Robert Scoble, tech evangelist and co-author of “The Fourth Transformation” wearing his Microsoft HoloLens. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)
Virtual and mixed reality technology is developing even more rapidly than many anticipated. For some, that’s a nightmare scenario, a foreshadowing of a dystopian future and a loss of human connection. For others, it is an immense opportunity.
Robert Scoble falls distinctly in the second category. A blogger and tech evangelist, Scoble has been a vocal advocate for virtual and mixed reality, making the case and explaining the implications of these emerging technologies in the new book he co-authored with Shel Israel, “The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything.”
On a recent episode of the GeekWire podcast, Scoble spoke with editor Todd Bishop and reporter Taylor Soper about his vision for this technology, and he says the future is closer than we think.
“I predict within three years I’m not using a phone very often,” he said. “I’m using mostly [mixed reality] glasses, because with glasses you get as many virtual monitors as you want.”
Scoble also predicted that Apple will announce a new line of mixed reality-enabled devices this year, and noted that platforms like Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google-backed Magic Leap have been ramping up with engineering talent and funding for their mixed reality devices.
“You’re starting to see a lot of companies spending a lot of money at this new world coming at us,” he said.
And while relatively clumsy technology of the past has given mixed reality a bit of a bad rep — anyone remember Google Glass? — Scoble said upcoming technology will be mind-blowingly realistic and easy to use.
“These glasses that are coming put virtual stuff on top of the real world. The Google Glass didn’t do that, and that’s part of the problem with Google Glass. The night I got them home, my wife said ‘Oh, do these show me anything about the people I’m going to meet?’ Because that’s the expectation, that it’s going to overlay information about things, and people that you are looking at. And the [new] glasses will do that,” he said.
Listen to the podcast above to hear our full conversation with Scoble, or download the podcast as an MP3. Keep reading for an edited transcript of the interview.
Robert Scoble. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)
Todd Bishop: So this book is called ” The Fourth Transformation.” What were the first three briefly, and then, what is the fourth and how is it going to change the world?
Scoble: For me, this is the fourth transformation of our personal computer age. Right? We started out in our journey down this path, if you are old enough, on an apple 2, with a character mode interface. And you would have to type commands to talk to the computer and make the computer do something. DOS is another example of this.
And then the second transformation was when we went to GUI when the Macintosh came out in 89 and we used a mouse to click on icons. And the third one is mobile phones, particularly when we went to touch, the iPhone. And, that meant you’re carrying the computer with you and you are touching it. And we wrote a book called “Age of Context” about that world.
And this one is mixed reality, or next generation augmented reality, where you are going to wear some glasses, so it’s going to overlay the interface on top of the real world. So you can use your hands, your eyes, your voice to control the computer. And that let’s you do all sorts of weird things like, virtual reality.
Bishop: So you and Shel make some very bold claims about this in the book, and I think people have been been somewhat — they have been somewhat skeptical of this since Google Glass did not do as well as many people thought.
Bishop: But you’re saying, that eventually. It may take a couple decades, but eventually people will be turning to their glasses and experiencing a world.
Scoble: I don’t think it’s two decades either.
Bishop: So, increasingly they will be doing things through their glasses instead of their phones. Defend that case, because I think there are some skeptics out there.
Scoble: Well, it’s hard to get the future when you haven’t seen it yet. And fortunately I have been going around R&D labs and companies like Lumus who’s making new kinds of optics and understanding where theses glasses are coming from. And I have interviewed the founder of PrimeSense that Apple bought out.
Scoble: Let’s talk about apple, because I think that will take this conversation into a an interesting world. I believe in June, Apple going to announce more new technology than it has ever announced in it’s history.
Bishop: Okay, so first off. Why June? WWDC, World Wide Developers Conference?
"It’s hard to get the future when you haven’t seen it yet."
Scoble: No, they are opening a new headquarters, which is a massive headquarters. It’s the most modern building in the world. It was built — designed and built with more technology than any other building, from what the people who built it told me. And they said when you walk in, you are going to be able to control ever room by using gestures. So every room has a 3D sensor in it. Every room is set up for next reality. So that’s the fist. Right?
So they are going to bring us to that new headquarters in June or September, because they are already moving into it. And it’s going to be mostly one in June, and completely done in September. In June you are going to get invited to this new building first. Second, it’s the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, of receiving an iPhone. And, there is a lesson in their by the way. Because the first Iphone release was announced in January and we didn’t get it until June. And that will be the case with these products. They are keeping them very secretive because they don’t want pictures of these things leaking. And it’ll be apparent why in a second.
