Being the CEO of BadVR, the world’s first immersive data analytics platform, I am often asked — ‘why VR? Or AR?’ As in: what value does immersive technology offer when used to present data?
Fair question. For me, having worked in the data analytics / data visualization space for many years, the answers are immediately apparent. But for those less familiar with data visualization or less familiar with immersive tech, it’s worth a moment to dive into the many reasons why virtual and augmented reality provide a much better way to view and analyze modern datasets.
Below is a list of five of the most important benefits of viewing and analyzing your data in virtual or augmented reality.
1. Greater Scale
Here are some stats to consider:
· Over 20% of all companies worldwide store more than 1PB (CIO.com, 2015)
· The amount of information stored globally doubles every two years (EMC.com, 2014)
As modern datasets trend towards ever greater scale & complexity, it becomes more and more difficult over time to visualize such multivariate datasets in a way the accurately communicates all their real depth and complexity. Human analysis on 2D screens requires multiple different summary charts, graphs, and reports which must be manually cobbled together by humans to inform decision-making.
Obviously, this method has its downsides. Complex interrelationships are near impossible to find, and due to sheer scale, a large amount of the dataset remains unexamined. Given that it could take decades to properly inspect a large multivariate dataset using 2D, these compromises are entirely understandable. A single person is currently unable to perceive an average, full modern dataset without layers of summarization that potentially omit important details. 2D dashboards and charts only give you one abstract slice of a much more complex underlying dataset. It’s incredibly difficult to find meaningful insights when you can never fully view your source data.
The solution then clearly lies in finding a way to view large, multi-dimensional datasets in situ. If you remove the compromises of scale required by 2D screens, a whole slew of new ways to visualize data become possible. Using immersive tech, users can view their dataset holistically, to see and analyze it in real-time.
VR / AR offers the ability to see everything all at once, removing the need for summary reports or charts. Abstracting large datasets down isn’t necessary when you have depth, position in space, position to other data points, texture, animation, and many more ways to communicate multiple data attributes, and a limitless environment in which to do so.
2. Increased Immersion = Increased Focus
VR as a tool is also better than 3D on a flat screen because it offers ‘immersion’ — i.e. the ability to utilize the position in space relative to the user and relative to other data points. 3D visualizations on flat screens will always remain in the same place relative to the user, but VR envelops the analyst in a new environment and allows for the placement of data behind, beside, above, and below. All of these different positions can be used to communicate data attributes. Immersion also focuses the analyst’s attention and makes total use of their natural instinct to think, analyze, and ingest data in multiple dimensions.
A simple thought experiment best communicates this concept: visualize the data of LinkedIn in your mind. The individual LinkedIn accounts, their relationship to each other, the private messages going back and forth between them. If you’re like 99% of humanity, the mental image you’ve developed is multi-dimensional. We do not think, brainstorm, or visualize internally in 2D. Humans were born into and are best adapted to a multi-dimensional world. The reason we struggle when analyzing multi-dimensional datasets currently is not because our brains are incapable of doing so. It’s because the presentation format — flat, 2D screens — are fundamentally at odds with the way our brains are cognitively constructed. We struggle to understand and remember 2D data visualizations because our brains are not wired to form or store memories or develop understanding in 2D.
3. Discover More, In Less Time
When we use VR to visualize multi-dimensional data, we can break down this 2D barrier. Data can be immersive, and now — with modern technology — we can present it in an immersive, multi-dimensional format. This allows for a greater density of information to be displayed, and allows for much faster cognitive processing of that information. What would have taken 3 weeks to process on 2D screens can be instantly understood in VR. Hidden patterns and correlations — previously impossible to find by viewing single slices of data on 2D screens — become immediately apparent, even to non-technical users. Recall — the ability to process and create memories of the data — is increased dramatically as well. Human brains are equipped with one of nature’s best pattern recognition systems. VR lets users tap into the millions of years of evolutionary power packed into their brains and visual processing systems and leverage it to dramatically decrease the time and effort required to see and gain meaningful insight from multi-variate datasets.
VR removes the bottleneck when it comes to viewing and understanding multi-dimensional data. The issue isn’t the user or the data — it’s the 2D presentation format. Adding another dimension on a flat screen fails to address the true issue — human brains perform best in multi-dimensional, fully immersive spaces. It’s not just about adding the Z-axis or animation — it’s about presenting the data immersive in VR so the user’s brain can do what it does best — synthesize, understand, and act upon the meaning within the data.
4. Human-Centered, Democratized Data
This need to handle the many attributes in ever growing modern datasets has led to a number of solutions — machine learning, statistical algorithms, or AI. These answers allow companies to include a much wider swath of data in their analysis, but remove human experience, wisdom, and judgement from the equation. This often leads to confusing, obviously wrong, or completely irrelevant insights. Machine learning & AI are very powerful tools, but they still need human involvement to produce usable outputs.
Using AR & VR to view and analyze data — including the monitoring of machine learning models and neural networks — allows humans to have a level of involvement with their datasets and data models that is currently impossible with the limitations of traditional 2D dashboards. Immersive tech allows humans to become fully immersed within their datasets, allowing them to view machine learning models in action to ensure that the decisions these models are making are ethical, fair, and reasonable. This ability to work holistically with data ensures that none of the important attributes of what make us human — empathy, ethics, and compassion — are lost or sacrificed during the process of utilizing data.
Lastly, with immersive tech, data is no longer locked exclusively to teams of data scientists or data analysts. Using VR / AR, data can be displayed in ways that everyone understands. Whether you’re working in legal, HR, engineering, or sales, entire datasets and models are accessible to you, with minimal training. No special coding languages need to be learned, no seminars or week-long training sessions need to be completed. All a user needs is a headset. This democratization of insight allows everyone on a team or within a company to contribute their unique knowledge bases and perspective to the process of analyzing data, ensuring that no one’s voice is left out and that no viewpoint is left unexamined.
5. Spark Engagement & Joy
When was the last time you thought of ‘data’ and spontaneously associated it with any positive emotion? For too many people, big data has become a big burden. It’s a necessary evil, an edict from above, to be ‘data driven.’ We all know that data holds value, that it provides insight, that it holds the key to a competitive edge. But how many of us are actually able to unlock all of that potential without serious frustration or serious difficulty? Whether it’s waiting weeks for an over-worked data science team to come back with confusing and difficult to understand results, or whether your frustration stems from having to learn to set up dashboards using complex and poorly designed software, the negative emotions surrounding data are a real thing indeed.
However, with AR / VR — analyzing data becomes as simple as putting on a headset. As joyous as exploring a brand-new world. Immersion adds a spark of joy and wonderment to the currently painful — yet crucial task — of finding actionable insight within datasets. Discovering meaningful patterns, causations, and correlations ceases to be repetitive and arduous labor. Within immersive spaces, these actions are gamified, and they spark engagement, not frustration.
And of course, happier users mean more users, and more users means more insights, better, more informed decisions, and overall, better business!
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As you can see, the question isn’t really — ‘why use VR to analyze data?’ The benefits are obvious, and they are many.
Your data is only as valuable as the operational insights your team is able to extract from it. Speed up that process and dramatically increase the value of your insights, as well as the number of team members willing and able to find them. The real question is — why isn’t your business already using immersive technology to access and communicate your data?
BadVR is here to help! Immersive data is coming and we’re here to give you great head-start!
Reach out and schedule a demo today.