#1114: Capturing the Lore & Spirit of a Place with the “Living Cities” Digital Twin XR Start-Up

Living Cities is a digital twin XR startup announced on May 26th, 2022 with an article titled “Reality is Scarce…and The Metaverse is infinitely abundant.” that shares a list of “9 principles for connecting the real & virtual.” The founders of Living Cities include XR luminaries Matt Miesnieks (who sold his previous startup 6D.AI to Niantic), John Gaeta (who did visual effects on The Matrix, worked on the HoloLens, co-founded Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB, & was a senior Vice President at Magic Leap), as well as Dennis Crowley who co-founded the geospatial social networks Dodgeball and Foursquare.

I had a chance to catch up with Miesnieks & Gaeta on July 6th to unpack each of their principles for connecting the virtual and the real, including how they’re trying to capture the spirit of a place and lore of specific locations digitally allowing the physical and virtual realms to be combined in unique ways. They’re still working on their initial demo, and so there is a lot of reading between the lines of their guiding philosophical principles to understand what exactly it is that they’re building. But they have a lot of deep ideas for what the next steps should be in building out an AR Metaverse that blends world scanning technology with various social XR communication features and self-expression tools.

See below for the audio interview and a full rough transcript.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

MIESNIEKS: I’m Matt Miesnieks, and I’m the CEO and founder of a company called LivingCities.xyz. We are building a digital twin of the real world and working to figure out how to make that a living copy of a real place. It’s a new company. We haven’t really launched or said anything about our product as yet. And the company kind of builds on what I have been doing over the last 12 years or so in augmented reality.

Most recently, my company, 6D.AI was acquired by Niantic and 6D had developed some technology to crowdsource a 3D map of the world so people can capture 3D scenes on their phones and build them into a map. And Living Cities is kind of taking that one step further in the sense of what happens when you’ve captured this map. You know, what can you see? What can you do and how do you actually use it?

GAETA: My name is John Gaeta, and (laughs) what do I do in the realm of spatial computing? Well, I do a lot of personal computing in space. And I think a lot about how other people might be doing that. I think today we’re here to talk about, you know, how to harness the potential of people in space and project that into new forms. So it’s a long answer to that one is perhaps another chat.

BYE: Okay. Yeah, maybe for each of you, you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing this work that you’re doing now with Living Cities.

MIESNIEKS: Sure. My background goes, you know, I’ve been in tech my whole life. I started just out of college or in college working on the Internet like a while on the Internet and helped travel around Asia, building that out. Then I spent about a decade in Mobile for the company that invented the mobile web browser, you know, started out technical, ended up commercial.

And about 12, 13 years ago now, I was thinking about what comes after mobile and landed on augmented reality as being the direction that everything was going to head, which I still feel is correct, but I was definitely way, way too early. I probably should have waited ten years or so before jumping in. And yeah, you know, during AR, you know working in AR I’ve been very interested in infrastructure and enabling technologies and what are a lot of those platforms and technologies that are going to make all these amazing AR experiences possible?

GAETA: My background is I began in cinema known for designing visuals and concepts in the original Matrix trilogy, where I worked with a number of colleagues in some methodologies that at the time were pretty experimental. But were created in a way that we thought might be relevant in future times when things like virtual reality might, might actually be plausible.

After Matrix Trilogy, I did more cinema with the Wachowski’s and then eventually started to see a lot of colleagues leave to move towards real time graphics and more experimental media. I was intrigued by a lot of what they were doing. Some of them were going into gaming. Some were starting to go into the labs of Silicon Valley and such.

So I started a period of time where I was experimenting with new media. I worked on things before the Kinect, but human interface. And then following that, the HoloLens — the pre-HoloLens with Microsoft. And after that I went back to film sort of entertainment worked for Lucasfilm as they were about to launch a next generation of Star Wars.

I helped begin something called ILMxLAB, which is one of the first immersive entertainment labs that was pushing some boundaries in real time graphics. And there was a lot of exploration on behalf of Disney and Future Disney ideas and Star Wars universe. Following that, I was SVP at Magic Leap for a couple of years, which was interesting, and I could write probably two books about that particular experience. It was like living in the future in a way, and very interesting sort of early foundational thinking from there.

