#1016: Unpacking Connect 2021 with Road to VR’s Ben Lang: Facebook to Meta Rebrand, Metaverse & Interoperability Aspirations, & XR Privacy

Connect 2021 happened on Thrusday October 28, 2021 where Facebook rebranded to Meta on their path towards becoming a Metaverse company, and they provided a lot of vague, speculative designs for some of the social experiences that they can imagine happening in the Metaverse over the next decade. Because it is a bit unclear for how to judge and evaluate this speculative designs built on open standards and interoperability, then I thought I’d invite on Road to VR’s co-founder and executive editor Ben Lang to unpack it all. We reflect on Meta’s vision of the Metaverse, their past behaviors around content interoperability, and break down some of their other claims around architecting the Metaverse with privacy in mind.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So last Thursday on October 28th was the Connect 2021 conference, which would have been the Oculus Connect 8. They renamed it last year to Facebook Connect. This year it was just Connect 2021 because in part, Facebook is rebranding from Facebook into Meta. That was a big announcement that came out, and they also, rather than announcing any big specific project, I mean, they talked about how they're working on Project Cambria, which is like the Quest Pro. They also talked about Project Nazaret, which is essentially their head-mounted augmented reality headset, but no specific plans, no announcements other than some broad generalizations in terms of how they're making this pivot from Facebook into meta, and how they're transitioning into becoming a social media company into becoming a metaverse company. So this is really their opportunity to give their vision for what they conceive of what the metaverse is going to be over the next decade. So certainly a lot of vague claims for their vision and actually John Carmack afterwards was complaining about this. Tendency towards architectural astronauts who are talking about the metaverse in these vague terms without being really grounded in any specifics And so if there's any one thing it's sort of that's the big complaint that people are trying to figure out Okay, what do they really mean by the metaverse? So we're still waiting to see exactly what their concrete plans are, but I thought I'd digest this a little bit with Ben Lange's Road to VR. So actually back on October 13th, 2021 was Road to VR's 10 year anniversary. Ben Lange's now been covering VR for over a decade now, tracking it before even the Oculus Kickstarter. So wanted to just get his take on the Connect 2021 and just also just some of his thoughts of where this is at now and where it's all going. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Ben happened on Monday, November 1st, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:04.862] Ben Lang: Sure, thanks for having me. My name is Ben Lang. I am the co-founder and executive editor of Road to VR. It's been a decade now, actually, as of October, that I have been covering this VR space, and it's kind of amazing what's happened in 10 years. It feels both like things have gone slow and things have gone fast. It's a really kind of peculiar feeling. And yeah, so we just had a lot of exciting news recently, so there's plenty to talk about.

[00:02:31.761] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember your 10-year anniversary. I've been in it for about seven and a half years now, since May of 2014, but you were involved all the way back in 2011, in October. Maybe you take me back to the very beginning of what made you start the Road to VR blog, which has been a very prescient name over the last decade as we've been on this Road to VR.

[00:02:51.078] Ben Lang: Sure. So when I founded it, I was in college. I had done some technology journalism prior when I was in high school. And so I kind of learned reporting, I learned, you know, fact finding, news gathering and all that and writing and had worked for a couple different small publications. And at some point, I just got the idea in my head that I wanted to kind of start something on my own. I had a list of a couple different topics that interested me. and virtual reality was just one of them. In 2011, this was pre-Oculus, this was pre-everything, really, minus the VR stuff that had kind of happened in the 90s, and then some really high-end simulator-level military gear that existed at the time. So it wasn't like, oh, there's this big explosion happening, I'm gonna jump on this train. It was really purely curiosity for me. Again, among these several topics, they're all just things that were interesting to me, and I figured, if I'm going to start something on my own, I should pick something that I'm interested in, because writing about something is a great way to learn about something. So at the time, I said, you know, okay, virtual reality, this is interesting. Let's figure out what is the state of the art today in 2011, and how long until we're at some crazy future where we have something like, you know, Matrix-level virtual reality, right? Like, is that even remotely in the realm of possibility? Is that on the horizon anywhere? And I was just really curious, like, where are we? how long would it take to get there? And so I started learning everything I could, writing up developments that I would find. And over the course of a couple of years, things started happening, the Oculus Kickstarter and all of that, that really kind of sparked this huge new thing that has really turned into an entire industry. I mean, we just saw one of the biggest tech companies in the world basically pivot their entire company into what started back then, into this thing that they're throwing billions of dollars into now. So yeah, that's the sort of short-ish version of starting and where things have gone.

[00:04:47.720] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I know that you've been covering this for a number of years before I got on. I got my Oculus DK1 in January 1st, 2014. And then we met at Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference in May of 2014. And you've been attending all these major gatherings and covering them as we've been to all these different events. And so this would have been, I guess, Oculus Connect 8, although it was renamed to Facebook Connect 1, this year it was just Connect 2021. So it's been quite a change in evolution, I'd say, over the last number of years. this year being quite different and a lot more visionary, like really painting a picture for what we can expect from this sort of shift from not only what used to be known as Facebook now as Meta, they renamed their whole company. And I guess I'm just curious to hear what your initial thoughts were from this shift in this pivot. And, you know, there's their perspective from the outside with people coming in, really looking skeptical at this as just maybe a distraction from all the other issues they have, but I think you and I would probably agree that this is something they've been committed to for a long time. And from my take, at least, is that the dwindling numbers of both teenagers and young adults involved with their platform as Facebook seems to be like a pretty strategic shift for them to really try to engage not only the younger populations, but also to really build on a technology platform that they kind of missed the boat when it came to the mobile platforms. And so they don't really want to have that happen again. So they're willing to do this type of investment and be first and maybe be a little bit more bold than the other companies out there right now. So that's at least some of my take. I'm just curious to hear some of your responses from that though.

