REMOTE PRESENCE IN VIRTUAL SPACES
There really is nothing new about alternative realities. Our desire to transcend the here-and-now is evident throughout human history, in different myths and faiths as well as all forms of art. In more recent years, we have become accustomed to new kinds of entertainment in the form of 3D movies or VR games. Now, thanks to the technological advancements of our age, what began as religion, art or simple fun, is on the cusp of being harnessed in untold new ways.
During SHIFT 2018 Omnireality Track we saw glimpses of a future with technologies that allow us to expand our concept of reality. The things we are envisioning could fundamentally alter human experience, artificially reinforce our physical senses to overcome limitations, potentially generating increased equality, or help us go around the laws of physics that bind us to a certain time and place, dramatically improving our ability to communicate.
Markku Jussila, Experience Manager at Glue, is one of the people working towards taking human communication to the next level with the help of VR and AR technologies. They are developing VR meetings for businesses and organisations, although instead of VR meetings, they talk about remote presence. Why chain yourself to the idea of a conference call when you can, for all intents and purposes, attend a real meeting, just without being physically in the same room?
The video call scene with frantically waving hands and frustrated faces is familiar to anyone. Video meetings certainly make our lives easier, but the limitations of 2D persist when attempting to explain complex ideas or trying to achieve a sense of togetherness and familiarity. The innovators at Glue tested VR meetings, and the reactions of the participants were enough to convince them that remote presence is something that the offices of tomorrow are going to need.
To say nothing of the financial and environmental benefits that can be attained by cutting back on travel, it is the immersive potential of VR that really makes these innovations interesting for many different purposes. Think about that meeting scene for a little longer – now that you have all your people virtually together, why stay within the confines of a meeting room? The meeting could just as well take place on a VR mountaintop, or as the cool Finnish autumn creeps in, why not head to the beach! An enjoyable backdrop can make a real difference in collaborative settings and negotiations.
The immersiveness of VR also increases our mental presence. During a video call, we still tend to keep one eye in the real world and can be easily distracted by things happening around us. In a VR meeting, the participants are truly present, improving concentration and, consequently, productivity. Interaction between participants is also more life-like, making it that much easier to forge real relationships between people.
VR meetings also allow for countless new ways of visualising data. Imagine if, instead of looking at a slideshow, you could in fact take a walk inside the presentation, truly exploring the data. Humans are 3D creatures, and working with less than that, we don’t operate at full power. A recent study by the University of Maryland demonstrated that due to the spatial nature of information organising inherent to the human brain, our ability to recall details is improved when information is presented to us in 3D rather than 2D.
Researchers refer to this method of information organising as spatial mnemonic encoding, and it is as old a trick as our desire to imagine and experience things beyond our day-to-day reality, having been used since ancient times to facilitate learning. In this sense, 3D VR environments are a natural continuation of the human learning evolution, the next tool to help us present complex information in a format that the brain can easily digest. Thus it seems clear that the business meeting at a virtual resort is only one of the many possibilities within our reach once VR and AR technologies are widely implemented. Nor are these things in the distant horizon – The New York Times is advancing immersive journalism with VR, VR environments are already being used for education purposes among many others, and AR mobile applications of various kinds abound.
The sun of the multiple realities era is quickly rising. Think back to the first time you watched a movie in 3D – did it cross your mind then that it was probably your first glimpse of a new reality?