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Policymakers Should Address Barriers That Could Hold Back the Economic Potential of Immersive Technologies

Policymakers Should Address Barriers That Could Hold Back the Economic Potential of Immersive Technologies

June 21, 2023

Immersive technologies are fostering economic growth in the United States and have the potential to offer even more economic opportunities in the future, according to a new report by Deloitte and Meta. But concerns over privacy and technical, logistical, and regulatory barriers to adoption as well as the lack of updated standards for immersive driving tools could hinder the economic potential of these technologies and introduce new safety risks. Policymakers should address these issues to ensure the projected benefits of immersive technologies materialize.

As with many types of novel tech, immersive technologies have gone through a cycle of extreme optimism followed by one of extreme pessimism. Indeed, most recent media coverage has already declared the metaverse and immersive technologies a failed bet. But the renewed optimism following the announcement of Apple’s mixed reality headset shows that this market is ripe for disruption and that a breakthrough can happen at any given moment.

Privacy will be a contentious issue in this space, especially as AR/VR devices have the capacity to track hand, body, and eye movements. While these technologies are essential for the functionality of these devices in terms of accessibility and immersion—allowing users to use their devices without a controller—or efficiency of computing power—by only rendering content users are looking at—privacy activists have voiced concerns over the use of the data collected from these devices.

Though some of these privacy concerns are largely based on hypothetical, unproven risks, they also stem from a lack of a comprehensive national privacy law. The United States needs a law that provides clarity to companies and users over the rights users have over their personal data, how companies ought to handle collected and inferred data, and the extent that inferred data is covered. The patchwork of federal and state privacy laws is a costly framework that ultimately does not provide clarity to users or companies. Policymakers should replace the patchwork with a comprehensive national privacy law that establishes basic consumer data rights, streamlines regulation, preempts state laws, and ensures that key technologies and innovations continue functioning correctly.

Despite their potential benefits, businesses will likely face technical, logistical, and regulatory barriers to adoption of immersive technologies. For example, if a business were to adopt these devices today with no prior experience, it would struggle to establish a multi-device management system, establish cybersecurity protocols, and possibly hire or re-train its support staff. Companies that would like to establish an immersive-based apprenticeship will likely struggle with the fact that time spent in immersive training will not count as practical training time, which might lead to some redundancy in training.

While some of these barriers are natural for novel technologies and are likely to disappear as the technology matures, policymakers can enact policy changes to accelerate the process. For example, the Department of Labor should revise its apprenticeship program to recognize immersive training as practical training, and agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology could replicate sector-specific technical support programs like ManufacturingUSA and the Manufacturing Extended Partnership to other sectors like retail or logistics.

Additionally, as immersive technologies make their way into other products such as automobiles, making sure that they are safe for use should be a priority for regulators and policymakers. As augmented reality (AR) windshields are being rolled out into the market and companies like Meta and BMW announce partnerships to bring augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) devices to cars, it is important for the sector to have standards in place to make sure these technologies do not distract drivers. Hence, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should update its distracted driving guidance to explicitly address issues specific to AR/VR technologies in vehicles.

The AR/VR market is a rapidly changing, dynamic market that is ripe for competition and innovation. As with every emerging technology, it is impossible to predict exactly how or when a product is going to become popular. But policymakers should prepare the appropriate regulatory framework to make an eventual growth in adoption of immersive technologies a smooth process so that government, users, and businesses can reap the benefits of its potential economic and social impact.

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