So and along with that, they’re going to announce a new iPad, three new iPhones, a new TV product, a new watch, a new 3D map, a new Siri. And new glasses, all concerning augmented reality. And Tim Cook has been signaling to this for — since last June. And every week he has been in the press talking about how important augmented reality is to the world. And he is signaling that a big thing is coming. He has spent more that 10 billion dollars doing this, and spent 7 years of his life doing this. So, what is coming this year is going to be a massive deal. And that is going to wake everybody up. And then we are going to see: is the Hololens better than the Apple one? Is the Magic Leap better than the Apple one? Is the Facebook one better than the Apple one? Is the Snap one better than the Apple one?
Bishop: So you think that Apple is going to be much as it was with the iPhone, the pace setter in the new world of mixed reality.
Scoble: Yes. Yes.
Taylor Soper: And you think it’s going to be glasses that they are going to announce.
Scoble: Well they are going to show a clear iPhone. So the three iPhones going to do mixed reality. They all have a 3D sensor from Primesense, they have 600 engineers in Tel Aviv working on that sensor. And four years ago when I saw that sensor it could tell how hard I was pressing on a table from three feet away. That’s how detailed it is, right. And you’re going to see a whole new realm of AI. Because that sensor is going to see stuff on your table in front of you, separate it into objects and then start looking things up. So, you can make Skrillex come out of this La Croix can and give a performance right on your table. I mean that’s where we’re going over the next decade. We’ll see how much of that arrives this year.
But I think a lot of it is going to arrive this year, because it’s not just Apple. It’s Microsoft, it has 1800 people working on Hololens and it’s betting their whole company on the user interface of mixed reality. Snap is making many, many hires, right? Google just bought a company called Eyefluence which is in the book, for eye tracking and glasses, that tells me Google is building glasses that are separate from Magic Leap, which they also invested half a billion dollars in, right? And so, boom, boom, boom, boom. You’re starting to see a lot of companies spending a lot of money at this new world coming at us.
Bishop: So, what do you say to the skeptics who say, ‘hey look, yes all these companies are making these bets, but in the end users are not going to want to immerse themselves in a whole other world’? Or these point clouds, as you talk about in the book. I think for people, it’s a bit of a leap for them to think about immersing themselves in alternate realities. What do you say to those skeptics?
Scoble: Well, the market place is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bring these things to you, and they will have some real advantages. Forget all the holographic stuff that Hololens is doing. Just getting as many screens around you as you want. So, let’s say you are a financial trader. Right now you are working in front of five screens cost?
So, now you are talking about 2500 for five monitors around you. Well, what if you want to do that while you are walking around, or on a subway, or at a beach or at a party? Well, now you can wear those Apple glasses and get those same five monitors around you and be running your business on matter where you are.
Bishop: So there is this company called Envelop VR, that had that exact plan. They shut down, they couldn’t make it. So doesn’t that speak to the fact that —
Soper: But they aren’t Apple.
Bishop: They’re not Apple, Okay.
"I predict within three years I’m not using a phone very often. I’m using mostly glasses because with glasses you get as many virtual monitors as you want."
Scoble: They’re not Apple, and these glasses I’m expecting are going to cost less than 500 dollars and they are going to be two ounces, and that’s a real important factor. Some where around two ounces. I’m seeing lots of glasses that are about four ounces that will get announced this year, with lenses from Lumus and from Vuzix and other places. But those are all stuff contained. Apple, I’m hearing, is going to put all that stuff down in the phone in your pocket or in your purse and you are going to wear glasses that have very little compute power on them, to make them really light and make the batteries on them really small, but last a long time. And so, we are going to see differing philosophies, right? Microsoft Holo ones might go in a little bit different direction. Magic Leap will go in a completely different direction, and then we’ll see, we’ll see.
Bishop: So I know there is tons to talk about. What do you get most excited about, what’s on your mind on this topic?
Scoble: You know at CES — I just came back from CES and Sundance to study this new world — and I saw these Lumus lenses. Now Lumus is a little start up nobody has ever heard of from Israel, and all they make is optics. I’m showing you a pair on my phone right next to the Snap Spectacles. Now, Snap Spectacles don’t have any screens in them, and the Lumus lenses in them have a 720p monitor on these lenses and they’re the same size. Which is why I believe this stuff is happening this year. It’s not just coming from Apple it’s coming from all sorts of places.
