“Virtual Reality: Changing How We Engage in the World” – WAC 3/1/2016 Event

We are approaching a new age of interactive technology as momentous as the emergence of the smartphone. Bob Berry, CEO of EnvelopVR made this prediction at the March 1 event, ”Virtual Reality: Changing How We Engage the World.” This event was part of the Intersections in International Affairs series, hosted by the UW Master of Arts in Applied International Studies (MAAIS) in partnership with the World Affairs Council of Seattle, The Seattle Globalist, Crosscut, and Global Washington, and made possible with generous support from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation. The event was moderated by Drew Atkins, managing editor of Crosscut.

What Mr. Berry was referring to is the new wave of virtual reality technology about to become available to consumers. While virtual reality has long been promised by futurists and technologists over the decades, most of what we’ve received has not met the expectations of developers or consumers and has made many users a bit queasy. But Bob Berry says the technology has finally matured and believes consumers will be very satisfied with the products that are about to become available.

Many futurists have imagined virtual reality as a new way to play video games, but Berry brought up examples of exploring far-off destinations like the pyramids of Giza in Egypt without ever having to buy a plane ticket. Mr. Berry explained that, through VR, an individual can truly grasp the size and awesomeness of the pyramids that otherwise cannot be achieved except by visiting them in person.

After the discussion with Bob Barry, a panel came to explore how else virtual reality is changing how we interact with and use technology. The panelists were:

  • Nirav Desai: Chief Technologist in Booz Allen Hamilton’s Seattle office
  • Marie Gutierrez: Simulations Exercise Planner at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.
  • Lisa Castaneda: Founder and CEO of Foundry10.

Nirav Desai discussed how Booz Allen Hamilton was working with the Veterans Administration to develop new treatments for PTSD using virtual reality. He also predicted that VR might change how we interact with technology so fundamentally that it will make the mouse and keyboard obsolete.

Maj. Gutierrez explained how the military was using VR to create more realistic training for servicemen. She talked about virtual training programs that taught soldiers how to navigate the cultures of Afghanistan and Iraq so as to reduce misunderstandings and win hearts and minds.

Lisa Castaneda gave us insight into Foundry10’s research on how virtual reality might be applied in the classroom. She spoke of how they had children and adults try a VR program called [08:46] that gives a first-person experience of what it might have been like to be a victim of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Castaneda said that the adults had a significantly stronger reaction to the VR experience than the children, many of whom had not been born yet or were too young to remember the attacks when they happened. She said this highlighted how important previous experiences were to how an individual related to virtual reality.