunity areas for the technology. Chris Milk in his Ted Talk coined the phrase “empathy machine” for VR. I recently saw a presentation at a White House event of a study done by Stanford PHD Researcher Fernada Herra of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab that focused on understanding the propensity of VR to affect behavior/action in the world through a VR experience that was created to raise empathy for homeless people. Participants were taken through an experience where they couldn’t pay the bills and received an eviction notice, to living out of their car and having that impounded and then finally living off the streets and trying to get money to survive. Out of a 550 sample this certainly seemed to raise the possibility that someone would take action anywhere from writing a letter to other activities beyond clicktivism.
[James separately sent me this Washington Post article].
So tell me about Digital Raign your new company?
We started Digital Raign as a 1 week experiment in early summer of 2016, launched it the week of Burning Man, held our first annual Reality Summit at the esteemed Esalen Institute in October, were invited to an intimate U.S. Office of Science & Technology, Diversity & Education Think Tank Experience in December, now we’re ready to launch phase II for 2017 at CES. My partner, Alison Raby, has a 25 year history in the executive search industry, but possibly more importantly comes from a life long personal transformation and social change background. I think that’s what makes us unique. I’m the head and she’s the heart.
We established ourselves as the first full service VR advisory. We offer management consulting services through to executive search. Our “Neo Network” is nearing 5k industry professionals in our database after we mapped the global industry of ~700 companies. When we started we were playing to strengths as headhunter and hustler, we can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime and we know how to build community and be with people through good times and bad.
Our logo and our name, Digital Raign, is a representation of who we are as individuals. Somewhere between the symbolic form of the Matrix and a knowing that an era is increasingly evolving to where our existence is dominantly digital. The shield and unicorn, a safe space for a kingdom of magicians to hone their craft. We are not afraid to practice our awesomeness.
Last year we kicked off with Evangelism & Ecosystem Development at Esalen. We referred to it as the Davos of reality. And in 2017 we are planning for the Netherlands Frontier Tech Festival in April, the Esalen Institute Reality Summit in September and possibly other “retreats” and other forms of gatherings globally. We aim to be The human-technology bridge “brand” that provides an early indication of that “unevenly distributed” future.
Tell me about Esalen?
It was a really magical experience. We attracted 80 participants, some of the best minds in not just VR , but social impact and mindfulness/consciousness. It was intended as a platform for future events and collaboration. The write up by Jesse Damiani captures the event well.
“There were professionals from Singularity University, VR for Good, Oculus, Vive, Verizon, and Google; there were premium content producers (for headsets and projection domes), artists, dancers, and documentarians; there were computer scientists, academicians, librarians, and consciousness hackers. Others still came from further outside the tech industry, from arenas such as public health, law, social justice, finance, and social psychology.”
He also emphasised the meaningful aspect of the event:
“The introductions that night convinced me I’d stumbled into a pocket of magic—and it was clear I wasn’t alone. All of a sudden we had found ourselves in a room full of like minds, other people who understood how mindfulness dovetailed with technological progress. Phrases like “elevating the vibration” and “shifting the consciousness” sat alongside each other, making for the perfect intersection of heart and mind.”
Well I am certainly excited. You can follow James Hanusa’s work at the Emerging Future Institute and also at www.digitalraign.com.
Digital Raign is partnering with us on a series of webinars about the future – VR, AR, AI, exponential technologies and frontier tech will light the way. The first is with Silicon Valley tech evangelist, Robert Scoble, author of the “Fourth Transformation.” (see link below for details) and the second with aforementioned pioneer of VR and more importantly now, prophet for the positive possibilities of this technology, Dr. Tom Furness, and his passion project non-profit, Virtual World Society. Please sign up for our free updates to keep abreast of the news.
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