The orgasmatron vs. the office avatar 11/11
What is the telos of the metaverse?
the vast majority of the consumer market had no knowledge of or interest in computers; rather, most people encountered computers for the first time at work. Employers bought their employees computers because computers made them more productive; then, once consumers were used to using computers at work, an ever increasing number of them wanted to buy a computer for their home as well.
Is that really the history? The Apple II, which was a consumer product, preceded the IBM PC by several years. And I remember the days when CEOs had their secretaries print out their emails, and “end-user computing” was a dirty word in corporate IT departments. But maybe when office workers finally convinced the clueless executives to provide personal computers, business capital spending powered the personal computing market, with home purchases trailing behind. It’s probably something you can look up.
Regardless, Thompson predicts that when it comes to the metaverse, business uses will come first.
I like to distinguish between virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality is a completely immersive “other world.” In his movie Sleeper, Woody Allen stepped into the Orgasmatron.
Augmented reality combines the real world with features that come from the Internet. For example, when you’re walking in a neighborhood, you should be able to point your phone at a house and see the Zillow estimate—why has nobody built that app yet?
The really compelling applications of augmented reality start with “tele-.” Teleconferencing, telework, telemedicine. I’m excited about teledancing—during the pandemic, some of us got a sort of preview of what that might do to connect dancers from around the world.
Although virtual reality and augmented reality use some of the same devices and software to trick your vision and other senses, I have read that augmented reality is harder to execute. With virtual reality, the designer controls the user’s environment. With augmented reality, the designer has to prepare for whatever real-world contingencies the user encounters.
It sounds to me as though Ben Thompson is bullish about augmented reality for business. But if augmented reality means having business meetings with “realistic-looking” avatars, I don’t see the point. I’d rather look at real person on a flat screen than have the 3D sensation of sitting next to an avatar.
Maybe Thompson is right. He usually is. But as of now, he and I seem to be in a different metaverse.
You say: "It sounds to me as though Ben Thompson is bullish about augmented reality for business."
This is a mistaken reading of Thompson. He used to believe AR would be bigger than VR. But he's changed his mind. In his post he explicitly says
"There have been two conventional pieces of wisdom about virtual reality that I used to agree with, but now I think both were off-base."
"The first one is that virtual reality’s first and most important market will be gaming. "
"The second assumption is that augmented reality would be a larger and more compelling market than virtual reality"
That is, he's saying VR for work meetings is obvious next step for remote work beyond zoom. And that now that he's tried it, he thinks VR for work meetings would get enough traction to drive the market. With VR for work coming ahead of AR for consumer use cases.
Augmented reality compared to virtual reality is even harder than a self-driving car is compared to a car-chase video game. Tesla FSD seems to be doing much better lately, although it still occasionally tries to drive through utility poles or vacillates whether a side road it needs to turn into exists or not. But a self-driving car only needs to recognize *an* object - *a* car, *a* road, *a* utility pole - rather than a specific persistent object to which AR labels can be attached. This is a hard problem. It's easier to "recognize" large fixed objects like houses, which can be matched to digitized maps with GPS, but what about smaller objects such as the contents of your house? How do AR labels stay on your books? What if GPS doesn't work? (I believe Tesla does grosstopical navigation by GPS and digitized map; it does not recognize road name signs, much less landmarks.)