Search form

Killer Storytellers, Rose-Colored Glasses, and The End of VR (Again)

Fragmented thoughts for fragmented times.

With the recent birth of our second daughter, all semblance of work / life balance and coherent thought has been blown to hell. Acquiescing to this reality - and in the absence of a focused blog post - I instead submit for your consideration three nuggets, which caught my bleary eye during the past month...

KILLER STORYTELLERS

The Walt Disney Company recently unveiled a line of future robot assassins. Unwittingly perhaps, but practically speaking nonetheless. The evolution of Disney Imagineering's Audio-Animatronics® figures and advanced robotics development has led to the "Stuntronics" line of A.I.-enhanced, acrobatic androids "capable of accomplishing extreme aerial maneuvers with precision."

As Disney's press release breathlessly notes: "In their mission to create a realistic robotic figure capable of performing complex, acrobatic stunts, Imagineers designed a 90-pound Stuntronics figure to use sophisticated onboard sensors to make its own real-time decisions—all while flying 60 feet in the air. It knows when to tuck its knees to perform a somersault, when to pull its arms to twist, and even when to slow down its spin to make sure it sticks that perfect landing."

Right through your heart.

As in HBO's Westworld, if you think the endgame of the technology is immersive storytelling, you're in for a rude surprise. But don't blame Disney's Imagineers - they're simply splitting the atom, not building the bomb.

ROSE COLORED GLASSES

At VR World 2018 in London, "industry leaders" in immersive technology offered yet another round of rosy prognostications about our VR future, including the usual pablum such as "the end of offices," "the end of suffering and isolation," and "a smarter planet." The capper is "world peace," brought to you by VR via increased transparency (huh?) and shared perspectives (hmm...).           

Contrarian that I am, three things come to mind...           

  1. The Internet was likewise heralded as a balm for all that ails us - only to chain us to our work, bury us in bullshit, alienate people from each other, manipulate the masses, and undermine the democratic process.
  2. “Transparency" is not a recipe for world peace: it simply gives others a clear view on what they HATE about you (an uncloseted homosexual) or what they WANT from you (your wallet on the dashboard of your car).
  3. Ambition will always hound us. Diverse ideologies will always challenge us. Fear, hatred, ignorance, bigotry, exploitation and aggression are intrinsic aspects of human nature.

While it is indeed true that "appropriately leveraged, there is no reason why technology can’t solve global disputes and improve global relations resulting in a lasting world peace," the tide of human history unfortunately points to the opposite. VR will augment the best and the worst in us, just like every other technology.

The end result: "YOU, only better (and worse)."

THE END OF VR (AGAIN)

But maybe this is all a moot point, given that VR appears to be doomed (again), according to the declining sales rank trends for VR headsets from Sony, Samsung, Oculus, and HTC across multiple product categories.

The HTC Vive is woefully notable. Its 2016 release was taken as a sign that high-end VR for personal computers had arrived. The $800 VR system sparked the entertainment world, but development for the platform has slowed along with sales. HTC recently announced significant layoffs, while continuing to plug vanity metrics.

https://www.engadget.com/2018/07/06/htc-june-sales-freefall/

In my (admittedly biased) opinion, there are three things that need to happen if VR's "Third Wave" (following the medium's inception in the 1960's, and first attempt at mass market traction in the 1990's) isn't to be just another historical iteration...

  1. VR hardware manufacturers need to get their heads out of their asses regarding the economics and ergonomics of their products.
  2. VR developers and creators need to stop navel-gazing over their content and take a serious look at mass-market appeal.
  3. VR investors need to end their obsession with widgets and provide serious support for compelling IP. An empty pipe is worthless.           

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the day my 78-year-old mother dons a VR headset in order to do or experience something meaningful to her is the day that VR will have truly arrived.

Kevin Geiger's picture

Kevin is the author of AWN's Reality Bites blog, his musings on the art, technology and business of immersive media (AR, VR, MR) and AI. You can find Kevin's website at www.kevingeiger.com and he can be reached at holler@kevingeiger.com.

randomness