Once again the era of virtual and augmented reality might be upon us. After years of promises and false starts, Coronavirus has driven a record number of workers remotely and could finally usher in their regular use of VR and AR at home — or at least give the tech a push on the path to mainstream.
A PwC report last year predicted that nearly 23.5 million jobs worldwide would be using AR and VR by 2030 for training, work meetings or to provide better customer service. According to a report by ABI Research this year, before the pandemic the VR market was forecasted to grow at a 45.7% compound annual rate, surpassing $24.5 billion in revenue by 2024. Virtual reality used within businesses is forecasted to grow from $829 million in 2018 to $4.26 billion in 2023, according to ARtillery Intelligence.
Companies like Spacial, which creates something like a virtual reality version of Zoom, has seen a 1,000% increase in usage since March, according to head of business Jacob Loewenstein. IrisVR, which specializes in immersive software for architecture and planning, can hardly keep up with demand for new subscribers, said CEO Shane Scranton. Meanwhile Accenture, a multinational professional services company, is using VR exercises for new recruitment techniques.
Businesses out of VR-focused global accelerator Vive X have raised some $60 million within the last year with the largest rounds of funding in the healthcare and enterprise training areas. And Facebook’s VR headset brand recently released an Oculus for Business platform aimed at commercial use.
But with the expansion of VR and AR could come a host of new opportunities for abuse according to legal experts: privacy and data concerns chief among them but tort and even harassment cases possible. As happened after the internet and email, laws for new technology need time to catch up. And company’s need time to figure out best practices. Some matters may easily be regulated by current laws while others will need precedents. The question may not be whether immersive technology is finally ready for the public, but rather, are we ready for it?
Experts agree that privacy is the biggest concern. “With VR/AR technology we’re collecting information that to date has not generally been collected, certainly not in any broad scale,” said David Hoppe, author of “Esports in Court, Crimes in VR, and the 51% Attack.” There are legitimate reasons for companies to record physiological responses like eye movement or heart rate from users.
For example, a company may want to prevent VR sickness. But that information could also be used to derive psychological responses — gauging sexual preferences, proclivity to violence and degrees of empathy. And that data is very valuable to those trying to reach consumers, explained Hoppe.
“Trying to maintain the privacy of those types of things will be very important,” said Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at The Brookings Institution. If an employee claimed their expected privacy was breached, they could sue an employer or company depending on their state’s laws. The most contentious cases are sure to end up in court. “The problem is that judges aren’t trained on emerging technologies,” said West.
According to Perkins Coie’s survey, health care will be the area most disrupted by immersive technologies over the next year. For example, doctors can use AR body mapping to see medical stats directly on a patient, use Virtual Reality in training and education or even a surgery run-through with a virtual version of the patient’s body. Patient’s meanwhile could utilize the technologies for things like physical therapy.