And that’s around the time just around that Lucasfilm and Magic Leap time, Matt and I became friends. We’re exchanging a lot of theories and appreciation of each other’s work and vision. And since that time, we found reasons to come together along with Dennis on some ideas that were early in those days, and they seem right for us now. So I guess I’ll stop there.

BYE: And you just mentioned Dennis Crowley, one of the co-founders of Foursquare, which was a geospatial located, check-in app that was a pioneer in the space of trying to map out the social layer on top of where people were located. So Matt maybe could pick up — since Dennis is not here — how you and John and Dennis collectively like — a little bit of the origin story of [yeah] where you’re at with 6DAI and with John’s whole journey from Matrix to Magic Leap. So yeah maybe you can pick up what was a catalyst for Living Cities?

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, sure. I think what’s been awesome about working with John and Dennis is all of us have spent decades really, you know, looking at the same problem, but from three very different perspectives, you know. So, you know, in Dennis’ case, I met him through a mutual friend a couple of years ago and was really just interested in talking to him as a potential advisor to whatever I was going to do next.

You know, just as someone I was curious to know and as I described, you know, what we were hoping to achieve in living cities. He was really excited, said, Look, I’m negotiating my exit from Foursquare right now. I will remain as chairman, but I won’t have any day to day roles. And I’m thinking about what I want to do next.

And what you’re talking about is kind of the direction I always hoped, you know, Foursquare would get to. And he’s like, How can I be involved? And I’m like, “Do you want to join us and run product?” And he was like, “Yep, I’m keen.” So you know, it took about a year from that conversation until we finally had a company, but it was just great to tap into his — like he didn’t know really anything about AR or he hadn’t lived in that world at all.

But he’d spent his whole career figuring out how software intersects with the real world and how that can shape and influence our real world behaviors. And, you know, he has a sort of line about, you know, he wants people to get online in order to get offline. And that the way that, you know, these online services and experiences can actually — it’s not about getting sucked up into it.

You live your life online. It’s all about, you know, we have this whole life which is partly online, partly offline. And the online pieces should support and leverage and encourage also your offline part of your life. So philosophically, that was just so aligned with what we’re doing and obviously had a lot of experience running a large company and it was just amazing sort of having someone else on the team who’s kind of been through that as an entrepreneur.

And it’s just nice, you know, from my point of view, to have his experience behind us. And then in terms of how the three of us came together, it was, you know, like what John said, we’d been talking for five or six years, you know, about the same sorts of ideas, same sorts of vision. We talked about working together a little bit at 6D just before Niantic acquired us and stayed in touch and realized that, you know, we all wanted to do the same thing.

We just needed to turn that into a company and then put some product focus around it so that we can actually bring something out. And that idea of what happens when you’ve got a digital copy or a digital layer of the real world with, you know, I called it the AR cloud back in the 6D days. Nowadays it could be one little facet of the metaverse, which is that part of these virtual worlds that are mirror worlds of reality and the potential for all different sorts of novel interactions, novel economies, novel use cases start to get unlocked when you realize that a virtual avatar and a physical person can be in the same place at the same time.

BYE: Yeah. And if my memory serves me, I remember going to the Magic Leap LeapCon in like 2018. And I don’t know if it was you, John, that was on stage with Rony talking about the Magicverse.


BYE: Magic Leap was basically like ten startups all in one, doing lots of different things ahead of its time in many ways as an independent entity, trying to push forward the state of the art on so many different levels, and this idea of bringing the augmented reality out into the world and having these different layers of what Rony was calling the Magicverse.

But I’d love to hear some of your reflections of what got you excited about that Magicverse and how you see that you may be continuing that idea of trying to bring — or what was it about the Living Cities that was recapturing your imagination for where you wanted to go?

