One of the biggest challenges with Second Life was the steep learning curve for learning how to build things. Sure, once you got the hang of it, it wasn't that bad. But it took a while to get the hang of it. So this led many users to kind of feel stuck after they ran out of things to do if they weren't willing to learn how to build things. Virtual Reality will probably have the same challenge, as just sitting and staring at stuff will get old fast. The Mozilla VR Team is already on a system that allows users to build VR content in a borwser, using existing browser tools (APIs, HTML, etc). One example of this is how the team built a Minecraft environment with the WebVR A-Frame kit. The magic of this A-Frame system is that it uses html code to build objects in virtual reality. You could write out your VR build in code if you wanted. But there are many other possibilities, including the ability to create applications that work on different devices.
One of the biggest problems with voice-activated services - anything from Siri to Text dictation - is privacy. You don't exactly want everyone in the room to hear your conversation with your significant other or your personal shopping list or whatever it might be. If you think the solution to that is mind-controlled technology, you are probably thinking too far in the future. Until then, humanity is probably left with more awkward solutions like HushMe - the "world's first voice mask for mobile phones." Yep, it is a muzzle-like device that fits around your mouth and claims to obscure your voice so that others can't hear it. While you may balk at the look of it, I would be willing to bet that companies with remote work options will start requiring tools like this to protect privacy and trade secrets. It is usually these more awkward ideas that catch on than the more practical ones. Regardless of whether anyone wants one of these or not, I could also see the idea being integrated into full immersion VR headsets like the Feel Real Nirvana. Then implement Intel's Merged Reality so that you can walk around in one of these masks - maybe make some models that look more like a Boba Fett helmet (or even maybe ones with interchangeable face-plates where you can 3D print a scan of your face for the front to really creep people out) - and VR will go mobile, immersive, and augmented. If you have ever dug into much Science Fiction, this is pretty much what most fancy futuristic helmets do anyways. We are just seeing the creation of that one part at a time.
Interesting speculation from AppleInsider that seems to point to a 3D scanner being part of a future iPhone. Even if it is not in the iPhone 8, we will probably ee this sooner rather than later. If virtual/augmented reality and 3D printing are already here, your phones will need to keep up. Facial recognition is probably the first thing that comes to most people's minds, but other uses could be for augmented reality and object scanning. While it may be cool to scan things around you, copyright laws will have to adjust quickly or else we can all just start scanning and printing things in stores instead of buying. I would also assume privacy would be an issue, both from what your phone collects about you through scanning your face as well as from those that would adjust their phones to scan people in public. It sounds very convenient to be able to open your phone with just your face, but the flip side to that is hackers would just need to walk up to you while they are hacking your accounts and scan your face while you walk down the street. Takes the idea of personal firewalls to a whole new level, huh? Innovations like this are ones we need to get ahead of instead of playing catch up after people misuse them. The video above is of a different project, but looks at a more hopeful view of what smartphone 3D scanning would be like (as well as displays a possible copyright violation by scanning R2-D2).
Those of us that are old enough remember how movies went through an initial round of "full immersion" experiences - paper 3-D glasses, moving seats, and smell-o-vision. Now that Virtual Reality is catching on (or maybe it isn't?), we now have companies working on full immersion VR. Smells, hot/cool winds, and vibrations are all part of that. Feel Real is offering an interesting all in one device, with a mask that attaches to existing VR devices and a full immersion helmet (all previewed in the video above). The scents cost $5 each (ocean? sure; burning rubber? no thanks), the attachable mask will cost $250-300, and the helmet will cost $500-800. Read Ready Player One to see where this is all probably heading. The Feel Real Nirvana helmet has some SciFi coolness to it, but still looks pretty impractical. My guess is that someday you will see this with a merged reality application to help you walk around more safely, and maybe even an internal camera that will project your face on the outside so that it will have business meeting applications or whatever it may be. The "2001 me" really loves this, but the "2017 me" worries about what could happen to people that could cut themselves off from the real world even more. But like any tech we need to look at ways to keep the human side of ourselves front and center. One plus for Feel Real is that they do have the production tools (mostly free with purchase for now) to add their technology easily to existing VR experiences, putting users more in control.
You probably did a double take at seeing "Second Life" in the headline. Believe it or not, Second Life is still going strong with 900,000 active monthy users and over $60 million in real cash income in world. But Second Life is still falling behind times, so its creators are moving into Virtual Reality. Sansar is a new project they are working on to allow every day users to create their own virtual reality world, connected by "teleportation" hubs (sound familiar?). Of course, it is still an expensive venture: users really need high end VR headsets, and this article mentions using things like LIDAR (laser radar basically) to scan and re-create rooms. Sansar is still pretty closed and basic, but they have plans to bring it to "everyone." Well, "everyone" that can afford and understand it. Companies always seem to leave that out. However, the ideas are going in the right direction: recreate places in VR that would be hard to access, embed learning tools, let people use other 3D modeling programs to build objects, etc. The first minute 20 seconds of the video above is of Sansar in action, followed by a quick 30 second promo of "possibilities", and then the rest is talk.
