Whenever we think of the virtual world examples, our mind goes to the advances in gaming; it is a simple immersion of self into a world of imaging. The theme parks have progressed a wee bit, a Harry Potter theme park will virtually make you ride a broomstick; that and many more examples make you move while you are stationary or make you stationary while you are on the move.
The physical world is too distinctly rigid in its reach that binds us to certain definitive traits of minds. It almost smells of captivity, where the mind is entrenched into believing that there are limits to what we could do given the physical constraints.
But it need not be and let me take some extreme examples.
Several millions visit the museums of the world (whether natural sciences or art), the Cairo Museum for example or the Louvre, or the Smithsonian. I have seen that in all these three museums which I have visited, the visit actually does not give you an opportunity to spend more time on the things that you would love to see; precious hours are wasted on logistics and queuing and the actual time spent on the best displays is a fraction of the overall time.
The virtual world could make it possible to visit all museums of the world from our stationary positions and current 3D imaging would allow the best experience that no physical presence could imagine. Take for example the Tutankhamun’s mummy at the Cairo Museum, could you ever get the same feel of seeing it through 3D imaging with guided commentary than standing some distance away and barely able to see some parts of the structure? Or take the Van Gogh’s Sunflower at the National Gallery London, how close could you get to it to see the paint still living on the canvas or the strokes off the brush almost seeming like it was fresh? Imagine how that would look like if a 3D imaging is offered to you with an artist-commentator telling you every bit of history attached with the painting?
The museums of the world need not be travelled to at all. You could see it from the couch of your house and have a better experience of spending time with the most adorable items on display. Each view could be customized, for example a Cezzane fan could get more detailed account on Cezzane paintings, while a Vinci enthusiast could get the same for Mona Lisa.
Why limit all this to the museums, if you want to do scuba diving or canoeing, you could do that from the couch and get the same experience off the pacific coasts. You want to do Bungy jumping, why bother to go to the physical heights and take the risk of the huge leap in the air; you could do it from the couch and get the same experience.
Travel and tourism will be moving to the virtual world.
Let me now turn to the world of business. Virtual Reality is still scratching on the surface, because the physical world is limiting our views on the prospects of virtual world and its reach. Let me again give some examples.
You are running a global organization with offices in fifty countries and you have hundreds of markets and customers to deal with. You have product groups on one hand and supplier groups on the other to deal with; you have manufacturing units and supply chains to be organized that should be aligned to the overall goals of the organization.
But here you have the puzzle of organizing several disorganized units working on different puzzles across geographies and cultures and rules. You need the disorganization as otherwise you cannot benefit from the differences in value that each brings in. The value of disorganization cannot be lost in the regimentation of organization. The sum of parts will only then be greater than the whole; if only you could make the unseen be seen.
But where does virtual reality step in? It steps in to make it possible to view things that cannot be viewed by being physically present.
For example could you be present in three places at the same instant? If a product designer wants to see how a prototype is working under three different conditions, could she actually simulate an experiment that allows her to see all three conditions on the same screen with splits?
Or imagine the training of an operator on complex equipment, which cannot be done on-line. Could you simulate a program that allows you to give the same feel or experience with complex conditions that cannot be actually done while you are on-line, but could be very much constructed off-line?
Imagine collaborative work across three time zones that are wide apart. Virtual reality allows you to simultaneously see all three developments at the same instant which can be monitored by people at the fourth time zone.
The challenge of virtual organization of work is that it will not have structures that we are so used to. We will not have central commands, when hundreds can actually see what is best to be done in a given situation.
When visibility improves, decision making becomes a redundant habit. Why do you want to keep all decision making at the center when all that you need is the participants to decide what is best given what the situation demands when you have allowed a wide audience of the issues and puzzles in hand?
Virtual reality conflicts with our current notions of how to solve a puzzle. The puzzle is now changing from being constructed by the solvers, to be being constructed through a process of continuous evaluation of situations. You had specific puzzles to deal with in the past, now you have an array of puzzles in a continuum of virtual reality.
The next time you think that you have struck on a puzzle that you want to hand over to your team, it is most likely that your team is on to the next one after having solved the one you just unearthed.
The teams will be better off served with the wider visibility of issues than with the current constrained view which is constructed by our limited knowledge of the boundary conditions.
Tweaking as many variables as possible is the new frontier; that is where virtual reality scores.
When visibility improves, decision making is a redundant habit.