Virtual reality (VR) is supposed to fully immerse a user in an alternate reality — a football field, a precarious cliff or an exotic locale. The technology could significantly change everything from teleconferencing to treating phobias. Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson predicts that within 5 years, VR will be almost indistinguishable from real life. Bailenson joins us to talk about his new book, “Experience on Demand,” and the promises and dangers of an increasingly realistic virtual reality.

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Stanford’s Jeremy Bailenson Makes the Case for Virtual Reality 6 February,2018Michael Krasny

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director, Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University; author, "Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do."

  • geraldfnord

    As I am no Puritan—as, unfortunately, some of my ideological allies may tend toward in this respect—I see nothing intrinsically wrong about people wanting stuff. Yes, too much of it is shoddy or bad stuff made desirable only by brain-washing, and if we were as properly rich as the robots will be able to make us we wouldn’t need to keep stuff around, as we would know we could get it as needed, but it is reasonable to want things. Unfortunately it is a limited world and even asteroid mining won’t substantively change that. But fortunately, humans are able to substitute symbolic goods for physical things, so much of our goods’ being virtual will help satisfy the need people have for stuff—for self-expression, for status, for feeling secure—while still maintaining a livable environment.

    • William – SF

      But how do you feel about orbiting your car around the Sun?

  • Ben Rawner

    Can your guest discuss the benefits of using VR as an anasthetic during medical procedures? What have the VR companies done to mitigate motion sickness?

    • There’s an essential problem with induced “realities,” that the better they are, the more intense the effect of their discrepancies. That is, the more the virtual world does the work for us, the more disorienting it actually can be. E.g., pilots using simulators are forbidden to fly for a day after.

      • William – SF

        Hmm, is the mind indicating that something is ‘wrong’ with the experience? Is there research on the effect?

  • As one of the virtual worlds pioneers in the 1980s and 1990s, I remember ALL of this having been said back then: that “VR” would revolutionize communications, that it presaged either the beginning or the end of human compassion and comprehension, that it would be a zillion-dollar industry in just a few years, and that basically, it was the answer to all our dreams. Forty years later, there being no Web at that time to share information easily — we did have a USENET newsgroup, sci-virtual-worlds, with 6,000 users around the world, but not laypeople — the shared memory of those times resides mainly among we veterans. We’re not jaded, but we do get a laugh out of all the “revelations” of a generation without any understanding of what’s gone before, what will probably happen now, and where we want the technology and more importantly, its uses to go.

    PS I’m working on a regional economic development plan based on creating a center for excellence in experiential design, so clearly, I’m not disgusted, only just amused.

    • Vern

      The guest’s repeated mentioning of military uses is very disturbing. Does he want to assist with war crimes? Will there be a training program for massacreing political protesters?

      • Don’t over-react. The tech’s hardly capable of that now and probably never will be. And the applications are even more primitive. You recognize that the moment you put one of those kludgy helmets on your head and watch basically cartoons.

        • Vern

          This guy talks like a military industrial complex lobbyist.

      • Robert Thomas

        Ooops! wrong button.

    • Robert Thomas

      Maybe you’re qualified to explain to me what a self-described “center for excellence” can possibly be? Cogitating on this question some time back, I decided that it must be just wherever Kanye West happened to be at the time.

      What’s “experiential design”, please?

  • Vern

    To want to put a screen immediately between yourself and the world is a poignant expression of our modern alienation.
    VR feels like a tool destined to be used for totalitarian political purposes to brainwash in ways that Goebbels would find intuitive.

    • Noelle

      Yes, with so many “addicted” to Facebook this makes living on the screen even more enticing.

    • The VR tools today are essentially the same as in the 1980s and 1990s. And about as capable. Your concern is overblown.

  • William – SF

    What are the top handful of industries using VR? Is Adult Entertainment among them?

    • Healthcare, aviation, urban planning, and manufacturing.

      • William – SF


    • Vern

      His constant mention of soldiers suggests he is funded on a Darpa grant. So you can bet VR is being used to train killers.

    • Noelle

      Maybe it could prevent STDs.

      • William – SF

        Or help men …oh dear, the list is long

  • marte48

    VR sounds like an extension of TV, which is already responsible for alot of cultural delusions.

  • Jessica

    I am looking forward to how the advertising industry uses this for their gains, it’s gonna be intense!

  • Vern

    If I were wheelchair bound I could see paying someone in India to take me virtually to the Taj Mahal but I would question whether a less humane person than myself would not get a big kick out of telling the poor person to turn his head every few seconds so she can see something else. Virtual reality tourism would erode human dignity.

  • Robert Thomas

    “You get to experience what it’s like to be black.”

    Geez, it’s a good thing that this radio program doesn’t at all rely on any African American listenership.

    “VR can do the impossible.”


    Virtual reality software works better all the time and the hardware that supports it very impressive! At SGI sixteen or eighteen years ago, I can report that a shockingly immersive experience was available that nevertheless was tethered to six or eight tons of Challenge multiprocessors and Onyx 3000 InfiniteReality GE16 Graphics Engines. Now, not all but very much of this capability can be had using modern GPU cores (designed by the same guys receiving a paycheck from a different company) that weigh a few grams. At the time, the trajectory of the miniaturization of the hardware was just about graspable.

    What to do with it, then, when it was constituted in an affordable platform? Well, leave that to the hucksters and proselytizers. Their services cost a lot less money. Our (until recently) long-time co-worker John Hennessy now had substantial influence at Stanford, so…

    If VR can do the impossible, can it make my nephew get a job?

  • Watty Helms

    Could this guy be a bigger douchebag?

  • Franklin Woolfson

    Do you feel hungry after you eat virtual food on VR. Does it fool your body to that level?

    • Noelle

      Can it help you lose weight?

  • katharina

    This guy talks like a military industrial complex lobbyist.

  • Sophia Schmid

    Don’t over-react. The tech’s hardly capable of that now and probably never will be. And the applications are even more primitive. You recognize that the moment you put one of those kludgy helmets on your head and watch basically cartoons.

  • aksel myklebust

    Healthcare, aviation, urban planning, and manufacturing. By comparison, VR porn is only a sideline for now, and probably always will be, but it is a growing slice of the adult entertainment market.

  • David
  • Scott Whittaker

    No escapism here

    Zuckerberg, our moral cop,
    Set to make climate schism
    And racism (and fascism?),
    All peoplekinds’ problems,
    At twenty minutes a pop.
    Whether in reality or fantasy,
    Failed liberalism itself
    Is always trying to top.


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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