The Way We Perceive the World Is Changing Due to Virtual and Augmented Realities

What Sets AR and VR Apart

Staying abreast of the latest technological developments of the last few years has made it clear that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are quickly becoming a regular part of our lives. Software developers around the world are continually striving to refine and expand the functionality of these immersive user experiences for a variety of purposes. These digital worlds are gaining popularity and gaining traction in many different sectors, from gaming and entertainment to retail.

As the use of virtual reality and augmented reality becomes more widespread, it is becoming increasingly apparent that people are forming two distinct camps in regards to their opinion of the technology. On one side, there are those who are excited by the possibilities that can be opened up by combining these two technologies and the opportunities they can create, whilst on the other side, there are those who are wary of the potential psychological and behavioral impacts that may come from using virtual reality.

Despite the lack of a unified body of research, both perspectives on virtual and augmented reality are valid and require further exploration. In order to gain a better understanding of this complex topic, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the arguments put forward by both sides.

But before we get to it, let’s go through a quick refresher on what we mean when we say “virtual reality” or “augmented reality.”

  • The Realms of VR (VR) Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated digital experience that has the potential to be extremely realistic and immersive. It enables users to explore and interact with digital objects and environments, replicating the physical world. This is achieved through the use of a VR headset, which projects the necessary visuals, creating an interactive and captivating digital space.
  • True-to-life enhancement via the use of augmented reality (AR) Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive, computer-generated simulation which overlays digital information on top of the physical environment. This can be beneficial, providing additional detail to the surroundings, or detrimental, obscuring or replacing the natural setting. In order to experience the augmented environment, users must have access to specific technology such as glasses or smartphones.

Consequently, virtual reality (VR) provides users with a completely simulated environment, while augmented reality (AR) enhances the actual world with supplementary data. Having now established what can be expected from each virtual reality, we can analyse the advantages and disadvantages of utilising them across different sectors.

Uses and advantages of virtual and augmented reality technology

Advocates of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) both emphasize the wide range of potential applications that the technology can be used for, which extends far beyond simply providing entertainment. Although these technologies are well-known to the general public due to their popularity in video games and other forms of entertainment such as 3D theatre, there appear to be other uses that can be justified.

The potential of augmented reality (AR) to revolutionize educational environments is remarkable, as it can be used to supplement standard course materials with additional data. This offers the opportunity for students to become active agents in their learning, rather than passive receivers, through engaging with digital triggers that add further depth to the topics they are studying. In this way, AR could be the foundation for an entirely new type of educational experience.

The potential of virtual reality (VR) as a teaching tool is undeniable. Educators can benefit significantly from the use of simulations and virtual field trips created by developers. There are now businesses that provide such services, with Google Expedition being one of the earliest examples. It serves as an app that can facilitate virtual field trips for students, and can be accessed via smartphones and headsets.

Moreover, virtual reality (VR) can be leveraged to instruct individuals in a range of industries, particularly those in which mistakes made during classroom-based training could have serious consequences. An example of this would be flight simulation and healthcare education; as the potential repercussions of an unsuccessful training exercise are so severe, traditional ‘real-world’ training needs to be conducted with extra caution. With the use of virtual reality, the security of the training program is maximized, as opposed to a physical environment.

Augmented Reality (AR) has been successfully employed in archaeological research to create potential configurations of sites based on current features such as ruins, landscapes, and even human remains. Moreover, underwater archaeology has profited significantly from the use of AR, notably through the generation of 3D models that enable the convenient manipulation of submerged artefacts.

Ultimately, both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been identified as having potential psychological applications. Those who advocate the use of these technologies have observed a positive transformation in the mental state of users. Consequently, VR and AR have been investigated as therapeutic tools in the management of conditions such as anxiety disorders, phobias and addictions, particularly through the implementation of exposure therapy. In response to this, a new subfield of psychology has emerged, known as cybertherapy, which focuses on the use of digital technology to bring about behavioral and emotional changes in patients.

Cybertherapy is a form of trauma treatment that utilizes computer-generated environments and augmented reality to enable patients to safely revisit traumatic experiences. Through virtual and augmented reality, patients are provided with simulated worlds in which they can address their issues, enabling specialists to study responses and obtain feedback that can be used to improve treatment plans.

It becomes apparent why virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies should be given more consideration when viewed in this light. However, it is equally important to be cognizant of the challenges and issues related to their implementation.

Problems with Virtual and Augmented Reality

It is widely accepted that there are a number of academics who have expressed their worries and concerns regarding the increasing adoption of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). It is clear that any research into this area must include their perspectives, as they are fully aware of the potential impacts that the use of both AR and VR may have on the brain, as well as any possible personal and social implications. Furthermore, these experts strongly believe that any responsible use of technology should take into consideration the possible consequences of its use.

There are three broad categories of problems brought about by technological progress:

  • Repercussions on the body: It is no secret that Virtual Reality (VR) has been associated with a number of adverse effects such as vertigo, seizures, eye fatigue, discomfort, and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Unfortunately, there is also the danger of falls and collisions in the real world that should be taken into account. Augmented Reality (AR) can also be hazardous, as users may become unaware of their physical location and the potential risks that come with it. As a case in point, the popular smartphone game Pokémon Go illustrates this issue. Players had to move around to “catch” virtual cartoon characters, and it has been reported that players were so enthusiastic to collect the figures that numerous accidents occurred, including at least one fatality at the so-called PokéStops.
  • Effects on the mind: Whilst Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are proving beneficial for therapeutic applications in the field of psychology, it is important to consider their unintended psychological impacts, even among casual users. The systems stimulate the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for preparing us for action in potentially dangerous situations. This can lead to the body’s natural “fight or flight” reaction being disrupted and our minds interpreting virtual and augmented environments in the same way as the real world, which can have unintended consequences such as mistaking an avatar for a real person or a real physical threat, or creating stressful situations which can lead to symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Influence on society: It is crucial to take into consideration the potential social implications of both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Of particular concern are the issues of privacy, as these technologies may enable the collection of personal data such as our movements and responses. The use of AR in public spaces may also raise questions about privacy, as individuals’ private activities and whereabouts could potentially be monitored without them being aware or giving their consent. Furthermore, there is a philosophical debate to be had about the impact of these technologies on our social interactions, language, and mental processing. Given that the effects of AR and VR cannot be fully predicted or restricted, it is essential that we address this problem without delay.

Methods of Acclimating to Virtual and Augmented Reality

As we become more accustomed to the world of virtual and augmented reality, it is becoming increasingly evident that these remarkable technical feats are only going to become more commonplace. The market for these technologies is projected to increase exponentially, from $16 billion in 2021 to an estimated $160 billion by 2023. This highlights the importance of being mindful of the effects these technologies have on our worldview and the distinct worldviews they create.

It is widely accepted that virtual and augmented reality technologies have the potential to bring about great improvements in our lives, particularly in the spheres of education and medicine. However, it is also important to consider the potential risks that such applications may have on our bodies, minds and communities. The development of such advanced technologies should not come at the expense of the safety, freedom or legal rights of the public. Therefore, it is essential that the virtual and augmented reality industry as a whole should take the initiative and actively promote further research into the implications of these technologies.

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