Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Virtual Reality: May the Force Be With You

Growing up, I loved Star Wars. I played the video games, read the Expanded Universe novels, and built my own galaxy through the accumulation of many, many Lego sets. Yet, truly, what I wanted more than anything was to experience Star Wars, to be in that galaxy far, far away. 

Now, as an adult, I may get to do just that. In the midst of Disney’s construction of the Star Wars expansions to its parks, THE VOID’S walk-through virtual reality experience, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, has opened, offering Star Wars fans a depth of immersion that many, including myself, had previously only dreamed of. THE VOID offers a “hyper-reality” experience that enables players to go on a team mission on the planet of Mustafar. Rather than being stationery, the players move, interact, and experience immersive sensory details, even down to smells and temperature.  

Virtual reality (VR) is not new, but it is becoming increasingly more mainstream. While it is still most commonly found in the entertainment sector, VR has the potential to be tapped for a vast number of applications and we may very well see it play a more prominent role in the legal field. 

In addition to VR, there’s also the increasingly popular space of augmented reality (AR), somewhat of a halfway space between “reality” and virtual reality.  None of us in Minneapolis will forget the Pokémon Go craze of the summer of 2016, when the shores of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun were packed with aspiring Pokémon trainers viewing the world through their phone screens, seeing and being delighted by things that, outside of the phone screen, weren’t “there.” The game even raised a novel legal question about virtual trespassing

In fact, many companies are employing AR in their business models to help prospective customers envision their lives with particular products or services prior to purchasing them. For example, Ikea’s Ikea Place AR app allows customers to virtually place furniture inside their apartment while Sephora’s Sephora Virtual Artist allows customers to virtually try on makeup.

A caveat: One can of course imagine Black Mirror-esque dystopian consequences to the propagation of virtual and augmented reality technologies being wielded in malicious or even sinister ways. Indeed, increased connectivity and advanced technologies often spearhead into the marketplace while serious privacy and security safeguards and regulations lag far behind. 

The number of publicly reported data breaches has been increasing every year. With VR and AR becoming more integrated into daily life, we are seeing the intimate and personal details of its users becoming enmeshed with the technology. This information is then vulnerable to hacking, cyberattacks, and other data breaches that could inflict substantial damage on the individuals whose sensitive data was wrongfully accessed. 

The emergence of virtual reality and augmented reality into more mainstream markets is providing significant opportunities to not only contribute to the shaping of this space with innovative technologies, but also for much-needed data protection, privacy, and security applications to protect individuals and their rights.  

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for the day when inter-galactic space travel is available through a headset in my living room. 

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