Christopher Lafayette is an emergent technologist in med tech, virtual and augmented reality, AI, climate change and several additional applied sciences.
He is a Silicon Valley national and international speaker, thought leader and diversity and inclusion advocate. Christopher also advises corporations and startups about how to introduce more diverse culture into technology and he is creating holodecks and content for virtual training, education and communication simulations.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the audio visual world?
My Dad. When I’d come home at night he would be sitting at a desk with a little light on, taking apart and fixing computers. He taught me the first lessons that I can remember in technology. Further down the line I took notice of the incredible pairing between liberal arts and technology and I knew that was what I wanted to do for a career.
Which project are you proudest to have been a part of and why?
The projects I’m working on now, of which there are several. They are mainly dealing with spatial simulated environments and immersive medical technology. I’ve been studying hyper 3D constructs for years now. The fidelity factors for feel, sound and sight have never been higher. Spatial discernibility for human experienced resolution is here. We’re just putting the pieces together. Of all the human senses, sound is the most difficult to integrate and the most important for virtual and mixed reality. I realise there’s an argument that can be made for or against this way of thinking.
What would you single out as your big break in the industry?
It’s difficult to point to one specific event. When I moved to Silicon Valley I was living out of hackerspaces, hotels and from the seat of my car. At some point I began to be invited to speak at different venues on various technologies and diverse and inclusive narratives. A lot changed after that.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
I often craft from relatable empathy. My ideas can often be avant-garde in their possibilities. Music is a heavy influencer on my creative reach. People often consider music to be separate from technology, but music is technology. I believe art is often at its best when influenced by its own internal ecosystem of diverse art forms.
You recently launched the Black Technology Mentorship Program. What motivated you to launch the important initiative and why is it so vital?
It dawned on me some time ago that as far as we’ve come with technology and the depth of the arrival of adopted emergent technologies and how they influence entire countries, technology will never be as great as it can be until everyone has the opportunity to build it. Ecosystems aren’t a set of keyboards, software and hardware – ecosystems are people and people are culture. The more diverse eco culture you have in an ecosystem, the stronger that system becomes. Homogenisation depletes the promise of the best of what could be built.
If we’re going to extend reality, then we must bring reality with it. If we see the narrative discussion that’s happening all around the world regarding racial equality, it’s evident in business that things need to change.
For some time, I’ve wanted to create a programme that teaches technology to communities in places where I come from. To pair current technologists who have and are making incredible things and spend time with those who want to build. There are kids and adults that would be elated to peek over the shoulders of women and men here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere that make the technologies we use every day.
Some kids don’t want a football or a basketball to play with – they want a laptop, hot WiFi and a way to learn to code. I launched the programme and it took off. I had no idea this was going to happen. We have hundreds of mentors and allies who’ve answered the call. We have organisations, companies and most importantly mentees who have answered the call. Since we no longer find ourselves necessarily subject to location bias and have virtual technology to use for our main direct source of business and education communication, it simply makes it easier for everyone to speak, teach, advise and educate. I’m happy to see the progress of this programme.
What has the feedback been so far and what are the next steps for the programme?
Right now we’re heading into Autumn for our speaker and education series. We have our speakers lined up and have almost completed our educational selections. Our goals, KPIs and lessons are set. Our allies and internal teams are working very hard and it’s exciting to see.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage the younger generation to consider a career in the AV world and wider technology industry?
It’s pertinent to find ways to bridge professionals in the AV community with those who have a desire to do what they do, but have absolutely no idea how to get there. That’s a big part of what the Black Technology Mentorship Program does. We pair people from entirely different worlds, bring them together and start awesome dialogues. We need more bridge builders to bind the ties.
What steps do you think need to be taken to ensure the audio visual workforce is diverse?
Mainly it starts with a needed disposition of vulnerability. Greater educational accessibility for communities of all colours and genders is a great way forward. We have to adapt the mindset to hire the people who we want to buy our products. The more diverse your product teams become, the more identifiable your brand and product offerings ultimately become.
Can the pro-AV industry learn any lessons from Silicon Valley?
Yes. Fundamentally Silicon Valley has a heritage that adheres to strong design principles, process development and product refinement. I scoff at those cities who tell themselves they’re the “next Silicon Valley.” Firstly, they should embrace their own unique native culture, wherever they are. Secondly, Silicon Valley builds with history in tow. We’ve been doing this for over 80 years, we produce great technology because we’ve been failing for years. A lot of things you see available in the market that have been produced here in the Bay Area are ideas that were conceived long ago. These early ideas either failed in thought, prototype, lack of funding or arrived too early and adoption or monetisation couldn’t ensue. I recommend the pro-AV industry begins focusing more on telepresence, especially when it comes to virtual teleportation and augmented reality.
Which recent innovations have you been most impressed with and why?
The Oculus Quest headset. Virtual reality has finally developed sight although it’s still in the womb per se. It’s a good headset. There are others, but that’s the one I’m currently most impressed with. On a deeper level, there are quite a few AI methodologies I’ve taken notice of. But more importantly, I’m more impressed by the research and development than actual products. The Human Brain Project is fascinating, and ClimateCon is also a platform I have a lot of interest in when it comes to climate responsibility. On the audio side of things, I’m very curious to hear Apple’s latest offering of spatial sound with its AirPods Pro. I’m just not convinced that it’s cracked the code of true spatial audio resonance – not unless you have haptics built into the actual sound device itself, which it does not. At best I’m expecting a really good 1.0 offering with a great product delivery cycle by 2025 at the earliest for true spatial audio.
In what ways do you believe virtual, augmented and mixed reality have the power to enhance our world, and what role do you see them playing in the future?
The medical industry is the single most important vertical for extended reality – to better understand the physical body of which we know so little about, and to anatomically explore in ways we never have before will help us to better understand how these bodies function and more importantly, why? We have such little appreciation for what’s sitting right under our own noses. Additionally, to know more about the body is to know what devices are better suited for it. The promises of extended reality exceed the small vertical chasm of gaming and entertainment in comparison to the vastness of the health wellness community as a whole.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your career?
Not having enough capital to build many of the things that I would like to and being in Silicon Valley with black coloured skin – though none of these are truly big obstacles for me. But by grace and mercy am I able to go forward down the path of pioneers.