[00:06:18.885] Ben Lang: Yeah, and so I guess we should just say, you know, for anybody somehow living under a rock the last week, you know, Facebook renamed to Meta and basically said, our company name is now Meta because this is our primary objective now is to build and develop the Metaverse or a part of the Metaverse that people are going to use and live in and maybe even work in and all this stuff. Yeah, I think I'm in a similar boat with you. All other Facebook issues aside, I will say it is impressive to see a company that is by no means hurting, you know, in its current position as one of the leading social media companies in the entire world, one of the biggest companies in the entire world, by no means in trouble. It's really interesting to see them take such a sharp turn reposition their company so strongly, so publicly, to say, This is what we're doing. We think this is the future. We're racing toward it right now. We're telling you that because we think this is a huge deal. You just don't get a lot of companies of this scale doing that. Usually, the structure and the control is just such a way where they can't. It's too much to try to do that risky, innovative thing and just say, We're turning toward where we think the future is going, and we think the future is going to be really different, so we're going to start just pouring money into this to try to get there. So that's pretty fascinating. You know, I don't think we're going to see a lot of other companies make that kind of significant public commitment. Like Google's not going to say in the same way, they're not going to change their name and say, here we go, you know, all on board for the metaverse train. It'll be more of a slow thing, you know, something that they try to adopt over time. But Facebook really is taking a risk and they're putting their money where their mouth is and saying, we think there's the future and we're going to try to be the ones to build a significant portion of it. So yeah, all other issues aside, that's very interesting. You have the whole conversation otherwise about who's going to control this metaverse. Ideally it's nobody, but unfortunately, very likely, a lot of us, if we end up spending time in this metaverse, somebody's going to be the gatekeeper, somebody's going to be the controller in a lot of ways. It's going to be difficult to stop that train, I think. So yeah, I'll leave it at that for now.

[00:08:27.955] Kent Bye: Yeah, one response that I have, which is I think part of the whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who came out and released a lot of different documents called the Facebook files that was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. But also there was like eight or nine SEC lawsuits that brought about. And one of the lawsuits that she brought about was that Facebook has been saying that they've been growing their overall monthly and daily active users for all of the users across all the family of their applications. I think the last report was like 3.58 billion people. So that's quite a number of people that they had a significant number of people who are at least one of their platforms active. However, one of the things that Franzen Haugen was pointing out was that from the teenagers, so from 13 to 17, or the young adults from 18 to 24, those two demographics have consistently been going down over the last eight years or so, since 2012, 2013. those two demographics have been going to Snapchat, TikTok, or like even Roblox, or Minecraft, or Fortnite, maybe even Rec Room, these other platforms that are not the main platforms for Facebook. And for me, I think, you know, at the earnings call, Zuckerberg even explicitly said, we are pivoting all of these other brands to focus on the young adults and the teenagers, because it's, you know, what has been described by Alex Heath as like the lost generation. So I think there's a little bit more context there in terms of like, I think they're, they may actually be struggling in terms of their future. They see the writing on the wall that what teenager wants to be on the same social network as their parents, you know, it's like this natural rebellion that you may want to have as a teenager. And that because this social media thing is so new that, you know, it may be a natural cycle that there's a rebellion that happens with whatever one generation from the next. But this seems to be a pretty significant thing that I think is maybe part of the undercurrent for what is motivating this type of shift, because not only is it a platform shift that they don't want to miss out on, but it's also they're kind of losing ground when it comes to some of these important demographics for the future.

[00:10:28.688] Ben Lang: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that that's a major reason for them to go after it. And it's interesting, you know, you think about the kind of facebook.com, you know, website and you talk about the different demographics. Yeah, many of us kind of were around when that was starting and we're used to this initially text based communication on there and then a lot of photos and then sort of into videos. But yeah, definitely younger generation way more connected. I think I would say their social media is actually a lot more personal. It's usually in smaller groups. You know, it's a lot of texting and Discord, voice chatting, Snapchat for sure, TikTok. It's faster, it's a little more personal, rather than sort of this broadcast yourself out to the internet kind of social media. And it does seem like, you know, that's a place where virtual and augmented reality absolutely excel, right? In that personal level, like to have a one-on-one conversation in VR compared to even a video chat, let alone text, that connection is way closer, feels sort of more real, if you will. And yeah, I think that'll be a big appeal. And that's definitely where that generation is more so than message boards or forms type communication that kind of the, let's call it the legacy social media type networks are. So yeah, I find it interesting because like I said, not a lot of companies are structured in a way where this could happen. Facebook are now meta. If this was a mistake, if the metaverse never really happens, this could really be a trail to the end of their dominance in social media. This could be a huge failure for them. And so it is pretty wild to see them. And I think it's really, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, it's got to be him in his heart and in his head saying, I believe this is the future 100 percent. Right. And that's why I'm going to point this company there. And that's really fascinating, because if you just, you know, you've got to think about any other company that's in VR right now, or think about getting VR, you just don't have a lot of people at the very, very, very, you know, the top, the top and biggest stakeholder in the company saying, you know, this is definitely the future. Let's go after it, sort of every fiber in our being. So it's really fascinating. And I think people won't maybe really, I think most people that are not falling as close as us maybe don't really realize that there is real stuff happening beyond the name change, right? I think your average person who just casually catches this on the news, it's just like, oh, Facebook's trying to, you know, fix their image up. But really, the name change is backed by What we've seen is they're saying we're dropping $10 billion in this ARVR metaverse part of our organization in 2021 alone. And in the next subsequent years, we expect that to be even more annually, right? Like this huge, this is not just a name change. And I think it's really worth paying attention to closely as we are.

