Silicon Valley VR: fighting social stigma one headset at a time

Karl Krantz, founder of Silicon Valley Virtual Reality, believes there is no industry in the future that VR is not going to touch and as a result, the VR evangelist hopes to remove the social stigma around the technology.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

In the next 10 years there is no industry that Virtual Reality (VR) is not going to touch, according to Silicon Valley Virtual Reality founder Karl Krantz.

As a result of the penetration the VR technology is going to have in our lives, the self confessed VR evangelist said he has made it his own personal mission to remove the social stigma he feels is currently attached to VR and show the world it is not as anti-social as once thought.

"It's really far from isolating," Krantz said. "There's something about VR that is making people make friends and I haven't really figured out why this is happening but it's a really surprising and interesting phenomenon.

"Everyone I know in the VR community has more friends than they ever had in their life and part of that seems to be something inherent in the technology. When you can suddenly try experiences you've never tried before, the first thing you want to do is share that with someone and then you grab someone and say: 'Hey, try this' and now you've both tried it you now have a bond and a new friend, and that just keeps happening over and over again."

According to Krantz, the technology is not what was previously thought; he said it is quite the opposite of a lazy experience where people are sitting passively on their couch.

"When I come out of VR I'm out of breath, I'm sweating; I actually feel like I've lost weight because of VR," Krantz said. "I used to sit all day at a desk but now I'm spending all day standing and moving around doing archery, sword fighting, and all sorts of things that you can do in VR -- it's just a lot more active.

"I'm an optimist with technology and I think the good outweighs the bad."

Krantz said VR is already making its way into the health and medical sectors with a number of startups focusing on treatment technologies for phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).

"But you figure with PTSD and phobias, anything that can cure these problems can also cause them; you could potentially cause PTSD by getting the user to go through something in VR that is so real and traumatic," Krantz said.

"The danger here is that we are interfacing with the human brain at a pretty low level, and a malicious person could potentially cause some harm to someone -- it's going to be more about trusting where your code came from."

Speaking on the future of VR, Krantz believes it is inevitable that the technology is going to get better and better until it reaches a point where it is difficult to discriminate it from reality.

"When we do get to a point where we're actually interfacing with our nervous system, that healthy active peace might go away -- but I hope we find a happy medium," he said.

Krantz believes right now VR is still in its embryonic phase and the technology itself is going to stay in the early stages for a few more years with developers toying with what is achievable in a virtual environment.

"The biggest thing happening this year, aside from getting just the numbers of headsets out there, is motion controllers, which is giving people hands, giving them agency inside these worlds that allows people to actually build things and to be creative so we are no longer passive anymore," Krantz said.

"For me that's the magic of VR; it's completely interactive."

Krantz said the possibilities of VR are endless. He believes the use of VR allows for the ability to run through countless scenarios you could not do in real life, even just for cost reasons, with the technology having a use case across multiple applications.

"Any content creation, anywhere where people are building or creating things can be done more efficiently in VR," Krantz said. "It's a lot cheaper to adjust a building in VR after finding a problem with it than after building it and having to tear down walls and move things around.

"It just means you can play with reality and play in a productive sense as well, but play with reality in a much lower risk and cheaper way."

Krantz said he has been obsessed with VR his entire life and killed time designing high-end telepresence systems for Fortune 100 companies -- which he said was the closest thing to VR he could find previously -- before moving to the Silicon Valley as the VR boom began.

"A couple of years ago I realised VR was going to take off in the next few years, so I said I have to be in Silicon Valley when this happens, I want to be in the middle of it. I don't know what I want to do exactly but I know I want to be involved," he said.

"I just assumed in Silicon Valley there'd be a VR meet-up but there wasn't, there was nothing like that. So I started one two-and-a-half years ago, and now we have over 3,000 members.

"When we first started we were basically trying to convince people that it wasn't crazy.

"We were definitely fighting an uphill battle in the beginning, but the thing about VR is you have to try it, because once you try it, you're convinced and that seems to be the case 99 percent of the time.

In March last year, social media giant Facebook scooped up VR startup Oculus in a $2 billion deal that had outsiders puzzled. At the time of the acquisition, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that while mobile is the platform of today, his company was getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow.

"Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play, and communicate," he said.

At the time, Facebook also said VR technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform, a view Krantz said helped bring VR into the mainstream.

"Facebook's acquisition definitely made it a lot easier to talk to people about VR," Krantz said. "People thought, 'Okay, some smart people are putting some real money behind this', and realised it was worth a look."

On a social engagement level, Krantz said the virtual experience is already a lot more human and interactive compared to how people are currently networking.

"Even right now with the primitive hardware, just having your head in a virtual world and having the head tracking track to your avatar so that the avatar's head moves with yours, there's enough body language to get across some pretty rich communication," he said.

"If you compare it with any text-based chat forum you're not really getting this real-time body language, you don't feel the presence of the other person, but you do feel that in VR."

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