Please give us an overview of your background, what inspired you to get into immersive tech, and your journey into the VR industry.
My name is Eugy Han, and I am currently a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Communication at Stanford University. I have the privilege of working at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab under the guidance of Professor Jeremy Bailenson. Prior to this, I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Cognitive Science at Brown University, where I had the opportunity to work at the Virtual Environment Navigation Lab with Professor William Warren.
My journey into the VR industry has been influenced by my unique background as a Third Culture Kid. Growing up, my parents, who are Korean, moved to various countries, and I had the opportunity to experience different cultures and languages. This upbringing instilled in me a sense of curiosity and adaptability, allowing me to embrace diverse perspectives and experiences.
As a child, I developed a deep love for science fiction literature, which sparked my imagination and opened my mind to the possibilities of virtual reality. Reading about futuristic worlds and advanced technologies inspired me to explore the intersection of technology and human experiences. Despite not having early access to advanced technology, my curiosity and passion for understanding the mind and the brain drove me to learn more about the potential of immersive technologies.
During my teenage years, I began writing my own short stories, creating virtual worlds and characters within my imagination. These creative endeavors further nurtured my passion for storytelling and fueled my interest in exploring immersive technologies as a medium for narrative expression.
When I entered my undergraduate studies at Brown University, I took advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities available to me. I enrolled in courses that ranged from computer science to art, literature to psychology. This diverse academic exposure allowed me to understand virtual reality from multiple perspectives and broaden my understanding of its potential applications.
While at Brown University, I had the invaluable opportunity to work at the Virtual Environment Navigation Lab with Professor William Warren. This experience exposed me to various VR headsets and research methodologies used to study human behavior and cognition within virtual environments. Working alongside Professor Warren, I witnessed the transformative power of virtual reality and its potential to shape our understanding of human perception and interaction.
Motivated by my experiences and fueled by a desire to further explore the possibilities of immersive technologies, I made the decision to pursue a Ph.D. in Communication at Stanford University. Joining Professor Jeremy Bailenson’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab was a dream come true for me. It allowed me to delve deeper into the study of VR, its impact on individuals and society, and its potential for shaping virtual cultures and social norms.
As I continue my journey in the VR industry, I carry with me the perspective of a Third Culture Kid. My upbringing has instilled in me a strong sense of empathy, adaptability, and a desire to bridge cultural gaps through technology. I am excited to contribute to the ongoing evolution of the VR industry and explore how immersive technologies can create meaningful experiences and positive change, both in developed and developing regions of the world.
What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while on any project?
One of the significant challenges I encountered during my projects was the intricate balance between passion and burnout. It is crucial to recognize that even projects we love can become overwhelming due to logistical demands and the need for extensive hours and attention. There is no guarantee that our initial passion will remain constant throughout the project’s duration. Acknowledging that hard work is indeed challenging and feeling tired does not mean losing our enthusiasm or dedication is essential for maintaining our mental health. Therefore, I consider the most significant challenges I faced to be primarily cognitive.
One particular project I recently worked on involved sending 100 and then 200 Meta Quest 2 headsets to students in our lab. The objective was to study group interactions within virtual reality (VR) and observe how those dynamics changed over an extended period. The project presented numerous logistical challenges as we had to manage around 300 individuals over two years, including training, troubleshooting, and gathering feedback on their experiences with the VR headsets. Additionally, the ever-changing landscape of VR technology posed challenges in terms of coordinating with developers and teams that may no longer exist in the future. VR research requires extensive coordination and organization due to its dynamic nature. While exciting, it also demands a significant amount of work, necessitating the involvement of a team rather than an individual effort.
Regarding the specific project mentioned, we have made significant progress. The findings from this endeavor have been published in a top journal within my field, and the research comprises two studies—one focusing on avatar appearance and the other on virtual environments. We have gathered a substantial amount of data, which has been divided among different colleagues in the lab. Each colleague is responsible for analyzing a specific aspect of the data, such as motion data, language data, creative expression, or the design process within VR. Our ultimate goal is to publish impactful papers that reach both researchers and individuals interested in the field, fostering communication among users, developers, and industries. Additionally, being located in proximity to various industries, our lab aims to provide research that can inform their development processes and influence policy decisions.
While my current focus has shifted away from locomotion research, as I primarily conducted that work during my undergraduate studies, I am gradually re-engaging with motion data. My previous research on crowd movement and following crowds delved into low-level aspects like turning angles and distances. Although I have diverse interests and ideas at the moment, I anticipate returning to locomotion research in the future. Overall, my projects encompass a range of intriguing areas, and I’m constantly exploring new avenues of research and innovation.
Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
Currently, I am engaged in a project focused on exploring creativity in virtual reality (VR). The project delves into the ways people express their creativity within VR environments and aims to understand and measure creativity in 3D virtual spaces. I am particularly interested in investigating whether different individuals demonstrate unique modes of creative expression in VR.
