Racial injustice in the United States is long overdue to be at the forefront of discussions. The design of future hardware and software will adopt our biases and prejudices if they persist. These issues are reflected by artificial intelligence, but can just as easily be resolved through equal representation in software development and inclusive design.
Among founders of venture-backed companies, only 1% are Black (RateMyInvestor.com). The engineering teams at big tech companies like Facebook and Google are the same, and using a resume with a White name instead of a Black name increases the chances of an interview by 2.5x (Angellist). Tech should be inclusive-by-design, but it will only achieve this with an equal representation of ethnicities.
In light of recent events, our eyes are open to the reality of discrimination. Virtual and Augmented Reality can transport audiences into the shoes of Black Americans who share their accounts of the past and present, and the vision of an inclusive future. Today, we would like to share with you some of these narratives as our team stands in solidarity with the Black community and with all who are affected by systemic racism and injustice.
Increase Awareness and Empathy Through Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Narratives
Traveling While Black is a 360 film directed by Roger Ross Williams, the first African American director to win an Academy Award. In the Virtual Reality film, Ross confronts the way we understand and talk about race in America as the audience is transported into a not so distant mid-20th century America where movement was restricted for Black Americans. Traumatic experiences are recounted in Washington DC’s Ben’s Chili Bowl, a place listed in the Green Book that documented safe spaces for Black people to sleep, eat and replenish. The interviews and cinematic recreations share a narrative that is still relevant today.
Carne y Arena is a location based Virtual Reality piece created by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It recreates the experiences of immigrants who have crossed the U.S- Mexico border, placing the viewer in a group of immigrants who are stopped by border patrol on American soil. The horror stories of the U.S- Mexico border seem surreal, until you experience what feels like a first hand account of the devastating journey.
1000 Cut Journey is a Virtual Reality program designed by Dr. Courtney Cogburn, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work. The program shows you the life of a fictional Black character, Michael Sterling, who is subjected to racism. Demonstrations of discrimination because increasingly intense as the film goes on. The 12-minute experience is a journey for the viewer, who learns about the social reality of racial inequality.
In recognition of the need for diversity, KaleidoscopeVR also just announced the Black Realities Grant. The grant will be awarded monthly to media projects that explore the varied conditions, experiences, feelings and range of humanity of the global Black community. This is the beginning of many actionable initiatives that are needed to promote diverse voices in the development of technology and the stories that remain untold.
The Role and Responsibility of Technology: Inclusive Design
Without constant exposure to the issue of racial inequality and initiatives to build more diverse teams, the convergence of art and technology that we see as a commentary of the times will continue to be a primarily one-sided story. Technology, especially Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, can take audiences into the lives of others to understand one another and the discrimination that exists in our society.
The accelerating rate of innovation in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality means that urgent action must be taken to ensure that the boom in startups, content creation, training and education through immersive technology reflects the diversity of the world we live in. Our team believes in the power of diversity to build a better technology, and a better world for us all. We will continue to embody our commitment by building a diverse team and developing our technology as inclusive-by-design.