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New Report Urges Proactive Legislation on Virtual Reality Tech

April 13, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
New Report Urges Proactive Legislation on Virtual Reality Tech
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg addresses students at Georgetown University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A new report is calling on legislators to be proactive in setting policy as immersive technology, or XR, quickly becomes the norm.

The report by the Bipartisan Policy Center lays out how immersive technology is not limited to 3D video games and Facebook’s futuristic Metaverse

It’s much more, including the future of health care, education and workforce training, the report contends. Immersive technology is a mix of 3D virtual reality and augmented reality, the combination of which results in a technology with more physical interaction. And with that comes new policy challenges to protect Americans using this technology, the report contends.

“XR technology is increasingly common, and we will soon see an inflection point that all emerging tech goes through where the application of the tech needs policy guidance,” said Tom Romanoff, director of the center’s Technology Project, in a statement. “Today’s proactive discussion is necessary to address the challenges of tomorrow by identifying and addressing the shortcomings while still improving quality of life and creating economic opportunity.”

Virtual reality technology is already being used to train nursing students at the University of Michigan as the country faces both nursing and teaching shortages, said Jeremy Nelson, the director of the XR Initiative who worked with the center on the report. 

He explained how the virtual reality training center allowed students to learn how to do various exercises, including inserting a chest tube or catheter or doing a lumbar puncture on a mannequin, all without staff supervision because the technology could tell students if they were doing it correctly.

It worked better than expected, solving issues beyond what they first hoped for, he said during the center’s event announcing the study.

“Students were able to be more self-directed, [and] they could reduce faculty time,” he said. “They increased student self-confidence because they weren’t being watched all the time, so they could make mistakes on their own.”

The report, however, lays out why legislators must create policies to protect users’ privacy and security in order to continue innovation in this space.

The center used input from people at multiple events, where “participants regularly cited privacy as a top concern with XR tools. They focused on their privacy, especially protecting sensitive biometric data, and bystander privacy as specific challenges. Privacy protections will be key to building trust in immersive technologies,” the report said.

Many of these technologies scan people’s eyes, fingerprints and handprints, which creates a variety of security issues, the most glaring being that biometric data can’t be changed as easily as online passwords. These biometric data points collected from the technology can also reveal users’ health issues.

In a health care setting, surgeons use augmented reality glasses to overlay patients’ data into their line of sight, so they don’t have to continually check other devices for information through products like Medivis

This new access to and storage of medical information brings new questions concerning the protections provided by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the report contends. 

Throughout the report, policymakers are urged to keep these technologies in mind while creating legislation about current technologies and deciding what laws might need to be revisited and updated with immersive technology in mind.

This also expands into government financing for research and development.

“Policymakers can review funding levels and the targeting of funds for research into immersive technologies. Research should not just focus on technological issues; it should also consider issues such as societal impacts, accessibility, health effects and ethics,” the report says.

There are also considerations in how the technology can be funded through government medical programs like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as workforce training programs, the report says.

All of these potentials also come down to people being able to access the technology, which likely requires higher broadband speeds than currently defined by the government. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission defines high-speed broadband upload speed as 25 megabits per second.

Immersive technologies could require up to 100 megabits per second, the report says.

Overall, the report urges legislators to consider that “a proactive approach to identifying and addressing the challenges can still help minimize harm and maximize the benefits of [the] technology.”

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com

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