Monday, March 31, 2014

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Oculus Rift's Chief Scientist Wants to Build Neal Stephenson's Metaverse (Whether or Not Neal Stephenson Thinks the Metaverse is the Future)

Neal Stephenson

Confirmed: Renowned game programmer Michael Abrash, Oculus' newly confirmed chief scientist (who joined just as Facebook bought the company), sees the VR technology as The Path to the Metaverse (as his announcement is entitled): "Sometime in 1993 or 1994, I read Snow Crash," he writes on the Oculus blog, "and for the first time thought something like the Metaverse might be possible in my lifetime." So here's the curious irony: I've had a chance to e-mail a bit with Neal Stephenson over the years, and he's always distanced himself from saying the Metaverse he first described in Snow Crash was a place he thought that we'd necessarily create or use in the future: "I am just a storyteller and have never claimed nor sought the mantle of 'guy who predicts the future'", as he put it to me a few years ago.

In fact, in other interviews, Stephenson describes the future of virtual reality as probably being more game-like, than how he described The Metaverse in his landmark novel:

[T]he virtual reality that we all talked about and that we all imagined 20 years ago didn’t happen in the way that we predicted. It happened instead in the form of video games. And so what we have now is Warcraft guilds, instead of people going to bars on the street in Snow Crash... It’s just inherently more interesting to enter into an art-directed alternate world, where you can go on adventures and get into fights and engage with the world that way, than it is to enter a world where all you can do is kind of stand around and chat.

And in another interview from 2011:

The way the Internet developed, in my mind, is completely different from the Metaverse in ‘Snow Crash,’ ” he said. “I can talk all day long about how wrong I got it. But there are a lot of people who feel as though that was an accurate prediction.”

His opinion may have changed in the couple years (especially as he's jumped into game development himself), something I'm asking about now. But it would be uniquely ironic if one of the world's largest Internet companies has dedicated itself to building a vision its original creator doesn't see as the future (if he ever did).

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Iggy

General Motors in 1939 said we'd have 100mph superhighways elevated above cities where (roll the heroic music from the Futurama display at the NYC World's Fair) "rights of way have been rerouted to displace slums and outmoded business areas." Gumdrop-shaped cars designed by Norman Bel Geddes would travel in specific lanes and gridlock would be kept in check by radio transponders in each vehicle.

Instead we Americans built 70mph highways that are now falling apart, bulldozed lots of city real-estate in the 50s-70s for urban expressways (also falling apart) and drive, like Mad Max until we get stuck in gridlock, to suburban places (soon to fall apart) that James Howard Kunstler calls a "cartoon landscape" even as we set the planetary climate-knob to "parbroil."

Technology has a long tail and it's an alligator tail that can slap us silly. The visionaries' ideas often get twisted into a Bizarro-World version of what they intended. But this time, by God and Hiro Protagonist, someone will build that Metaverse where, on the other side of the scuba-mask, we can all be warrior-heroes.

And I want Neal Stephenson's beard, whether or not he'll loan it to me.

Ezra

He's a huge add to the legitimacy of brilliance and vision for the company.

Also, him being hired from Valve in my mind completely takes off the table Valve ever creating a competing headset. Their cards seem to be fully with OculusVR and they're not troubled with the Facebook deal.

Arcadia Codesmith

Jules Verne didn't set out to predict the course of underwater exploration -- he just wanted to tell a compelling story based on the extension of a technology in its barest infancy at the time he wrote. If you told him there would be a submarine capable of traversing 20,000 leagues, he would have either scoffed in disbelief or wondered why it took so long.

Gene Roddenberry and the writers of Star Trek didn't invent the cell phone. They threw together a prop to meet the story need for a landing party to communicate with the orbiting Enterprise.

Here's the thing: science fiction informs the advancement of technology. The people who designed submarines and lunar landers read Jules Verne. The people who created cell phones watched Star Trek. And the people who will build the virtual future have read Stephenson and Gibson. Science fiction writers are spotty about predicting the future, but on multiple occasions they've have a hand in engineering it... whether they intended to or not.

If Neal wants things to go in a different direction, he'd better keep writing, and it'd best be a more compelling blueprint than the one he's already crafted.

Iggy

Arcadia, William Shatner invented everything seen in Star Trek. Including Styrofoam rocks.

Just thinking, in response to your post, seriously, how our smart phones are primitive tricorders. Not as cool-seeming as our communicator-style flip-phones, but oh so much more capable.

RULosingHair

HootSuite Announces Oculus Rift Integration http://blog.hootsuite.com/hootsuite-facebook-oculus-rift-integration/

Is this an April Fool's Joke?

Pussycat Catnap

General Motors in 1939 said we'd have 100mph superhighways elevated above cities where (roll the heroic music from the Futurama display at the NYC World's Fair) "rights of way have been rerouted to displace slums and outmoded business areas."
*************************
- This actually happened.

"Slums" meant black and hispanic neighborhoods, and "outmoded business area" were the commercial hubs those groups worked and shopped in.

Freeways were built right through them. Eminent domain was used to remove blacks and hispanics from homes they OWNED and put them into "Project housing" so as to civilize them... because before they would "play in the streets like savages, letting their kids run around while adults stood outside and talked"

No more savages in the streets...

Put them in tall high rises where they will learn to be productive citizens, good workers, and out of sight.

Use the freeways to cut those people away from job centers and places for whites. You'll notice if you're in West Oakland that it can be very difficult to get on the freeway, or to get to the other side of it. And that is AFTER they have started putting on-ramps back in from the 80s onward.
- most of the access feeds into and out of the other side, where former black homes and black business were replaced with hotels, boat moorings, and corporate towers for white workers from Berkeley or San Francisco (who themselves in time got displaced by a mix of every race EXCEPT for the local black and now gone hispanic populations).

- Which went over like a ton of bricks and gave us "the inner city" and gangs, broken families, and multiple generations that had no access to jobs or even supermarkets (for most of my life there has been no place in all of the community I grew up in to buy food, other than a liquor store).

The racists who destroyed our cities are long gone, but the damage they did many generations ago still lingers and divides.

Iggy

@Pussycat, I was not trying to push your button. My own Middle-Eastern grandparents lost their home of many years and were paid a pittance by our city, when the fabled "Downtown Expressway" went through.

The question here is this: Internet 1.0 and 2.0 have not lifted all boats, though it would be hard to imagine life now without them. So what about Internet 3.0? How can we make the next generation of tools benefit everyone, not just those wealthy enough to have full access to good hardware, software, and network infrastructure?

Pussycat Catnap

Oh I know you weren't.

But its also an example of future predicting can give you what you predicted - with consequences/changes that might be added by those who carry out the task. The actual freeway thing that tore apart inner cities in the USA happened in the 1950s and 1960s, not 1939 when people would have 'expected' racially motivated policies.

I just wanted to note that this example did happen - but in a dystopian rather than utopian way.

The people who bring about an idea of a Snowcrash VR, will do so regardless of Snow Crash's author, and might very well end up with a radically different vision of it.

(My original intent today was to post the Star Trek cellphone example, but someone else beat me to that one.)

Pussycat Catnap

Oh another example is the Verne submarine.
- Though the submarine was actually invented by the Confederacy in the US Civil War (I think, unless there's an example before that. And Da Vinci probably had a drawing of an idea for one, whereas China probably claims to have invested it before dinosaurs existed, as they do with a lot of other things).

But, we have a cautionary tale of a weapon, that its maker is using to try and end wars... and it becomes the next century's real world super weapon.
- Your warning can be seen by somebody else as an advertisement or how-to guide.

(Side note: Machiavelli's "The Prince" was written as a caution against abuse of power by absolute authority - but his details on how were so good, its more or less a training manual.)

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