[00:13:14.226] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was listening into that earnings call, um, last Monday and hearing Mark Zuckerberg saying that they were taking $10 billion off of the profit that normally would have been just profit and investing it into Facebook reality labs, which is being broken off into a separate section and separate reporting now so that there can be a little bit more transparency because the It was small enough that they didn't have to report all the specific details, but I think it's strategically, they wanna really put that emphasis that they are seeing this as the future. And yeah, I do see that since covering them for over seven years now, I have a couple of thoughts. One is that they're certainly committed to this as a vision. Like whenever Facebook bought Oculus, that was certainly a signal to the larger industry that this was real and that there was real money behind it and that it was gonna happen. In the absence of that, if Oculus was just an independent company, there was a good chance that they wouldn't have been able to really make it happen. But because it was bought by Facebook and all these other companies started to get involved, it was a real signal to the rest of the XR industry that this was a real thing. Time and time again, when I talked to different people, that was like a turning point for a lot of people, that they knew that it was real at that moment. You know, people like yourself have been covering it for a number of years, but I just remember a couple of months after that, and that May is when the first conference, the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference. And it was just hopping and buzzing like the potentials for where this could go. And I think for me, as I've been watching Facebook, the challenge that I have, well, I guess now it's meta. Over time, I'll be referring to them as meta, but in the past, it's been Facebook. But as watching the behaviors of the company now known as meta, formerly as Facebook, to match what they're saying versus what they're doing. And I think that's the thing that I'm taking away from this is, okay, they're talking about openness, they're talking about interoperability, they're saying all of the right things that I want to hear. But I haven't seen them really live into that in the past. And so there's a big part of me that's like, okay, I still don't know what their vision of the metaverse exactly is, and how much that they really want to try to control things, rather than making it this kind of decentralized, open, interoperable vision that they're saying that they want, but they've literally done very little to nothing over the past. to do that. They have done OpenXR, which is great. They have done WebXR, which is great. But they've also not been as open or interoperable as say Valve has with SteamVR and what was OpenVR to be able to play the games on Steam heads on the Vive headset and all their SteamVR versus the closed wall garden proprietary approach that they've taken on so many different areas that whenever they talk about openness, I just think it's kind of like metaverse washing us, like trying to convince us that a vision of the metaverse that we all want to live into, but really they're kind of secretly wanting to become the IOI of this next phase. So that's my big takeaway coming out. I don't know if you have some ideas or thoughts as you kind of listen to what they're saying and then how they're actually living into these visions of interoperability and openness.

[00:16:04.869] Ben Lang: Yeah, actually, I specifically recall when I was watching the Connect keynote, two particular moments where I felt that very same feeling of, I hear what you're saying, but where is sort of the concrete on this, you know, various things talking about openness of the metaverse, you know, they, they have repeatedly said, the metaverse is not going to be built by one company. It's gonna be a lot of different things and we want the metaverse to be open like we support that but yeah Tell us what that actually means when you say it because you know I think you and I both know that Facebook has a habit excuse me meta has a habit or has had a habit over the years of kind of hitting these keywords of, you know, privacy, control, and this stuff, and then they say that they have it, but the things that they do are not always in the spirit of what they are communicating outwardly. Things like saying, well, today we don't collect this data from the headsets, for instance, but they're not saying they're not going to do it in the future. Sort of those little loopholes there. So when Zuckerberg was talking about, you know, the openness and whatnot, I just thought maybe he was going to follow up with some mention, some commitment of, we want all devices to be on these things we're building for the Metaverse, right? Venues, Horizon, Oculus Home, like, let's let every headset that wants to connect in here do it, right? I thought we'd hear something like that. And it just didn't happen at all. He just kind of said, openness and whatever, and then there was nothing really backing that up yet. Hopefully it'll come, but in my mind, it's like, their vision of a metaverse is not going to feel like a metaverse until it's device agnostic, right? It'd be kind of like if you just had the Facebook application and it only worked on an iPhone. It'd be a horrible social media network, right? Because Android and any other phone out there couldn't use it, right? It's only a good social network in a social place when it's really easy to access regardless of the device that you're using. Hopefully there'll be a reckoning where they realize that, like, okay, in order to do this, we can't only allow access through our hardware. But so far, that just isn't the case yet, right? They definitely have the most sort of closed content ecosystem. And what they keep saying about openness, like, I'm waiting to see it. The other thing that I noticed was this moment where Zuckerberg was like, We think that some companies out there have too much control, and they squash potential innovation with their high fees. We don't think that's right. For people building on our platforms, we want to keep stuff low. I can't remember if he specifically called out Apple for saying they charge too much. If not specifically, it was definitely alluded to, that they have too much control. and that they are taking more than they are giving back in terms of what they charge people to create applications on there and exist on their platform. And I absolutely was like, okay, cool. So you're about to follow this up by saying, and so remember that 30% fee that we currently charge our Oculus developers, we're gonna bring that down to 10%, 15%, 5%, whatever. I totally thought he was leading into that because he was directly alluding to the same 30% fee on the Apple App Store or the Android Store. that he didn't like, and he said, like, we don't like living under these regimes, basically. But they have the exact same fee, and that just really surprised me. I thought, like, exactly what he said was not aligning with what they're doing, you know? If you really want to let this innovation shine, especially in this early period, Strategically, I can't imagine they're raking in cash from this 30% fee on VR games and software right now. In order to encourage developers into this space, I can't believe they haven't just said, for five years we're going to be 0% and then after that we're going to be whatever, 15% or even if it's 30%, just to get people in and make it happen. It's just weird to have that barrier up and to be complaining about that on other platforms when here we're still seeing it.

[00:20:01.282] Kent Bye: Yeah, that, that stuck out for me as well. I think he even called it like a tax that is preventing innovation from happening. I want to have much more innovation happening. And what I read out of that is that rather than just having the 30% cut that they want to move towards ads and advertising, even though he didn't say that the next person that came on was saying, well, the way we're actually going to do this is through advertising. When I was watching that section, I was like, what is he getting at here? Cause he's just sort of like talking about things really abstractly, which generally that was a big problem with the entire keynote was that as like, here's our vision for the next decade. And there was some specific projects they're working on, but a lot of it was pie in the sky visions, but visions that were not actually matching behaviors. Like this is a great example of that 30% tax, which is the fee that Apple and Google take and steam and, you know, Epic Games has a little bit lower, but like you said, they have the exact same tax. And I think that what he said in the talk was that eventually they want to lower that and they want to subsidize the hardware to make it affordable because they want to make things accessible and they want to make it more freely available, which is, you know, their moral argument. But the way they do that is through surveillance and tracking you and doing ads. So in some ways, it was his way of justifying the fact that they were going to have this big surveillance network. But of course, they're not saying that. They're saying the responsible innovation principles, the first one is don't surprise people. And that is rooted in the 1973 Fair Information Practice principles, which is that when collecting data, you tell people what you're collecting and what you're using it for, which is what legally the Federal Trade Commission is looking for in a privacy policy. If they are gathering a bunch of data and that disclosing that to you in the privacy policy, then that's a violation that the FTC can go after them. But as long as they tell you what they're recording, then they're cool with this law for how privacy was starting to be defined back in 1973. Whenever they talk about privacy, it's about a vision of privacy that goes back from the 70s and hasn't evolved to the point where it's actually, no, don't track me, don't have all the surveillance, and I don't want to have everything that I do in the metaverse to be tracked. But I think in some ways, the way that I read that, at least, is that they're laying the groundwork and saying our moral argument for tracking you and doing ads in the metaverse is that this is making it more accessible and there can be more economic innovation and freedom, and there's not going to be this 30% tax. But right now, they're kind of double dipping because they're doing both, but they want to phase out that 30% but still have this surveillance capitalism type of model in the future, but yet still at the same time, somehow managed to keep things private, which I think is part of the paradox of how I don't understand how they're going to do that. How can they really do both of those things at the same time of maintaining your privacy, but still have targeted ads?

