The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association sat down with Wilson White, the Senior Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy at Google. White is also a member of XRA’s Future of XR Advisory Council (XRAC).
Below is an excerpt of the interview with White, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. Let’s first talk about your XR story. What sparked your interest in working on XR?
I have a very varied background. I grew up as a computer engineer. I also was a patent lawyer for some time in my career and then most recently, a government affairs and public policy professional at Google. That kind of multidisciplinary background has kind of been the backdrop for my journey into XR.
As a young software developer, I’ve been developing in this kind of immersive space almost nearly 20 years ago during the early stages of its development.
I, in earnest, got into this space during my time at Google where I worked on some of the earlier iterations of the technology, which has evolved into something much more tangible and accessible to many more people.
2. Way back at the beginning of your career, was there something that sparked an interest in XR? Could you see the future of this technology?
I think it’s largely something that’s been a journey and developed over time. I’m a tech geek, so [as a software engineer], I liked coding these things where you have part reality and part virtual, like a 3D chess game or virtual chess game where people are interacting and leveraging the power of the internet. Even back in those days, that really sparked my interest in how we actually leverage technology and the power of the internet to enhance the experiences that we have as people.
3. Tell us a little bit more about your day-to-day job, and how it touches XR.
I currently run a global government affairs and public policy team at Google that supports several of our core business units, primarily in the mobile and hardware space.
A lot of the work that we’re doing around augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality is a big part of how my team supports the business. We largely look after government affairs and public policy issues, so we are helping government stakeholders, key opinion formers and those who influence public policy, understand the technology — where it’s been, where it is, where it’s likely headed — to help inform their policymaking.
We actually engage with our business, product and engineering stakeholders to help them understand how this technology actually plays out in society. We do this so that [our stakeholders] are building for the future in a responsible way, and we can hopefully achieve wide adoption of this technology since it can solve some really big challenges.
4. Can you tell us about a win or something in this area that you’re particularly proud of? What is an area that you’re developing that you think will be consequential to your career, and then to Google at large, or in the industry?
I was able to be at the forefront of some of the public policy issues in the space when Google was developing earlier iterations of some of the technologies that we’re seeing widely deployed today.
One of the things I’m most proud about is how I helped our leaders at Google understand not just ‘this is a cool technology’, but this technology can actually be used to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.
I remember us using bone conduction technology at some of the early iterations for folks who can’t hear or have trouble hearing, and we actually saw them benefit from this.
5. It sounds like you’ve made the connections out to the real world to help people.
Using AR, VR, mixed reality technologies and powering that with things like artificial intelligence and robotics, you’re really solving problems — it’s not just a cool product for Google. This is actually a technology that others beyond this company can use to really solve some big problems.
The industry is very much still in its early days — it’s still an acid. Thinking about the technology from a multidisciplinary and diverse set of perspectives weighs in on how the technology can be developed and deployed. These perspectives are really going to help, not just a wide-scale adoption of the technology, but with really meaningful applications of the technology.
6. What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you inspired? What’s the one thing you’re going to lead the charge on in XR?
I have three small kids at home and as I see them grow and develop, this is the world that they’re going to live in. What we’re calling XR today is going to be their “R”; it’s going to be their reality.
[The technology] is not going to have some of the delineations that we put on it today, and to me, that’s super exciting because at my core I’m a problem solver, whether it’s an engineer, as a lawyer, or as a public policy person. What I do is solve problems.
My kids are going to encounter a world where some of the biggest challenges that we can imagine will be presented to them to solve. This technology is going to be one of the primary tools that they have to beat back some of these challenges.
7. If you could give a younger person advice about getting into XR, what would that be?
Technology is really a core part of our existence and our lives. If I was giving career advice, I would challenge that person to think really big. Think about the biggest problems that need to be solved and think outside the box.
Think about solutions that may seem difficult, or even impossible, and really go after that because if we really think about the underpinnings of XR, that’s what it is. These are things that were Sci-Fi concepts a few decades ago that now are super tangible and are being put into real-life applications.
If you’re thinking about a career in this space, think really, really big.
8. Do you have a mentor?
In my career, I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors and sponsors and people who have poured career advice into me.
Over the past decade, someone who has just been really great is a woman named Halimah DeLaine Prado. She’s currently the general counsel here at Google. Her approach to problem-solving is to not immediately go to the obvious answer, but to think about how we define this problem at scale.
It’s been inspiring to have a mentor who continuously pushes you to expand your thinking. I encourage everyone to seek out mentors like that; who can continue to inspire, motivate and push you to achieve higher heights.
9. At XRA we like to say the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
I like that phrase, ‘limitless future’ because the future really is limitless. If you think about a world in which we are either augmenting, creating a virtual existence or some combination of the two, we really are expanding the bounds of our very existence. And from that perspective the possibilities are endless.
This technology will play a big role in whatever our future is and whatever that direction takes us. But that’s only if we develop and deploy this technology in a responsible way. If we move too slow, we may miss opportunities to solve big challenges in healthcare, energy, or education. But if we move too fast and if we do it in a way that doesn’t account for varying perspectives or stakeholder opinions, we may break things and actually limit the wide-scale adoption of technology.
In bringing diverse perspectives to the table, we do have the opportunity to have a boundless path to what our future will look like.