Virtual Reality seems to be everywhere these days - commercials, game systems, schools (well, a few at least), etc. Behind the hype are some serious concerns (many of which are covered in this somewhat bleeped language honest trailer for PlayStation VR that Justin shared with us). If we really want to look at VR for education, I think we need to look past games and into other applications. The passive nature of much VR content is a big barrier to really being useful. As the Honest Trailer points out, you sit a lot. Connecting AI to VR could help eliminate some of the passive issues, but then you add a layer of concern that comes along with AI (who programmed it, for what purpose, and what are the implications of those decisions on the user?). For me, I would say the best way to bring VR into education is to find a way to let learners create their own simulations (including programming their own AI). But that is expensive and impossible at this point. But hopefully that will be changing. The news last week that Google will be partnering with Improbable is a step in the right direction. Improbable basically looks to be a way that will let users create their own virtual worlds populated with AI in various ways. Of course, both are trying to make money and advertise services off the deal. But if the idea of creating your own AI-driven virtual world can catch on (again? remember Second Life?), maybe other more user-friendly options will emerge. The video above is talking about the engine behind this partnership called SpatialOS. The video looks mostly at games but also peppers in some other references to the wider uses for SpatialOS that might be more applicable for education. However, instead of thinking Matrix, people need to start thinking Ready Player One, and the good and bad that comes along with that.
While Virtual Reality is grabbing a lot of the headlines in tech these days, there are other feilds brewing and growing as well. Artificial Intelligence is one area that educators should turn their attention to, for good or for bad. As George Siemens has pointed out, companies like Intel are betting big on AI. In many ways, we are used to AI in things like Siri, Google Search auto-complete, recommend-er systems (like in Spotify), and in our customer service phone calls. Sometimes the predictions of what AI could do in education are a mixed bag of interesting ideas, concerning ideas, and confusing ideas (is it really "self-direction" if AI assists with it?). Whether or not it is really intelligence or just a trick of really complex programming is also a big question, although researchers are making headway into discovering the ways that intelligence occurs naturally. Sometimes when we set AI loose on various creative tasks, the results are not all that we expected (even though I kind of like the song that AI wrote to be honest). Regardless of whether one likes it or not, the field is moving forward and we will see more in education. The video above looks at the basics of what is AI and how it could be used in education. Much of this is about creating a custom curriculum for learners. While this may seem weird to some, it is a solid possibility. I used to work as a director at a tutoring center. We spent most of the day writing out custom curriculum plans for each student. It was based on a very structured modular system that was easy to map out. Much of that could be automated with AI to be honest. The problem would not be the AI system it self, but the materials that it puts together and how they are put together. In other words, don't worry as much about the AI as the designers behind it. How are they creating these systems? Are they creating AI that is transparent and flexible, by telling learners what it is doing up front, why it is making the choices it makes, who (specifically) gets to see their data and what (specifically and completely) they will do with it, and how to change any of that if they don't like anything?
A few years ago, I made a technology trailer for a grad class. Justin Dellinger of LINK Lab was part of it, and he made a spontaneous joke in the video about how he had to get the prescription Google Glasses so he could teach his class. Little did he know he was predicting the future. Or maybe he did know? Either way, it looks like Vue is well on its way to funding a KickStarter to create more practical wearable glasses. And yes, you can get your prescription lenses in these. As the video above shows, the creators of Vue took the clunky nature of Google Glass into consideration, making their glasses stylish and practical ("Smart glasses - you can spot them a mile away"). Oh, and they removed the creepy camera. What is left might not win over those that loved Google Glass, but at least these glasses will be more practical. Which is good, because many people are starting to look at wearables and say "so what?" If the makers of wearables want to move forward, they have to move from clunky and distracting to practical and seamless. The Vue is a step in that direction it seems. The big question is will they tap into the AI capabilities of things like Siri more. or will you have to learn a whole new set of apps that make you do everything? What will they do with the data that is collected if they do tap into AI? What privacy issues will they create if Siri can know where you are and what direction you are looking? We will see as the KickStarter was looking for $50K and currently has nearly $1.4 million. Yes, million. A lot of people want this form of smart glasses. Did Google Glass ever reach $1 million in sales?
Most people probably saw this coming once Google Maps started offering 3-D maps of certain parts of larger cities, but now we have Google Earth VR. Certain select areas of the Earth are offered in virtual realty for HTC Vive users. The Vive is and $800 device that requires a powerful computer to run, so don't see this as global virtual tourism for the masses. But it is another sign that interest in virtual reality is exploding. Services like this are probably a good way to work the kinks out of VR navigation and interface problems. Someday we will probably see VR "record and broadcast" devices that cane be set in a room or at a famous landmark or whatever to record video and sound in immersive VR to broadcast like Facetime. Then those devices will probably be integrated into our phones as quickly as possible. So now is probably a good time to start talking about the future of immersive real word broad VR. What will privacy, permission, data, etc become in a situation where a device can record and broadcast immersive VR from all directions? I like the idea of visiting the Eiffel Tower from my living room, but what happens when my neighbor carelessly broadcasts their VRcast (maybe that will be a thing?) from their front yard and my window is open?
When talking to educators about Virtual Reality, the big question I always run into is "how can my learners create their own content?" This is a good question. If we don't get our learners into the creation process, we are really just creating fancy textbooks and lectures, or slightly more immersive movie experiences. Interesting but passive in the end. There are some ways to use newer high-end phones to record 3-D panoramic images with apps like Panorama 360 or InstaVR. But these aren't moving, and you need some serious sound equipment to re-create immersive sounds. Projects like Jump from Google are looking at how to work on these issues. But even then you are looking at recording the world around you, bringing in limitations. How does one create content for games, fiction scenarios, historical re-creations, etc? It seems that Google is also looking into this with the Daydream platform (see also the video above). Still very rudimentary, but a good start. Someday we can hope that building VR will become as easy as placing a box of crayons and paper in front of learners and letting them create whatever comes to mind.