Tech conference to take a real look at virtual identity
What: Virtual Identity Summit
When: Nov. 6-7
Where: Grand Summit Resort at Park City Mountain
Augmented and virtual reality have a tangible presence in our world today.
While VR headset wearers can virtually do everything from chat face-to-face with friends to traveling to Tokyo without leaving their living rooms, augmented reality (AR) gives users the ability to modify their existing surroundings and has practical applications, said Matt Wilburn and Berk Frei of Morph 3D, a firm that develops systems that manage and facilitate the creation of virtual personas, including the one found in the beta of “Oasis,” a massively multiplayer online game based on the “Ready Player One” multimedia property.
Wilburn, Morph 3D’s chief operating officer and Frei, general manager, are hosting the Virtual Identity Summit, a conference in Park City running from Nov. 4 through 6 intended to give the public a chance to explore these platforms and their futures through workshops, presentations and speeches with notable technologists, academics, engineers, artists, investors and enthusiasts.
The summit will focus not only on how AR and VR impact entertainment, culture and work, but their effect on the very concept of human identity.
While avatars, like those created by Morph 3D, may be a small part of the overall conversation, they provide a starting point for a lot of VR and AR experiences, Wilburn said.
Much of the current consumer VR landscape revolves around its applications in video gaming, of which a huge chunk of the VR offerings available consists of social games like “Oasis” and “VRChat,” where players represent themselves to others in-game via custom avatars. The concept shows up in fiction as well: “Ready Player One’s” Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation, released earlier this year, explores a future where the majority of humanity spends its time in a VR world where players represent themselves with pop culture nostalgia like Master Chief and Jason Voorhees.
“The way you embody yourself in AR and VR has an impact on the level of immersion or presence you feel in those experiences,” Wilburn said. “If you don’t feel like you’re well-represented through that avatar, you feel like you’re missing something. Contrast that to feeling when you have the full ability to create an identity that is recognizable to people who know you. It becomes a good expression, and, most of all, it becomes fun.”
The conference will also look at identity and its relationship to technology in a broader sense, Frei said, citing a recent New York Times report that the Trump administration plans to define a strict gender binary as evidence of the broader conversation. The report was met with concern that transgender people – defined as those who identify with a different gender identity than assigned at birth – could lose legal protections as a result.
“There are some interesting concepts being studied rigorously, and it will be interesting to see how things play out during the conference,” Frei said.
Featured presenters at the summit include academics like Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and artists like Lisa Joy, co-creator of the HBO sci-fi drama “Westworld,” among other notable personalities in the space.
Virtual identity affects everyone’s lives through all social networks they have a presence on, Wilburn said.
“You many have different identities in all of these platforms, and until now, there hasn’t been a way in any of these technologies for us to maintain a persistent identity across those experiences,” he said. “So when we think of what trends that are coming as they relate to identity in new technologies, we want to create the ability to have the same visual identity across all of those experiences and platforms.”
One of the trends Frei noticed is the sense of community these platforms help develop, and how users are able to create their own identity, such as those who have explored their gender identity.
“You have seen groups of people who find new ways to identify themselves – whether it’s joining an anime guild or group – or something like that,” he said. “I’ve noticed people, mostly males, representing themselves as female Japanese anime characters. I see that as a phenomenon that can expand into other communities.”
Identity security is another issue the summit will cover.
“In the past few years, privacy has gotten away from the hands of users, and that’s an interesting thing in the trend, because we should be able to have more control of how our identity is both projected and maintained,” Wilburn said. “If you can be shut off arbitrarily by someone other than you, you don’t own or have control of your identity.”
Wilburn said the summit will also examine the challenges of keeping up with developing technology.
“As a company, Morph 3D tries to develop tech that will meet people’s desire to explore and be creative with themselves,” he said. “What motivates us is that you have to create identity in so many places as a user, and we want to work together on the technology and community building.”
Copy editor James Hoyt contributed to this story.
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