What is the difference between virtual and eXtended reality – especially in relation to new technologies like the Metaverse?
Carolin Wienrich: eXtended reality is a kind of generic term and includes all forms of virtuality – i.e. virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality is, therefore, a variant of eXtended reality. Here, users are completely immersed in a virtual world, so there is hardly any mixing with the real physical world. By the way, this is the case with augmented reality, and it is used, for example, in the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a strategic term promoted by the Meta company to tie this topic to itself in a way that attracts public attention. Here, the focus is primarily on virtual and networked social interactions between people and their virtual images and, in the future, possibly also artificial counterparts. However, the term metaverse was introduced in 1992 by Stephenson in his book “Snow Crash”.
What are the possible applications of eXtended reality – for example, in medicine?
For example, we are already using eXtended reality in the medical field to create photorealistic, virtual images of the patient’s body for the treatment of eating disorders, which can then make them fatter and thinner at the touch of a button. This gives people with obesity, for example, an idea of how they would look if they weighed less – even small changes can be made visible in this way. It has been proven that patients later transfer the changes in the virtual body to their actual body and self-image, resulting in entirely new and promising therapeutic approaches.
It has been proven that patients later transfer the changes in the virtual body to their real body and self-image – this results in completely new and promising therapy approaches.Prof. Dr. Carolin Wienrich To the profile
How can eXtended reality be used in administration and justice?
We know from research that the design of the interaction interface between humans and AI – in other words, the external appearance of the AI – has an enormous influence on trust, acceptance and use. However, these systems can rarely be changed once they are produced and introduced. With the help of eXtended reality, the system, the interaction, and the context of use can be simulated and changed cost-effectively at the development stage. In this way, future users, such as administrative staff and citizens, can be involved in the design. We know that this early involvement has many positive effects. In the justice system, where objectivity, fairness and participation are central, eXtended reality can be a real alternative: Discriminatory factors arising from people’s physical appearance could be reduced by giving everyone the same avatar – regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.
What questions does this raise for your research?
Because eXtended reality has such an impressive effect on human cognition or emotion, it raises a wide range of research questions about potentials and risks. The question of what added value eXtended Reality offers and how and why it affects people is fundamental in this context. Just because something is technically possible and trendy does not mean it will also be helpful. The pure one-to-one copy of reality is not the strength of eXtended reality. Its strength lies in the ability to create “Unexperienced Experiences” – that is, to test and manipulate precisely things that we cannot even imagine in reality.
Moreover, concrete mechanisms of action are unfortunately researched far too seldom. If these are not known, then the design of an effective virtual environment is a matter of luck – and we cannot afford this when it comes to use in important social contexts and safety-critical sysProf. Dr. Carolin Wienrich To the profile
And what solutions could minimise the risks?
At the moment, technical developments are being driven by large tech companies, thus defining the use conditions. Imagine acting in the Metaverse with your photorealistic avatar and then encountering yourself again and again and again. Your avatar has been copied or stolen, and another person or an intelligent system can now very credibly impersonate you. In that case, how should a third person know which avatars are correct? At the XR Hub at the University of Würzburg, we are considering such questions and developing an eXtended Reality platform according to German and European rules. For example, we have developed a safety concept based on individual gait parameters, so we can tell within seconds which avatar is the right one, and we can then make that visible to everyone in the virtual interaction.
You talk about eXtended reality as the key to human-AI interaction; why?
Because human-AI interaction does not happen in a vacuum. People have images – mental models – in their heads when they think of AI, and these images massively determine expectations and use. But they also trigger fears or euphoria. These images rarely come from realistic interactions but are strongly influenced by the media or originate from dystopian or utopian narratives. With eXtended reality, we can systematically investigate these mental models by simulating different interaction interfaces and human-AI interactions. We can study how they work and change the AI system, task or context at the push of a button. We will have effective and trustworthy human-AI interactions in the future if we consider the context of use early on and know which AI designs people want to interact with.
Thank you very much for the interview!
The interview was conducted by Nadine Hildebrandt.