With so many people talking about virtual reality, it’s not surprising to find Bill Gates using VR. On his blog, GatesNotes, Gates has published an article “South Africa: Virtually There” and posted a VR 360 video on his experience in the country. As Gates confesses, it was not until his first trip to Africa. Traveling with Melinda Gates in 1993 that he became aware of the depth of human poverty and decided to act on it. That first hand experience lead to the founding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And the result was a series of global initiatives to address health, economic and educational challenges.
Bill Gates using VR
On his most recent trip to South Africa, Gates tried an experiment:
During my trip to South Africa in July, I tried something new that I hope will allow people to experience what I have. I had highlights of my visit recorded in virtual reality. It’s still an emerging technology but what excites me about it is that it allows viewers to immerse themselves in another world. You can look up and down. Turn right or left. Listen to sounds all around you. I used to think there was no substitute to being there and seeing things for yourself. But virtual reality is a close second. It fulfills my dream of allowing people to see what I’m seeing and, perhaps, feel what I’m feeling, too.
In the video, you’ll hear a woman talk about living with HIV, follow Gates as he travels from the plush surroundings of Johannesburg to the impoverished township of Soweto, and experience a gumboot dancing troupe. You can watch the short video through your browser, though the best experience will be through Google Cardboard or your Smartphone:
As Gates notes,
Pulling on a pair of virtual reality goggles can, I admit, feel like you’re blocking out the world. But I hope you’ll find that they’re an amazing tool to draw you closer to other people. Instead of separating yourself from the world, I think you’ll discover you’ve deepened your connection to it.
While not having the storytelling power of a VR piece like Clouds over Sidra, it’s still fascinating to see Bill Gates using VR. Even in its most basic documentary format, 360 video brings you into the lives and experiences of people.
Gates already revealed his enthusiasm for VR earlier this year at the SU GSV Summit. He spoke of the sense of engagement virtual reality can bring for the Foundation’s work in mobilizing support for its initiatives.
Not surprisingly, Gates is planning a number of additional VR 360 videos. Keep an eye on how the Foundation makes use of an emerging media.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.