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I recently spoke to Cameron Ayres – who serves as director of innovation at Sector 5 Digital and creates some of the most cutting-edge technologies for some of the biggest companies in America – on the fascinating field of virtual and augmented reality.

Bracha: What’s the difference between virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR)?

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Ayres: Virtual reality (VR) involves using a headset to fully immerse oneself in an environment that exists only virtually. Augmented reality (AR) is a transparent overlay that a user looks through and on which he can see information and visuals. In other words, he sees the world exactly as it is, but there is feedback and visuals floating in front of him.

Mixed reality (MR) is very similar, but it exists and interacts with the real world. An example of MR would be a virtual dog interacting with a user. There are two neat MR products being developed today in business. 1) A user can hold his phone up and see real-time reviews above restaurants on the street he is looking at. 2) A nurse can use a virtual representation of veins on top of the skin to help improve accuracy.

Because AR and MR have been lumped together by many communities, I will refer to both as AR for the remaining questions.

What does Sector 5 Digital do?

Sector 5 Digital (S5D) is a digital agency and production studio that specializes in digital experiences for enterprise clients. We work with a variety of clients such as Bell, American Airlines, IBM, and Galderma. We typically sit down with our clients and brainstorm around strategy and execution of new digital experiences.

What are some of the most exciting and creative projects you’ve worked on?

One that’s particularly ground-breaking is leveraging VR to speed up production. We can get feedback, for example, from test pilots if an airplane window doesn’t give enough visibility – or a seat needs to be moved up an inch – before a single part has been manufactured. Using VR, we took a production cycle for a full-scale mock-up from 5-7 years to 6 months.

How can VR and AR help the average person who doesn’t own a big company and isn’t into gaming?

Immersive experience design and education are where I see VR flourishing for the average non-gamer. For example, with VR, students in Central Africa can explore the Eiffel Tower in France and pre-med students can interact with a life-size body.

AR is a different story because a large majority of people already own an AR-capable device – a smart phone. Do you want to see what a couch would look like in your living room before you order it? Pull out your phone and place the couch in your room and walk around it.

If you want to see what that shoe online would look like on you, use your AR app and try the shoe on. Those are just a few examples of how AR can be useful.

Virtual environments are both exciting and scary. Are you worried that AR and VR technology will cross an ethical line at some point? And how do we define that line?

This is a fascinating question and one that I spent a great deal of my research as a master’s student addressing. There is no concrete answer on when that line has been crossed. For me, it’s intentional negative manipulation. Think about it this way: If an environment can be created that, in VR, will lower my desire to have a cigarette, couldn’t a similar one be created to cause me to crave Coca-Cola?

VR can be used to intentionally create optical illusions. What if a VR user watches content that warps his vision temporarily and then he drives a car and hits someone? Who’s at fault?

I think we need to educate the masses on the positive and negative potential consequences of each experience. But I also think that conduct in virtual environments will be a wild legal field in the coming years.

VR and AR are starting to gain momentum in the health and wellness industries. How can they be used?

The beauty of VR in medicine is that operations can be carried out 1,000 times virtually before a single scalpel touches an actual human being. In AR, I’ve seen many educational and training programs that allow you to see a “holographic” person on an operating table and actually see through their body.

VR and AR can also be used to treat mental health. Many successful tests have been conducted using a strategy called exposure therapy by which you expose someone to a fear or a difficult topic in controlled doses. If a child with autism is struggling with interacting with other children, for example, he or she can interact in virtual reality with AI children.

AR is not widely used in mental health yet, but I love the idea of a person with dementia being able to hold up a tablet and see where he left his set of keys, for example. I even want to use AR recordings to allow them to relive past conversations and interactions, which could allow them to gain a better understanding of their situation.

(To be continued)

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Bracha Halperin is a business consultant based in new York City. To comment on her Jewish Press-exclusive tech columns -- or to reach her for any other purpose -- e-mail her at brachahalperin@hotmail.com. You can also follow her on Instagram or Twitter at: @brachahalperin.