Bishop: So it’s a tiny display embedded in the glasses and of course when it is that close up it looks like it’s actually big. You know there was a company, I think they might still be around, that did this on contact lenses too.
Scoble: Yeah, those are farther away.
Scoble: People ask me that all the time — when are we going to get contact lenses, or when are we going get brain jacking in. I mean, if you are blind you are already getting brain jacking in. It cost $150,000 to have surgery like that. And it comes with some downsides, because you are going to touch the optic nerve. And if they do that wrong well, it’ll screw stuff up, but if you’re already blind you are willing to take those risks because you are going to get sight maybe where you don’t have any sight today. And those techniques will lead down the path to figuring out how to jack in for far less money. But, that’s down.
Bishop: Down the road.
Scoble: It’s like 15, 20, 25 years. I can’t see that far. We all know it’s coming. But, you know — when? But the next decade is going to be about glasses. I don’t see how you’re going to do anything other than glasses in a mass market way anytime soon.
Soper: I’m think I’m still one of the skeptics. Let’s talk about Google Glass little bit, because we were talking about this last night. And you’ve tried the Google Glass. There is a famous picture of you in the shower with them.
Soper: What was wrong about those, both from maybe hardware and software and why is it different now with all these other new specs?
Scoble: First of all, what’s coming on the market is completely different than Google Glass. Google Glass was just a little small screen up on the corner of your eye that would show you notifications, like you know, take a left turn on this corner. Or, hey your wife just wrote you on Facebook messenger. Real lightweight, not what we are talking about. What we are talking about mixed reality is you’re going to be having Aliens coming out from your walls. That all ready happens with my Hololens.
Bishop: That happens every night at my house.
Scoble: Well, you know.
Bishop: Or is that — that’s something else though.
Scoble: You know, it is legal in Seattle!
"The next decade is going to be about glasses. I don’t see how you’re going to do anything other than glasses in a mass market way anytime soon."
Scoble: These glasses that are coming put virtual stuff on top of the real world. The Google Glass didn’t do that, and that’s part of the problem with Google Glass. The night I got them home, my wife said ” oh, do these show me anything about the people I’m going to meet?’ Because that’s the expectation, that it’s going to overlay information about things, and people that you are looking at. And the glasses will do that, that are coming out, but not Google Glass. And then Google Glass just was early. The batter life only lasted 45 minutes. The camera on it was compressing in software, so it was blurry. It wasn’t as sharp as a GoPro for instance — blah, blah, blah.
Those problems are all going away at some level, or they are going to be avoided. I keep hearing rumors that the Apple glasses have no camera in them other than the 3D sensor, which is a form of a camera. But, we’ll see, you know. Because Apples trying to avoid the privacy problems with these, Right? So we’ll see there is going to be different philosophies. Snap is going to put two cameras in these things and give you 3D.
Bishop: What do you think about Snap, because I think a lot of folks, and of course for people who don’t know this is the parent of SnapChat. They have rebranded themselves as basically a camera company. Which seems a little dubious to me, but do you think — are they a legitimate player in this space? Because it seems like a novelty.
Scoble: The glasses are the best way to create media for snaps. So if you care about looking cool to 20 year olds, you are going to be getting this.
Bishop: Not really.
Scoble: Well you don’t care, but there’s a lot of people out there who do care. There’s a lot of brands who want to meet 20 year olds and talk them into using their toothpaste and stuff like that.
Bishop: I care about 20 year old GeekWire readers.
Scoble: Well, there you go.
Bishop: And should-be GeekWire readers.
"The glasses are the best way to create media for snaps. So if you care about looking cool to 20 year olds, you are going to be getting this."
Scoble: So, most of those people are on Snap or Instagram, instead of Facebook or Twitter. So if we want to reach them, we have to start channels and media properties for them. And if you’re going to do that, then you are probably going to get a pair of Snap Glasses because they are going to create the best media for that channel. And that’s a great way to look at it: that’s the camera for that channel. And if you want to use Facebook, you are going to use a different channel.
Bishop: Yeah, well, that’s interesting — do you see a place for smartphones in this new world? Because you know a lot of the initial VR experiences are smart phone based, you just put it in the headset.
