MIT Professor Believes AR & Connectivity Will Surpass Virtual Reality

"The real action is in watching how everyday people hack this stuff and what they do with it, my money is on AR."

The Open City Documentary Festival had many speakers discussing future immersive storytelling. VRFocus sat down with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor William Uricchio, who runs a research lab at MIT looking at how new technologies can help tell immersive stories in documentaries. Professor Uricchio is not only a lecturer but a historian as well. His knowledge on past immersive endeavours such as panorama and stereoscopy has given him insight into understanding what is necessary for new technologies to survive.

Professor Uricchio is fascinated with the concept of immersion and human’s obsessive need to use it to tell and share stories. He understands that at the moment there is hype for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The course he taught with Sandra Rodriguez only had sixteen places but a hundred applicants, indicates this. Everybody wants to know what VR is and how they can use it for what they want, whether it’s for immersive theatre or social change. However when it comes to both VR and AR, professor Uricchio believes that AR will ultimately be the more important of the two immersive technologies; “In terms of the broader spectrum of realities, my money is on augmented reality. I think augmented reality has a couple of advantages. First of all, it is an inherently social medium, we are in the world at the same time as the image space or the sound space, be it something where participation by people, having people produce their own content is trivial. It’s trivially easy. Whereas for VR that’s not the case.”

Our ability to dream makes VR more difficult to work in. He explains that, “within a year or two, people who have a lot of exposure, and I mean makers. Makers know this better than anyone are starting to look at the cracks, the seams, the bits that didn’t work. Not looking at that “wow effect”, that ceases to happen. It happens to audiences, we see this happen again and again. We are doomed to repeat that with VR.” Economies reflect human value systems, he believes that AR is able to connect people together because humans exist in the same sound and visual space as the information that is overlaid. VR does not allow for the same social connectivity, it has to deal with goggles and resolution problems.

When VRFocus asked where the next steps lay for the future immersive technologies Professor Uricchio said, “it’s looking at, often the underdeveloped worlds use of our technologies. Looking at how the phone is put to use in rural Kenya or Zambia or Peru. Those people find ways of making the phone do stuff that we just didn’t imagine.” It seems that one can learn a lot by looking at the hacks in the world, especially those we often dismiss in our Western bubble of technology.

Learn more about the differences between AR and VR as well as Uricchio’s work with immersive technologies at MIT.

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