GAETA: I mean, yes, there’s a thread line through all of it. I mean, all of us I would say as long as we’ve been curious in these spaces and realms, each chapter, each relationship kind of leads you a little closer towards something. The idea of the magic verse, you know, even before the magic verse, Neal and I — well, Neal was on stage with us, right?

And so magic verse was kind of a product of Neal and Rony and myself thinking about stuff. And even before then, when I was experimenting at Lucasfilm, we got deep into trying to understand destinations, virtual destinations that are based off of places with real histories. You know, because we were thinking about the, the universe of Star Wars and how each place is special and has its own history and contains many different types of characters and relationships

it carries. It just goes quite deep. And the greatest of fictitious universes tend to do that. And fans thrive and engage deeply into those things. But oddly, those things often are based upon real world places and people and one sort of extracts from those things. So most fiction represents something that’s real and true in terms of people, places and events and such.

At any rate, you know, I sort of came into Magic Leap with a lot of thinking along those lines. If we could try to understand a sense of place and a destination based on the lore. I then went on to Magic Leap and had the luck of working with someone like Neal, you know, thinking about things like that. And Rony, who is a real deep thinker and incredibly instinctual and intuitive on these things as well, where it was pretty quick to imagine that you could have any one layer over the world at any given time and they would have to intertwine, which leads towards spatial computing is like in what way do you intertwine?

How do you intertwine? And the layer, of course, could be anything the mind could conjure from entertainment and creative to pure utility. You know, like, here’s my health layer, here’s my tourism layer on and on, right? So these could be endless layers created by infinite amounts of people over time. So the layers thing is coming. It’s coming still.

And the combination of those two things is stuck inside of me. And Matt was talking about many of the same things. You know, when we met years back, he understood the way that reality or the real world was going to couple to a virtual layer, was going to — it would need to be fused by way of understanding of not just the shapes of things, but the ongoings, what’s happening at that time.

So essentially the kinds of elements you would need to feed into a simulation of a place, right? What’s happening there? What is the light like? You know, what is the purpose of the place and the people within the place? And we always brought this back up as we talked over the years. What we do right is like people were wondering about augmented reality, to what end, you know, could it benefit people?

Could it amplify people in interesting ways? Could it lead to heightened capabilities? You know, in terms of expression? So we dragged all of that stuff from even before Magic Leap during the 6D days, the Magic Leap days into today. And I’ll let Matt sort of riff on this. But I think that there’s a lot of confusion, of course, about what the metaverse is.

We could talk about that endlessly. But the one thing that’s true is that a virtual container with no purpose or meaning or history or not defined by way of the people inside it and or community. And their purpose is like this is sort of a desert to wander through. But as soon as you have an understanding of place, which is defined by people, then suddenly the value starts to show itself.

And I guess I’ll throw it back to Matt with regard to that.

MIESNIEKS: Yeah. And Kent, you got any questions? You want to jump in with others? I can just ramble on for a good hour or two on this.

BYE: So right now — you published an article back on May 26 called “Reality is Scarce: And the Metaverse is Infinitely Abundant.” So you’re starting to be a part of this larger metaverse conversation, which John just spoke in some sense. And when I think about the differences between VR and AR, I think about is that in AR you’ve in the center of gravity of whatever existing context you’re in, that you’re using the virtual information to either modulate or subtly shift the context or maybe try to change the context of what you’re in.

But with VR, it’s a lot easier to do a complete context, which I could be at home. I go into an immersive experience. I could be at my doctor’s office, I could be on a date with my partner, I could be visiting family. And so the context there is much more of a stark context shift. So I see that there’s something with being grounded in this gravity of the existing context and being able to use the virtual layers to either connect people on a deeper layer or to maybe subtly shift whatever the context is and maybe create a new context, kind of a liminal space that doesn’t have an established context. So I’d love to hear —


BYE: Some of your thoughts on where you start with the Living Cities and what context you bring in and how you start to iterate there?

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, well. One thing I’m really trying to avoid, I guess is the semantics like this is “Yeah, this is VR, this is AR, this is XR, this is spatial –.” We’re really trying to think about what is the user experience? And what is the potential of this product we’re trying to make? And you know, the device you use to look into this place could be anything, you know, it could be a phone, a browser, a VR headset or an AR headset.

