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The Promises and Perils of XR Technology

XR technologies have the power to transform our world, but must be used responsibly.


Accenture and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance teamed up to examine the ways XR is changing the way we work and the way we live. As their recently-released report shows, there are tremendous opportunities, but also tremendous risks if the technologies are not utilized with care.

The report, “Waking Up to a New Reality: Building a Responsible Future for Immersive Technologies,” details how XR, which includes AR and VR, is now part of our daily lives. It’s not just something we see in movies. It will only become more prevalent with the advent of 5G.

Given those factors, now is the time for businesses to think critically about how they are utilizing XR. Innovators and entrepreneurs should consider the social implications of new technologies, rather than focusing solely on the bottom line.

XR Creates Value for Businesses

According to the Accenture report, XR industry spending will reach $123 billion by 2023. If this projection holds, it will represent a remarkable shift from the current level of about $7 billion. It will also far outpace consumer spending.

Like any good business decision, companies are choosing to invest in XR because they see the value it can bring. Augmented and virtual reality can boost employee productivity by reducing the need for in-person interactions.

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The report tells the story of a fictional brain surgeon in Japan who leads a complex operation from home through a 3D hologram. It might sound far-fetched now, but could happen in as little as a few years.

The rollout of 5G networks across the world will make it easier for XR technologies to take hold. Accenture estimates that 55% of the United States, 32% of China, and 83% of Japan will be connected to 5G by 2025.

Increased connectivity means that industries from healthcare to manufacturing can utilize XR to change the way employees interact with each other and with patients or clients.

“VR is especially well-suited to acquiring behavioral and social skills by immersing the learner in an environment and simulating critical scenarios,” the report states. ”AR, in contrast, is better suited to building technical skills on the job. The combination of physical and digital visual information allows an engineer or surgeon, for example, to perform a procedure while receiving complementary information, without having to look away.”

Societal Risks of XR

Like any new technology or innovation, XR can cause harm in addition to making positive changes. The Accenture report highlights several risks that business and technology leaders will need to grapple with in the coming years:

Security and Privacy

Immersive XR experiences will require the collection of more user data than ever before. Not only will companies know what users’ interests are, they’ll also know biometric data and even what someone looks like through facial recognition.

A world full of immersive experiences pushes us beyond the edges of today’s science fiction. But it’s our collective choices and actions that will decide how the experience ends.

If this data ends up in the wrong hands, it could lead to major problems with security and privacy. If human data is compromised, the results could literally be life-threatening.

The Accenture report urges businesses to consider these implications and ensure that they are not taking advantage of user data in the name of higher returns.

Technology Addiction and Antisocial Behavior

The rise of XR also means that users will spend more time connected to screens and devices. The World Health Organization already considers gaming disorder a mental health risk. Many of us already spend at least a few hours per day connected to our phones.

If we can connect virtually through XR, what happens to in-person interactions? This is one of the existential questions the industry will need to address moving forward.

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Immersive experiences will further reduce the line between online and offline experiences, the Accenture report cautions. As such, organizations should be mindful of user behavior patterns and ensure their products do not cause mental health issues.

Digital Divides and Polarization

In addition to encouraging technology addiction, virtual and augmented realities may also increase polarization and our understanding of the world. Through XR, people can choose who they want to see and how they want to interact. This increases the problem of filter bubbles and echo chambers where individuals never encounter an opposing point of view.

This behavior has already led to a decline in civic participation and trust in media and government. Again, organizations will need to be aware of these risks as they move forward with XR innovation.

Moving Forward with XR

The report ends with a roadmap for innovators to utilize what XR offers without losing sight of the human element. There’s still time to achieve profitable future that does not come at the expense of individuals or our collective experience.

“As entrepreneurs, large firms and policymakers think through the opportunities and risks outlined in this report, we urge them to keep this sense of purpose in mind,” the report states. “A world full of immersive experiences pushes us beyond the edges of today’s science fiction. But it’s our collective choices and actions that will decide how the experience ends.” 

Jenna Spinelle
the authorJenna Spinelle
Jenna Spinelle is a freelance journalist based in Pennsylvania. She loves learning about new ideas and new technologies and sharing that information with others. She holds a degree in journalism from Penn State University, and currently teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. When she's not writing or teaching, you can find her hosting and producing the Democracy Works podcast.