A new study conducted by Accenture has highlighted that business leaders need to take a considered approach to designing, building and deploying XR tools.
Waking Up to a New Reality: Building a Responsible Future for Immersive Technologies, published in collaboration with the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (G20 YEA), examines how extended reality — which includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and a growing range of other immersive tools — is already creating new value well beyond the worlds of gaming and entertainment. In addition to delivering enhanced customer experiences, immersive tools are being used to augment workforce productivity, provide training and deliver mental health treatments.
Hans Zachar, MD for Technology Strategy at Accenture in Africa notes, “Many organisations are unaware of the speed and scale of the coming XR revolution. A common misconception is that VR and AR are set to remain limited to the world of consumer gaming and entertainment. That’s changing quickly and the patent race is on. As firms begin to realise the full potential of XR, its applications are broadening and deepening. South Africa stands to benefit tremendously, if XR is rolled out with a responsible, inclusive mindset.”
Industry expenditure on XR is scaling rapidly, overtaking consumer spending, and is set to reach triple the level of consumer usage by 2023, according to the IDC. Accenture analysis also shows that the number of patent applications for AR and VR rose almost five-fold between 2014 and 2016, to more than 6,000, and start-up funding grew 237 per cent in the same period.
Yet despite the opportunities that come with XR, the Accenture report also points to certain risks that companies must be mindful of, such as the misuse of personal data, the creation of fake news and experiences, cybersecurity risks and anti-social behaviour.
Pointing to the possibilities of tech addiction and the disengagement of people from real-world societal problems, the report also emphasises how unequal access to XR could amplify social divisions through exclusion from consumer and working opportunities.
“Given the risks, inclusivity and accountability will be crucial to the design process, and should be driven by teams with diverse mindsets,” says Zachar. “Making XR accessible to everyone while minimising the risks should be the focus – and amounts to leveraging XR in a way that helps create sustainable growth. In South Africa, as elsewhere, XR experiences should be harnessed to improve people’s lives and drive beneficial societal outcomes.”
According to the report, priority actions for businesses include:
- Build an early-warning system: Rather than creating rules that cannot keep up with rapid innovation, business leaders must instil a culture of responsibility that integrates ethical questions into the habitual behaviours of everyday work and key decisions.
- Draw on diverse experts for responsible design: Businesses must extend their ecosystem of partners to include neuroscientists, mental health experts, sociologists and behavioural theorists to aid the responsible design and use of XR tools.
- Supercharge your workers: Target XR investments to improve worker productivity, training and creativity. The very roles that are most exposed to automation are often those that will be augmented by immersive technologies, helping to turn jobs at risk into jobs of the future.
“XR is rapidly moving beyond virtual reality and augmented reality to include a wide range of tools that use and enhance our human senses, including touch, smell, taste and even our thoughts. Used correctly, these promise incredible improvements to the way we live and work,” said Armen Ovanessoff, principal director, Accenture Research. “We have a duty to ensure that safeguards keep up with technological innovation. We’re calling on business leaders, policymakers and civil society to act now, together, to proactively design a responsible future for XR.”
The report also recommends actions for policymakers:
- Ensure inclusive and affordable access: extend powerful new infrastructure (like 5G networks) to make XR experiences widely available, at appropriate prices, especially for the provision of health, education and social services.
- Incentivize local innovators and entrepreneurs: enable small businesses to not only use XR tools and experiences, but also participate in their development, ensuring locally-relevant solutions.
- Stimulate research and discussion: convene relevant experts from across sectors and disciplines to build the necessary understanding and principles that allow XR innovation to flourish amid appropriate safeguards.