What we think is most interesting for us is kind of what John was alluding to there. Like if you build a virtual place just from scratch, it’s really, really difficult. And John sort of educated me just how difficult it is to create a universe, a history, a law, a culture, all these things that this isn’t just something that exists for like VR space creators.

It’s everyone who’s ever made a film or written a novel or anything that sort of create this world. And it’s very, very difficult to do that from scratch. Nearly every time someone does it, John said before. It’s rooted in reality, somehow in the human condition somehow. So what we’ve found really amazing, I guess, is that if you go to a real place and say, look, we’re going to somehow replicate this place and bring it online, you get all of that history and culture and the law and the types of clothes you wear there and the type of music you listen to and the type of people that go there.

Kind of all of that you get for free, you know, because it’s a real place. You know, it’s had – hopefully you pick a place that’s got a lot of history and it’s interesting, you know, in reality. And when you can then bring that online, you get this kind of different thing. Like it’s not quite AR. It’s not quite VR. It’s definitely aligned and connected with reality and it’s essentially being updated in real time by what’s going on in the real world.

But it could be experienced entirely, virtually, and it could be tweaked and modified and adapted and changed around with all the tools that are available to the virtual world creation. So that sort of concept of like bringing the world online in that way is kind of where we’re zeroing in on and building out. It’s because we think that if you can do that, you have all seen like photogrammetry captures of places or 360 videos of real places and you go in there and you look around for a bit and that’s it.

You’re kind of done. But this idea of like, how do you bring that place to life? How do you make it feel like you’re really there? How do you tap into that spirit of the place? How do you connect to the people that are in that place? All these aspects of it, the magic that no one’s ever really – we haven’t seen anyone do this before and we think it’s something potentially really magic and big that could be unlocked if we can solve it.

BYE: Yeah, I guess the question that comes up is the matter of scale because I think of something like Google Earth VR, which has replicated all of the entirety of the Earth with different types of coverage that is even in Google Maps. It can’t be the same resolution universally everywhere because resource limits and don’t need high resolution things if it’s just an empty cornfield.

So you have the whole range of the entire world. So where do you start with creating a digital twin? Do you start with urban cities? Do you try to recreate an entirety of the urban cities? Do you try to take, like an Ingress approach where you pick areas of interest and start to organically build out based upon whatever the early adopter users are? Or how do you start to boil the ocean in that sense?

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, well. You, you, you try not to is the main thing. You know, one problem with building an AR product, any type of software product, is this idea of population density, you know, like Pokémon or like Niantic with these global games, how do you put a Pokémon on every street corner in every town, and how do you get more than one player in your neighborhood?

You know, that’s a really difficult problem to solve. And so much of just if you take this idea of AR is something that I look through something and I see something digital in my physical world right now, you’re going to have that population density issue. We’ve kind of flipped that on its head and we’re thinking about, rather than figuring out How do I get content to everyone on Earth, or how do I get everyone on Earth to the content?

And so we’re consciously choosing a starting location that’s in an urban environment that is very diverse and creative and reasonably well known globally, and tapping into the specialness of that place and trying to bring that to the web, to the metaverse. You know, one thing I often talk about when anyone brings up scale and AR in the same paragraph is, you know, in all my years of like, I’ve never met anyone who has ever said my AR app is too popular on iOS.

How do I put it to Android? Or It’s so successful here I’m struggling to scale. Like everyone’s always had the problem of how to actually get engagement and somewhat to come back to it repeatedly. And that’s the problem we’re really going after. We think that if we can get that working in one very small constrained location, the question of like bringing that to multiple locations, whether they’re public spaces or private spaces, we can then start replicating that.

And then, as I know from my 6D experience, the potential to crowdsource and build those maps of the places, you know, 3D realistic maps is still not quite there today to do that in the highest possible quality, but it’s coming pretty fast and a lot of the mapping infrastructure is already in place with everything from open street maps to every major platform that’s out there.

