On Facebook’s VR platform you can take a virtual selfie with your virtual friend in virtual reality, said Hackford ©Facebook
On Facebook’s VR platform you can take a virtual selfie with your virtual friend in virtual reality, said Hackford ©Facebook

Virtual worlds can 'turbocharge decision-making'

The world’s ageing population is driving advances in robotics, buyers have been told.

Sophie Hackford, a futurist and former head of Wired’s consulting business, said many countries have a “stark demographic situation”.

“A lot of countries are getting very old, very quickly, particularly China, Japan, Korea. But all of us are – eventually across this century – heading in the same direction. It’s a very important driver of technological change that we’re really not talking enough about,” she said.

Hackford added that these countries had been spending heavily on robotics “because they’re going to run out of key workers”, including plumbers, teachers and nurses. “Those people aren’t being born and that is driving in turn a huge investment in robotics.”

Speaking at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit in London, Hackford said demographics were one of several macro factors shaping the future of technology, which industry was neglecting to think about. “Things like climate change, demography, economics, migration. It’s very important that we understand how humans and technology work together,” she said.

Hackford said virtual reality and online simulations were also among the technologies buyers and other business leaders needed to be aware of.

Virtual and augmented reality are “the ultimate collaboration tool”, she said. “Around the world you can beam in different people, different colleagues and have conversations around a central topic or a central question.”

Augmented reality, she said, would overlay the internet onto the real world, while VR would help develop skills and training. Already 140,000 Walmart employees have been trained by VR, she said, learning skills like where to place things on the shelves or how to moving things around in warehouses.

VR will also have an unexpected impact on forecasting. “We’re going to be turbocharging decision-making by using virtual worlds and virtual reality as test scenarios in silico before we try them in real life,” said Hackford.

“Big virtual worlds, particularly video games, are actually really good as ways to test possible outcomes, particularly the second or third or fourth order consequences of a strategy or an idea.

“You can imagine playing within a virtual sandpit and see what the impact that might have on virtual people before you actually try it in real life.”

Where it gets exciting for Hackford is the ability to engage with real humans in simulations. “Herman Narula [founder of the tech company Improbable] says, ‘When 100m people enter simultaneously into a virtual world it ceases to become a game and it becomes a country,’” said Hackford.

“My question is what would you do with that country? How could you use that environment in a strategic way?

“I wonder whether some of these massive multiplayer games could be used to test products, services, strategies and even new democratic platforms?” she said.

☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.

London or East Kilbride
London total package - £35,700, East Kilbride total package - £30,700
Cabinet Office
Leeds, London
Department of Health and Social Care
CIPS Knowledge
Find out more with CIPS Knowledge:
  • best practice insights
  • guidance
  • tools and templates