Apple’s introduction of the “Vision Pro” headset this week is a major moment for XR and is reopening discussions surrounding immersive technologies’ impact on society and public policy’s role. BPC launched an XR Initiative to study immersive technologies and help inform policymakers about these emerging technologies in 2021. BPC’s “Thinking Ahead about XR,” is the result of a series of convenings to gain diverse perspectives from civil society, academia, industry, and other stakeholders on XR policy.
While immersive technologies are often associated with gaming and entertainment, their applications are much broader and include education, workforce training, and design. Research by Statista shows that the global XR market reached $29.26 billion in 2022 and is predicted to rise to over $100 billion by 2026. These emerging technologies offer opportunities for immersive training simulations and innovative solutions, changing how we work and learn. For example, Ford utilized AR technology to transform its design process. Ford’s design team visualizes potential car designs by overlaying them onto physical prototypes in real scale. Walmart stores in the U.S. have VR headsets with on-demand training, allowing over 1.4 million associates to access cashier and holiday rush immersive learning modules.
As immersive technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace, policymakers face a broad range of challenges, including privacy, security, safety, access and adoption, equity and inclusion, and economic and workforce considerations like leveraging XR to boost productivity. During BPC convenings, privacy emerged as a top concern regarding XR tools, with a specific focus on protecting user and bystander privacy and sensitive biometric data. XR devices face similar security risks as other technologies, such as malware attacks and data breaches and theft. Building public trust in XR hinges on safeguarding users’ sensitive information.
To work towards establishing a robust XR policy framework, policymakers should review existing laws and identify regulatory gaps. This process should be ongoing and involve reviewing and modernizing existing policies to ensure they are adequate and adaptable to the dynamic nature of technology. Flexible soft law approaches, such as standards and frameworks, can take less time than legislation and also play a significant role in rapidly addressing many challenges and building public trust. For instance, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed voluntary frameworks for privacy and cybersecurity that could be applied to immersive technologies. Embracing a proactive approach to policy can create an environment that encourages responsible XR development and adoption, while ensuring both innovation and societal well-being.
Extensive public engagement and education about the concerns associated with XR and immersive technologies can mitigate distrust and help leverage the benefits, while also upholding civil liberties, promoting safety, and fostering inclusivity. Policymakers, industry, civil society, and other stakeholders should make public engagement a high priority as the XR market continues to grow. By adopting a forward-looking and multistakeholder approach, we can seize the immense potential of XR, shaping the future to better benefit individuals, communities, and society as a whole.
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