new Mercatus paper on “Public Policy for Virtual and Augmented Reality”

by on September 25, 2017 · 0 comments

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has just released a new paper on,”Permissionless Innovation and Immersive Technology: Public Policy for Virtual and Augmented Reality,” which I co-authored with Jonathan Camp. This 53-page paper can be downloaded via the Mercatus websiteSSRN or Research Gate.

Here is the abstract for the paper:

Immersive technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality are finally taking off. As these technologies become more widespread, concerns will likely develop about their disruptive social and economic effects. This paper addresses such policy concerns and contrasts two different visions for governing immersive tech going forward. The paper makes the case for permissionless innovation, or the general freedom to innovate without prior constraint, as the optimal policy default to maximize the benefits associated with immersive technologies.

The alternative vision — the so-called precautionary principle — would be an inappropriate policy default because it would greatly limit the potential for beneficial applications and uses of these new technologies to emerge rapidly. Public policy for immersive technology should not be based on hypothetical worst-case scenarios. Rather, policymakers should wait to see which concerns or harms emerge and then devise ex post solutions as needed.

To better explain why precautionary controls on these emerging technologies would be such a mistake, Camp and I provide an inventory of the many VR, AR, and mixed reality applications that are already on the market–or soon could be–and which could provide society with profound benefits. A few examples include: 

  • Education and museums. Immersing users in virtual environments allows Google’s Expedition Pioneer Program to provide 360-degree video tours of famous landmarks and ruins, and museums are already using AR technology to provide interactive content.
  • Worker training and systems monitoring. VR industrial simulators such as ForgeFX are being used to train workers to master a variety of complex tasks, while AR systems can be leveraged to help farmers with crop management from afar.
  • Healthcare. CT scans and MRIs are being converted into 3-D models to perform surgery that was once thought impossible, and the world’s first VR medical training facility opened in London in November of 2016.
  • Engineering. Virtual modeling technology is being combined with VR to allow touring of unbuilt vehicles and buildings, lowering the costs of construction and design.
  • Military. The military has used VR for combat simulations, medic training, flight simulators, vehicle simulators, and even the treatment of PTSD.

And that just scratches the surface of some of the many exciting applications out there. The virtual sky is the limit with immersive tech — so long, that is, as we don’t derail these life-enriching technologies with misguided, fear-based public policy restrictions. Please read the paper for more details.

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