[00:22:45.478] Ben Lang: Yeah, yeah, and I think that similarly conflicts with this idea of an open metaverse, right? If every time you're hanging out in the meta portion of the metaverse and you open a door, you know, and hop into another part of the network that's not sort of meta-controlled, you know, they're going to want to discourage that because they're going to want you to stay and do your activities, whatever it is that you're doing, you know, social or gaming or whatever. They're going to want you to do it basically under their roof. so that they can have the tracking, so that they can have the effective ad model, right? And so I'm still waiting to see, like I said, you know, what do they actually mean when they say they want it to be open? Am I actually going to be able to jump from a meta-made application into another application and take my avatar with me, right? It's like, hopefully, if we're lucky, they actually do want it to be open, and this forces them to do stuff. Like, if they want people to assume a meta-based identity, right? So that's basically, make an account with us, make your avatar with us, store your inventory with us. Like, these are gonna be portions of the internet. You're gonna have an identity, you're gonna have sort of an inventory ownership of things. If they want people to buy into their version of that, to have basically your identity on their servers, if you will, they're gonna need to let you take that elsewhere, right? Like, if I want to then go hang out somewhere else with other people in some application that's not, you know, meta-created, it's less valuable to me to start my identity with them if I can't go out to some other application and have all that stuff you know, loaded in automatically and seamlessly. And if they had to do that, you know, strategically, that would force some level of openness and interoperability. It's still probably really just way early for those kinds of conversations. It's like a lot of complicated technology to make that happen, I would say. We don't even really necessarily know what the foundation of the metaverse is going to be, if it's going to be purely web-based or inside of discrete applications that can talk to one another or what. But yeah. And to be fair, that's probably partly why they can't say what their actual plans are for openness. We gotta figure out actually how people want to exist in the metaverse and how they will get around and what kind of things they will do before we figure out where we can have open doors and connect stuff. But yeah, historically speaking, they don't always align with what they're saying, so hopefully that will change. Some of the responsible innovation principles stuff that you mentioned and that they have laid out there, at least they're on the record saying that stuff. At least they're saying, here, we've published these guidelines that we want to aspire to stick to, even if it's not legally binding. At least anybody, any of us can go and say, point to that and say, look, you said don't surprise people. and here's a place where any normal person would say that I had no idea that was happening, right? So at least they'll, you know, there'll be their public word that we can point back to. Hopefully that means that they are really going to try to take this stuff to heart, even if it is difficult to maybe turn the ship on that, if you will, compared to their behavior previously. And I guess we'll just have to wait and see. But that kind of brings up the question is like, you know, it's not even necessarily a choice at a certain point about whether or not... Only Facebook has control of whether or not their metaverse is something that tons of people use. And it's scary to me to think of a world where their social network, their metaverse, let's say, is so popular that it's sort of like, oh, well, I kind of have to be on it to be a participant in this modern age. You could say 10 years ago, if you weren't on Facebook, it was like, what are you doing? You almost had to be. Everybody had it. It was a useful thing because of the amount of people that amassed that network effect, as it's called. The bigger the network grows with more people, the more valuable it becomes to every new person that joins it. So it would be a bummer if Facebook becomes so dominant in this space, but unfortunately seems a little bit likely, excuse me, meta, because dominant in this space. And then it's the situation of, even if we don't like the stuff that they're doing, then it becomes a like, well, everyone is on there, that's where stuff is happening sort of situation. And so as I think everybody in VR land has been saying for the last several months now, not even several months, going on years now, we really need a significant competitor to Facebook meta, you know, Oculus situation so that there are choices and that there are reasons for them to, to be better, you know, financial reasons for them to be better.

[00:27:20.457] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. And as I just relistened to Zuckerberg's talk, and one of the things he did say was interoperability, open standards, privacy and safety need to be built in to the metaverse. So there's a difference between open standards and openness because You can still use your closed wall garden approach and use open standards. Like for example, open XR, which they are actually moving to open XR as the basis, which is a Kronos standard. And some of their new extensions are going to be based upon open XR. So some of the things that they talked about during some of their sessions were released as an open XR standard that you could go look at the spec and start to, and this was the application space warp. That was a new feature that is going to be. made broadly available. The meta engineers worked on this and then they launched it. Then because it's an open XR standard, there's other people that can presumably use that same implementation on other devices, which is amazing. I think it's really living into the interoperability that they're speaking of, but that doesn't mean that they're going to have to have an open platform. They can still use open standards without being totally open. When I hear Neil Trevith talk about this dialectic between the closed and open, the things he says is that every successful open standard has like a proprietary competitor. And often the proprietary aspect comes first. And if you look at, say, the most popular social VR networks, you have everything from Rec Room or VR Chat, you know, on the VR side, you have Roblox and, you know, Fortnite, you know, and this more broad definitions of the metaverse. But all of those, they have their own economy for how avatars work and how wearables work for each of these. Thanks. And in some ways, Facebook is behind in all of these. And so it's kind of analogous to say Microsoft is not really a leader when it comes to mobile platforms. And so all their services have to be compatible with both iOS and Android and all the other platforms. And so there's been this shift where Microsoft has had to take this interoperable approach just to be competitive, because if they want to have services, then they want to make their services compatible with all the other services. So it's really friendly to developers to be able to write at once and be compatible across all these platforms. So in some ways, when Facebook is saying that they want to have avatars be interoperable, it's maybe a big reason is because they don't actually have a really viable social VR network themselves. And so for them, it's more beneficial to be able to start to have this interchange. But it goes against a lot of the platforms to be able to want to even do that, say, VR chat, rec room, or Roblox or any of these other platforms that are out there, they have their own ecosystems that are not beneficial to them to always have things interoperable to be able to export or import stuff out because it would change the social dynamics of these places. So when I see that, that's the types of questions that start to come up is, okay, what do they actually mean by this? And I think that's what when John Carmack was complaining in his Connect speech, he was saying that he sees whenever people talk about the metaverse, that there's these architectural astronauts, so people who talk at so high levels. but they're not actually grounded into the reality of where things are at. And, you know, if you read through the raw notes that Carmack published, he was basically grilling like, hey, all this money we're dumping into a rise in worlds, this is really the best way for us to be investing. Because he said in his notes, like the numbers that they had even before, like in space, like spaces were higher than what they are in worlds because it's still in pre-beta. And he's like, you know, are we just like blowing through cashier and not really actually landing with where the market is at? So anyway, that's sort of some reflections where when I hear these different things, it's there's questions about, okay, how does this actually land into any of the products? Or how does this get grounded into anything that's real? Because it's a lot of visionary talk without really being connected to anything that I see them actually working on right now.