And they’re all working towards building 3D versions of their maps, but no one knows what to do with those maps once they exist exactly.

BYE: And John, did you have any thoughts on that?

GAETA: Of course, I mean, we’ve been — We’ve been inside those thoughts for a lot of it here. Yeah. I mean to, again, to reinforce some things that Matt just said, trying to boil the ocean is really going to be a slow, incremental exploration. And it probably is the domain of the giant map companies. Right, to try to do that.

But what we’re talking about is more of a strategy, a creative strategy, social strategy of going compact but deep. Back to trying to understand, you know, what’s inside the fabric of a universe? What is actually the spirit of a place? We use that term a lot. And the spirit of a place generally is in this place, these types of people congregate to do these things, and they’ve done that for, you know, in the case of the real world many, many years ago.

So in more older parts of the world, it could be like a lot of years, centuries even, right? But to try to understand what happens in a compact area. And it’s mostly really about knowing the people. And we don’t want to just sort of suggest that our interest is creating a copy, precise copy, because, you know, interesting places and people and events, you know, appear in books and in movies and all sorts of other kinds of expressions of the same place.

You know, that we don’t have any rules among ourselves about how precise we really feel like replicating. We know that it’s possible to take a picture of you and your family, you know, in a place. And that’s an expression of you in a place. Right. And it’s framed by you. And you made a choice in how you did that.

So there are a lot of ways that one could reflect what’s happening, reflect the spirit of a place. There’s different media forms that could happen in. And so our interest is essentially reflecting the real world up into some form of itself, right? A virtual form of itself. But the form factor of the things being reflected could potentially fall anywhere on the spectrum of totally real and volumetric to totally expressive.

And to use that Star Wars example again, like if, for example, a bazaar in Tatooine is really based off of a similar type of place in Morocco, for example, right? You could look at it as like an abstraction of that place in Morocco, right? It’s a sort of a fanciful sort of abstraction of that place. But underneath it, you see the elements — right? — of the real place.

And that’s interesting, right? So you can also think about it as you can fall on a spectrum of like it’s completely real to it’s an expressive or abstraction of the real. So these things are all in balance, I think. Right? And interesting, just like all different types of social media that exist today. I mean, you can put something literal up there and, you know, sort of something you’re sharing about yourself. Or you could be creative with it and you can abstract on it, but it’s still an expression of yourself.

So we love this idea that future social media will probably again still be people expressing themselves. But in this new virtual destination type of container. And potentially, again, interesting people in places export things outward like, “Hey, this is what they do in Shibuya, Japan.” It’s very interesting. I see it in videos and on the Internet and pictures and all that stuff.

Hey, that’s really cool. I’ll be influenced by that and I’ll make some art or create something, and it was influenced by that. And I put that out there now. Right? And so there’s sort of a progression, right? So the influence came in or the expression came to you, you did something and then you’re trying to participate in a way right from afar, out of appreciation or inspiration.

That stuff can happen. So there is this relationship that can happen between those that are there at the source of something and those that are everywhere else. That’s a big thing that we’re wondering about, right? How do things reflect in both directions?

BYE: Yeah. And in the Medium article, I know, Matt you had written up nine different principles that I want to bring up and dig into. And John just mentioned one of them, the spirit of the place, and also talking about the virtual and the real reflection of each other. But before we dig into those principles and values, I did have one clarifying question, which is as we’re talking about this, the question for me that comes up is, is this something that you’re starting with recreating these different spaces just from the outside, publicly accessible places?

Or are you actually doing any internal depictions of these spaces, which is there’s these boundaries between public property and private property. And if you are sticking with stuff that’s from publicly accessible view or if you’re going inside of any?

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, we’re definitely focusing on a public place to start with. You know, one of the things that we found is we’re still finding, you know, is that when we’re trying to describe what we’re doing in words, particularly to anyone who’s not familiar with VR or AR or even sometimes if they are, it’s a very abstract, amorphous concept for people to get their heads around.

