The world is becoming more digitized every day. Pushed by a pandemic that forced a large part of the workforce and academia to operate remotely, virtual life has become a norm.
The virtual world is being supported by a myriad of new and exciting technologies including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and exponential connectivity to both people and objects. The virtual communication trend is rapidly expanding across industry, academia, and government.
There are a multitude of benefits for virtual connectivity. Virtual learning can be monitored, is agile, and does not require an investment in room and board. It can also be supplemented with augmented reality capabilities.
I queried Nick Cherukuri of the company ThirdEye to define the differences between virtual and augmented reality. ThirdEye is a leader in smart glasses and AR/MR software development for first responders, industrial training, telehealth, and education. ThirdEye: Mixed Reality (MR) Smart Glasses & AR Software (thirdeyegen.com) He provides a summary: “Virtual reality immerses the user into a separate world entirely (i.e., an Oculus Quest) and is primarily used for gaming & entertainment purposes. Augmented Reality keeps the user in the real world but “augments” and provides more info to the user. For example, image recognition of an object or a live annotation. Whereas virtual reality replaces your vision, augmented reality adds to it.”
Collaborative and interactive work environments are trending in industry. Before the pandemic, already many workers were operating from their homes and telecommuting. That number has grown substantially since Covid19. Offering a virtual employment capability allows for a more flexible, adaptive, and productive workforce.
Virtual business is integral to the emerging “Gig Economy” being reinforced by the millennial generation. Virtual communications combined with virtual reality will become integrated into business applications. It can also serve as an outlet of entertainment; and already is in gaming at attractions such as “Soaring” at Disney World. It is a booming virtual market. The AR market is expected to reach $70-$75 billion in revenue by 2023 and it is estimated that 500 million VR headsets will be purchased by 2025. Augmented and Virtual Reality Statistics in 2021 | AR & VR Stats (ukwebhostreview.com)
There are integral common communication elements that characterize the emerging virtual business world, connectivity, collective engagement, access, and information sharing. Those communication elements in some cases can be quantified and are conducted throughout the digital realm.
Some of these virtual communication elements or features for business can include:
- Digital communications through email, text, botnets, avatars, and social media.
- Digitization, access, and analytics of pertinent information and records.
- Secure virtual conferencing allowing for content-driven agendas. With virtual conferences, there are also significant cost savings because of savings on fees, travel, hotels, and meals.
- Virtual Training and “Tabletop” exercises with resilient operational backup, record keeping, and coordination.
Virtual business is also indispensable to consulting as it can cross geographical boundaries and allows for 24/7 interaction between vendors, clients, and business partners. I recommend an excellent book on this subject that explores these trends in depth by John P. Girard called “Business Goes Virtual: Realizing the Value of Collaboration, Social and Virtual Strategies.”
In the public sector, virtual government is both growing and evolving in terms of providing citizens services with accessibility to .gov websites and data sources. Much of the communications relating to health or social security benefits are now being automated by federal agencies. Many of the best practices are being adapted from the private sector where technologies have already been proven for communications, and data analytics. Sharing software programs are also highly developed and tested in industry that can bolster government inter-communications and citizen outreach.
In the past few years, The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) launched several virtual initiatives, including one focusing on artificial intelligence for citizen services and another initiative on virtual or augmented reality. Emerging technologies such as 5G, and AI/MI are helping facilitate the enablement of virtual government in both industry and government.
The way government does business can change via virtual government. Virtual procurements can offer equal access and accessibility for vendors. The virtual government procures landscape could also be more transparent and lessen protests on contracts and guard against cronyism or potential conflicts of interest.
In terms of homeland security, virtual government can enhance resilience in times of emergencies and support interoperable communications for law enforcement and first responders. Virtual fusion centers can be used to enable state and local communications to better protect and serve their communities by providing virtual situational awareness and facilitating information sharing.
ThirdEye CEO Nick Cherukuri noted that “First Responders, we are using our X2 Glasses & workspace software to allow a front-line EMS worker to hands-free communicate and stream their live field of view to a remote expert. We also have a thermal camera addition that allows first responders to obtain a thermal view of a patient without having to physically touch the patient- enabling first responders to be safer and more effective in the field.”
In academia, many institutions of higher learning are offering students and alumni the opportunity to learn online in subjects ranging from business, history, physics, to psychology. Many vocational organizations and certifying groups now offer the ability to do coursework from home computers Harvard, MIT, The University of Chicago, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, and other top schools are increasingly involved in online education. Eventually, students will be able to visit Ancient Rome and study other eras in history through virtual and augmented reality libraries and explore courses via wearables. While there will always be a role for students attending universities and colleges, it is likely the not-so-distant future of academia will be virtual and interactive as everything we do in our lives become more automated and remote.
The list of digital communication applications is seeming as vast as the X’s and O’s that comprise algorithms. Healthcare, finance, entertainment, and many other verticals, including the expanding Internet of Things, are now being immersed in the virtual communication trends. As the communication matrix becomes more complex and ubiquitous, the challenges and opportunities for academia, industry and government will grow in the new virtual world.