[00:31:06.490] Ben Lang: Yeah, talk about sort of worlds and the architecture astronaut is interesting to me. I've been thinking a lot recently about the various, let's call them metaverse platforms. These are applications that somebody is building to hopefully be this place where lots of people come and do stuff, right? And so, you know, there are some successful ones out there. You've got VRChat, Roblox, RecRoom, Fortnite, like you mentioned, where these are games, but they're also places that people kind of hang out to some extent or do different activities or not just explicitly, you know, game. And then, like, I'm constantly bombarded with pitches in my email, you know, about, you know, hey, write about our thing. And it's so frequently it's this, Hey, Metaverse, it's like the hot buzzwords lately. Metaverse, NFT, blockchain, right? And it's like, people pitch that to me. Like, here's our new Metaverse thing. It's just, you know, Metaverse B, we just came up with it. It's got NFTs in there. You got blockchain, you got virtual land ownership. And there's this promise that somehow between those combinations of technologies, if you just go on it, somehow you're gonna make money or something. It's incredibly vague. And what's really striking to me is that for all those different platform, like metaverse platform pitches that I'm getting that are promising all this money that you're gonna make somehow, almost none of them are anywhere close to these other things like Rec Room, Roblox, Fortnite, right? Because they're not promising people like hey come here and make like somehow you're gonna make money in this virtual goods world somehow Really, they attracted people by just making like literally just like a fun game right like look at fortnight right fortnight We now sort of associated with the metaverse because it has so many people paying money to change their in-game identity It has like activities like immersive concerts and it's sort of like a social place for people to talk and and play around not even a just play the core game. And they attracted all those people there not by any of that stuff, but by a video game. People were like, this is just a fun game. I love it. I'm going to come here and play it. And then they added those services sort of on top, those additional things that are now becoming more metaverse-y. And so it was like, the point I think I'm trying to get around to is that, to John Carmack's point, it's not this big architecture thing that's going to attract real users. It's not the platform that promises blockchain, NFTs, virtual land ownership, and all this stuff. It's really probably the early successful metaverses already are, and will probably continue to be, game companies that just make an incredible video game that hundreds of thousands or millions of people are going to want to play regularly, and then extend out from there. So it's kind of funny to me to see Facebook taking the approach that they're doing and trying to build, they're basically trying to build a game that allows people to build other games inside of it, which again is this idea that other people will build it for us and they'll attract other people into it. But really, honestly, I think an effective strategy could have been, Facebook should have bought a really major game studio, like traditional game studio, and just said, build a great video game. So they could have just bought a successful video game studio, a big one that's known for great games, let's say Call of Duty or whatever, and just say, build Call of Duty, get people on it, and then they could have just grafted on the additional social and activities on top of there on this thing that we already know has the ability to attract tons of people. I'm really surprised we haven't seen that strategy yet, because again, it's like the, The games that are just like designed by game designers who know how to just make fun stuff for people to do, or the Metaverse platform is that we're sort of built on that, like Rec Room for instance. Rec Room is now, has tons of user-generated content, and it's really cool that that's happening. People can get paid out, like there's an economy for people, that's really cool. But Rec Room started by building their own game content None of the tools existed to build your own stuff for years. They started attracting people into there by saying, here's a just social fun VR application that has fun activities that we built already that are fun in here. None of the buzzword promises, none of the, you're gonna make money somehow, right? That only actually came the whole, like you can create in there and have people pay you and you can get real money out of that. That only came after they had the usership there that was attracted initially By just like building a fun thing for people to do that is like guaranteed fun instead of like it's a chicken and egg kind of thing. You can't just say, here's a big flat open ground like, hey, you come in here and like you could build something awesome and you could make a bunch of money like Yeah, they have to do it first, right? They have to start with that investment, I think, is a better strategy than just saying, we give you the virtual ground, literally, and some tools to build on top of, and you go ahead and do all the work. I just, I don't see that being very successful. And to that point, I mean, Facebook is already, Meta is already, they just announced like a $10 million fund to try to coax people in to fix that problem that they're dealing with. But like I'm saying, instead of paying 10 million and hoping to get sort of amateur creators in there, I really think that might've been a good idea to start your entire, like the whole basis of your metaverse platform around just an excellent video game made by, you know, world renowned video game developer. Cause they have that science basically figured out at this point.