Scoble: I predict within three years I’m not using a phone very often. I’m using mostly glasses because with glasses you get as many virtual monitors as you want. At home I have five monitors sitting on my desk — virtual monitors that look real — when I am wearing the glasses they look like real monitors, they are real monitors.
Bishop: What are you using a Vive or something?
Bishop: Like a developer edition.
Scoble: Yeah I have it right here. They say it’s a developer edition, it’s just too expensive for consumers.
Scoble: And too heavy and too dorky, right. Great for the GeekWire.
Bishop: It’s perfect.
Scoble: It’s perfect right, everybody who has a Hololens marks themselves as a geek right now. But soon those big things are going to be small. And then, we find out where the fun is really. Because I’ll wear a really light weight pair of glasses a long time. Hololens is really hard to wear for longer than an hour.
Soper: The form factors still bugs me. At the dinner, we were at this VR dinner last night and two people brought out their Snap Spectacles and they are these sunglasses and they took, you know video of each other. But for me, I don’t want to have to bring my glasses or put on glasses when I’m at dinner, I just want to enjoy it, or use my smartphone to do some things.
Scoble: Let’s talk about the game. Because I just spoke to the sports teams.
Soper: Yeah, this is interesting.
Scoble: And they are already putting sensors around the stadium to track every player in real-time. And you are going to wear the glasses and you are going to look at, you know, who’s your favorite player?
Soper: Damian Lillard, on the Blazers.
Scoble: All right, so you are going to have a look at Damiam Lillard, and as he is doing his sport you are going to see stats on top of him, how fast is he running. If he gets hit, how hard was that hit, you know. We can predict even by the time the ball leaves his hand, is that shot going to be made, right? Because we already have missiles — technology to figure out whether a missile’s going to hit anything right, before we shoot it down and spend half a million dollars.
Bishop: I think only Steph Curry’s shots can be qualified as missiles.
"I keep hearing rumors that the Apple glasses have no camera in them other than the 3D sensor… because Apples trying to avoid the privacy problems with these."
Scoble: Well, in football there putting a sensor in the ball it’s self to watch its spin rate as it leaves the quarterbacks hands. I mean, that’s what is about to happen. So you are going to wear these glasses while going to NASCAR, going to a football game, to see a football game in much better detail. Plus you are going to be able to say, you know what, I’m tired of these bleacher seats. Because that’s all I can afford. So, can I click on Bill Gates’s glasses and see it from his point of view? Possibly. And certainly, if there is a Nokia 360 camera next to him, you can choose that camera and sit next to Bill Gates for a while.
Bishop: So, one company that has not yet come up — which I am surprised by, because the last time you stopped by here they were maybe first on your list — Amazon. Where are they in this world?
Scoble: They are working on it. They’re not —
Bishop: Do you know things?
Scoble: Yeah, I mean, I know people —
Bishop: We have ways, Robert.
Scoble: I know people who are working on it. And it’s too big of a deal for Amazon to ignore anyways, because this is going to change shopping malls and shopping. An their competition is working on it, so of course Amazon is working on it, not to mention they have some real advantages in this world. Because we are already buying everything off of Amazon. My book is published by Amazon so.
Soper: Well you mentioned yesterday, if I had my glasses now and I’m looking at your book here, looking at your jacket, I could just instantly buy it. Just by looking at it. I’m sure Amazon is thinking that, right?
Scoble: Yeah. And that exact thing was show to me by the founder of Eyefluence who got sold to Google. So we’ll see what Amazon is up to. Amazon doesn’t need to move fast because we don’t have that expectation — that they are going to be the computer that we are going to use. We have that expectation with Google, with Android and Apple, with ISO. But Amazon could be a disruptor here. It will be fun to watch, how amazon comes into this market.
Bishop: We’ll they’ve got Alexa, so it seems like there will be a natural confluence between voice technologies, machine learning, artificial intelligence and this new world of mixed reality.
Bishop: So wouldn’t that give them a leg up in a inroad if they have that system?
"If I had my glasses now and I’m looking at your book here, looking at your jacket, I could just instantly buy it. Just by looking at it."
Scoble: It could, and they have a lot of media, as well. Which you are going to want to play in this new world, because this is going to be how you watch TV. This is personalized TV, right? When you are wearing two or four ounce glasses only you see what you’re watching, and you get as big a screen as you want. So why am I watching a 60 inch screen over in the corner. Why don’t I just grab it with my hands, make it bigger and put the screen where ever I want to around me. And that’s what’s coming with mixed reality. You know, that’s why the TV product is going to be interesting. Because you are going to have to buy the new TV, the new iPad, the new iPhone, the new watch and the new glasses. This is $3000 worth of Apple stuff coming at us.
