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Are you Ready Player One? The business world isn’t joining the Oasis yet

The movie Ready Player One is an example of how we could live in a virtual reality world. But how far off are we from achieving such a lifestyle? And what would the business landscape look like?
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Leading man Wade Watts hopes to escape a dystopian landscape by entering a virtual reality (VR) world called the Oasis. That it leans heavily on such technology has made it a highly-anticipated movie, though IT critics have given voice to a few flaws.

In the Polygon, Julia Alexander suggested the Oasis was a utopian fantasy, “full of folks who get along without prompting from anyone. It’s an unrealistic portrayal of how people on the internet operate in 2018, where armies of trolls purposely ruin others’ experiences.”

In fairness, there’s romance, a treasure hunt and good is inevitably fighting evil. Steven Spielberg was never going to please everyone with the amount of story and visuals he had to cram into the film. But what of his portrayal of a VR world?

The movie-verse has touched upon VR before. “In the 1992 Lawnmowerman, it was used as a tool to help someone get back to work,” Rick Jesse, founder of STKRS reminded. “Search for films with VR and you’ll find many. Some you’ll remember like the Matrix, and others you might not, like 1995 Virtuosity. With Ready Player One in 2018, we’re looking at the latest version of our possible future.

“This version has promised us the holodeck experience, where we can step right into another world as if it was reality. When your team is separated by thousands of miles, you can just meet virtually and make things happen.”

According to Jesse, Ready Player One has spurred questions beyond whether such a lifestyle is plausible. Were platforms such as the Oasis to be created, would jobs even exist? “If we suspend the thought that robotics and AI will take over numerous jobs,” he said, “and we apply our current jobs to VR, we can see that only some roles would survive.”

Ready Player One was based on a 2011 book with the same title [Image: Warner Bros]

General office-based work, like data entry, accounting and writing will cease to exist. People who make decisions will likely meet in the virtual space to discuss projects, take board meetings or even do sales pitches, Jesse explained. We may still be a ways off achieving certain aspects of such a platform though.

As was suggested by James Burrows, technical director of Virtual Reality Agency: “In the Ready Player One story, a single super genius creates a digital universe with all the problems of graphics fidelity, user interaction, storage, communication and connectivity solved in a ‘big-bang’ moment. Progress on VR adoption in the real world will not happen like that.”

It was stressed, however, that VR would grow across multiple industries simultaneously, with problems being solved in one area such as gaming and then being applied in another, such as training.

“If you break down the world of business into the core areas where VR would be useful then there’s already progress,” Burrows explained. “Microsoft made big strides in telepresence with a holo-teleportation initiative. Apple’s face ID is already being used to do accurate facial motion capture – something which was purely the domain of Hollywood special effects houses until recently.

“Brands are experimenting aggressively. It’s easy to imagine a platform bringing these disparate experiences together and allowing customers to jump smoothly between products and services in the same way as on the web. I think we’ll start to see this within the next five or so years.”

Some of the technology used in Ready Player One is already in progress [Image: Warner Bros]

All the ingredients of the virtual reality recipe are there, but will the combination of ingredients turn out as VR in the workplace? Probably not. That honour will likely go to “mixed reality” or MR. Roadworkers will see from superimposed schematics where gas and water pipes are, before they start digging. A courier will see directions and business addresses overlayed on a busy street, Jesse maintained.

One of the biggest issues he highlighted around Ready Player One was that we’re just not evolved to take much stimulus and make it useful. He added: “Having used Oculus and other headsets I’m ok for a time, but I often feel motion sickness, which stays with me for hours. So much so that I rarely play any of the VR games I have. Of course, if it were a job I had to do every day I could get used to it or take some drugs to stop it.

“But what about my eyes? As a person who uses a screen every day I even feel eyestrain now. We need to find out what the long-term issues are with extended periods of using VR goggles. What do we do with our limbs? We already have voice technology in our phones and homes.

“EEG sensors can be bought in shops that can make toys fly, right now. So will the future be more of a non-physical world which we interact with in thought rather than with our limbs and physicality?

“Google’s Ray Kurzweil, sees a day where we combine our brains with AI and the wider network. Which brings us back to the slightly worrying scenario, that Neo in the Matrix found himself. Where he was living in a virtual world, without the use of his body, only his mind was in VR. It has massive opportunities in the future for entertainment, but it is very unlikely that we’re ever going to see massive workplace adoption, unlike with MR.”

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Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is the deputy editor of Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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