August 19, 2016

How Virtual Reality Might Impact Our Working Lifestyles

While spending time out in Berkeley for my oldest son’s graduation from Cal back in May, I was reminded that this truly could be the year that virtual reality starts to go mainstream. The Oculus Rift was released earlier this year. Late last year, the NY Times gave away 1.2 million sets of Google Cardboard viewers. The NBA has streamed games through NextVR. And now Pokemon Go – which has “augmented” VR – is truly a sensation. This is all just the beginning. And this will not flame out like Google Glass. VR is here to stay.

So what does this mean for you? VR will be much more than just entertainment. It’s an entire new computing platform that promises to have profound implications for our lifestyles – both at home and at work. And it ultimately will impact the laws. If you want to get up-to-speed, start with this a16z podcast with Chris Milk about the new language of storytelling using VR – and then listen to this podcast that more generally talks about the VR industry. This stuff will blow your mind. Trust me.

VR & Movie Theatres

Let’s dig a little into how VR will change our lives. One concern often expressed about VR is that people will stop going to the movies. We have heard the death knell before. Thirty years ago, the introduction of VHS cassettes, the rise of Blockbuster and “video stores” spelled doom. More recently, the growing popularity of Netflix, Hulu and Redbox meant trouble. Yet, many still go to the theatre.

VR could prove different for the movie theatre industry. Or maybe not. But interestingly, my son recently watched a movie while virtually sitting in a theatre (so he had the contraption on and placed himself in a theatre that had a movie playing). Imagine doing that with your far-flung friends and family, perhaps watching an old home movie. Or maybe with a large group of like-minded people.

VR opens new ways to watch movies – and virtual theatres might well be economically viable on their own. The overhead would sure be low – and the key would be marketing a niche type of movie or movie-going experience that would be uniquely shown in your theatre.

VR & Courtrooms

Technology is increasing deployed during trials to influence jurors and judges. These days, a wide range of technology is used to produce reconstructions, reenactments and demonstrations. This includes:

– Three-dimensional stop action animation – use of objects which are photographed with a stop-action film or video camera to create a frame.
– Key frame animation – inputting data into a computer program where the programmers specify an object, its location and its destination.
– Scripted animation – programmer determines the position of objects in each frame, rather than leaving it to the computer to fill in gaps.

As noted in this old Nixon Peabody memo, courts consider several factors in admitting videos and computer animation as demonstrative evidence where methods of producing such evidence other than the traditional video camera are used. If the purpose of the video is to demonstrate the expert’s opinion rather than to replicate what actually happened, courts have been inclined to admit the evidence, assuming proper foundation is laid.

Now imagine having the judge and jury observe a reconstruction or reenactment using VR. This would be a much more powerful illustration of the incident central to the case – or pertaining to an aspect of it.

Trials continue to fascinate a big chunk of the public. TV is filled with procedural dramas built around trial lawyers – and that’s been the case for decades, from “Perry Mason” to “L.A. Law” and “Matlock” to modern shows like “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.” Not to mention reality TV like “The People’s Court” and “Judge Judy.”

Imagine being allowed in the courtroom to witness a case firsthand, particularly for a “Trial of the Century” case like O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. And the VR experience could even enhance the actual trial – with commentators voicing over explanations of what is happening or providing expert analysis about a lawyer’s or judge’s specifications.

At least for me, attending oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court sends chills down my spine. Not only is there the drama of the lawyers for both sides being peppered with questions by the nine Justices, but there are historical practices that go back centuries that make the experience like no other. For example, at the beginning of each session, after all the Justices magically appear at their seats from behind a long red curtain, the Marshal of the Court announces: “The Honorable, the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”

The Supreme Court still adheres to its ban on televising or videotaping its proceedings (it does make audio and transcripts available), but if it ever opened its eyes to allow a VR experience – it would teach many how the court operates and how special it is.

Broc Romanek