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Augmenting the realities of work

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So, for example. Right now, we do video meetings. It would be more interesting for some people to be able to join those meetings, say, in VR. Companies have experimented with that, but most of the experiments that people are doing assume that everyone is going to move into virtual reality, or we’re going to bring, say, the people in as a little video wall on the side of a big virtual reality room, making them second class citizens.

I’m really interested and my team is interested in how we can start incorporating technologies like this while keeping everyone a first-class participant in these meetings. As one example, a lot of the systems that large enterprises build, and we’re no different, are web-based right now. So if, let’s say, I have a system to do financial forecasting, you could imagine there’s a bunch of those at a bank, and it’s a web-based system, I’m really interested in how do we add the ability for people to go into a virtual reality or augmented reality experience, say, a 3D visualization of some kind of data at the moment they want to do it, do the work that they want to do, invite colleagues in to discuss things, and then go back to the work as it was always done on a desktop web browser.

So that idea of thinking of these technologies as a capability, a feature instead of a new whole application and way of doing things permeates all the work we’re doing. When I look down the road at where this can go, I see in, say, let’s say, two to five years, I see people with displays maybe sitting on their desk. They have their tablet and their phone, and they might also have another display or two sitting there. They’re doing their work, and at different times, they might be in a video chat, they might pick up a head mount and put it on to do different things, but it’s all integrated. I’m really interested in how we connect these together and reduce friction. Right? If it takes you four or five minutes to move your work into a VR experience, nobody is going to do it because it just is too problematic. So it’s that. It’s thinking about how the technologies integrate and how we can add value where there is value and not trying to replace everything we do with these technologies.

Laurel: So to stay on that future focus, how do you foresee the immersive technology landscape entirely evolving over the next decade, and how will your research enable those changes?

Blair: So, at some level, it’s really hard to answer that question. Right? So if I think back 10 years to where immersive technologies were, it would have been inconceivable for us to imagine the videos that are coming out. So, at some level, I can say, “Well, I have no idea where we’re going to be in 10 years.” On the other hand, it’s pretty safe to imagine the kinds of technologies that we’re experimenting with now just getting better, and more comfortable, and more easy to integrate into work. So I think the landscape is going to evolve in the near term to be more amenable to work.

Especially for augmented reality, the threshold that these devices would have to get to such that a lot of people would be willing to wear them all the time while they’re walking down the street, playing sports, doing whatever, that’s a very high bar because it has to be small, it has to be light, it has to be cheap, it has to have a battery that lasts all day, etcetera, etcetera. On the other hand, in the enterprise, in any business situation, it’s easy to imagine the scenario I described. It’s sitting on my desk, I pick it up, I put it on, I take it off.

In the medium term after that, I think we will see more consumer applications as people start solving more of the problems that are preventing people from wearing these devices for longer periods of time. Right? It’s not just size, and battery power, and comfort, it’s also things like optics. Right? A lot of people — not a lot, but say, let’s say 10%, 15% of people might experience headaches, or nausea, or other kinds of discomfort when they wear a VR display as they’re currently built, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the optics that you’re looking at when you’re putting this display are built in a way that makes it hard to comfortably focus at objects at different distances away from you without getting into the nitty-gritty details. For many of us, that’s fine. We can deal with the slight problems. But for some people, it’s problematic.

So as we figure out how to solve problems like that, more people can wear them, and more people can use them. I think that’s a really critical issue for not just consumers, but for the enterprise because if we think about a future where more of our business applications and the kind of way we work are done with technologies like this, these technologies have to be accessible to everybody. Right? If that 10% or 15% of people get headaches and feel nauseous wearing this device, you’ve now disenfranchised a pretty significant portion of your workforce, but I think those can be solved, and so we need to be thinking about how we can enable everybody to use them.

On the other hand, technologies like this can enfranchise more people, where right now, working remotely, working in a distributed sense is hard. For many kinds of work, it’s difficult to do remotely. If we can figure out more ways of enabling people to work together in a distributed way, we can start enabling more people to participate meaningfully in a wider variety of jobs.

Laurel: Blair, that was fantastic. It’s so interesting. I really appreciate your perspective and sharing it here with us on the Business Lab.

Blair: It was great to be here. I enjoyed talking to you.


