AdWeek, the advertising industry's main publication, has a cover story on virtual reality as a new marketing platform, and my first thought when glancing at it was, "Welp, here we go again." I groaned further after I read the first two paragraph:
Nancy Bennett is a virtual-reality marketing veteran. (Yes, such people actually exist and are about to become hot commodities among talent recruiters.) In the mid-2000s, Bennett had her avatar boots on the Internet-code-built ground of Second Life, constructing cyber experiences for her employer at the time, MTV Networks. Of course, Second Life never really took off. So with her been there, done that perspective several years later as chief content officer at Two Bit Circus, she does not deal in hyperbole when it comes to the impact the much-hyped virtual reality headset Oculus Rift will have on marketing. Rather, Bennett leans on data. One-third of her agency's new business in 2014 was powered by the Oculus Rift developer's kit, helping grow her 2-year-old Los Angeles digital shop from 15 to 35 employees.
At least two things wrong here:
- Second Life "never really took off", in great part, because major marketing campaigns that companies created for Second Life met with extremely low levels of engagement. As a result, the entire platform was largely written off by most people in tech, not to mention all the major organizations who wasted their money on that outreach. This failure was largely not the fault of Second Life, as I explained at length at the time, but when esteemed companies conspicuously blow tens of millions of dollars on a platform, people tend to stop listening.
- Before the SL hype wave ended, Second Life-oriented marketing companies also grew at a rapid pace -- particularly the Metavese Big Three, The Electric Sheep Company, Millions of Us, and the UK studio Rivers Run Red. (As I recall, Millions of US, founded by a colleague and fellow ex-Linden, grew from just him to a staff of dozens in under a year.) But sad to say, that growth soon retracted when advertisers saw poor returns on their SL investment.
What's wrong with virtual reality as a marketing platform? I could go through the AdWeek article line by line to explain how misguided it (mostly) is, but let's just skip right to the TL;DR version:
"When Women Stopped Coding" is an NPR report I hope everyone reading this blog gives a listen to (it's about 15 minutes), because while it's not what we usually write about at New World Notes, it speaks directly to the lack of women in virtual reality, and the poor representation of women in gaming/online worlds, which we write about quite a lot. The report revolves around this chart:
Based on growth rates in the 70 and 80s, women were on track to graduate with as many computer science degrees as men by around the year 2000. (And even before that, as the report notes, some of the very first programming companies were founded and led by women.) But then in 1984, growth suddenly started falling -- fast. Why? Short answer: Marketing, and then social expectations influenced by that marketing.
This question came up during a recent Oculus Rift conference:
What you're looking above, supposedly, is this:
Euclideon SOLIDSCAN takes an ordinary laser scan and enriches its resolution by around 200 to 1000 times, The data compresses down, and runs in Euclideon's Unlimited Detail engine, using Unlimited detail's streaming system - loading scenes in less than a second.
Well that might be, but longtime readers may recall Euclideon is the same company which did this 2011 demo video, provoking extreme skepticism (to put it nicely) from Minecraft creator Markus Persson and 3D graphics pioneer John Carmack, who told me:
How to tell when a robot has written you a letter is a new Medium post by my pal Clive Thompson, who calls real handwriting "the next Turing test". Here's why:
I first heard of these human-machine handwriting differences in a conversation last week with Brian Curliss and Daniel Jurek, the cofounders of the startup Maillift. If you need to send out 200 personalized letters to sales leads but haven’t got the time to handwrite them yourself — or if your handwriting is, like mine, grotesque — then Maillift will generate them for you, using teams of genuinely carbon-based people. (What sort of person enjoys handwriting letters for others? “Teachers,” Curliss replies. Apparently teachers have spectacular handwriting, take enormous pride in the craft, and want to make some extra coin in their evenings and weekends.)
Notably, this dovetails with a recent major movie about artificial intelligence:
As you might have read over the weekend, the 65 year old Turing Test was just passed for the very first time -- but not as often reported, via a "supercomputer", but a chatbot avatar personality named "Eugene Goostman" -- more on him in this video from last year. I think it's fair to call Eugene an avatar since he's designed with a very specific personality (a smartass teen boy). You should typically be able to chat with Eugene at this link, but the site seems to be down due to traffic. I wonder if his chatbot technology can be introduced into virtual worlds. Blue Mars featured a chatbot which scored high on the Turing Test. Then there's chatbots like "Social Autopoiesis" in SL , which I once had a charming, foul-mouthed conversation with:
Philip Rosedale & High Fidelity Working with Neuroscientist & 3D Brain Map to Improve Avatar-to-Avatar Interactions
I mentioned how Philip Rosedale aims to achieve extremely low latency to improve avatar-to-avatar interactions in his new Oculus Rift-compatible High Fidelity virtual world; but it's not just a matter of shortening ping time -- he's also working with a neuroscientist and 3D brain scans to improve that experience too:
"Basically," Philip tells me, "you can see things like 'I feel a certain way toward you' in the scanner and we can look for that data and then test breaking it with various different transformations of person into avatar." Philip demonstrated this at South by Southwest last March with Dr. Adam Gazzaley of UCSF, but media coverage at the time didn't quite explain Philip's purpose, which is to improve the avatar-to-avatar sense of presence in High Fidelity:
"Adam and I have know each other for a while, and have been exploring ways to work together to use his expertise and lab to help us understand the experience of 'presence' between avatars/people." Here's how:
20 Day Stranger is an upcoming mobile app (you have sign-up for early access) which is kind of like a real life, smartphone version of the classic game Journey, in the sense that it briefly connects you with a random, anonymous stranger -- only here, instead of going on a virtual journey, you share aspects of your everyday life (as the video above suggests) with another person somewhere else in the world. In that sense, it also reminds me a bit of Second Life at its best -- because unlike outliers like SL and Journey, most of the Internet is now focused on connecting you only with the people you already know. The app was mentioned by renowned academic Ethan Zuckerman in an inspiring talk about his new book Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, which I Tweeted about during an LA appearance last Friday:
Here's Monday's "Now that you mention it, duh" reading: Ramez Naam, adviser for the Acceleration Studies Foundation and futurist with an impressive track record, lucidly argues that the "Singularity" is not something we should expect in our lifetime. One obvious reason: Why the hell do we even need a sentient AI in the first place? As he puts it:
Selling Sheep on Instagram & Getting Rich with Virtually Gifted Karaoke: Read About the Emerging Global Web
This is just about the best presentation on the Internet today that I've read in weeks -- so this weekend, I hope you read it too:
Even if you're pretty sure you understand what's going on in the Internet now, I bet you'll be surprised by a lot of the data -- a lot of which may make your head 'asplode. For instance: