3 debates surrounding Virtual Reality

VR technology has reached unprecedented momentum.  According to CB insights, AR and VR startups raised $658 million in equity financing last year, and Florida based Magic Leap set a new bar for funding when it raised a $794 million round led by Alibaba in February 2016.

The Nordics have a slew of startups in this niche including Breakroom, Moggles, and Liquid Media.  In February of 2016, the world’s first VR store opened in Copenhagen, and recently VR technology even made it into fashion week in Sweden.  And January’s successful VR Hackathon in Brussels marked the first VR hackathon in Europe.

As with any new technology, VR has been the subject of heated debate.  Below are three issues that are sure to be hot topics in 2016.

1. Parental guidance

We are used to seeing ratings on films and video games, but traditional guidance standards will need to be re-evaluated when it comes to VR.  The jury is out on how the level of immersion provided by VR effects users.  Playing violent video games is one thing, but playing a violent video game in an immersive VR experience is an entirely different experience.  Immersive content means the level of connection between the user and the content is greater, and that potentially the content can impact peoples’ brains in new ways.

As regulators start to understand the potential impacts VR can have, there will be a need to reassess where limits are set.

Sune Nygaard Amtoft, co-founder and designer at Liquid Media, says that the immersion effects need to be studied much further before any regulations are set.

“As of right now, I don’t think there is sufficient data to really comprehend the difference to be able to recreate a rating system. There is an assumption that the immersion is greater, but there is no real data to back it up,” he says.

2. Deviant use

There will always be a market for people trying to recreate their weirdest fantasies, and VR is no exception.  The Memo recently reported on the rise of VR in the sex industry.  The question is, should anything go?

Juan Bossicard, the co-founder of EUVR, believes there are already a lot of deviant people using VR technologies.  “Is this a free for all? When someone produces illegal content, how should it be dealt with?  And it is not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’,” he says.

Juan points out one of VR’s more disturbing possibilities: child pornography.  While no one is technically hurt, but there is no denying the content is illegal.

“If rules should apply, then what?  You will need to have a legal entity for a 3-d model [of a child].  How do you legislate that?  There is not even close to an existing equivalent.”

“As this becomes more and more consumer friendly, people will need to ask these questions,” says Juan, adding, “If there’s money to be made, people will always be several steps ahead of regulation.”

3. Corporate agenda

VR technology is being built from the bottom up.  While hardware like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive drive media hype, in reality it is the tinkerers and hobbyists that make VR  reality.

The means that VR is being developed from two sides: high tech companies, and garage hobbyists.  Both will struggle to shape the future of the technology, but for the time being, it is large companies that have the proverbial seat at the regulatory table.

And corporations, of course, are driven by self interest.  “They are working for themselves,” says Juan.

Many fear corporations will set the agenda, and hinder the acceleration of innovation.  Corporate interests can take precedence over smaller players, who might have better ideas.

However, some see it as a simple matter of business competition.

“Content is king – or actually, whoever has the best social platform to support interaction about content will win,” says Theis Madsen, who organizes VR meetups in Copenhagen. 

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