VR: A/B testing reality
The next 10 years will have more innovation than the past 50.
A/B testing has existed in some natural form or another for as long as organic life has existed, in the form of natural selection. Humans have tested the effectiveness of our designs for millennia via stone tools, large walls, and entire governments. These “tests” have all been limited by the physical constraints of reality: time, space, and materials.
Digital design sped up our ability to A/B test our ideas. This has mostly taken place in the realm of 2D interfaces. Websites, advertisements, and smartphone apps are under constant A/B tests. Since the advent of the internet we have been inundated by A/B testing from marketers and developers.
Digital design allows for rapid changes and quick verifiable tests.
Virtual reality and its spatial computing extensions are a platform for three dimensional A/B testing.
The same three dimensions we spend our daily lives navigating can now be analyzed and optimized. Processes once limited by the cost of physical resources required to build, i.e. a new traffic way in a city, can now be tested within virtual space before deploying to the real world.
VR is a doorway to A/B test reality itself at the same speeds we test 2D UI today.
What can be A/B tested in virtual reality?
Any three dimensional structure or experience can be A/B tested in virtual reality. Architecture, room-scale or city-scale. Advertisements, of all shapes, locations, and timings. Infrastructure of organizations large and small.
SpatialOS has been used to simulate large city infrastructures. The possibilities are endless, but the story is the same. Virtual Reality and its subsets are a powerful tool for designers, engineers, and scientists. Not to mention the general public.
Will VR speed up innovation in the real world, or trap us in a virtual one?
Game designers today utilize A/B testing to create engaging, and sometimes addicting, games. Designers of virtual reality will do the same. Aided by AI it is easy to imagine a VR world designed well enough to keep a user’s attention indefinitely. Those who fear a dystopian “Matrix” future may be well founded in their caution.
A piece of the population, perhaps a majority one day, will spend most of their waking hours in VR.
Some might argue this is no worse than the scripted lives of some in the real world today. Other’s fear VR will create a population of addicts. But, for every story of an obsessed or suicidal WoW player, there are hundreds of stories of friendships made, skills gained, and lives well spent. Players happily toil away in virtual worlds, especially alongside their fellow humans.
A well designed VR environment can entertain, teach, and facilitate growth in its users.
Over time well designed VR ecosystems could produce highly productive members of society. VR can change the user’s experience on moment's notice to teach whatever it needs too. Through A/B testing and machine learning, VR can educate users on most any subject and at the most pertinent time. A revolution in education lay ahead.
A growing number of the human population live inside cities. We spend a vast majority of our time surrounded by and learning from human creations. The human mind adapts to whatever it spends the most time around as a means to learn and survive. Our surroundings have increasingly become copies and iterations of what we’ve already made. Facilitating creativity and problem solving requires novel experiences, not another Starbucks going in down the street.
Thanks to the ease at which reality is recorded, we are producing more information than ever before.
It is possible for a child to be raised in a city and inundated with enough information to never truly understand where humans came from, or to experience survival in the natural world. Some children today are born into what we might consider a physical virtual reality. Their worlds are so well designed around them that they can survive daily life without having to understand what reality is.
In a world changed by humans, humans learn to live in a human world.
We spend our entire daily lives in a system designed by humans. The system is built with physical materials, designed and tested. Virtual reality enhances and expands the capabilities of our human design, and speeds up our ability to iterate exponentially.
People will live in VR.
“The high-resolution colour rendering of virtual reality will improve to the point where the distinction from the real world becomes unnervingly hard to notice. Large-scale communal games such as Second Life will become disconcertingly addictive to many who understand little of what goes into the engine room. And let’s not be snobbish about that. For many people around the world, ‘first life’ reality has few charms and, even for those more fortunate, active participation in a virtual world can be more intellectually stimulating than the life of a couch potato slumped in idle thrall to [reality TV]. To intellectuals, Second Life and its souped-up successors will become laboratories of sociology, experimental psychology and their successor disciplines yet to be invented and named. Whole economies, ecologies and perhaps personalities will exist nowhere other than in virtual space.”
-Richard Dawkins, 2011 answer to the Annual Edge Question “How is the internet changing the way you think?”
Though a piece of the population will spend their days inside the virtual world, the real world will benefit from the immense pools of user data. For each virtual interaction that mirrors a real world situation an opportunity to improve the real world exists.