Bishop: Well maybe you don’t actually have to get the new TV, maybe you can take that out of the equation.
Scoble: No, you’re still, your going to want the TV box because it has the PrimeSense sensor on it. Now why do you want a 3D sensor on your TV or sitting next to your TV? Because it can aim at your body and now you can do full body VR. You can do kick boxing or yoga or anything that requires you to use your legs and your hands. Right now, all the VR tools use only hands, so that HTC Vibe that I have in my house or Oculus rift they have sensors that watch your headset and your hands and know where those things are in space. But, coming soon, where are you going to get full body VR.
Bishop: As you are describing it seems like Kinect was kind of the equivalent of the black and white era, in a lot of ways.
Scoble: And where did Kinect come from? It was licensed from PrimeSense.
Bishop: PrimeSense, that’s right.
Scoble: Which Apple bought.
Bishop: Although Microsoft would — the people who were on that team with Alex Kipman would get into a knock down drag out argument with you over that.
Scoble: I know. But you know what, they did license their technology from PrimeSense.
Bishop: They did, yes. Yes.
Soper: Yeah, I’m curious — Robert, obviously you are somewhat excited for this future, but are you worried about anything? Are you scared? Or are you just supper psyched about it?
Bishop: Have you met this man?
Scoble: Battery life.
Soper: Battery life?
Scoble: I’m worried about battery life, because these batteries are going to be really small and the processors are really small — everything is really small.
Bishop: Wireless charging.
Scoble: Wireless charging is going to be a big part of this, right? And I hear Apple has some cool stuff coming, some next generation wireless charging. We’ll see if it shows up.
Bishop: Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures, they showed how to do this last week with meta materials, it’s one of their new things to check out.
Scoble: There we go. So I keep hearing this kind of stuff. That wireless charging is coming. Broadcom at CES for two years now has been showing me wireless charging pads, where you can hold a watch or a phone over it, and even a foot away from it and it will still charge. So, I hear there are newer technology than that coming. So we’ll see.
Bishop: But to Taylor’s point, privacy and loss of human connection would be two of the top concerns people would have.
Scoble: You mean dressing up the SpongeBob is a little weird?
Bishop: Wait, I’m sorry what did I miss?
Scoble: Because with next reality I can do anything visual that you can dream up. Anything!
Soper: Is that good or bad?
Bishop: At that point I’m not going to want to be experience the real world if I can make the virtual world anything I want.
Scoble: Well, first of all the AR world is the, their is stuff on top of the real world, so you are getting mixture, this is why I call it mixed reality.
Bishop: Yeah, you guys use that phrase, MR is the phrase you use.
Scoble: And, whether it gets call that at Apple we’ll see. I doubt it. Apple will come up with some trade markable —
Robert Scoble, wearing his developer edition HoloLens. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)
Scoble: Yeah, Apple world, you know. But there is a lot of truth to that. We should talk about these new 3D maps that are coming out. But in my Holo’s I play a game called fragments. Where you map out your room with the glasses and then it puts murder in your room and you have to solve the murder with clues that are on all the walls. And there are even little virtual rats that run around your feet. And it is freaky as hell. But this shows, when you get mixed reality, you are going to mix reality. Some things are going to be virtual and some things are going to be physical, and in 10 years it’s going to be really hard to tell the difference. Maybe less, right?
Bishop: Because even the physical objects will have IP addresses, they will be kind of natural citizens of the virtual world.
Scoble: Not to mention, think about what the marketers are going do with this. You are going to walk into a hotel and see an augmented hotel. You are going to see a coke can that’s augmented, and Skrillex is going to pop out of the coke can and give a performance right in front of you and then jump back into the coke can. Your car companies are all thinking about this. Mercedes Benz is already thinking about giving you a pair of mixed reality glasses in the glove compartment so that when you blow out the tire you are going to put on the glasses and its going to show you how to change the tire step by step. And it’s going to watch you to make sure you did your work properly. Did you turn the lug nuts hard enough, and enough turns. And it can watch that, and it can give you Pokemon points when you do it right, if they wanted to.
Bishop: So if you look at it this way in terms of people creating their own reality. Frankly, our President is decades ahead.
Scoble: Oh, absolutely.
Bishop: Just fashioning his own environment.