And so we’re working to soon, you know, have a demoable example of what we mean. And so able will look at it go, “Oh, I get it. That’s what you’re talking about.” If we were to go to a private place, you know, a high-profile concert venue or theme park or stadium or something, we’d need to be able to show them what we do before they would really buy into what we would want them to buy into.

So this first site is as much I wouldn’t call it a proof of concept. It’s definitely gonna be a product, but it’s very much a stake in the ground of saying, Look, this is what we can do, and once it’s working here, we can do that for other places as well. If you’re in a private place or even a different country, you know there’s different laws around what you can capture and record in real time of what’s going on in that place.

You know, everything from security cameras to swiping your wrist on entry doors and all that sort of stuff. Potentially we could take all of that data in and use it to create a very accurate, real time simulation of everything that’s going on in that real place. But the ability to do that is shades of gray from completely public in an environment that’s got pretty strict laws to a private place where potentially you could do anything.

BYE: Yeah, that makes sense. I think up until the point where I’m able to see it, there’s a lot of unanswered questions and stuff that I’ll probably understand a lot more once you have created that proof of concept and released it. So I think with the time we have remaining, it might be worth just going through some of these principles that you’ve written, because I think this article you wrote out, that was part of the reason why I reached out, because I thought some deep thinking about trying to think about the underlying philosophical principles of what’s going to be really driving what you’re going to be moving forward.

And so I’d love to hear some extrapolation of these different principles. We already talked a little bit about the spirit of place, but I’d love to hear a little bit more of a riffing on some of these nine principles that you brought up here.

MIESNIEKS: Sure. Yeah. I mean, either of us can sort of go into these. Let’s start with reality is scarce. You know, everyone’s thought that it’s a big world. It’s is the huge world we live in. But what’s interesting to me is if you go to a place in the real world, you go to the center of Times Square in New York. In the physical world, there’s only one thing in one place at a particular time.

And when you’re looking at a virtual space, you can potentially have infinite things represented in that same space. You know, that’s all the different layers that we’ve talked about. So that idea of scarcity and how that connects to the abundance of being online is really interesting — from an economic point of view because we’re not quite sure exactly how that will play out.

But the idea of one physical person in a place, maybe 100,000 virtual people in the same place gives a really interesting sort of imbalance between what power does the virtual person have that the physical person doesn’t have, and vice versa. And that interplay between scarcity and abundance and value is ripe for us to explore. I don’t know, John, did you want to pick another one? Just to…

GAETA: Okay, we can play ping pong. So, you know, “people are the killer app.” That’s always been true, isn’t it? Since the beginning of time before they use the word app. We can experiment and explore all sorts of fantastical things to do, places to be in layers of reality. But at the end of the day — I think it’s proven time and time out — what matters is who you’re with or who you’re interacting with and what is it that is happening between either, right?

So at the end of the day, it’s got to be the center, right? It’s the sun is the center of the universe. And so we need to appreciate and understand that if people are going to stay engaged in experimental realities and mirror worlds and fantastical things like this, it has to begin and end with the relationship to people, the engagement of people.

So we’re trying to orient things in that particular way because the idea of the metaverse is an abstraction. It can be like infinite universes. They still are just places, but they’re empty places. They’re empty places until they’re defined by the people within them, and the things that they’re doing. So that’s the point of that. People are the sun at the center of the universe. We’re focusing on that and that’s why we feel assured in how we’re prioritizing things.

MIESNIEKS: And it also one thing I just add to that, it’s probably my biggest mistake, the thing I missed with AR and that I’d been working for years, you know, looking at world-facing AR, like look through the phone or through the glasses to see the content in the world. And what was successful was, you know, face filters and it was that ability to kind of how do I point the camera at myself?

And it’s about people and how do I augment people, not rooms, you know? And so, yeah, that really drove home to me that people should be the center of all the interactions that we’re exploring. We talked a bit about Spirit of Place. We talked a bit about how lore was built into real places, but the next one about communication, social and self-expression being the same thing.

