Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters // Project News // Oct 28, 2019.

VR Documentary Encounters at FUTURES 2019: Insights from the general public on the ethics of virtual reality

On a rainy night In late September, members of the documentary encounters project team held a stand at FUTURES 2019 at Bristol’s 'We the Curious'. For the uninitiated, FUTURES is a free Europe-wide event dedicated to engaging the general public with cutting edge research through fun and interactive learning. This year, more than 300 cities across 30 European countries took part and - despite the horrendous weather - our event alone brought in well over 500 visitors.

© Bhagesh Sachania Photography

For our stand, the team presented some of our work spanning two complimentary projects (both funded by EPSRC): the IAA "Future Ethics in Quantum and VR", conducted in collaboration with local theatre company Kilter, and the ongoing work we are undertaking on the "Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters" project.

To probe how the public is thinking about the ethics of virtual reality, we provided several carefully chosen VR experiences for them to try out, including a journalistic piece, a historical re-enactment and a VR experience designed for children.

We asked the public to tell us their thoughts. They didn’t hold back. Many of our stand visitors were first time users of VR, so this was a brilliant opportunity to chat with them and record their thoughts about possible future applications and the ethical concerns this might raise. These responses were broad, nuanced and utterly invaluable. We thank everyone who visited us for sparing their time to talk to us.

All in all, it was an excellent opportunity for knowledge exchange on aspects of VR ethics with members of the public. We will be following up on what we have learned at a dedicated ethics workshop in November with a broad range of industry and academic stakeholders.