“The worst enemy of VR is bad VR”: World VR Forum CEO Salar Shahna

As intimidating as people with immense knowledge may look, World VR Forum co-founder & CEO Salar Shahna came across as extremely humble and chivalrous. At ATF 2017, Shahna shared his insights on the future of VR, global trends and latest developments, particularly in Europe and USA, based on his work in the WorldVRLab. My interest in VR not being much, I had a few generic questions to ask. But soon, I was comfortable enough to have a conversation with him, and not just take an interview. Here are excerpts from the conversation with Shahna: What is the focus of World VR Forum now? World VR Forum has a pretty large spectrum of activities. One of them is events and community building. We have our flagship event WVRF Annual Summit every year in Switzerland. It comprises of conferences, workshops and a market place. For side events that we do, the focus is on only one aspect, for example the artistic side of things. Otherwise, I am also bringing VR expertise in different locations for sectors like news, tourism and activities in different spectrum. We recently announced a VR residency that will open applications for candidates who can submit their projects from all around the world. Selected candidates will be given a grant, equipment and mentoring from international experts so they can prototype a project within three months. We are also helping to open a new branch only for China because it is a big market with specific requirements. We help content creators around the world to have their works circulated into different regions with the help different festivals. Lastly, we are collaborating with the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) in Geneva in an event called WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society Forum). We have also started a pilot program in educational VR which we hope gets extended to the rest of the countries. How is AR and VR affecting education, culture, technology and philosophy? It is a long story. To cut it short, what’s interesting with virtual reality is that it is creating a whole new language. So far, human expression was contained in a frame. Now, it is possible to have an expression all around you with the help of virtual world. Hence, it is affecting all industries. Also, because it is so powerful, we want to work with scientists to make sure we create the best experience for people so they feel good inside. There are concerns that VR is diminishing the line between real and reel. What are your thoughts on that? Any technology needs to be used rightfully. If you overuse it or let it overpower humans, then it becomes dangerous. VR is the beginning of a whole new world that will comprise of AI, embeddables, enhanced humans. We want to address questions related to these topics, educate people and teach them to use it correctly. Otherwise, virtual reality will never replace reality. Like the real contact that we have right now, can never be replaced by any technology. It should not be. What are challenges for VR worldwide, in terms of technology, content, monetising etc.? One big challenge is to be able to reach a standard for showing the content, which is fragmented right now. This fragmentation creates complication for content creators because they don’t know what to address. We need to have standardisation for delivery. What kind of planning and marketing do VR content creators need, to attract and engage the audience that is looking for quality material? There is a lot of bad content out there. Things are not interesting, and many people do VR just to do VR. That is dangerous because the worst enemy of VR is bad VR. It is about having people like us who can act as curators, who can show you the way, tell you this is good, this is not good, this is what you have to see, and also create marketing tools. There needs to be more mystification and advertising around each piece of content so people know where to look at. A lot of start ups that are coming up with VR content and most of them are not doing well. So apart from them saying that they have a passion for technology and telling stories, what else do you think is needed for the company to succeed? The content has to be engaging, it has to respect the user and to give the user a big sense of presence. You have to be careful not to do VR just to do VR, you have to think why we are doing it, what is the reason, why is it better than doing it in a movie or a game. If you answer all these questions, it will help you to reach quality. Also it is good to have co-operation. Different studios and freelancers can work together and create better experiences with more collective energy instead of fragmented energy. In which field do you think VR is needed the most today? That’s a tricky question (laughs). It depends… In terms of pure usefulness, education, medical, real estate and tourism are all sectors where VR is useful. But entertainment is also important because it is how we can escape and free our minds. So quality entertainment in VR is also important. Could you elaborate on your VR project in education? This yet untitled project is a pilot program that we are planning to start with two schools – one private and one public – to see the impact on kids that are more privileged as well as those that are less privileged. We want to train teachers to use VR as a support for their classroom. VR could be a more engaging way to teach and efficiently transmit knowledge to students who specifically haven’t had the chance to travel or to see much of the world. The idea is to give VR in the hands of teachers because we do not want teachers to be replaced with machines. Simultaneously, we will help the kids to create VR content themselves. It is very stimulating for kids if they can also create. So they are not only users but also empowered. This technology will create many new jobs in the future so we want the kids to understand what the potential is and what they could be doing. How do you manage all of this being a non profit organisation? We have some support from the government, revenues from expertise in consulting, collaboration on events plus revenues from our event. The membership will start soon, so the membership will be a new source of revenue. Shahna is a man with a vision. If we have people like him at the forefront, technology can be unleashed at its maximum for a social cause rather than being used only for comfort or fancy gadgets.