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Inside AR (Jul 5th, 2019)

Many of you in the U.S. will be kicking back for the Independence Day weekend, and others might be looking forward to some holiday time in the next few months. Either way, I put together this list of awesome reads that you can literally immerse yourself in, ideal for those seeking summer reading inspiration.

These are thought-provoking articles which were mentioned in previous editions of Inside VR & AR, but are longer reads which, let’s be honest, most of us don’t really have time to indulge in during the course of a busy working week. What I love about this selection is that it shows how the broad-ranging the social impact of immersive technologies is shaping up to be, and we get tantalizing – and sometimes scary – glimpses of what the future holds.

Also, on a housekeeping note, next Monday I’m going to be on editing duty here at Inside, so your next VR & AR newsletter will be on July 9. Have a great weekend!

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1. It's all too easy sometimes to overuse terms such as "empathy machine" where it comes to immersive technologies, but I challenge anyone to overlook their potential after reading about examples such as these. Few issues are more difficult to tackle than race relations, and creating empathy so that people come to realize that what unites us is ultimately greater than our tribal divisions seems like humanity's best hope. In any case, these are fascinating reads. 

A Virtual Reality documentary by The New York Times confronts the legacy of Emmett Till's lynching. Sixty years after the kidnapping and murder of the Chicago teenager accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, people still struggle with how to memorialize him. NYT Video Journalist Veda Shastri describes how immersive technology allowed them to recreate the ruined places to help future generations witness and confront this legacy. The 360-degree video overlays with images from the 1955 case to bring this gruesome yet important history to life, and is available on the NYT VR App for Oculus or Daydream. - THE NEW YORK TIMES

A computational model developed by MIT researchers uses VR to challenge the way we think about race. Presented at the AAAI 2019 Spring Symposium, the Virtual Reality software prototype called Passage Home VR analyses how individuals perceive and cope with racial stressors. In the game, the user assumes the virtual identity of an African American girl whose high school teacher has accused her of plagiarizing an essay. The lab is now preparing to deploy and study its efficacy as a professional development tool for teachers. – MIT NEWS

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2. Technologies such as VR are often accused of being socially isolating, but the overall picture that emerges from how people use it much more complex and nuanced. These are just two examples of how technology can actually help to bridge the gap between our physical and digital selves and create deeper and more meaningful social connections. 

Reporter Ashley Rodriguez ponders how interacting with real people makes VR both more impactful and less jarring. “Being in a room with tangible objects and a real person, even if that person appeared to me in the form of decaying ghost, grounded the experience,” she writes.  Chained: A Victorian Nightmare was at the  Future of Storytelling’s Story Arcade in New York following a three-month run in Los Angeles. Inspired by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the 20-minute immersive theater experience used actors and props to build a multi-sensory narrative that blended the physical and real worlds. - QUARTZ

Extended reality technology could provide more genuine human connections. The 'Cyberdelic Incubator' in Melbourne, Australia, is promoting a more conscious approach to technology through innovative use of immersive media. Projects include Death is Only the Beginning, a VR simulation of a near-death experience which is now being adapted for use with palliative care patients. Group lead Carl H Smith argues that XR engenders empathy by allowing us to stand in the shoes of others, or borrow their eyes. "We might experience what it’s like to be another gender, or to have schizophrenia," he explains. – THE GUARDIAN

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3. Follow Friday: Malia Probst 

Malia is a key player in the XR space, being a founding partner and writer at VRScout where she also hosts their weekly podcast.

She is Co-founder at the WXR Fund, a venture fund focused on investing in startups with significant female ownership that are building the future with spatial computing and AI. Needless to say, Malia is one of the top voices championing diversity in tech, regularly speaking at conferences and events around the world. She regularly appears on lists of the most influential people in the VR and AR industries. 

Follow her on Twitter @TheMalia to keep up to date with all things XR, investing, and virtual influencers / synthetic media.

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4. Not technically a "read" but this video makes my list because it clocks in at over 20 minutes. Yet it's well worth your time to explore the fascinating intersection of science and art that this project embodies. 

Multimedia artists Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang introduce their VR piece “To the Moon” in this video. The intention, according to Huang, is not merely to stun people, but to also “touch their hearts” with a deeper story that asks tough philosophical questions. - YOUTUBE

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5. As one of my favorite t-shirts proclaims, "I f*****g love science", and some of the stuff that researchers are exploring is stranger than fiction could ever hope to be.

As the number of studies using mice in virtual environments has multiplied, what has the research taught us about how we perceive reality? By monitoring the way that mice behave in various VR simulations and tracking their head and eye movement as well as their neurological responses, scientists have been able to shed light on how mammals - including humans - construct perception. The key question, says Michael Stryker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, is at what point we cross over into Matrix-like territory and virtual reality becomes real enough as to be indistinguishable from the real world. – NATURE

Josh Wilbur explores the idea of "time hacking" which taps into the brain’s innate capacity to distort the passage of time. Virtual environments could re-create the other-world quality of psychedelic experience, in which the rules of everyday life are frequently bent, and as brain-computer interfaces and virtual reality co-evolve, so will our experience of time and space. Scientists are already exploring the neural basis of time perception, and according to time-perception researcher Marc Wittmann, “Virtual reality could allow us to create fantastic worlds — in a safe way, which you wouldn't get with drugs — in which memory content, which shapes your subjective sense of duration, could totally expand. You could explore your own personal Narnia while the world is more or less on pause." – WIRED

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6. I don't get all that much time for writing these days, but one feature I wrote for The Next Web seemed to hit a chord with a lot of people; It talks about how the real world is becoming so dystopian we might soon choose to retreat into virtual ones. And I'm certainly not alone in dreaming up what this might look like, as these two imaginative fictional pieces show:

Science Fiction author Ben Bova imagines a future in which multi-sensory immersive technology creates a new legal system, where VR dueling replaces trials. “I think VR duels would ease the burden on the courts, provide more emotional satisfaction, and make lawyers poorer,” argues Bova –WIRED

Hannu Rajaniemi paints a dystopian view of a future dominated by augmented reality. As part of The New York Times' “Op-Eds From the Future,” series, the science fiction author offers a chilling scenario of a world where immersive technology has effectively obliterated the concept of private spaces. The fictional piece is told from the perspective of Mary Lennox, a teenager living in the future who rebels against the status quo by removing her iGlasses and experiencing an unaugmented world. – NEW YORK TIMES

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7. It is always interesting to see the lengths that people will go to in order to feed a growing obsession. And although this is not something that's unique to immersive technologies, this article shows how powerful the draw of blending our realities can be in creating and feeding compulsive behaviors and creating entirely new social dynamics. 

Elizabeth Ballou dives deep into the competitive world of Ingress. The Augmented Reality mobile game developed by Pokémon GO makers Niantic - has built an incredibly loyal and fiercely competitive community, where individuals commit significant time and resources to it. It uses geolocation functions similar to Foursquare, but places them in the context of a sci-fi story about factional intrigue: to seize territory, players go to different physical locations where they find the game portals. Mitu Khandaker, a game design professor at NYU, believes the thrill gamers get from it is similar to what geocachers get from exploring and interacting with strangers around a shared playful experience. She relates the story of Meng, a woman who spent years traveling around the world in order to fulfill complex location-based missions, planning and coordinating actions with hundreds of individuals. – VICE

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8. For many years Magic Leap was one of the most jealously guarded "secrets" in tech. Apart from a few tantalizing glimpses into its holographic mixed reality technology, very little was known about the company, the hardware, or what the experiences it enabled would actually feel like. Since the release of Magic Leap One that has changed somewhat, but it is still rare to get an in-depth candid view behind the curtains. That is precisely what Charlie Fink managed to score, however, becoming embedded in the company and conducting a series of interviews with all the key players, he paints a picture that cuts through the marketing pitch. This was published as a three-part series on Forbes and also forms a chapter in his book "Convergence, How The World Will Be Painted with Data" which was released in March 2019.

Part one covered the early history of the secretive start-up and its founder. Part two delved into how the company’s vision for what they term ‘spatial computing’ managed to attract $2.3 billion dollars in investment and achieve a $6 billion valuation in 2018, and Part three talks about the launch of the device and the company’s long-term plans for building a developer community and content ecosystem to create the so-called ‘Magicverse.' –FORBES

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9. It's easy to focus on how Virtual Reality looks, but to truly feel like we're experiencing something, we need to engage all our senses. Some fascinating inroads are being made in exploring how touch, smell and (as in the article below) taste can be brought into the mix. 

Virtual Experiences can manipulate our perception of taste. Sophie Haigney poses the question of whether new technologies can change the way we eat. Since our full experience of taste is heavily influenced by smell, vision, touch and hearing, it is apparently possible to, for example, use VR to trick your mind into thinking that a 3-D printed cube of seaweed is a piece of sushi. This has interesting implications for making our food consumption more accessible, sustainable, and interesting, as shown by immersive gastronomical experiences like Jamie Atherton's augmented reality cocktail bar in London, Project Nourished or the Tokyo-based virtual reality restaurant where visitors are guided through a multicourse meal meant to illustrate chapters in “the journey of life.”  – SLATE

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10. Immersive technologies are truly disruptive, and they really will transform us in ways that we're only beginning to guess at. So, in conclusion, I would invite you to take a step back and consider some of the philosophical implications with these two excellent pieces that leave you (as all good philosophy does) with a lot more questions than answers. 

David Chalmers explains how the convergence between AI and virtual reality will transform society. "Code and silicon circuitry form just another underlying substrate for reality. Is it so much worse to be in a computer-generated reality than what contemporary physics tells us?" he asks, adding that he doesn't believe virtual worlds are going to be a panacea for problems of humanity. "They’ll be like the internet. It’s led to wonderful things. It’s led to awful things. My prediction is that they will have room for the full range of the human condition."– NEW YORK TIMES

AR is blurring the distinction between memory and place. Chris McAloroum argues in this thought-provoking piece that explores the “underlying magic” that is anchored in a particular place, and how heuristic design principles can use the 'locale' to amplify and celebrate the universal rhythms and grandeur of ordinary life. VENTUREBEAT

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This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio

 

Editing team: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside), David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology), and Bobby Cherry (senior editor at Inside, who’s always on social media).

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