I Have Seen the Future of Work and its Name is Virtual Reality

Here’s a curious thing. Anyone who’s at all interested in the leading edge of business and technology knows that virtual reality is a big deal. They’ve seen it ascend the peak of inflated expectations over the last 18 months and are now awaiting its inevitable crash into the trough of disillusionment.

There is, I sense, almost a feeling of VR related ennui amongst the digerati. “VR, yes, been there, done it. Got the T-Shirt. Next”.

All before VR has really taken off.

I think this says a lot more about our overloaded disinformation age than it does about VR.

Because if you’ve seen real VR – not just something filmed with a 360° camera – and you’ve not come away with a blown mind and a hyperventilating hippocampus you’re not fit to call yourself a futurist.

If you’ve seen real VR you can’t but help think that you’ve just witnessed the dawn of something that over the course of the next hundred years will become very, very big. That, through opening the door to a new dimension, will change everything about prior existing dimensions. That provides a new frontier that will create trillionaires and robber barons, inculcate artists and brands, draw adventurers and day trippers, and manufacture entire new worlds that will fill with our dreams and nightmares via a new manifest destiny.

If you’ve seen real VR you’ve seen the future of everything. Including work.

Want to see it? Head to Building 6 at MASS MOCA in North Adams, MA, and walk into Laurie Anderson’s Chalkroom. http://massmoca.org/event/laurie-anderson/ Prepare to be amazed.

What will you see? Trying to explain with words wouldn’t do the experience justice. I won’t even try.

Suffice to say that things fly around and everywhere you look is weird, unsettling detail. That sound engulfs you and your senses go bonkers. That you forget where you are and what you had for breakfast.

You are – most simply, and most literally – in another world.

Driving home from the exhibition – and ever since – my mind has raced with what I’d seen, what it meant, and the business/work implications you could derive from the experience. In VR you’ll be able to;

  • Walk around a house you’ve seen you like on Zillow
  • Drive the new BMW you fancy
  • Visit the changing room at Old Trafford
  • Sit in the studio while Adele makes her new record
  • Pre-visit Whole Foods to see what aisle has the mango chutney
  • Check out a dorm of the college your daughter wants to go to
  • See what a L4 discectomy is like
  • Prepare for you next big presentation by doing a walk-through of the space
  • Identify what the problem with the S-33987-JKLYYY-9977 sub-component on the production line is
  • See how much storage room there is in your cabin on Space Station New-New York on Mars

... all from the comfort of your home or office. All with the verisimilitude of actually being there.

Run those thoughts through a simple commercial if-this-than-that algorithm;

Realtors need far fewer realtors (because most of the tours are done in VR). Car manufactures need far fewer dealers (because most test-drives are done in VR). Manchester United can monetize a whole new dimension. As can Adele. With Amazon Prime and Drone based delivery Whole Foods don’t even need any stores anymore. Bookings drop at hotels located near colleges. Doctors differentiate their services through pre-visualization service offerings. Road warriors save time, money, and stress by not having to get to their venue early. Manufacturers can fix problems from 10,000 miles away. Space tourists are reminded, “Half the luggage; twice the money”. [Good advice, even in space.]

In short the impact of VR could be – will be - profound.

Real VR is not a gimmick or a toy. It’s not simply a new platform for entertainment or gaming, though both of those industries will be utterly transformed by it in short order. VR is an entirely new ... thing. I can’t think of any other word. It’s something else, something new, something totally different from anything that’s gone before.

The tech impresarios who have put big money into VR – the Zuckerbergs, the Nadellas etc. – have seemingly grown weary and timid in explaining and describing what VR is and what it will be. We are all cynics now and with trolls lurking around every social media corner everyone’s scared of getting called hyping anything.

Amazing artists like Anderson, and wonderful galleries like MOCA are flying the flag, as are film makers like Alejandro González Iñárritu http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-cannes-vr-inarritu-20170521-htmlstory.html and we here at Cognizant’s Center for the Future of work are doing our bit – look out for my colleague Rob Brown’s upcoming piece on VR and augmented reality. But don’t take our word for it, nor wait for the most creative minds in the world to lay out a simple path for you in black and white. Head out to the Berkshires today, or this coming week-end, to put the future of your work in a whole new light. A whole new world. You’ll probably be terrified and disorientated, as my wife was. But you won’t be disappointed – you’ll be electrified. And you’ll have seen the future. And that’s something worth seeing.