Why virtual reality is necessary on a planet of 11 billion
Virtual reality is more than a trick. It's a solution to big problems.
PETER DIAMANDIS: Every year I spend time thinking about what are the technologies going from deceptive to disruptive this year that today's exponential leaders need to be thinking about and actually beginning to work with. And for this coming year, for the next few years my view is that virtual reality is part of that. And it's gotten different terms and there are different elements of it, virtual world, virtual reality, augmented reality. And really the kickoff was the purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook for a couple of billion dollars. But in addition to that what we've seen is a number of technologies coming together – infinite computing, very cheap high resolution cameras, machine learning capabilities, low latency, high bandwidth networks. All of these things are coming together to reinvent the virtual world experience.
JEREMY BAILENSON: If you think about cars. Forty thousand people died in the United States last year driving, 1.3 million worldwide died in car accidents. Think about the productivity lost by sitting in a box for an hour each way to and from work. Think about the fossil fuel that we're burning while we commute back and forth to work. Think about the road rage. Think about the germs that you get on public transportation. I'm not claiming that we should not see people. I love social connection. What I'm saying is that there's a subset of travel that if you think about it, why do we drive all the way to work so we can sit at a desk and pound on a computer? Maybe we only need to go two days to work. And for those meetings that are not essential we need to put those in VR. We cannot support a planet of 11 billion people which we'll be at quite soon with everybody driving and flying everywhere using fossil fuels it's just not going to happen. So, why don't we have networked meetings yet? And the answer is because there's this secret sauce, this social presence that we have face to face that we don't get with video conference yet and VR isn't there yet. So what we need to do is to be able to track more body movements. The bottleneck is actually not bandwidth because avatar-based communication is cheaper from an bandwidth standpoint than video. The reason is if you're doing an avatar-based communication, all the 3D models for the avatars are stored locally on each machine. What travels over the network is the tracking data. So, locally a camera detects that I smiled and then it sends over network a packet that says smile at 22 percent. And then on the other computer it then draws that smile. So you're not sending visual information over the network. What you're sending is very cheap information which is semantic information about movements. The bottleneck is we can't track movements that accurately so if you think of the commercial systems right now they track what we call 18 degrees of freedom. Your head and both hands. You can do rotation which has three and X, Y and Z which is obviously three. And so you've got 18 points, two hands and a head. In order to have the conversation flow we need to have subtle cheek movements and the twitch of my elbow, everything I do communicates meaning whether I'm doing it intentionally or not.
DIAMANDIS: Imagine a virtual reality experience where when you go into such a reality world everything looks like it's real and you can navigate around it and begin to do extraordinary things in this high fidelity world. At home you will have yourself 3D scanned down to the millimeter. I then enter into a virtual world and I have an AI there that is my shopping advisor. It says Peter, what are you looking for? And all of a sudden in this virtual world everything I see is in my size, in the colors I want, recommended by this AI. And I can say, you know, I'd love to see a fashion show. On a runway are avatars of me wearing all these different outfits walking by and I can say I want to see that one and that one and all of a sudden I'm looking in a virtual mirror and I'm wearing that outfit. And I can look around, see what it looks like and I go, "This is it. I want that." Boom, it's produced, manufactured to my exact size probably using 3D printing capabilities or robotic capabilities that afternoon in the local factory and delivered the next morning and it fits perfectly. So that's the future of the virtual retail store if you would and why I think virtual reality is going to do effectively a hundredfold improvement over what the Amazon experience is today.
JORDAN GREENHALL: The line between what it means to be dreaming and what it means to be awake is going to become very interesting. It's going to become more and more interesting because remember, VR is just one piece of a generalized consequence of accelerating technology. And so it's not just that we're going to be doing VR. We're also going to be radically improving our actuation capacity in the world in general. And so we can imagine circumstances where I might craft an object in VR and then say in quasi real time some mechanism is, in fact, actually 3D printing that object so that I reach out, take off my VR glasses and the thing that I thought I was creating in an entirely imaginary space is actually physically present in my hand. That's going to cause some very interesting changes in the way that we relate to the difference between what reality can do and what imagination can do. VR is extremely well positioned to create a designed reality that you are going to have a very, very hard time rejecting. If you think about the way the propaganda back in the early twentieth century got good at understanding how human beings parse information to make decisions and getting in underneath our psychological defense mechanisms, VR is 100 million times more capable of engaging in that. The good news is that if we do a much, much better job at being let's call it ethical and crafting a relationship between our power to affect the world and the way that power affects us. So, if we do a much, much better job at being ethical around VR then it will be the most powerful tool that we have for radically improving the way that we respond to the world. For upgrading our capacity to respond to the world because it would be a much more embodied and whole system hack for our deep constructs.
DANFUNG DENNIS: I can place people into worlds that they may never otherwise see and experience something firsthand in a way that is very different than watching a film. You recall it as a memory instead of I saw a movie, I actually was there in this experience. And so those memories actually encode in a stronger way and I think that allows us to reflect and process them in a more personal way. And so I think we're just beginning on this curve of VR where the technology, the storytelling, they're starting to come together where we're passing the prototype phase and we can actually use it to create these profound experiences where people come out after even ten minutes, come out of a headset and they will say I was so moved by that. And a year later will come back and say that experience changed my life.
