Avatars and the Future of Business Conferences

avatars businessFascination with virtual reality has been around for decades. From the earliest video games, movies, and television shows we’ve craved more authentic – more “real” – viewing experiences. We want to break down whatever technological barriers stand between us and total immersion in the media we find most captivating. And every year, we get a little closer to achieving that goal.

Now, our quest for authentic virtual experiences has moved well beyond the realm of entertainment to embrace expanding possibilities in the worlds of education and commerce. For example, students who decide to study in Italy will probably consider several other post-secondary options before choosing John Cabot University – attending open houses, and enjoying virtual tours that offer realistic views of life on campus.

Recently, Oculus VR, a Seattle-based tech company launched Oculus Rift, a headset that provides the most immersive virtual reality experience we’ve seen so far. Colleges are beginning to use the headset to attract students with 3D panoramic campus walk-throughs. And in the realm of business, avatars and virtual reality meetings are beginning to gain traction, uniting international participants in digital spaces that feel and look more real than ever.

Virtual Conferencing: Borderless Solutions for Globalized Business

Students who study economics in Italy get a front row view of just how globalized the business world is becoming. Rome itself is an incredibly diverse metropolis, home to numerous international companies and organizations.  In fact, more students study abroad in Italy or seek degrees outside their home country than ever before. Traveling to pursue a post-secondary education helps undergraduates become “global citizens,” which is considered a valuable asset in today’s marketplace.

Finding ways to reach out to and connect with international audiences is increasingly important for success in a number of professional fields. And interactive, 3D, panoramic conferencing technology is fast becoming the go-to solution for global networking. Going far beyond Skype or other types of video conferencing, the latest services offer total immersion in a virtual environment designed to mimic a range of meeting spaces, including corporate headquarters, exhibition halls, training facilities, and board rooms. And attendees never have to leave their homes!  Supporters say it’s a greener, more accessible, and convenient way to gather and exchange ideas. Check out this video to see what it’s like to attend a virtual trade show – something future business graduates will likely do on a regular basis:

High Fidelity Avatars: More Life-like than Ever

The above video revealed how participants at virtual events interact with the environment and each other using an avatar. But participants still need a mouse and a keyboard to control their digital selves, which means an additional barrier to total immersion in the virtual world. Philip Rosedale, founder of the hugely popular Second Life, has been working on solving that problem with his latest project, High Fidelity – avatars that reflect users’ facial expressions, speech, and body movements via sensors, rather than the clumsier mouse and keyboard options. This video shows how far High Fidelity has already come in its mission to make virtual meetings more realistic than ever:

Will Virtual Interactions Replace In-person Meetings?

A shift toward virtual conferencing will impact students preparing for careers in a range of fields from business, marketing and communications – to education and politics. Imagine attending an interview via the new technology, or organizing a virtual rally.  With increasingly responsive avatars, promotional and networking events of all kinds could move into the digital realm, creating new opportunities for international attendance.

But should virtual meetings completely replace in-person interactions? How would a shift like this impact our professional relationships? Graduates will tackle these and other questions as society moves ever-closer to achieving seamless interface with digital worlds. Globalization may be “shrinking” the earth, but digitization is busy opening up limitless new terrain for us to develop and explore.

How do you think avatars and virtual conferencing will impact your professional future?

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