Virtual Reality Will Trick You In Ways You’ll Like – and Ways You Won’t

When you take off a virtual reality headset, you don't remember seeing things, you recall experiencing them, says Kevin Kelly. VR will create a world of amazing opportunity – for us and for advertisers.

Kevin Kelly: I think in five years or so VR is going to be a really prominent platform for experiences, for business, for commerce, entertainment, and social. Let me tell you why. So I've been trying a lot of the VR gear and the thing about VR is, and the other version of it called MR, mixed reality, which is where you see virtual objects in the real world and VR where you see only the virtual world, both of those operate on a different part of your brain then when you're watching on a screen.

So a very common demonstration in VR is to put on a pair of goggles while you're in a room and then to drop the virtual floor inside away so that you're suddenly standing on a cliff and to ask you to walk out on a plank that's over nothing, maybe it's kilometers deep. And for most people it's almost impossible to do. Your knees start shaking, you're nauseous, even while your brain is telling you hey you're in the same room I was in a few moments ago. But the VR is working on a lower different part of your brain stem it's a much more primeval part of it that experiences things. And when you take your VR goggles off you remember not having seen something but having experienced it. And that ability to get to where we feel things, get to where we experience things is very, very powerful. And in trying many, many of these worlds for almost two decades or more one of the things that's most surprising to me is that the most intriguing things in these worlds are not incredible objects, they're not amazing worlds, they're actually other people.

So when you have a world with other people in it that's really what's the most powerful thing. And we now have the ability to add a couple things to make those people seem real. One of them is eye contact. The other one is the ability to have real-time capture of their movements so you can see their body language and you can detect that that's actually this other person. And the experience is a real experience. And that experience of other people I think is going to make VR the most social of all the social media. And actually we've been trying a couple of these VR games where you have to do stuff physically and even the idea that this is sort of you're going to become a big slug in the closet isolated is totally wrong. This is going to be some of the most callisthenic kinetic activity that we're going to undergo. So VR is likely to become the social platform within five years. And this is the place where we're going to download, exchange, buy, purchase experiences, which are going to be some of the most valuable things that we can create. And they'll be a whole economy based around this.

And then the amount of data that is necessary to make this work is huge. There's going to be no VR without AI. And the VR companies who make this are going to become the largest data companies in the world because in order to have your avatar in the VR real time you have to capture so much of our behavior that we're going to be capturing behavior that's expensive to capture outside in the real world but it's going to be very cheap to capture in VR. And the companies that are running these they're not making their money selling goggles, they're going to be collecting our lives data and that's going to be their wealth. And so part of the attraction for business in VR is going to be the fact that everything is quantified, that everything is digitized and our digital lives are going to become paramount there. And so the issues about who owns that data, the issues about who controls that data, the issues about what can be done with it will continue to loom and the power of what you can do with that will be harness by AI because that data alone is just a headache without AI. And that promise of having a virtual life is going to be I think the big thing in business in five years.

 

Get a life? Soon it will be that simple, says Kevin Kelly. Five years from now, Kelly anticipates that most of us will have a physical reality and a virtual one – and the second will be as social and kinetic as the first. Forget the idea of VR making us isolated slugs, he says, you will be challenged and connected. Of course for all the perceptive tricks it will play, it will also play commercial tricks. The price of this novelty is all your data, historical and biometric, and with that will come more advertising than ever. What is the beginning of a new dimension of fun, will be the end of privacy. Kevin Kelly's most recent book is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.


Kevin Kelly's most recent book is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.