Scoble: Why do you think I am so into VR? Because VR solves both physical and emotional pain. And it’s really hard to get into one of the creations I saw at Sundance and think about work, or think about troubles with your family, or think about politics. It’s really hard, it why we all go skiing and snowboarding, or surfing. Because in those activities your in a high flow state activity, and it’s really hard to focus on your troubles. And VR is permanent skiing. It’s fun.
Soper: Permanent skiing, I like that.
"Why do you think I am so into VR? Because VR solves both physical and emotional pain."
Scoble: Yeah. Because you’re shooting your friend in paintball and you’re forgetting your troubles. This is why I got into VR. Anyways, at Bowing, up the street, they have hundreds of HoloLenses and they are teaching people how to fix jet engines with these things. This is the best education technology humans have ever invented, and it teaches you in real time when your doing something, and it’s not — you don’t have to go to a classroom for a week anymore. You just go, they give you the glasses, you go to work.
And it shows you — on top of the jet engine — the steps that you need to take to fix that Jet engine. And it checks your work as you are doing, so it makes sure that you screwed that screw in properly and it won’t fall out in the middle of the air, right.
Bishop: One of my favorite HoloLens demos early on was the electrician demon, or the plumber demo, where the plumber is sitting at his or her office scrolling on a tablet, the consumer in the home has a HoloLens on and is literally seeing, annotated in front of them, how to fix the plumbing. Based on what the plumber is doing. To your point, I mean, there is lots of different business applications here too.
Scoble: Absolutely. Disney’s new theme park in Shanghai, China. I’ve been to it, it’s beautiful. It was all built in VR. Fords new cars, you go to their R&D labs, they use VR to build cars now. They don’t build clay models anymore as often, because they are really expensive. And if you want to change the fender design on a clay model it takes you a week to re-shave the fender. Now it takes you a few seconds on, in VR. You just aim at it and you change the shape.
Bishop: So you’re saying, basically, that the benefits are going out weigh any negatives.
Scoble: Yeah. By far, on this one. And that’s why I know that this is going to happen fast. When people get their HoloLens on their face and realize just what mixed reality does for them, they just are floored. My son calls it his super power.
Soper: And you think, speaking of Hololens, earlier you talking about how Satya, CEO of Microsoft is betting, you said something like betting the whole company’s future on Hololens?
Scoble: Yeah, when I was at Gitech, all you saw on the front door was Microsoft Hololens. They are betting a lot on it. Because they know this user interface is going to be usable by a lot more people, even illiterate people can use mixed reality because it works the same way as the real world works. As a two year old you learn to pick up a can or a pencil very early in life, and that’s the skill you need to work in VR or AR. It’s zero instruction learning, I saw a little four year old come into my house, just pick up the headset, the HTC Vibe headset and the controllers and went to town without anybody telling her what to do. She knew how it worked because that’s how the real world works.
Bishop: If you were somebody who was just wanting to get into virtual reality, which device would you pick?
Bishop: Yeah, today.
"Even illiterate people can use mixed reality because it works the same way as the real world works."
Scoble: I would probably point them to the HTC Vibe, because it has the best room scale technology, where it defines the little box that you can walk around in. And the games are — the experiences on HTV Vibe are more mature. Than on the Sony play station VR or on the Oculus Rift. Now Oculus, it’s tough one. Six months ago I would have been very strong, you have to go HTC. Now I’m not to sure, because the touch controllers on Oculus are nicer than on the controllers on the HTC Vibe. But HTC has new controllers come out so, it’s a war right now. So you wait six months and everything about this market is changed. And certainly, when Apple comes in the market it’s going to do most or much of what a HTC Vibe does, because it’s going to do full six-degrees-of-freedom VR, as well as mixed reality.
So, it’s going to be a fun year to see how all these companies compete with each other. I think HTC is fine, by the way. Even if Apple is very, very successful. Because I think HTC is going to be the choice for putting in a lot of these VR arcades. And in China alone, I hear there is already 1000 VR arcades, where you can go in and rent some time on a HTC Vibe or Oculus Rift and play with your friends, right.
Bishop: Now Microsoft has windows holographic which essentially extends the technology that’s in the Hololens to third party devices. Speaking very generally there.
Bishop: And they are coming out with third party devices this year, some of their partners. Will Windows be the dominate underlining OS here? How does that work?
