This meeting will start at 12:15, Sally the investment manager said to her new assistant. They were sitting in spartan cockpit-like chairs in a small, dark room. Pull the helmet down from the chair back and just be a fly on the wall.

He did, seeing a empty, colorless space gradually filling with outlines that, in turn, became rich browns and greens of a walnut-paneled conference room. Their gray-haired client, in his mid-50s, was sitting in an overstuffed chair across from them. Changed your decorator again, he snorted. How many basis points will this cost me?

It's free with the new program, Sally laughed soothingly. George, she said nodding to the client, this is my new back-up, Clifford.

He will help you if I'm out.

George acknowledged the introduction with a grunt, and started right in. Let's see our German bonds and equities portfolio first.

Like a well-trained dog recognizing key commands, a white spreadsheet appeared in mid-air as the program's voice-recognition system picked up on the words see, German, bonds, and, equities, portfolio. Everyone looked at it for moment and George and Sally, in turn, asked numerous plain-English questions about interest rates in the United States and Germany. This prompted the program to display a succeeding series of what if results in another spreadsheet that appeared, attached to the first. When the questions changed, so did the results. As they moved through the repertoire of countries, Cliff said nothing.

When they were finished, George grunted, Thanks, and walked out of the room. Sally clicked a button and Cliff suddenly saw the empty space they had started with. He took off his helmet.

Back in '95 when I first started in the business, we used to fly to L.A. four times a year, Sally explained. Now, we VR it. He's happy, so we're happy, and the impact of a warm fuzzy face-to-face is great.

You call that meeting warm? Cliff asked incredulously.

He saw you listening to him very carefully. He saw you get it all, so trust me, he likes you, she said reassuringly.

Unbelievable, said her assistant.

It used to be, but not now. It saves too much money and time, Sally explained. We've got an hour till our next one. Let's grab a sandwich.

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