TED 2016

Overcoming Harsh Realities and Embracing Virtual Ones

by Greg Amrofell

Intentional Futures recently attended TED 2016 in Vancouver where speakers captivated audiences with more than 70 talks. The theme of the conference was “Dreams,” which, as you might imagine, provided a blank canvas for speakers to share perspectives on how we’re reckoning with the all-too real challenges that impact the fields of education, technology, business and our greater society. At least one topic became a recurring dream of sorts…

Our Virtually Surreal Future

Virtual reality was featured prominently at this year’s TED complete with three on-stage demos from Meta, Microsoft and VRSE. In between sessions, another startup offered TED attendees the chance to immerse themselves in a virtual world, many for the first time. The moment that still sticks most in my mind, came from the HoloLens talk.

Alex Kipman led the demonstration for Microsoft’s HoloLens. The device, as most of you are probably aware, augments reality for people wearing a special set of goggles, super-imposing digital imagery and information over the actual world around us. To include the audience in the experience, a special camera captured Kipman as well as the holograms he was seeing through his goggles. For me, watching Kipman up on stage, was like watching an actor perform in front of a green screen. But looking up at the giant video screens behind the stage we could see Kipman wandering through fantastical landscapes pulled from the worlds of video games. He then seemed to travel off planet, as he chatted with Jeff Norris of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who gave him a tour through a holographic Martian landscape.

After a TED talk, it’s customary for the session’s host to ask the speaker a few questions. So, when TED’s Helen Walters stepped on stage immediately following the HoloLens demonstration, it seemed like part of the standard drill. But this time there was a twist.

What Walters didn’t realize in her post-talk interview was that JPL’s Norris had rejoined them on stage. Virtually. And when Walters caught a glimpse of Norris out of the corner of her eye, it gave her such a start — she visibly jumped.  Up to that point, the demo of HoloLens hadn’t quite seemed, well, real. But a holograph from Mars scaring a human on Earth, made the point all too plainly that virtual and augmented reality will be center stage for all of us sooner than we might have thought.

What will the ability to virtually teleport mean for doctors in the developing world? Is Google’s Expeditions Pioneer program just the beginning for education through teleportation? And when can we start?