Topic Name: Voices of VR
Bio: Voices of VR is a podcast about VR started by Kent Bye. Bye interviews game developers, enthusiasts, and technologists, especially about virtual reality. Episodes are usually around 30 to 45 minutes long, but some interviews can go upwards of an hour plus. Bye travels to different events all across the country to see what's going on in the industry and interview people and talk about what he sees.
Name of Episode: "#616: Jeremy Bailenson's Academic Journey in VR with 'Experience On Demand'"
Date of Episode: January 2018
Describe Topic: Kent Bye talks with Jeremy Bailenson about his work at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) and about his book "Experience On Demand." They discuss topics from how Bailenson got into VR, how his background in psychology persuaded what kind of work Bailenson worked on, to some real-world effects of his work.
Opinion of Artwork, Article or Topic:
Bailenson was extremely eloquent in this interview and gave a lot of background information to reinforce any story he was telling. He talked about how with virtual reality, you can look at multiple people at one time, and critically engage more people that way, along with other kinds of social and body cues and nonverbal communication that might not be noticed when people are regularly interacting. For example, mimicry. He also talks about his exploration into "body transfer" and the "Proteus effect," asking the question of when one wears the body of an avatar, how to people identify to conform or not conform with that new identity? How do they act? What he found - especially in performing psychological studies - was that because people also look at self-clues to make judgment calls, he can influence how they interact. There were some interesting examples that fascinated me, like how the Becoming Homeless experience came to be. I appreciate that a visitor to the lab looked critically at the technology (and as Bailenson explains, she hadn't done much VR at all) and not blindly in awe. She was able to pin down something I myself have been skeptical about a long time, given the broadly-held idea that VR is an "empathy machine" (a la Chris Milk's TED Talk, linked below), and get the lab to actually see how effective VR is. Of course, it has to be done right - and what they showed, given the right VR experience, was that indeed VR experiences can make lasting effects on people. This is especially so for "big impact" experiences in VR, as Bailenson is so ready to explain why complicated systems are not good for VR. He then talks about the island of Palao and about the very real impact of showing policy makers a VR (360 video) experience of the Soft Coral Arch and seeing what's happening when all the tourists come in. The policymakers have since restricted laws on what tourists can do so that Palau can preserve their nature but also tourism industry. I was less interested in what STRIVR was doing with American football quarterbacks and Walmart employees, but I am very invested in the privacy, tracking data, and metric data available when you can record every single, tiny location while someone is in VR. I'm very invested in privacy, and I even interned at a hardware privacy company one summer - I try to do as much as possible to lessen my data footprint, because while targeted marketing may seem insidious, the data transactions behind that and the stories they tell can really affect everything we do, from healthcare and insurance premiums, to job opportunities (as Bailenson also mentioned) and social hacking (which is why secure passwords/pin numbers/etc are so important).
Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine