As the lead writer and head of content at BrainXchange, Emily Friedman has had ample chances to explore a lot of XR-related topics. She lets Alan pick her brain about a few of them, from getting millennials interested in trades, to democratizing knowledge, and how humanity will enter The Cloud.
Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Emily Friedman from BrainXchange and Augmented World Expo. Emily Friedman is a New York based enterprise immersive, wearable and emerging technology advocate, journalist and facilitator. She’s Head of Content and the lead writer at BrainXchange, lead journalist and senior editor at Enterprisewear Blog, and head of marketing and communications for Augmented World Expo USA and AWE EU. To learn more about BrainXchange, you can visit brainxchange.com. And if you wanna learn more about AWE or Augmented World Expo, you can visit awexr.com.
Welcome to the show, Emily.
Emily: Thank you for having me.
Alan: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation, because you are writing everyday – or, not everyday, but what, a couple times a week? — on the enterprise wearables world. So maybe just kind of give us an overview of what is BrainXchange and AWE. Let’s start with that.
Emily: Ok, I wish I were productive enough to write multiple articles a week. But there’s a lot going on. BrainXchange, we started out as a boutique events company, and we just happened to enter augmented reality at the right time. It was 2015, right after Google Glass, quote/unquote failed. And there were all these headlines, “Glasshole” articles. But if you read between the lines, it was clear that smartglasses weren’t a failure, and that enterprises were actually finding good use cases for it. So today we provide events, content, and other services all related to facilitating enterprise XR.
Alan: You know, I’ve been at AWE a couple of times now. I lead the startup track this year. It’s an important conference for virtual/augmented/mixed reality and some may say it is the most important conference. It’s where everybody around the world gathers in. And I made this comment that if the building happened to collapse, basically the entire VR world would cease to exist, and we’d have to start over again. It was an amazing collection of some of the world’s smartest people working in this technology and enterprise. They seem to be really driving this technology forward. What are you seeing?
Emily: Well, as for AWE, I think it’s a very important benchmarking event. Like you said, the entire industry gets together at that one point. What we’re seeing — and the reason we gravitated towards enterprise at first — is that that’s where the money is. I mean, that’s where the money has to be made, both for end users and the AR/VR companies themselves. At the end of the day, we cater to the enterprises and we talk to them every day. We get on the phone with Fortune 500 companies, the innovation people and all these different companies every day. And we listen to their pain points. AR/VR happens to offer a solution to a lot of their pain points.
Alan: So what are some of the pain points? Let’s unpack that.
Emily: Huge one is a shrinking workforce, that creates this need to train faster, better. So as the workforce ages — in manufacturing, I think the average age is like 40 to 50 now — and retires, not only do you need to attract new talent; you need to train them. As a millennial, this is actually pretty important to me. Learning a skill today just doesn’t get you as far as it did half a century ago. Tech advances, business models change, and much of what I learned in school, I feel like it’s irrelevant. And for Gen Z, it’s going to be worse.
So the ability to learn new skills effectively — to upscale, to rescale — is really important. Another one is remote support. Those are probably the two most enthusiastic applications today. For us, it was one of the earlier ones, just being able to connect your team remotely. Lone worker in the field — say a field service company’s fixing an air conditioner — can access talent of experts at a home office, and give them a view of what they’re seeing. And that’s just really powerful.
Alan: Awesome. So remote support, for example. What is the problem? What is the underlying problem? Because one of the things you mentioned is attract and train new talent. I think the key is that attract, because kids today, they’re waking up in the morning, they’re opening Instagram, they’re like, “I want to be an Instagram celebrity.” We can’t all be Insta-famous, but there’s a lot of jobs that are in trades that are great, good paying jobs that young people just aren’t, maybe they’re not even aware of it or they just don’t care. I know a lot of parents push their kids to go to university, even though that if you look at university now, we’ve got a trillion and a half dollars in debt in the US from student debt. So trades are a real value to the economy. And how do you attract and excite people about those jobs?
Emily: So, as for the field service, remote support question; the pain point there is time. So not having to do the job twice, you send one person out and then you need to send another person out to help that first person. As far as the trades, I think our education system hasn’t really kept up with the economy, like the actual workplace, but it’s necessary.
Alan: And it’s actually almost impossible for education systems. If you look at the way they were designed, they were designed not to change. They were designed to be steadfast in the face of change. And that, unfortunately, when you enter into exponential growth phase of humanity, this becomes a real problem.
Emily: Exactly. So I think that it’s both. It’s that they’re not learning the skills they might need. And by the way, trades jobs don’t have to be manual. They’re not low skill, they’re high skill. And there are now often involving technology.
Alan: Oh, absolutely.
Emily: In that way, I think our education system hasn’t kept up. And I think you’re right. My generation were not aware of the trades. And I think skilled trades training has dropped off a lot.
Alan: We’re seeing– starting to see some some new technologies, like VR and AR, that are starting to bridge that gap. There’s a couple of companies making some really interesting headway in virtual reality training, and I’ve tried a few of them. Pretty impressive.
Emily: Yeah, exactly. So one having appealing technology like AR/VR is definitely attractor. There’s the other side of this, the other coin, which is that older workers don’t have to retire, now that there is AR and VR, because they’re still valuable to the organization, even if they can’t go onto the factory floor or out into the field. I think there’s both sides of that, and it’s really important to cater VR training and adopting AR in order to collect and record all the inborn talent in your company, and also to share that with new workers and help them learn fast.
Alan: I had a chance to try this at PTC LiveWorx recently. I put on a RealWear — it’s basically like a heads-up display, it’s like having a tablet a foot from your face and it bends out of the way when you don’t need it, you just flip it up — and I was standing in a tractor. I pulled down the thing and it walked me step by step how to change an air filter. And I’ve never touched a tractor, ever. I don’t know anything about a tractor. I was able to remove the air filter, check it, change it, replace it, close it back up. And it was ready to go. And it was interesting because what I was watching wasn’t some crazy AR overlay. What it was, was just a video that was captured by an expert on the same device that I was wearing to see it. It was impressive.
Emily: I mean, it can be as simple as arrows in your field of view.
Emily: There’s a range, from assisted reality all the way through mixed reality. RealWear’s a great example. They’ve had some really large rollouts, which I think is such a great sign for the space, and they’re going to be at EWTS. Colgate, for example. I think BMW recently just rolled out RealWear devices to a bunch of its plants. So they’re growing and definitely the companies have matured. I think we’re at third, fourth generation devices at this point and the software has matured.
Alan: Absolutely. I saw something, I think three years ago at AWE, and it was a pick-and-pack type of thing. We put on the glasses and it walks you through picking things off shelf for distribution warehouses. And it was really bad. It was laggy, it didn’t work, it was kind of crappy. And fast forward this year, oh my God. It was like, millimeter accurate. It was just intuitive. We’ve come a long way in a very, very short amount of time, which I guess that lends itself to the word exponential growth.
Emily: Yeah. And I think EWTS offers this opportunity from the start. We’ve kind of curated the sponsors, the exhibitors at the event, making sure that they have solutions that are ready to go today. I think it’s really valuable for them to hear real end users, real enterprise end users on stage, sharing their experiences, good and bad about their technology. And I think it’s helped move some of that user experience issues, ergonomics issues forward.
Alan: So you mentioned EWTS, Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit in Dallas, Texas, correct?
Alan: So who are some of the companies that are going to be attending this?
Emily: Well, it’s really the Fortune 1000 makes up our audience. It’s primarily heavily enterprise for the audience. Few are solution providers. But it’s been growing every year, like you said, exponential growth. We have veteran speakers at this point who return year after year to give us updates about their experiences. Peggy Gulick from AGCO. Janelle Haines from John Deere. Josh Shabtai from Lowe’s. Gary Binstock from Colgate, who’s using RealWear. Dan Jost from Molson Coors is returning this year, and it’s across the industry spectrum. Every industry, pretty much.
Alan: I’m looking at the speaker list here, it’s incredible. So if you want to know more about this, it’s brainxchange.com and just look for EWTS, or just Google “Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit”.
Emily: And it’s been fascinating to have this point of view, to come at it from the enterprise point of view, and really speaking with the enterprises every day. So Duke Energy has been with us since the beginning. Boeing as well. And so to see some of these become large rollouts, thousands of devices — in Wal-Mart’s case, hundreds of thousands of devices — or standard work tools like they are at DHL, that’s just standard. What you’re saying, pick-and-pack software on smartglasses, that’s standard for them now.
Emily: And to see that is just such a wonderful thing.
Alan: It’s interesting how it goes from being this fringe technology to industry standard.
Emily: Yeah, it’s interesting that that has remained cross-industry. We do tracks by industry, but right now there’s only a certain number of– AR/VR has a certain number of applications. And I think every business has a component that it applies to. So whether that’s heads-up hands-free information, remote expert, visualization, training, sales, that’s pretty across the board. So I think this ability to network and learn from other companies that are starting to bring this into their company is really helping a lot.
Alan: Absolutely. You mentioned different kind of aspects of this, and it looks like it’s every industry. You got Pfizer. You’ve got AGCO, agricultural. Lowe’s, retail. Dow, chemical. Wayfair, retail again. So what are the ways these technologies, are these typically in the enterprise? Is this something that they’re using in their warehouses? Is it something they’re using to train? Is it something they’re using for marketing, or are you seeing any one company that’s kind of using it for everything? Or is it just kind of siloed right now, still?
Emily: Well, all of the above.
Emily: Companies are using this for sales and marketing. And that’s actually not something that was very prevalent a few years ago. It was really heavy on field services, utilities, logistics, but it’s now coming into sales and marketing. As consumers right now, we don’t really have access to AR/VR tech. There isn’t really a great AR smartglasses for consumers out there right now. And VR is expensive for most people, or they’re unaware of it. But sales and marketing aspect allows companies to give their customers a taste of AR/VR, because they can afford it. That’s kind of new and that’s definitely a new feature of our event. Like I said, we have veteran speakers and some of those speakers are really– their use cases have evolved to multiple use cases. So I know AGCO is using Google Glass all over.
Alan: Really? How are they using that?
Emily: I’m not sure, because that one’s kind of new. In a lot of companies, this replaces the need for going back and forth to a computer, or looking down, or picking up above. It’s really as simple as going hands-free. I think that’s one of the most powerful aspects of wearables and smartglasses and VR headsets.
Alan: It’s interesting. There’s companies doing this. And the more they start to present their findings, the more it becomes a no-brainer for this technology. I believe it was Shelly Peterson from Lockheed Martin. I’m not sure if she was one of your speakers, but– oh yeah, she spoke at AWE! That’s right.
Emily: Yeah. And she’s also been with EWTS since the beginning.
Alan: Brilliant mind. And one of the things that she mentioned at this year’s AWE event was that they’re seeing average 85 percent decreases in training times, and 25 to 50 percent increases in retention rates. And this is incredible. Like, I don’t know that there’s any technology we’ve ever invented as humans, that have that kind of impact on our bottom line.
Emily: And on our productivity. Yeah, I think this is just really groundbreaking. This is the first time you get to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for real. So whether that’s putting yourself in another culture’s shoes or a job that you’re trying to learn. It’s just so powerful, that firsthand experience. And those numbers that Shelly gave, they’re not unique. Lots of companies are getting numbers like that. And it is really astonishing. But again, like I said, taking information out of people’s hands and putting it in front of their face is just incredibly powerful.
Alan: Yeah, it really is. And the devices themselves are getting better by leaps and bounds as well. There’s a bunch of new devices coming out every day, and the field of view is getting better, the battery life is getting better. It’s that exponential growth of hardware as well. And so I think it’s this perfect storm of the timing being perfect for this technology to impact every business.
Emily: It’s a shame, kind of. I feel like every year has been the year of AR/VR.
Alan: [laughs] We’ve been trying wolf a long time.
Emily: Yeah, exactly. I think 2018 was a little disappointing, in terms of the solutions themselves..
Alan: I agree.
Emily: This year was the first year I walked around AWE, and was just so impressed with the level of the technology. This year is also EWTS’s biggest expo. And we back our exhibitors, because we want these solutions to be ready to go. It helps that a lot of the big companies, HTC, Oculus, Lenovo, they’re pivoting to enterprise. So it’s just grown a lot.
Alan: It’s really amazing to watch. My company, MetaVRse, we’ve been in the business side of things. We’ve done that from day one. We looked at the business applications of this technology first and foremost, because the way I looked at it was like, “OK, this isn’t like a cell phone, where it’s easy to put in everybody’s pocket and scale. This is something that’s going to require a use case that you don’t mind looking like an idiot with these glasses on your head.”
Alan: When you go back four years, the glasses were huge, and they were connected to computers, and they just weren’t something that would scale. And even the Hololens, I mean, Hololens 1 is a great device, but man, you wouldn’t want to wear that all day. But for an application specific, “I need to look at this machine, fix this machine, get in and out quickly.” That is a powerful, powerful piece of equipment. And everybody goes “Oh, it’s $3,500, it’s too expensive. It’s never gonna be a consumer hit.” It shouldn’t be a consumer hit. It should be something that is used by enterprise, because $3,500 to outfit a factory with one or two or ten of these devices is a drop in the bucket to the downtime caused when these machines, these big manufacturing machines are down. If you’re down for a day that’s multimillions of dollars in downtime.
Alan: And if this device can save that, then you’re winning.
Emily: Especially for an airline. Having a plane out of commission is so costly. Time really is money in business. And while I don’t think the use cases are really there for consumers yet, and the devices aren’t quite there– although I was really impressed with Unreal’s mixed reality glasses.
Alan: Oh, those are great.
Emily: But they’re not out yet. So like we’re moving forward a little bit. But in enterprise, it’s not just about getting inside of a machine and having these really powerful visual images that help you get to know what you’re doing in front of you. It’s also design, cutting down the design process, and I think it will unleash new creativity from designers, whether that’s engineers, builders, products. I think being able to create your product in mixed reality is just going to have such an impact on that process. It’s usually really long. If you think about a building project, there are so many stakeholders in a building project. And not everybody understands the plans, especially if it’s a public building, and now you have to bring in people from local government. It’s such an amazing way to quickly refine. It’s like testing out things — refine and go, refine and go — and helping others to see what your vision is.
Alan: We’re seeing similar aspects in car companies, in aerospace and design. It’s really incredible. Then you have companies like Spatial who are allowing people to collaborate in augmented reality or mixed reality in different spaces with people from around the world.
Emily: Yeah, it’s just an incredible time saver and it’s more powerful. It’s easier to understand something that’s in front of your face, something that you can experience, and it cuts down on physical models. That’s really where the time saving is.
Emily: It’s communication and those physical models. Being able to iterate. It takes so much less time. You don’t need those physical products. You don’t need to return to a plan, and print something new, or get everyone together again. It’s just an incredible time saver. I also think for designers themselves, like I said, that it will unleash new forms of creativity. And I think this is important as product cycles get shorter. New products are coming out at a much faster rate and there is a lot of connected products, too. So I think this has all been just really great timing.
Alan: I agree. I’m going to shift gears a little bit because one of the articles that you wrote was talking about XR in HR.
Alan: Or Human Resources. What are some of the things you’re seeing in that? Because this is a totally different way to use this technology,y so the technology doesn’t change. You’re still using VR/AR/MR, same glasses, same headset, same production methods. But a completely different use case.
Emily: Yeah. So this still in the pilot phase, I don’t think Fortune 500/1000 companies are here yet, but I– reason I wrote about it is, it’s just, again, this is the first time we’ve ever been able to step into someone else’s shoes. You can form memories in VR. There’s been tons of studies at Stanford. You can change behavior. For how long, I don’t really know. And I’m looking forward to the studies that will be coming out in the future. It’s just so powerful. And today, traditional HR like sexual harassment training, unconscious bias training, it’s just not effective.
Alan: So you talked about XR in HR. There are companies working on this, there’s a company, I think called Uptale? I want to say Uptale. They’ve created this experience where you are an HR manager and you’re talking to somebody. And then after you deliver your talk, you actually get to sit in the other person’s eyes and look at yourself, giving you the advice back.
Alan: What a powerful tool. Other than video, you can record yourself in a video talking to a camera. But talking to another person and being able to sit in that person’s eyes and watch yourself, your body language, your eye contact, everything. That’s crazy.
Emily: And it’s also, again, a financial thing. Workplace discrimination costs businesses over $60-billion a year. McKinsey has predicted that we could add $12-trillion to the global GDP by simply advancing gender parity and diversity in the workplace. So I’m really hoping these XR startups that I’m seeing equal reality vantage point — Morgan Mercer is really inspiring — I really hope this becomes more standard. But again, there’s a lot of studies in all aspects of using AR/VR for any kind of applications. There are studies that need to come out. Long term effects. Does it really change your behavior? Can you be traumatized in VR? Can you be bullied in VR? There’s a lot of work left to do. But I think XR for HR is such a promising application.
Alan: I agree. One of the other. There’s so many articles, if you’re listening and you want to learn more about this stuff, Emily is a prolific writer and maybe you don’t write once a week, but there is a lot of content here. One of them that I was reading was “Home on the VRange: Immersive Technology in Residential Retail.” The reason why I picked up on that one is because we have a program called XR Ignite, which is a community hub, an accelerator to connect startup studios and developers with corporate clients. And we were reviewing the applications this weekend and it’s been amazing. First of all, we’ve had over a 130 applications in the last couple of weeks, but one of them was this home AR app where you can take a 3D CAD model of a building, of a house, drop it in your space, and then you can walk around it. You can shrink it down to dollhouse size. You can have it as full size. You could literally see what your new house is going to look like, and not only see it, but walk through it, and do that all using your phone. And eventually it’ll be a pair of glasses, but for now, it’s the device in everybody’s pocket. And I thought that was just an incredible tool for visualizing real estate. So what other things have you seen?
Emily: Also in terms of real estate, that was an early sales in marketing, real estate was pretty quick to this game. And I think one of the reasons is that there are CAD models, there is the CAD information, there is BIM. So they had more of a foundation to create VR and AR experiences. I know right now I’m looking for an apartment, I’m doing the hunt. I’m moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn. And pictures are deceiving. So when it comes to luxury items, or high ticket items, big ticket items, cars, luxury goods, an apartment, furniture, things that are hard to return or you can’t return it, you get stuck in your lease for a year. This adds a whole new aspect that enables remote shopping for these kinds of things.
Alan: One of the podcast interviews I did today was with Mohamed Rajani from Macy’s, and they’re using VR to give people the experience of seeing new furniture, and the stats that they’re seeing are absolutely incredible. I mean, you’ll have to check out the XR for Business Podcast to find that link. But wow, the results are astronomically high and they’ve rolled it out to over 100 stores now.
Emily: Yeah, and Lowe’s was pretty quick, also.
Alan: Yeah, Lowe’s has been working on this for a long time.
Emily: Wayfair speaking in our event. I love the Lowe’s case, though, because it really gets at the providing AR/VR to consumers, at a time when they can’t or won’t buy it themselves. That’s a gateway to consumer AR/VR picking up. The chance to experience AR/VR for yourself in a store to connect with the brand, I think it’s gonna help the exposure problem. A lot of people just haven’t been exposed to AR/VR.
Alan: I agree and I think I really love what Lowe’s did with their training. I got to try it at… maybe it was AWE, but I got to try one of their training simulators and I was tiling a wall in a bathroom. I had to mix the mortar, and then I had to– in my brain, I’ve done that. I’ve actually tiled a wall. It may have been in virtual reality and physically haven’t really tiled a wall. But in my mind, I’ve done that.
Emily: You’ve formed a map for it.
Alan: I did.
Emily: Yeah. [laughs] What’s interesting also, there are work force facing applications and customer facing applications. So Bose is one of those companies that’s looking at this from all aspects.
Alan: They really are. They’ve been working on this for a long time. I remember their original caves, where they had these kind of markers all over the wall to track where you were in 3D space. They’ve come a long, long way since that.
Emily: Yeah. And I think what it shows is that, like your example, learning how to tile a wall. It democratizes knowledge and information. It’s going to shift jobs, definitely. You can look at a video and watch a tutorial in front of your face and fix your own sink. That’s gonna be one less job for the plumber. So it’s interesting to see these shifts happening and how putting information in consumers hands is really important. And that’s actually a big part of real estate is putting the agent and the buyer or renter on the same level, as far as being able to picture an experience.
Alan: Yeah, indeed. One of the articles that you wrote, and I think this cuts to the heart of why we’re not seeing a wider adoption. I mean, you know, if you look at the Fortune 1000 companies that are coming to BrainXchange events, these are the early adopters. Let’s be honest. There’s thousands and thousands of companies that haven’t even tried AR in their factories.
Alan: One of the articles you wrote is Building a Culture of Bottom-Up Innovation and how to get this adopted within a company. So what are some of the tips that you would give to people listening? How would they get started? How do they get that foot in the door to find those use cases to really develop that, internally or externally?
Emily: So this is something that I’ve watched for five years, and this is a really, really strong suggestion. Start with your workforce. Go to the users right away. Oftentimes your end users, your workers probably created hacks for themselves to make their job easier, that you’ve never considered. They know what their pain points are. They know what they wish. For big companies like GE, creating an innovation hub or something, where workers can come every day, workers can come and try out new devices, and there are lots of good ideas. That’s great. That is building a culture of bottom-up innovation and it helps a lot with rollout. You’re going to get less backlash from your employees. The other aspect of this — and this is something I learned from Ron Bellows at AIG — is a bottom-up culture also means that all departments kind of have to start working together. You know, traditionally operations and IT are very separate, IT and HR are very separate, EHS very separate. And I think what this does is it brings together, everybody got to be at the table to make it work.
Alan: I think one of the things that’s really intriguing is the fact that the tools, both hardware and software, are just getting so much easier to use.
Alan: A few years ago, we were coding things in the hundreds of thousands that now we can do for the tens of thousands.
Emily: Yeah, definitely.
Alan: And the costs are dropping. There is also now way more people around that can do it. That’s another thing that’s interesting is that now there are more people that know how to build this stuff. So it’s not just 10 people around the world that understand how to make this. It’s getting there. But I think there’s going to be a shortage of talent. As more and more companies realize, “We’re getting 60 percent cheaper training or whatever and we’ve got to to ramp this up.” So one of the reasons we started XR Ignite, again, was to help facilitate acquisitions of small studios into these, because companies are going to want to do this fast and they’re going to want to scale, we’re already starting to see studios being acquired by Accenture and Walmart acquired a studio. And so there is not just the technology part of the hardware and the platforms, but also the studios that are creating the content. How is that relationship all working between platforms and studios and content providers and independent developers and all of that?
Emily: So this is kind of one of the things I was talking about when it came to attracting new talent. Certain jobs are going away, but tech jobs are moving into the skilled trades. Needing content creation is a way to get younger professionals involved. As far as studios, AC companies had it really easy, because they had all that information, that data, CAD models to start with. One of the biggest hurdles for companies is where to get the content. And if you’ve been using manuals, if you’ve been using computers, spreadsheets and checklists, it’s hard. That is really hard. So yeah, you do need a studio, but I think those applications are slightly easier to create than like training or something consumer facing. I’m hoping that as AR/VR becomes more and more popular and the big companies like they’re creating tools that make it easier for developers or anyone to build AR/VR experiences. Google has some easy tools. Mozilla has easy tools. And as the big companies come in, I think they’ll probably have their own services as well. Like the cloud.
Alan: Yeah, I agree. Microsoft has actually– it’s interesting, because the Hololens was in their devices division and they actually moved it last year over to cloud. So the Hololens is now a cloud product, which is interesting when you think it’s a device, but it’s really a device that enables their cloud, is really what it enables. And I think that’s where you’re seeing the shift of like, “Wait a second. You know, these headsets are great, but they’re just a tool to show data. And the amount of data that they consume or generate is enormous.” It’s got the telco companies and the cloud computing companies salivating for what’s next.
Alan: Because once you get to 4K TVs and 8K TVs, what’s next? And calculating spatial computing, being able to put everything into 3D. That is a huge amount of data.
Emily: Yeah. We’re gonna need consortiums, whether that’s in the form of an Amazon type company or Google or Facebook stepping in. We’re going to need that. I also see AR/VR devices like Hololens is the way that the human being is brought into industry 4.0. It’s how we’re connected to all this digital transformation and IoT that’s going on. It’s how we enter the cloud. So I think in addition to content creation, there are going to be a lot of data analytics jobs that are needed.
Alan: Oh my goodness, it’s going to be crazy. One of the things that I heard at a conference once was based on eye tracking, head position, pose estimation, how you move, how you– they can even tell how you’re breathing by the way your head moves, because when you breathe you kind of move ever so slightly. We have sub-millimeter accuracy head tracking and eye tracking. We’ve never had that kind of data, no matter what we’ve done. We can study people left and right, but we’ve never been able to study them at that micro level until now. And one of the speakers said Google will know that you’re gay before you are, because of what you look at.
Alan: It’s an interesting thought. But what will this unlock when we know everything about the intent of a person before they do?
Emily: Yes. I’m not trying to get political, but our government really does need to enter the picture. I kind of operate on the fact that Google knows everything about me. But like you said, with wearable technology, putting things on our faces, the information that we’re giving becomes way more personal and way more sensitive. There’s good and bad to all of it. I think this is going to need policing. Facebook needs policing anyway. The other side is that we’re learning things and changing assumptions we had in the past. So Accenture worked with Kellogg’s, I think on product placement and they did this. They tracked people’s eyes and how their head moves, and they found that like everything they thought about where to put a cereal box in a grocery store was wrong.
Emily: So I think it opened up these great opportunities to get more in touch with human behavior. But it’s also creepy.
Alan: [laughs] It definitely has this Orwellian feel to it that. Wait a second. We’ve already given all of our data to Google. Let’s be honest. I use Drive, I use Gmail. So they know everything about my buying habits. They know everything, between Google and Amazon they probably know everything about me. We don’t even go shopping any more, things just come to the house. But they still don’t know about my personal life. Well, I guess we have a Google Home and an Alexa in our house, so I’m sure they do know about our personal life. The question becomes, do we trust them? And so far we do, Facebook being the one. They just got slapped with a $5-billion fine because of privacy violations.
Alan: So I think governments really need to step in, especially in the age of AI when you can– it’s one thing to know this information about an individual. It’s another thing to act on it, and to be able to take that information and make it relevant. Right now, I think we’re still in that phase of, “We collect all this information, shit tons of it. But to be honest, we can’t use half of it, because we don’t even know how to process it.” So while we’re collecting data, there’s huge amounts of data that we don’t use. Companies– the Age of Big Data, a few years ago, “Oh, big data, we’ve got to collect everything.” And then they realize, “Oh my God, we collected all this data. We don’t know what to do with it.” So I think AI will solve that problem, but also create some real privacy and security issues.
Emily: It’s also frightening to think about the fact that all this data we’re collecting, if we run it through AI, they could be used to make major decisions that affect our lives. And we don’t really understand the data right now. So I actually just read a really interesting book called “Invisible Woman: Data Bias In a World Designed For Men”, I think. And one of the examples was Amazon traded this AI tool for hiring. The information that they put into the system was the last 10 years of resumes that were submitted to them. This was for a technical position like a developer or something. What ended up happening was the system was biased against women because–
Alan: The system was.
Emily: Yeah. Because the tech world is notoriously male dominated. And so if you’re looking at the last 10 years, most of the resumes are going to be from that. So they had to shut it down. So there’s things like that, that are a little frightening to me. Policing is one thing, like policing our privacy and getting government involved. Hacking is crazy. That scares me, that’s what keeps me up at night. Our information is constantly being stolen and preventing the use of data for the wrong unintended reasons. So understanding the data is a big part of this.
Alan: Yeah, no kidding. Wow. We could discuss this forever, I’m sure. I think we both realize that the potential for unlocking humanity’s potential is unlimited, but the potential for it to fall into the wrong hands — not even the wrong hands but the wrong actors within certain subsets of brands and companies — really becomes a challenge. And we also have the unintended consequences of depression and antisocial behaviors and stuff like this. And there are unintended consequences of an always on computing platform that is glued to our face.
Emily: And that’s really dumb. I mean, there aren’t studies yet.
Alan: No, we don’t know.
Emily: It’ll take a generation for us to get really meaningful insight into some of those.
Alan: We’ve only had smartphones for 11 years.
Alan: We are already realizing, “Oh shit, this is not good for us.” We need to take a break and turn off our notifications. I actually wrote an article, “11 Ways to Reduce Smartphone Related Stress” because I was researching for myself and my kids and my wife were, you know, how do we cut back on looking at the phone all the time? And my biggest thing was turning off all the notifications and sounds. I just turned off, blanketed everything. And when you have glasses in the future, we’re gonna be wearing glasses where the whole world is our computer. How do we select for what we want to see, what we don’t want to see and when? So I think there’s a huge road, and I’m kind of glad enterprise is leading this versus diving right into the consumer market.
Emily: Yeah, I agree. And it’s for that kind of reason. In a way, it’s almost like a controlled environment. You’re not just releasing AR/VR into the wild. Enterprises are actually finding ways to use it. They’re working with IT to secure the information, even things like hygiene, passing a device from one worker to another. Those are things that are gonna be worked out, thankfully, in enterprise first.
Alan: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been doing demos since 2015 and we’ve done probably 500 events, so thousands and thousands of people putting on these headsets and we started off with replaceable covers and all this stuff. And we finally got to the point where for VR and AR we use these VR covers that have like a leatherette and then we just wipe them with alcohol. And I mean it has a little bit of a smell to it, but at least you know it’s clean. There’s nothing growing on that thing. But yeah. These are all really interesting challenges that– the big one that was just evident, or became evident is the security of the platforms is non-existent. I mean, three of the major collaboration platforms got hacked a couple of weeks ago.
Emily: Yeah, I read that.
Alan: We need to figure these things out and they’re going to figure it out. I mean, this is what technology does. We find a problem, we solve it. So I’m really excited about it. Yeah. We could go on forever, but we’re we’re running out of time. So I want to ask you one last question. And first of all, thank you so much for being on the show, Emily. It’s been an amazing conversation. What is one problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?
Emily: Good question. I want to see XR help women in the workforce. So if XR is the future of training, it’s the future of learning, it’s potentially the future of our education system. And it has this great potential to democratize information and skills. I would hope it could be leveraged to address inequalities in the workplace. At the same time, I want to see XR companies pay more attention to the user experience for women. I personally find a lot of VR devices uncomfortable. I’m not alone, I’ve spoken with many women who work in AR/VR. This is the future of training and I believe it is. And you believe it is. So user experience for women cannot be inferior to that of men. Again, we’re talking about wearable technology. It’s incredibly intimate. And optics. Men and women don’t perceive depth the same way. So these kinds of things I’d like to see XR companies pay attention to and physiological differences, different ways that we perceive depth. That’s important and I haven’t seen that brought in yet.
Alan: It’s an interesting point. I believe there’s a reason behind that. Most of the technology hardware is designed by men and I don’t know why that is. It just doesn’t seem like– it almost seems like they need to hire female designers to finish the product, like you got the product to working, it’s good. OK. Now let’s have somebody with an eye for design and an eye for comfort across both sexes and all sizes. It’s a hard problem to solve when you have 95 percent of the people working on the problem are men. It’s an issue, for all the women listening, if you want to get an understanding of what this industry is like, go to CES in January and you’ll be in a literal sea of men. It’s kind of ridiculous actually, but I think it’s getting better, and more and more women are warming up to tech and it’s slow, but I think we can get there.
Emily: Yeah, there should be a woman in the room whenever any design decision is made.
Alan: There should be a woman on the board of every company.
Alan: One, minimum. And if we did that we would– and, we should only have women world leaders, because that would eliminate a lot of the ego and bullshit and war.
Emily: I would love that.
Alan: Wouldn’t that be great, if we just made women the leaders of the world? There would be no war. We would cancel all military actions and all military spending and apply that to education and food. And here’s to hoping that happens in the future.
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