December 12, 2016

Predicting the Future of VR/AR at Launch Academy

Written by
Launch Academy Panel (credit: Dora Cheng)

Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion called ‘The Future of Augmented and Virtual Reality’. I was flattered to be asked by the organizer and my answer was of course ‘yes’. I thought of others who have tried to predict VR/AR’s future  (e.g. Ray KurzweilTed Schilowitz) and wondered what I could add to the now deluge of words on the subject.

The event, held at the Launch Academy, was sold out with 60 people packing into a space that normally holds 45. Before the session started the moderator, Mack Flavelle, polled the crowd trying to get a sense who had turned up. These people were true devotees: a mix of investors, educators and those who have fledging VR businesses. He asks the raucous crowd for quiet. We panelists assume our perch on the bar stools provided (with vinyl seat covers that I kept sliding on!).

Mack, ever the thoughtful provocateur, poses many important questions. The panels that I have been on or seen recently are more academic in nature, so I try to conceive of answers that are thoughtful and pithy. The other panelists, informed colleagues Kayla Kinnunen, Wren Handman, and Eric Hine, stick handle adroitly through Mack’s questions giving short snappy answers.

Then…he asks “Ok panel what is the one thing that is going to kill VR? But please don’t include lack of content in your answer.”

But surely that is the problem with VR right now? We groan in unison as we search for answers. I take a stab at it “I think it’s going to be advertising. I mean if you start to put ads in a virtual space surely that will be the death of it.” And so it goes. An hour goes by and it seems like 5 minutes. We provide answers to a dizzying array of questions: When will VR become like you cell phone, you can’t leave home without it so you drive home and get it? My answers seem to strike a chord especially regarding VR/AR’s lack of borders: “We seem to get inquiries almost daily about our research internationally especially China”.

Before I know it the panel is over and people come up and provide praise and validation for our contributions. But if those of us who are the so-called experts were really honest with each other we would just say that we can’t predict the future of VR/AR. Of course we can make some best guesses based on things we know today. But everyday there are new technological innovations that disrupt what we knew yesterday and we are all asking ourselves the same question. How does it affect what I do and where is it all going?

Maybe we should consider changing our approach. Instead of trying to figure out where it is all going we could tell each other our aspirations for the technology. We can’t control technological change. But we can help shape its growth making it something useful for the future. I hope Launch Academy asks me again to be on a panel. And if they do I will make sure I have Velcro’ed my pants!

Alan Goldman, Adjunct Researcher and Industry Liaison S3D Centre of Excellence Emily Carr University of Art + Design