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How virtual reality can change the world

March 2, 2016

“Virtual reality technology offers another way to get people to care about humanitarian crises, like Syrian refugees, and what is possible in international affairs,” said the Jackson School of International Studies MAAIS Director Jennifer Butte-Dahl to an audience of over 200 members of the public, University of Washington community, journalists and other global groups gathered on March 1, 2016, at the palace Ballroom in downtown Seattle to demo and learn about virtual reality’s role in the world. “Organizations like the United Nations and the Bill Clinton Foundation are already using VR,” she noted.

The Jackson School partnered with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, World Affairs Council, Global Washington, Crosscut and the Seattle Globalist to host the event “Virtual Reality: Changing How We Engage in the World” that included the opportunity to demo VR products from Google Cardboard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Foundry10 – HTC Vive, Accelerated Pictures, Chronos VR0HTC Vive, and Tosolini Productions.

Examples of VR technology on display included seeing underwater from the viewpoint of a submarine, whether to map the ocean floor or see oil spills ahead in the distance, training with human resources experts for better interviewing techniques to helping people with disabilities access travel and creating design sets for films.

A panel discussion about industry development and applications in international affairs followed, featuring:

  • CEO of EnvelopVR Bob Berry
  • Chief Technologist of Booz Allen Hamilton Nirav Desai
  • Simulations Exercise Planner, I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Major Marie Gutierrez
  • Founder and CEO of Foundry10 Lisa Castaneda
  • Managing Editor of Crosscut Drew Atkins, as moderator

Panel members said the rise of VR technology or “immersive, augmented computing” is being viewed “as fundamental as the arrival of the personal computer to the world.”

They described VR as a “profoundly social experience” in the same vein and potential for making change in the world as what photojournalists during the Vietnam War did to change public opinion through photos of coffins of U.S. soldiers coming back to the U.S.

Questions from the audience ranged about the prevalence of VR gaming and entertainment over uses in global development, concern over VR “de-sensitizing tool” if viewing a refugee’s plight living in a refugee camp, for instance, over and over like a video game, to the gender and ethnic diversity of VR designers.