What we see, I guess you’ll see today is nearly everything that is at least the virtual world half of the metaverse as opposed to the crypto off of the metaverse. Nearly all of those products are entertainment or gaming, but they’re hard and you know, that’s good. But something I always believed is that when you look at markets and market opportunities and people and what we do with our time and our lives and our energy, like we like to be entertained, but we far more than that, we like to communicate with each other.

And, you know, we spend far more money on communicating, you know, everything from our mobile phone bill to traveling than we do entertaining ourselves. And so I think when we look at our piece of the metaverse that we’re trying to create, we really wanted to tap into this idea of how do you enable people to communicate? Because that is social.

You know, Facebook is a communication platform. They just rebranded it as a social network. And a lot of that communication is just how do we express who we are? And when you go through a platform shift, that use case doesn’t change. All that changes is that you now have some new forms of media, you know, in this case 3D media, to start doing those same things.

And what is this new form of media? How does that let you express yourself? Will communicate in a way that wasn’t possible before. So we’re farmers and that as a use case than we are in building like a game like Niantic has done.

GAETA: Which is super exciting because we’re like in the midst of a near paradigm shift in capture and generation of things. So self-expression is really going to evolve and move fast in the next year or years. And it’s a very exciting area for us. And we’re lucky, right, to have begun now, right? Because we don’t have a lot of things that we’re bound to a lot of legacy, that we’re bound to with regard to what’s the new form of social media and self-expression.

So we’re kind of free. Oh, we’re lucky. “AR is the wrong place to start.” Just to mention that. Like, basically, I don’t think anybody who listens to this incredible program of yours, Kent, would argue, right, that augmented reality is really going to itself be a paradigm shift in the way that we perceive and consume content. But right now, it’s a window.

It’s the way we’re looking at AR and VR or any device, any screen. Is that they’re windows upon the actual thing that matters. And the thing that matters is what it is that people are coming to and engaging with and that’s where our focus has to go, because we’ve all been spending a lot of time, you know, joyfully inventing powerful windows onto the thing that matters.

So AR will come. VR will come. You know, the spatial web is going to come. But it matters what’s actually before our eyes at all. So that’s what that means.

MIESNIEKS: Yeah. The next one with “The real world being a dynamic living place.” We’ve talked a bit about that. Like if you want to capture this feeling, you know the spirit of the place, if you want to tap into the people that are inhabitants of that place, this digital twin — like the idea of a digital twin, like in architecture, engineering, whatever, is always like a static model.

And we think that’s just a first step. Like it’s nowhere near enough. So you need to somehow bring all those dynamic aspects of reality up into the virtual twin. Not much else to say there, but it’s closer to a simulation than it is to a digital twin.

GAETA: Yes. And a simulation that can have its parameters tweaked at some point. So “Get on the metaverse to get off the metaverse.” Again, like the honeymoon of virtual worlds and all of this stuff at a certain point, most people will realize that real life was always so much more interesting and so much more stranger than fiction and beautiful than any digital experience that we could have.

However, what we were sort of implying there is that like great art or something that can catalyze your interest in pursuing something, you know, that is a function that can be served by things like the metaverse. So this is more about the remote co-presence aspect. We could get a taste of a place and all that goes with it. And really, hopefully what it would cause is a drive for us to sort of get to the real place.

So the metaverse could serve to catalyze greater appreciation and engagement of the real world and reality itself. And the weird thing about essentially working in these areas, in these mediums is that the deeper in you go — and visual effects did this before world stuff — but the deeper you go into trying to replicate reality, the more it makes you actually appreciate and look at reality and engage reality harder.

Perceive it like to actually not just sort of let it go by, but actually try to use your senses to perceive what’s happening around you and appreciate it in a deeper way. So that’s hopefully what will happen is as we dabble in the metaverse, it’s going to make us get out of the metaverse and really take in our real lives or real places a lot more than we realize.

Not for all. Maybe some people get lost. But I do think a lot of people will suddenly look at reality freshly after dabbling in the metaverse.