Scoble: As much as I love my HoloLens — I think Microsoft has been doing the best work — They’re still swimming upstream. Everybody in the world has an android or an iPhone in their pocket, and how is Microsoft going to get your to buy a 1000 dollar thing on top of that? That’s really hard. I don’t understand how they are going to get there. But, they were first into this new space. And I expect a new 2.0 Hololens and I expect major improvements. And we’ll see, it’s going to be a war over these things. And I don’t know how it plays out.
You know, we haven’t seen the players yet. As much as I know about what Apple is coming out with, I have no idea how good their artificial intelligence is. I expect it to be mind blowing because they have 600 people working on it. But I don’t know. You know, there’s a lot of if’s. And, I don’t know how good Microsoft is. Clearly the first one was pretty good. That was a pretty good first attempt in a new field. But they need to improve that a lot to be a mass market consumer product and one that will steal the users away from Google and Apple. Right, that’s a hard thing.
Bishop: Taylor I know you probably have more to ask, but I always get sentimental when you come in Robert, because you were the subject of one of my first ever front page stories at the Seattle PI. Do you remember this?
Scoble: Barely, but yeah I do.
Bishop: I’ve got it right here, look at yourself. I’ll link to this from the show notes. It was 2003, July.
Soper: Looking good Robert, looking good.
Bishop: Yeah, you’re looking good. You actually, you’ve lost a lot of weight.
Scoble: Yeah, I’ve lost 50 pounds the last two years.
Bishop: Yeah, you really have. Anyway, the headline was ” All the new kids on the blog”. It was when there was all this excitement and surprise that all the Microsoft employees were finally speaking publicly. On their blogs. So, at any rate I’ll link to that.
Scoble: We changed a lot about how PR worked, and how these companies had to build social teams. And now, those teams have been — are part of the companies. Every company has a social team, if they don’t they’re screwing up.
Soper: One thing I wanted to ask was, I think I’m thinking about unity and you mentioned all the employees now working on these technologies. And I think a piece of advice, I think you mentioned this earlier, was go study that because you will get a job, right, if you know how to do that. I’m thinking about the whole new world.
Scoble: Unity people are going to be in short supply because every brand is going to need to virtualize. When we visited Sephora, a big cosmetic retailer, they already have augmented reality makeup, and you can already try it on your iPhone. So you get the Sephora app, aim it at your face, try out some pink lipstick on your face. And the product that you experience on your iPhone is color matched to the physical product. So that took a lot of work. And they’re building — they’re thinking about this mixed reality world where Apple and other people are going to walk into their stores and want to experience the store in a different way. So they are thinking about it, and they are already augmenting signs when you walk into the store with your phone. So they are already thinking about when you are walking in the store with your glasses on, and you have this Sephora app, you can try all sorts of stuff without putting on your skin.
Soper: And this is just Sephora, and we mentioned sports teams. I mean, it’s everywhere.
Scoble: Yeah that’s why we say it’s going to change everything. When we started doing the kind of work — visiting companies and really thinking this through — it’s like, what happens if Apple really does sell glasses to every iPhone user? You know, last quarter alone they sold 78 million of these iPhone 7’s and 7 Pluses, and this is a product that’s really not that inspired. It’s iterative. You know, compared to a 6S, it has a little better camera. Okay, great. Is that really a reason to buy a new phone?
But they sold 78 million anyways. Imagine next year when they have really amazing new technologies and products. How many people are going to buy it — 100 million, 150 million, 200 million? I don’t think they are even going to be able to build enough. That’s going to be a problem for Apple, right. So, I think he just opened a factory in India for that reason. If he really is going to expand the market noticeably in the next three years, he’s going to have to build a lot of product.
Bishop: So, when you are talking Apple, are you basing this on public clues or inside knowledge?
"Watch with the self-driving industry does with mixed reality, because the technologies are very, very similar."
Scoble: Both. When you visit so many R&D labs, and have so many relationships with people high up in the consumer electronics industry, you find out stuff. And I’ve interviewed the founder of PrimeSense and the founder and the CTO of Metaio back in 2011 which lead to this book. And those companies got bought by Apple. See, if you go back to those interview, they tell you what they are going to do with their lives. And I assume they are going to give it to us this year. Back in 2011, the Metaio CTO showed me monsters on the sides of skyscrapers. He took us outside and he said look, we can put monsters on the sides of buildings. So now when I get these glasses I’m expecting to blow up the entire city with aliens. And it will be viewed from your position. So, if you are behind a building you will see it properly occluded.