[00:36:43.778] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. I did an interview with Cameron Brown that I'll be releasing here soon of Rec Room, who's the creative director there. And yeah, they have a lot of game development background and they've been iterating pretty consistently since their launch back in like 2016. So they've been iterating, rapidly iterating. And like you said, yeah, slowly organically growing their community. And I think that's the challenge with something like Facebook is that they haven't really committed to something that's really organically growing something. And I remember Cameron telling me that there's been a time at which they remembered when their user generated tools, that there were some rooms that were getting more hits than some of their first party rec room originals that they were creating. And it took time for that to happen for the stuff that they had built and how some user generated stuff to be at that same quality. So you can't expect world-class experiences to come just from user generated content. But the other thing that I want to point out there that you're bringing up is this trend that I've seen from the crypto NFT world, which starts with the economy first and then tries to add in the social VR later. And then you have the social VR that starts with the social VR and adding the economic parts later. Rekrum's been able to add the economy. VRChat is still in the process of even figuring out what their economy is going to be. So you have a point where you have an experience that's super compelling from an experiential perspective, but may not be necessarily economically viable for people to really participate in it. Whereas on the opposite of the crypto world, it seems to be a lot of speculation that these virtual land parcels that you're buying are within their nature, are these speculative crypto worlds. But as long as enough people believe in it, then it has market values of being able to buy and sell land for 20 to $30,000. And even more for a parcel of virtual land that literally has no compelling experience on it at all. It's just like based upon its location or more in that speculation. And so I've seen this past couple of weeks, the D central and actually had a metaverse festival and the peak concurrency was around 1400 that at least when I saw it, I don't know how many people total, but that's like a fraction of what you see in these other worlds. But you know, certainly a lot of money that's coming from to be able to produce a big show like that. Or CryptoVoxels has certainly had a lot of more organic, community-grown, bottom-up growth when it comes to some of those different worlds. I do see that there is going to be a convergence of these worlds. And even Mark was mentioning things like NFTs and crypto in his keynote, and it's unknown as to how they're going to be playing a part in that. But one thing I did notice by looking at some of these different more decentralized metaverse crypto based platforms is that in order to log in, you have to connect your metamask wallet or whatever your, your identity becomes your wallet. And when you get onto your wallet, then you're able to then have all your assets that are there. And you could potentially eventually associate different NFT wearables and start to wear wearables on your, your avatar representation. Something like Webiverse is something that I think is really pioneering some of those different ways of being able to wear NFT wearables. But I think that this is coming to something like Decentraland as well as CryptoVoxels are both looking at these things. And if I were to make a bet as to where some of this could go, is that for Facebook to say, you know, rather than logging in with your crypto wallet, here's our cryptographic way of logging in. And then as you log in, then we're going to manage all of your avatar representations and all of your wearables. So that seems like a viable play they could do. But I just don't know if As we move forward into this kind of interoperable way of like, there's many different wallets you could use to log into these different metaverse places that are more of the crypto based, whether or not meta and all their different associations are going to be able to, you know, make a viable play. As I listen to what he's saying, that's what would make sense for them to be able to have their own, to basically become Coinbase or to have their own wallets to be able to exchange money. So then they become a crypto exchange. which I know that, you know, they may have had different ways of suggesting they're going to move in that direction, but it'll be interesting to see how that actually plays out. If they start their own cryptocurrency and the Libra that they have, I think they may have renamed it. There's been some resistance to some of that and, you know, skepticism for whether or not they're going to be responsible enough to kind of run their own currency. But that, as I look at the different trends, that's some of the different things that I would see would make sense for them to do something like that based upon what I heard from the keynote.

[00:41:05.900] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think you're right about that. I think that more so than something like virtual land, which might be something that people start to care about, that doesn't happen until there are people coming to a world and caring. For the virtual land thing to work out, The virtual land itself is not what is going to bring anyone there. So if there's not something else that's bringing anyone to the space, nobody cares about the land, right? We literally have the same issue in the real world and the real world, you can't even duplicate infinitely. Like there's land out there that's just extremely cheap because there's no reason for anyone to be there, right? Just go to a desert. find your nearest desert. And if it were for sale, it'd be very inexpensive because it's just there's nothing there. There's no reason you'd want to be there, basically. Whereas land and cities, there's reasons for people to be there other than the land, and therefore the land is valuable, right? So in order for the land thing to work out, yeah, that's not going to come until we have metaverses that people have an external, you know, some other reason to spend time in other than the idea that they can invest and do whatever. I think that you're right that the near-term major play is identity, right? And as you said, the wallet, right? The crypto wallet, which will basically contain your identity on the blockchain potentially, that's going to be the foundation of everybody's identity. And those that control it, the companies out there are going to want to try to have the users so they can be hosting the wallets essentially. And that's where a lot of the control and power will probably come from. Because, you know, if that platform doesn't let you sort of move your wallet away from them, and I say wallet in a general term, you know, a lot of people will not care what the underlying technology is. They'll just know, okay, if I go on to here, I can make my avatar and yada yada. If that service decides not to let people move away from move their identity from here to there, they have a ton of control over them, right? The more you invest in a single platform monetarily, socially, in your time, the sort of more control they have if they choose to kind of hold onto it tightly. So, you know, as we're saying, hopefully there will be a financial incentive for some of these companies to say, Hey, we're actually more open than the next guy. So come make it here so that you don't get screwed later after you invest a lot of time and effort into this account effectively, and then you can't do anything with it.

[00:43:32.588] Kent Bye: Yeah, because the problem with all the user-generated places of content, aside from maybe VRChat, but say Rec Room, you invest all this time building the worlds, there's no way for you to export them and to take them out or to own them yourself. You're kind of building it within the context of those worlds. So I think if there's one thing that I see with the more crypto-based worlds is that when you do have ownership, there is the theoretical potential that you can actually build something that increases its value and there's more of a direct connection between you being able to be compensated for that in some way. And I think that that level of compensation hasn't necessarily been fully worked out, even in VR chat or Rec Room. I mean, there's, there's ways in which that you have the economy and world within Rec Room. And some people are making up to $10,000 a month with different things that they're selling, but that's the minority of people that are making that much money. If anybody's making on average, something in the median, it's going to be a lot lower than that. So I think that's the challenge of the vision that Mark is saying in his meta keynote, which was that we want to make an economy that really works for everybody and to really have these ability to kind of sell and buy digital goods and be able to have them interoperable. So yeah, I guess I get back to this interoperable is a big keyword that this is a key part. But like, what are the things that you can really point to that have been interoperable? Everything that I see so far has been really kind of a closed mindset from what has been Oculus and Facebook, and the ways that they've been treating their exclusive content and Maybe OpenXR and WebXR, but even the WebXR with their progressive web apps, you know, the way that they're having the distribution of those progressive web apps is through their store, which normally a progressive web app, you just go to a website and you click save and then you save the application to your desktop. You know, it's like here, it involves you going through whatever process they have to curate and control whatever those progressive web apps are going to be. So even the things that you would think would be a big movement towards this open interoperable, you know, open standards of progressive web apps. you know, is still going through their store, which is a decision they've made that is presumably to maybe have control or curation. I'm not sure like, but you know, there's a decisions there that have been made that are kind of still going back into that old model rather than something that is really, truly interoperable that I would see at least. So I don't know if you, when you listen to them talk about interoperability, what would you look to say? What are, what, here's some measurements that we can base these, what you're saying against what the actual actions are.

[00:46:01.058] Ben Lang: Yeah, that's a good question. And I don't know if we have something really that could be sort of like an objective measurement. Somebody out there might have a good framework for this. But frankly, off the top of my head, I couldn't give you something like objective. But like I said, at least with stuff like their responsible innovation principles, although that doesn't directly address sort of openness, we can at least point to some of the stuff that they're saying now, at least they're saying they want to do this stuff, because in the past, you know, Facebook has never as its platform really wanted to be particularly open. You know, they make all the applications that run on all the different devices. It's not like, you know, they're letting third parties make an application to access Facebook sort of thing. So, yeah, I'm not sure what the measurement would be. And again, I just kind of feel like until we really know the shape of what they're even trying to go for, it's hard to even ask them what they are going to do or what they should do. What I find kind of interesting is that Facebook, back when they were Facebook, actually, did the most open thing that they have done as far as I can think of without my head was Facebook Spaces was like basically their only first party application that supported SteamVR headsets. I think it was specifically the Vive at the time. And that was like, whoa, okay, are they really finally, and sorry, just to go back, Facebook Spaces was a proto-social application, proto-Facebook and VR that they put out a little while ago. And it was actually a pretty good application that naturally they abandoned and didn't learn anything from, including allowing other headsets to access it. Cause I think somebody in there, you know, somebody in the company said, well, wait, if this is supposed to be like a social place, how does it make any sense if I have a headset and my friend has a headset and I say, hey, come hang out with me. I have my Oculus headset. And they say, well, I can't because I have a Vive headset. Like that doesn't make any sense for a social place, right? So in order for it to actually be a reasonable social space, we need to get as many people, as many headsets in as we can. And so that was like the first time that a first party VR application allowed any other headset other than an Oculus headset into it. And it was like, wow, maybe they're learning this lesson and that's actually going to happen. And yet here we are several years later, they've canceled that. Horizon Worlds, I have asked on multiple occasions, I've gotten just sort of a no comment approach to, are you ever going to support other headsets being able to come into here? So I don't know, just strikes me as sort of a strategic mistake. I mean, sure, there's not, you know, they obviously have the most VR users, so it's not like they're going to double their numbers if they opened other headsets. But there is that network effect. There is that, hey, me and five of my friends have headsets. I'm the only one with an Oculus headset, and so none of them can come hang out with me in this thing. That really kind of jams up that interest in going into one of these meta-made metaverse spaces, whether it's Horizon Worlds or workrooms or venues. And workrooms is the same issue, right? Like you're literally talking about, this is their work and productivity collaboration space that they put out recently. And it's literally not even, it's only on one of their headsets. It's not even on Rift. It's not on their older headsets. And so it's like, if you're in an organization even that's like a VR studio and not every single person in the studio happens to have a Quest 2, everyone does have a headset. It's just not this particular one. You can't use this collaboration platform because it's not open to other devices. It's just, it is silly and it is a problem. And I hope they are really taking seriously what they are saying about this interoperability. And I hope that it is not just, you know, the identity point. I also hope it's the hardware point and all these other things.

[00:49:44.672] Kent Bye: Yeah, because, you know, one of the things that they did do that I think was encouraging, at least to see was John Carmack was really adamant that they give root access to the Oculus Go for people to start to play with and mod in different ways and also potentially move towards being able to preserve some of these early VR experiences and to make them accessible because, you know, if they're not going to be supporting it, then there's gonna be thousands of different applications that are not going to be on there. But I've also, you know, one of the things that I was looking at was looking at the different types of experiences that were on the go versus the types of experiences that are on the Quest. And when I did just an accounting, I was able to find 292 educational apps on the go and seven that were on the Quest. And so one of the things that they went to with the shift from requiring the Facebook account was that that immediately made them not be FERPA compliant. That made them not be HIPAA compliant. That mean all these different educational and medical applications. There's so many different medical XR companies that used to have Oculus GOs or the Quest that they were using in production, but they could no longer do that because they were no longer HIPAA compliant. It's questionable as to whether or not even the enterprise versions, all the major medical XR companies that I saw had shifted over to Pico because it was just like not tenable some of these decisions they made at this level. But I guess one thing that I did see is that they're kind of retracting on this requirement for a Facebook account. I don't know if that's going to be in the future meta account or what that means. It does seem like they're trying to decouple this in some ways, that they see this as a mistake. But the side effect of some of that was that there's decisions that they made in the past meant that the quest was no longer FERPA compliant or no longer HIPAA compliant. So even though they're giving $150 million for education grant for people to make educational experiences, which they've announced that in the past, and I've talked to educators who never really saw the full accounting of this money that they've announced at these different events, whether or not that actually happens, it's difficult as an outside journalist to really verify that they're actually following through on some of these, because they've made commitments like this before. But I've also talked to educators that were like, I've never seen any of that money that they said they're going to be giving out. So they're announcing things like that $150 million for give to creators to create these learning and education experience. But everything they talked about was actually more about training like high level higher education training rather than primary education because of this sort of dimension of it not even actually being educational applications really being available to be seen on the quest because you couldn't use it in a U.S. education context without breaking the FERPA compliance laws. So there's these things like that, where they've made these strategic decisions that have basically ostracized entire verticals of XR, including medical XR and educational XR. And hopefully, you know, maybe some of these different shifts that they have recently will maybe bring some of that back. But there's nothing to say that their new terms of service and privacy policy is going to just be a rehashing of how things have always been, which is that it's got this data sharing and encouraging onto our privacy to the point where it's not really compliant for some of these things. So there's things like that that upset me when I hear them say these things, but when we actually dig into it a little bit, it's actually telling the opposite story, which is that these entire communities have not really benefited from some of these decisions they've made at the higher level.