So, for example. Right now, we do video meetings. It would be more interesting for some people to be able to join those meetings, say, in VR. Companies have experimented with that, but most of the experiments that people are doing assume that everyone is going to move into virtual reality, or we’re going to bring, say, the people in as a little video wall on the side of a big virtual reality room, making them second class citizens.

I’m really interested and my team is interested in how we can start incorporating technologies like this while keeping everyone a first-class participant in these meetings. As one example, a lot of the systems that large enterprises build, and we’re no different, are web-based right now. So if, let’s say, I have a system to do financial forecasting, you could imagine there’s a bunch of those at a bank, and it’s a web-based system, I’m really interested in how do we add the ability for people to go into a virtual reality or augmented reality experience, say, a 3D visualization of some kind of data at the moment they want to do it, do the work that they want to do, invite colleagues in to discuss things, and then go back to the work as it was always done on a desktop web browser.

So that idea of thinking of these technologies as a capability, a feature instead of a new whole application and way of doing things permeates all the work we’re doing. When I look down the road at where this can go, I see in, say, let’s say, two to five years, I see people with displays maybe sitting on their desk. They have their tablet and their phone, and they might also have another display or two sitting there. They’re doing their work, and at different times, they might be in a video chat, they might pick up a head mount and put it on to do different things, but it’s all integrated. I’m really interested in how we connect these together and reduce friction. Right? If it takes you four or five minutes to move your work into a VR experience, nobody is going to do it because it just is too problematic. So it’s that. It’s thinking about how the technologies integrate and how we can add value where there is value and not trying to replace everything we do with these technologies.

Laurel: So to stay on that future focus, how do you foresee the immersive technology landscape entirely evolving over the next decade, and how will your research enable those changes?

Blair: So, at some level, it’s really hard to answer that question. Right? So if I think back 10 years to where immersive technologies were, it would have been inconceivable for us to imagine the videos that are coming out. So, at some level, I can say, “Well, I have no idea where we’re going to be in 10 years.” On the other hand, it’s pretty safe to imagine the kinds of technologies that we’re experimenting with now just getting better, and more comfortable, and more easy to integrate into work. So I think the landscape is going to evolve in the near term to be more amenable to work.

Especially for augmented reality, the threshold that these devices would have to get to such that a lot of people would be willing to wear them all the time while they’re walking down the street, playing sports, doing whatever, that’s a very high bar because it has to be small, it has to be light, it has to be cheap, it has to have a battery that lasts all day, etcetera, etcetera. On the other hand, in the enterprise, in any business situation, it’s easy to imagine the scenario I described. It’s sitting on my desk, I pick it up, I put it on, I take it off.

In the medium term after that, I think we will see more consumer applications as people start solving more of the problems that are preventing people from wearing these devices for longer periods of time. Right? It’s not just size, and battery power, and comfort, it’s also things like optics. Right? A lot of people — not a lot, but say, let’s say 10%, 15% of people might experience headaches, or nausea, or other kinds of discomfort when they wear a VR display as they’re currently built, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the optics that you’re looking at when you’re putting this display are built in a way that makes it hard to comfortably focus at objects at different distances away from you without getting into the nitty-gritty details. For many of us, that’s fine. We can deal with the slight problems. But for some people, it’s problematic.

So as we figure out how to solve problems like that, more people can wear them, and more people can use them. I think that’s a really critical issue for not just consumers, but for the enterprise because if we think about a future where more of our business applications and the kind of way we work are done with technologies like this, these technologies have to be accessible to everybody. Right? If that 10% or 15% of people get headaches and feel nauseous wearing this device, you’ve now disenfranchised a pretty significant portion of your workforce, but I think those can be solved, and so we need to be thinking about how we can enable everybody to use them.

On the other hand, technologies like this can enfranchise more people, where right now, working remotely, working in a distributed sense is hard. For many kinds of work, it’s difficult to do remotely. If we can figure out more ways of enabling people to work together in a distributed way, we can start enabling more people to participate meaningfully in a wider variety of jobs.

Laurel: Blair, that was fantastic. It’s so interesting. I really appreciate your perspective and sharing it here with us on the Business Lab.

Blair: It was great to be here. I enjoyed talking to you.

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