And if he doesn’t do that Magic Leap is going to do that, or Hololens is going to do that. Because I already have aliens coming out of my walls with my Hololens, so what’s next for entertainment? A lot. In fact, I just had dinner with Ted Schilowitz the futurist at 20th Century Fox, the movie company. And he’s very bullish on this technology. He said this is a huge deal for the entertainment industry, because we are going to be able to see a huge screen in front of us, even while sitting in the coach section of a plane, or taking the light rail to the airport. Now, all of sudden we can watch a movie in the same glory you would watch it in a movie theater.
Bishop: What’s this going to mean for sex?
Scoble: Oh, you had to go there didn’t you.
Soper: That’s a whole other show. Sex robots in augmentation, yeah.
Scoble: I think it will change deeply, because my wife will be able to dress me up as Brad Pitt.
Bishop: Enough said. Robert Scoble! Thanks for joining us this week on the podcast! Oh, that’s good. Any other big areas that you would cover?
Scoble: Watch with the self-driving industry does with mixed reality, because the technologies are very, very similar. The LiDARs are focusable on the newer stuff that’s coming a long, from companies like Quanergy. There’s a new AI engine in soft driving cars coming from a company called DeepScale and others. And there is a new 3D map coming from a company called Luminar Technologies, who also is building sensors for the front bumper. And these are all stealth mode companies, you haven’t seen their products yet. But they are coming.
And they work very similarly to these mixed reality glasses which have a sensor on them that see’s the world in 3D. It has an artificial intelligence brain and it’s going to need a 3D map. Because when you walk into a certain room at the Ritz ,it’s going to know it’s in that room, because every room is different. If you think about it, I’ve been paying attention to this now for more than a year, I’ve never been in a room that’s exactly the same. Even in a hotel, where the rooms are pretty much the same, but each room has something slightly different from any other room in the world. So if your glasses can see those difference — and they will, it will know exactly that you are in room 318 at the Ritz right now, and you are looking out toward the window — and so it can do stuff with all those surfaces and put Mick Jagger in your hotel room if you want to.
Bishop: Hey, before you go. You’ve been sitting here this whole time with this sort of amulet around your neck. And it’s been flashing with little LED’s I guess? What is this thing?
Scoble: It’s geek jewelry I call it. Zackery Vor, he’s an artist and entrepreneur in San Francisco is making this little geek jewelry.
Bishop: So it’s for show, it’s not actually doing anything?
Scoble: It’s not doing anything but he’s building one that will react to sound. So if you are at a rave or at a nightclub it will be doing fun stuff with LED’s. Yeah, it’s burning man art basically.
"This is the best education technology humans have ever invented."
Bishop: All right, so let’s turn this over to the audience. We’re going to be turning this over to the audience, we’re going to give away a copy, a signed copy of The Fourth Transformation by Scoble and Shel Isreal. What I am going to ask you to do is send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and describe the application of mixed reality that you are most looking forward to in the future. You can say sex if you want, you can say you’re going to look like Brad Pitt, too. But if there’s other things that you want to talk about I want to hear that instead. Once again, send your e-mail to email@example.com, describe the application of mixed reality that you are most excited about in the future and from the answer, and from the responses we’ll pick one person at random to win a copy.
Scoble: I’ll give you one that I want and Microsoft has already showed it to us. I want to say “hey Cortana” — if I am using the Microsoft classes — show me the Hubble telescope view on the sky. Because I can never see the sky because we have light pollution in most modern cities. And we have you know, lots of other pollution. And Microsoft has this thing called the World Wide Telescope, where they have 30 different telescopes and you can go from, you know, from the Hubble telescope view to the Keck telescope view. And I want to see that on top of the sky when I’m outside with my kids and I want to show them the universe the way the Hubble sees it, not the way my eyes sees it.
Bishop: So when the ozone layer is gone we can just re-create it virtually is what you are saying.
Scoble: Yeah, you know we’ll just put snow on the mountains again, and we’ll put, you know.
Bishop: Sorry, I didn’t mean to end it on a downer there.
Soper: I’ve got nothing there. Brad Pitt and sex, I’m still thinking about that.
Scoble: But seriously, you hit on something. This is the best education technology humans have ever invented. So if we can show people the universe, we can maybe get them to start thinking about things other than just protecting the United States. That’ll take America back forward again, instead of going backwards as we currently are.
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