BAILENSON: Since 2003 I've been running experiments that take a person, puts her in virtual reality and gives her an experience that you couldn't have in the real world. This could be being in a different place or it could actually be becoming a different person. So, the first study we ran was about ageism and we took college age students and they walked up to a virtual mirror. And the reason we have a virtual mirror is to show the person they become different via a process called body transfer. This is a neuroscientific process where if you move your physical body and you have an avatar that moves what's called synchronously – that means at the same time that you move your arm you see its arm move and you see that in a mirror as well as in the first person. Over time the part of the brain that contains the schema for the self expands and includes this external representation as part of the body. So, by using a virtual mirror and showing somebody moving with the mirror you can literally feel like you've become someone else. You can be a different gender, a different age. You can become disabled. You can have a different skin color. And our first study took college age students. We had them become older, about 60 to 70 years old. We then networked a second person into virtual reality and there was a conversation between the two. Over time the conversation turned to stereotypical concepts about being older. So perhaps you didn't have a good memory and these stereotypes were activated in the conversation. So while wearing the body of someone else who's an older person I felt discrimination firsthand as a subject. And what we showed in that first study published in 2005 was that subjects who had gone through this treatment became less ageist when they came out. For example, if you asked them to list words about the elderly they were less likely to list words that were stereotypical.
JASON SILVA: Virtual reality like other media technologies, like cinema, is an engine of empathy. With a movie theater, the size of the screen, the surround sound audio puts you there. With the Oculus Rift potentially you're surrounded now by the media, by the simulated dreamscape. So you are even more there. So when I say an agent of empathy the UN released a virtual reality film of a Syrian refugee camp. The fact that we're able to put reporters now virtually on the ground elicits a sort of experience that is so much more visceral, so much more powerful that the illusive sense of presence that literally puts you in a liminal trance state. Your defenses get lowered, you forget yourself, you forget your problems, you are there. You are in the moment. And so the power of that as an engine of empathy I think can't hurt humanity. I think it's like they talk in the movie Interstellar our empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight. And I think with virtual reality and the Oculus Rift we now are extending our line of sight by being able to go everywhere at the speed of mind.
DENNIS: So this interactive experience in which you're training yourself to emotionally resonate, training yourself to take an action. This will carry on within you in your mind and your body after that headset has been taken off. So this ability to I think improve ourselves to become a more empathic and compassionate society is what I hope we will use this technology for.
- According to projections shared by the UN, Earth's population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. By the year 2100, that number could increase to 11 billion. Virtual reality will be necessary to reduce the waste of such a large population in industries like transport, retail, and manufacturing.
- As an existing technology, there is a lot that virtual reality can do: rich and immersive environments, heightened storytelling, emotionally resonant experiences, and increased productivity in retail. But it's only in its infancy.
- As the world's population continues to grow, the technology will need to evolve to facilitate a larger network of users, and developers will have to think harder about the technological potential and the ethical, neurological, and emotional side effects.
- Why the Future of Virtual Reality Might Not Be "People First" - Big ... ›
- How will virtual reality change our consciousness? - Big Think ›
- Fully immersive virtual reality: What will it take? - Big Think ›
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Researchers make the case for "deep evidential regression."
- MIT researchers claim that deep learning neural networks need better uncertainty analysis to reduce errors.
- "Deep evidential regression" reduces uncertainty after only one pass on a network, greatly reducing time and memory.
- This could help mitigate problems in medical diagnoses, autonomous driving, and much more.
Credit: scharsfinn86 / Adobe Stock<p>On the road, 1 percent could be the difference between stopping at an intersection or rushing through just as another car runs a stop sign. Amini and colleagues wanted to produce a model that could better detect patterns in giant data sets. They named their solution "deep evidential regression."</p><p>Sorting through billions of parameters is no easy task. Amini's model utilizes uncertainly analysis—learning how much error exists within a model and supplying missing data. This approach in deep learning isn't novel, though it often takes a lot of time and memory. Deep evidential regression estimates uncertainty after only one run of the neural network. According to the team, they can assess uncertainty in both input data <em>and</em> the final decision, after which they can either address the neural network or recognize noise in the input data.</p><p>In real-world terms, this is the difference between trusting an initial medical diagnosis or seeking a second opinion. By arming AI with a built-in detection system for uncertainty, a new level of honesty with data is reached—in this model, with pixels. During a test run, the neural network was given novel images; it was able to detect changes imperceptible to the human eye. Ramini believes this technology can also be used to pinpoint <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/13/what-are-deepfakes-and-how-can-you-spot-them" target="_blank">deepfakes</a>, a serious problem we must begin to grapple with.</p><p>Any field that uses machine learning will have to factor in uncertainty awareness, be it medicine, cars, or otherwise. As Amini says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any user of the method, whether it's a doctor or a person in the passenger seat of a vehicle, needs to be aware of any risk or uncertainty associated with that decision."</p><p>We might not have to worry about alien robots turning on us (yet), but we should be concerned with that new feature we just downloaded into our electric car. There will be many other issues to face with the emergence of AI in our world—and workforce. The safer we can make the transition, the better. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?
Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
What’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota?
This is a mysterious map. Obviously about music, or more precisely musicians. But what’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota? None of these musicians are from those states! Everyone knows that! Is this map that stupid, or just looking for a fight? Let’s pause a moment and consider our attention spans, shrinking faster than polar ice caps.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>