The motivation behind this project stems from the widespread notion that VR offers immense potential for creation and creativity. However, despite this common belief, we lack a comprehensive understanding of what creativity in VR truly entails. Thus, my research seeks to fill this gap and contribute to the growing body of knowledge in this area.
The project has already been presented at ICA (the International Communication Association), and it poses several thought-provoking questions. How do people express creativity in VR? How can we grasp the essence of creativity within virtual environments? Is it possible to quantify creative outputs in VR? By examining various 3D creations produced by individuals in VR, I aim to shed light on these inquiries and unravel the multifaceted nature of creativity in this context.
While I have been working on multiple projects simultaneously, this particular project has occupied a significant portion of my time for several months. As I am pursuing a five to six-year program for my Ph.D., I am currently entering the later stages of my studies. Upon completion of my Ph.D., I hope to remain in academia and establish my laboratory or work as a professor, allowing me to further explore and contribute to the field of VR and creativity.
What’s your vision for the future of VR?
In my opinion, the future of VR lies in the convergence of suitable technology and compelling content. I anticipate VR being utilized for specific purposes rather than encompassing every aspect of life. Some potential applications could include meaningful social connections, unique information visualization, and training individuals in various hard and soft skills. While I hesitate to provide specific examples, I believe VR could greatly enhance socializing, team meetings, and other scenarios that benefit from immersive experiences. It’s essential to recognize that VR is not a solution for everything, but it does offer a multitude of promising use cases.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?
In the VR industry, certain aspects could benefit from change and consideration for long-term impact. One important factor is the need for more mindfulness and reflection on the potential positive and negative effects of VR products on individuals and society as a whole. Currently, there is a significant focus on development and technological capabilities, often overlooking the broader implications.
When building VR products, it is crucial to step back and analyze how they will influence people in the long run and on a large scale. This entails considering the ethical and societal dimensions of VR experiences and interactions. Unfortunately, this aspect tends to be overshadowed when the primary focus is on engineering capabilities and increasing user engagement.
In any industry, including VR, it is essential to engage in conversations about what is ethically sound and morally good. These discussions should guide decision-making and drive efforts to create products that align with positive values. This perspective applies not only to the VR industry but also to any domain where the impact of technology on people’s lives is significant.
In summary, the VR industry should prioritize long-term implications, foster ethical considerations, and ensure that the development and utilization of VR technology align with positive values. This approach will lead to a more responsible and beneficial advancement of the industry as a whole.
What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?
Privacy and ethics are crucial considerations in today’s technological landscape. While there are ongoing efforts from both the industry and research communities, there is always room for improvement and further exploration of these topics.
Currently, privacy and ethics may not receive as much attention as they deserve, but it is essential to raise awareness and prioritize these issues in various spaces. It’s encouraging to see initiatives like Apple’s New Vision Pro taking steps to enhance security and protect sensitive data, such as iris data, from third-party access. This kind of focus on privacy is commendable.
In addition to industry efforts, there is ongoing research aimed at improving identifiability and strengthening privacy and security measures for data. Researchers are working on developing innovative approaches to address these concerns. It’s promising to witness both industry and academia acknowledging the importance of privacy and ethics and actively taking steps to address them.
Overall, there seems to be a reasonable balance between awareness, research, and industry efforts in the realm of privacy and ethics. However, continuous improvement and exploration are necessary to keep pace with the evolving technology landscape and ensure that privacy and ethical considerations remain at the forefront of technological advancements.
What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
My most important mentors have been Bill Warren, who was my undergraduate advisor, and Jeremy Bailenson, my current advisor during my graduate studies. They have played a crucial role in my academic journey and have been incredibly supportive and kind
Bill Warren is the Director of the Virtual Environment Navigation Lab (VENLab) at our institution. He provided guidance and mentorship during my undergraduate years, helping me navigate through the early stages of my education and research interests.
Jeremy Bailenson, my current advisor, has been instrumental in shaping my graduate studies and research focus. His expertise and guidance have been invaluable in expanding my knowledge and understanding of the field.
In addition to Bill and Jeremy, there have been other professors who have had a transformative impact on me during my undergraduate years. One notable mentor is Ali Momeni, who taught an exceptional VR class. He took us on a field trip to The New York Times, where we had the opportunity to meet the people involved in creating VR Daily Shorts at that time. It was an eye-opening experience that further fueled my passion for virtual reality.
I had the privilege of meeting these mentors in the academic setting. As professors within my institution, they provided guidance, mentorship, and opportunities for growth within the field of virtual reality.
Overall, the support, knowledge, and mentorship I received from Bill, Jeremy, and other professors have been invaluable in making my academic journey smoother and more comfortable. Their guidance and belief in my potential have played a significant role in my development as a researcher in the field of virtual reality.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
The book The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is inspiring as a whole. A quote I really like from this book is, “If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.” It’s a children’s book that makes more sense as an adult looking back. I think especially in this field you need to stay in touch with yourself and your prior selves (e.g., your child self), and one of the best ways to do that is by revisiting the stories that inspired you. This book was one of the most transformative for me in my childhood and now my adult self.
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