MIESNIEKS: And the last phrase is about reflections. That’s a word we use a lot. Like how do this virtual world in the real world like reflect into each other? And I think the phrase mirror world is kind of a misnomer in that it kind of implies like a perfect literal twin of the real place, like looking in a perfect mirror at yourself.

And, you know, it’s not too difficult to imagine once you go down that path, it’s like it’s impossible to do. How do you get every blade of grass? Perfect. So the interesting thing is, if you think about reflections as a term, it has a much broader meaning than just a literal mirror, and it can mean anything, you know, like a funhouse mirror can give you like a slightly warped reflection.

You can have a pond or a lake where you get a reflection that’s kind of affected by the ripples and the color of the water right through to something like an impressionistic painting, like a Monet painting of his water lilies that is totally impressionistic, but it is definitely like you go to the place that he painted and you can tell it’s the same place and it is an interpretation of that real place.

And so that broader definition of reflections is really what we’re leaning into, and we’re not going for the whole pixel perfect real time copy of the Atom. But more a sense of what does it feel like? And how does it feel similar? But it can also be a little bit different as well. And create something that’s more interesting and more engaging or more fun or more peaceful, you know, whatever you feel it needs to be. Once, you know, all these creative tools are out there.

BYE: Awesome. Well, I think that actually gives me a really good sense of your intentions and your philosophical principles that you’re basing your company on and from there and extrapolating out and building it and really excited to see where it goes as it continue to evolve and progress down the path of building the Living Cities. So I guess just to wrap things up, I’d love to hear from each of you what you think the ultimate potential of these immersive technologies of virtual reality, augmented reality, or just the blending of the virtual and the physical together, what you think that might be able to enable?

GAETA: Well I’ll go first and Matt can like land the plane. How long have you been doing these podcasts, Kent?

BYE: It’s been over eight years now.

GAETA: Yeah. They’re amazing, and I’ve heard many of them. And so much has happened and changed and evolved. And it’s like, this is a road, right? We’re like trying to get on a road. And the road is a long road. It might not ever end. You know, imagine this road 20 years from now, 50 years from now. Right? But the idea of the road we’d like to get on is one that’s actually intertwining the real world and reality with the virtual, a sort of an extension and amplification of the real.

And these technologies that we have — it’s just remarkable and impressive, you know, what’s actually been done in the last decade. Incredible, really. Everything from like computer graphics depictions of real things to ways of seeing and being inside and touching these things in a sense. But we’ve literally just gotten a bunch of colors of paint and some brushes just in the last few years, couple of years.

You can make an argument that like this year and the next few years are like the beginnings — the beginning now. We’re finally almost ready to get going. So the answer to the question is it’s a road we’re stepping on, I think everyone’s going to step on it. And we’re really looking forward to collaborating with people, having others really tell us what they want to do, what we should do. I mean, we just have a general sense, right, of the elements of the formula of this alchemy. But we absolutely need people to sort of mix these things together with us and learn from them.

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, for me, yeah again, if I think long term and get away from products and devices and things. It really is about giving people superpowers to let them influence and change their perception of reality. That’s kind of at the heart of it. And hopefully those powers are used for good or at least incentivized for good, and they make the world a better place.

BYE: That’s awesome. Well, is there anything else that’s left unsaid that you’d like to say to the broader immersive community?

MIESNIEKS: We want to talk all about our product, but we can’t yet. We’re just going to wait until we get something to show off that we’re really looking forward to starting to show it off internally. It’s super exciting. Just in the last week, you know, we had some milestones where everything kind of is hooked together now and we’re getting a sense of what it’s going to look and feel like. So, you know, for me, I just can’t wait to start talking about that.

BYE: And well, John and Matt, thanks so much for joining me to help give a little bit of a sneak peek. I know it’s still early days and we’ll have a lot more to talk about once you are able to show the world what you’ve been creating. But I think I love to just to hear your journeys up to this point and to get a little more context as to what’s inspiring you and the different principles that you’re building upon. So really looking forward to seeing where you take this. So yeah, thanks again for joining me here on the podcast.

MIESNIEKS: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having us.

GAETA: Of course, it’s great to be here.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality