William Hamilton, founder of Mimerse discusses the power of VR in the third sector and how it can bring disparate groups closer together
Virtual Reality (VR) technology is commonly referred to as an ‘empathy machine’ due to the impact it can have on users. Instead of being presented with information, the user receives a mediated experience.
VR makes it possible to step into a first-person perspective and feel what it is like to be in a warzone or a flooded area. There is a common saying that leaders are too far removed from the people: VR has an obvious role to play in that area, as it can bring powerful decision-makers in closer connection with the people affected by their decisions.
Some early instances of development show great promise. The UN co-produced a documentary on the Syrian Refugee crisis from the perspective of a young girl. It premiered at the World Economic Forum in Davos and allowed leaders and potential donors to feel the plight of refugees with a level of empathy that had never been possible before. This VR experience was later used in a fundraising event in Kuwait in March 2015 that raised 3.8bn USD.
VR not only carries the possibility of making stories and experiences immediately felt at a distance, but it can make the world itself feel smaller than ever before. In the 1960s, Steward Brand successfully campaigned for NASA to release a photo of the entire planet seen from space. Brand thought that this image would be a powerful uniting symbol for humanity. With Google Earth VR, you can now access a similar image of the whole planet, spin the globe, pick a location, and zoom all the way to the ground level, until you find yourself standing on the street.
In a future where self-driving cars, wearables and drones, all equipped with cameras, become commonplace, companies like Google will be able to aggregate information from these devices to create and maintain a perpetually updated, high resolution 3D model of the entire earth. Imagine if the people involved in each negotiation with consequences for a certain border, village or landmass could actually visit that place in real time through VR? They would be able to directly empathise and hold a less abstract perspective on the issue at hand.
Today, in international forums, VR
is still an accessory to the main event, but this may be about to change. It should become an obligatory part of the process to take a virtual survey of the regions involved before sitting down for a discussion. This would lead to more conscientious, rational and collaborative discussions and decisions.
Is change about to happen?
With Google Earth VR, it is already possible to adjust the time of day and see the world under different lights. Imagine running more advanced simulations that allow negotiators to actually experience the simulated impact and outcomes of their decisions, with areas of application ranging from infrastructure development to climate change and wars. A UK Startup, Improbable
, is building an engine for such complete simulations and recently raised a $500M series B round. Receiving such an experience of the likely long-term impacts of policy could profoundly change global governance.
VR is also about to change meetings and interpersonal relationships. Microsoft R&D has already demonstrated a feasible concept for full telepresence through human holograms. Real time 3D scans will make it possible to interact at a distance with a much higher quality of human contact than what is possible through video conferencing today. Participants will be able to hold and sustain eye contact, communicate through body language, and experience mutual closeness.
Communicating this way opens up a plethora of possibilities, particularly when combined with other technological developments. Imagine being able to customise your own avatar to any appearance, while ensuring that your facial and bodily movements are perfectly mapped in real time to this virtual avatar, directly conveying emotion. Imagine being able to integrate real time translation to a distance interaction, removing the need for translators.
This prospect could make the huge machine of the UN translation system obsolete in the coming decades. Taking it even one step further, imagine being able to remap emotions and body language, so that personal communication styles are better matched, and greater intuitive alignment becomes possible.
In the area of global governance, fully evolved mixed reality will bring revolutionary change. Soon enough, fully virtual summits will be commonplace, and decision-making processes will hopefully become more constructive, thanks to the gained perspectives that come with the power to go anywhere and experience anything.
Thanks to the exponential development of its enabling technologies, VR, MR and AR will create a new era not only in human computer interaction, but in human to human interaction – and radically shift our perspective on ourselves, our globe, and the fabric of reality itself.
This piece is in an excerpt from an essay contributed to the Global Challenges Foundation’s report, ‘Global governance in the age of disruptive technology
About the author
Before dropping out to become an entrepreneur, William Hamilton was a researcher in clinical psychology at Stockholm University. In 2014 he founded Mimerse with the mission of spreading evidence based psychological treatments through immersive technology. He also co-founded Vobling, a leading VR/AR-agency with offices in Stockholm, Manila and Lagos servicing world leading brands, corporations and institutions.