Virtual Reality and Social Presence

In this blog post we take a brief look at some of the uses and questions around using virtual reality in a social setting.

I always thought virtual reality was overhyped. Then I had a cutting edge demo around spaces like an office and oil rig. It blew my mind. That was two weeks ago. I still think about it all the time.

I now have so many ideas how virtual reality, then augmented reality, will change everything.

I could write 15 blog posts on the topic. In this post I’ll just focus on one over-arching VR application: social presence.

I have a lot of conference calls every week. As we all know, it’s always a mess trying to get everyone on the phone. And it’s quite impersonal. Face to face is still the best but it’s becoming less important. VR will make it even less important. I can’t wait until we all join a conference call with our VR headset. We can look into each other’s eyes and almost feel another person’s presence. We still have a long way to go though.

Probably the hardest part is looking someone in the eyes. Remember they have a large VR/AR headset. How are you supposed to see their eyes? Luckily researchers and companies are working on it.
For our podcast, I interviewed Hao Li, a brilliant graphics/AI researcher at Berkeley. He has developed some algorithms using an IR camera to track people’s face movements around the eyes. Right now it works well on an avatar. That’s the first stage of this technology, using an avatar.

The next stage will be superimposing the person’s actual face over VR/AR head set. That technology is not there yet but it’s coming. It will transform how we do business, meet people, interact with each other.

Beyond meetings it could work in so many different areas like concerts, games, conferences, events, anywhere where you want to meet and talk to other people. We’ll be able to just sit in our room at home and hang out with people across the world. Sounds nice. Also sounds a little scary. Will we all just become physical hermits, and virtual social butterflies?

Could you take a trip to visit a city virtually? Sounds lame but maybe not if it’s a specially designed virtual city. Think Second Life taken to another level. Would it be as enjoyable as in real life? Virtual ice cream doesn’t sound as tasty.

A lot of questions to answer.

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