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Alumnus Kent Bye Getting Real with Virtual Reality

Monday, July 03, 2017
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Exploring VR’s Potential: Kent Bye, a 1998 electrical engineering alumnus, has interviewed virtual reality technology leaders for his popular podcast and blog.

If you think virtual reality is just a gaming technology that lets people disconnect from the “real world,” you haven’t been listening to alumnus Kent Bye’s Voices of VR podcast.

A few times each week, Bye sits down with people on the front lines of virtual reality for conversations about VR and its potential. And while the conversations do sometimes cover gaming, the 1998 electrical engineering graduate and his guests really hit their stride when discussing practical applications for VR in areas such as medicine, the arts, business, the environment, and, yes, real-world human interaction.

“Anybody who does virtual reality experiences, once they come out of it, it just really inspires them to think about the different possibilities that are enabled by this new communication medium,” Bye says from his Portland, Ore., home. “I don’t think the endgame is really to escape into these fantasy worlds, but to become more connected to what’s happening on earth.”

The implications for this greater connectivity range from the physical to the metaphysical, from the immediate to the futuristic, and from the lighthearted to the serious.

For example, Bye’s podcasts over the last three years have covered such topics as using virtual reality to correct vision problems and to “rewire” the brains of stroke patients. One included an interesting discussion about stirring compassion by putting people into difficult situations or on the front lines of global problems. Still others examined how virtual reality promises to change the way we use computers, the way we communicate, the way we conduct business, and, of course, the way we play.

Often, these discussions highlight the way virtual reality links things we usually think of as separate—like the left and right brain, subjective and objective perspectives, and the mind and body.

“VR is trying to bring back a holistic way of thinking,” Bye says, “because in order to have a good VR experience you have to consider all dimensions—the emotional dimension, what it means to be embodied in an experience, what it means to express your agency, and what it means to stimulate your mind or to interact with other people.”

Bye, who also writes a blog for the Road to VR website, sees these opportunities as nothing less than revolutionary. In fact, he compares the emergence of virtual reality to the invention of the Gutenberg press, both in its immediate and long-term impact.

Of course, the big question is one that Bye asks each of his guests, and is at the heart of the book he’s releasing later this year: What is the ultimate potential of virtual reality? He admits it can be a hard question to answer and points again to the Gutenberg press for context. If someone had asked people 500 years ago, “Tell me about all the different kinds of books that are going to be written (for publication),” they couldn’t have comprehended an appropriate answer.

“I think that VR is just the same,” Bye says.

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Listen to Kent Bye’s Voices of VR Podcast and find his latest VP thoughts on Twitter @kentbye.