Neal Stephenson, of course, is one of the many people I interviewed for my Wired article on this new generation of VR, but after many rigorous edits, his thoughts didn't make the final version. With the official consumer launch of the Rift this week, and Oculus' lead executives -- Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, John Carmack, and Michael Abrash -- all expressing their plans to actually create the Metaverse from Stephenson's classic novel Snow Crash, I wanted to share them now:
"What do you think about the fact that the leaders of Oculus Rift are explicitly trying to create the Metaverse with their technology?" I asked him.
"'Metaverse' has turned into a sort of golem," Stephenson told me, "capable of wandering the earth on its own, out of the purview of its creator. So I am always surprised to see where it turns up and what it's doing. Ten years ago that wasn't the case. Anyone who wanted to use it in front of a normal audience would have had to say 'Metaverse, an idea from the novel Snow Crash.' Twenty years ago, they'd have had to add, 'a novel by Neal Stephenson.' Now apparently 'Metaverse' can stand up on its own three feet and lumber about, at least in the setting of tech blogs. That is the kind of event that many writers hope will happen at least once in their career. It is gratifying."
Indeed, last March when Abrash announced he'd been appointed Chief Scientist at Oculus, the company's post was entitled "The Path to the Metaverse". I asked Neal about that too:
"I have known Michael since his days working on the XBOX and I can't think of anyone better qualified to be the chief scientist on a project like this. He has a rare combination of being wishful but never engaging in wishful thinking. I don't know the other participants, but the fact that they hired him suggests they understand the nature of the challenges that are facing them."
How does it feel to be the leading inspiration for this multi-billion dollar enterprise?
"I doubt that Michael and the others have busts and portraits of Neal around the place, so I don't think I'm the leading inspiration," Neal Stephenson told me. "The inspiration is a particular vision of how the virtual world might be organized, which had the good luck, 25 years ago, to be couched in a fun story about a swordfighter and a skater girl."
Frankly I think Stephenson's being modest here. Then again, he always has been about the Metaverse, telling me it's different from what virtual worlds actually became, and at one point, was very reluctant to even talk about it any more. But since we talked for the Wired article last year, Neal has pretty much become one of the people actively building the Metaverse.
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