Social VR has incredible potential. Anonymity
has a chance to get in the way of that.
One powerful thing about virtual reality is
the way it lets you stand “face to face” with
other people—sometimes people from the
other side of the world who you’d never
otherwise meet. People in social VR settings really tend to connect. I’ve seen people meet and become friends in VR and
then continue the friendship in real life.
I’ve seen people meet their significant others in virtual reality.
But this only works when people
appear as their real selves. And one huge
problem with social interactions in virtual
reality is the degree of anonymity we’re
finding there. It can alienate people who
would otherwise be interested in giving
social VR a try.
People using anonymity or maintaining a little more privacy isn’t always
bad—a shy person might feel able to shake
off awkwardness and adopt a more easy-going personality, for example. But what
we see too often among the anonymous is
bad behavior. With no real name or face it
becomes easy to treat people in a critical
or abusive way.
We are in the early stages of VR, much
like the Internet in the 1990s. There are
no rules and no law of the land. We are
all learning what is okay and what isn’t.
And as in those early Internet days, we’re
learning that anonymity causes a degree
of chaos and undesirable behaviors. It
removes accountability. Anonymity lets
people bully others without repercussions.
There’s no simple solution to the prob-
lem. Improvements in the areas of friend
connections, avatars, and interaction
design have helped, but haven’t solved it.
App creators can help by creating clear
standards, including repercussions for bad
behavior. Benefits such as customized ava-
tars, extra capabilities, and new features
might help coax people to come out of the
shadows and engage more authentically.
Whatever we try, it will be worth the
effort. Social VR lets people connect and
communicate in a way that’s much more
natural, more effective, and richer in context than current methods of communicating over a long distance. I’d like people
to think about VR as a place you can go
to express yourself authentically and connect with others. Within that space there’s
fantastic potential for education, business, science, art, and entertainment.
Anonymity kills that potential.
Mary Mossey is a product manager at
AltspaceVR, which uses virtual reality to
create a new communications platform.
The Innovator Gap
The world’s most potent technologists are
stranded in today’s innovation ecosystem.
An innovator I know—let’s call him Tom—had
trained for a decade at the world’s top
research institution to become an expert in
materials science and engineering. He’d
developed a new manufacturing technique
for semiconductors with the potential to
enable next-generation power conversion
devices for lighting, EVs, renewable power,
and defense applications. After demonstrating promising results and gathering
enthusiastic feedback from industry
experts, he was ready to take his technology to market. But how?
I met Tom a year and a half ago, when
he applied to an entrepreneurial research
program I run called Cyclotron Road. Each
year, we receive over 100 applications from
the U.S. and beyond for our program,
which supports scientists as they work to
develop a product based on research in AN
Bruce Y. Lee