[00:53:02.059] Ben Lang: Yeah, that's a really interesting point. And one of the things that you mentioned got me thinking of a scenario that we haven't really seen yet, but that, you know, we probably will want to exist in the future, which is being able to have, you know, let's say a VR therapy session or a VR doctor session just to go and be able to kind of talk face to face with a doctor, a medical professional about issues you're having. And you're right. If Facebook wants that sort of like, you know, that's just a normal going to get healthcare, just a normal part of, of living in society. And ostensibly we want extensions of that into the metaverse, or at least that's the vision. It's like Facebook wants stuff like that to happen on their platform. They may need to hopefully offer special things like, you know, encrypted rooms, encrypted connections to, for that type of compliance for, you know, it's like, imagine a business working in work rooms who is a competitor to Facebook, right? It's like, would you be worried that Facebook can hear or look in at some of the work that you're doing? Are they guaranteed that there's no surveillance going on in their room there? As far as I know, I really need to double check to see if this also applies to workrooms. But any normal application that you can find in the consumer quest store, even if it's a collaboration app or whatever, that is all subject to their privacy policies, their tracking stuff, their reporting stuff. So even if there is like, Presumably an app in there where you can go have a private conversation with somebody in a room where there's nobody else there, like you could still be reported for what's that in that space, you could still potentially be banned based on that information. they're going to need to figure out a way to give people some peace of mind that they can have private interactions, private conversations, whether it's for healthcare, business meetings, or personal reasons that you just want to ensure that you actually have an encrypted, you know, fully encrypted thing. That's not going to sort of leak in into this metaverse that you can be surveilled under. And that is so far not really been the Facebook MO, but it seems like it's going to be like a critical feature for any metaverse that really wants like life to happen on it. You know what I mean?

[00:55:02.708] Kent Bye: Yeah, for sure. And, you know, that's why when they say that they're architecting this with privacy in mind, it's a definition of privacy that's from 1973 that doesn't even encompass following the privacy definitions that are in HIPAA or FERPA. So it's a very specific interpretation of privacy that I think is worth pointing out. And there's other new emerging definitions of things like neural rights, which is our right to mental privacy, our right to agency, our right to identity, the right to have fair and equitable access to technology, and also the right to be free from algorithmic bias. These kind of neural rights is what Rafael Eusta has been putting forth. But the essence of that is that the right to identity means that you're not tracking all these different aspects of my identity so that I'm disclosing to you what my identity is rather than you aggregating all this information about my identity so that you know who I am better than I know who I am based upon all these contextually relevant decisions that I've made. But also the agency is that if you're able to then have this digital twin that is modeled so closely and you're able to start to predict behavior, then what's to say that they're not able to nudge your behavior in a specific direction. So our right to agency and autonomy is a big part of the neuro rights that is a part of this larger aspect And also our mental privacy, so all the different aspects of all this information added together, all of our biometric sensors, our physiological sensors, and maybe eventually our EEG and our brainwaves, is going to have a sense of being able to kind of project out what we're actually thinking, which is going to be certainly demonstrated as already being possible with brain control interfaces that can basically read your mind to type what you're thinking. So we're on a trajectory that is going to have these neurotechnologies and BCIs and everything else. I mean, they're more emphasizing EMGs rather than the BCIs. They've stepped back from that. But these issues of neuro rights and the right to mental privacy and the right to agency and the right to identity are a key part of those things that when I hear them say, oh, privacy's a big part of it, then for me, that is encompassing all of those different things. But it doesn't sound like they're actually thinking about that or planning for that. I know that the XR Association has a privacy work group that has Facebook involved as well as Microsoft and HTC and Google and, you know, Sony Interactive and Unity. They're all from a lobbying perspective. The Trader Association, the XR Association is looking at some of these things and they're saying the words But, you know, to have consensus across all those companies to then go forth and maybe get some legislation that actually protects our neural rights is something that we're going to have to need because it's not something that we can necessarily trust either the companies and the market dynamics to take on their own control to make sure that those neural rights are protected. So when I hear them talk about that, I'm like super skeptical because I can sort of read through what they mean, what they're saying and what their definitions are and how that's actually not innovating with where the technology is going. It's using an old model from the seventies that is not actually going to protect our privacy.

[00:57:54.274] Ben Lang: Yeah. I think one of the biggest challenges is that your average person really doesn't know about any of this, any of the kind of stuff that we're talking about here, either in the future or now with regards to privacy. And although they may not care, some of them may not care. It's still okay. I would, I think if you would sit down and sort of explain to people everything, let's say that is tracked by them on Facebook, I think people probably would care on average. However, most people just are not that well-read and the companies are obviously not trying to educate them clearly on this topic. So the big challenge is getting people to care may just not ever really happen, but it's still important for their sake. It's still an important thing to work toward to have these platforms be as good as they can be for things like privacy and autonomy and all that. And yeah, it does seem like The only way that that's going to happen is if it is an architectural thing, right? Like Facebook, I think is pretty clearly shown and lots of other companies have shown that the market incentives are not really going to do it. And people's demands are not really, you know, there's just not that collective effort sort of requiring this of companies. And so unless it is like truly built into the framework, of these metaverse spaces, it's just, I just don't have a lot of faith that some company is going to voluntarily go through the hard work to not only have policies that are, you know, really beneficial to the user, but maintain them over time and not slowly corrupt them. Whereas if the people sort of down on the ground building this stuff can do it an architectural standpoint, you know, things like encryption. And as you mentioned, sort of giving people the power to decide what they're sharing instead of what they are letting the space know about them compared to the space, knowing everything and holding that information and then letting the user pick of that information that the platform has on them, what stuff they want to share to other people. That does seem like the path forward for the only kind of viable path forward for really getting to a place where we actually feel comfortable and private and safe in the same way that you can if you're just in your own home in the real world, right? I could have a copy of my home in the metaverse where I recreate it all. I scan everything or I model it just so it feels just like home. But there's a completely different set of rules that at least as it stands today on any platform that you would potentially join, there's a completely different set of rules for that virtual copy of my home as my actual home in terms of privacy and things like that. And that's not... Jumping between those privacy realities, if you will, is not something... It'd be nice if it was just one-to-one, right? And no one in my home... No one's listening to me, right? but not so for a virtual space necessarily. If that was just either regulated or just architecturally, the foundation of these spaces are being built and the technologies that are helping build them, that would make a huge difference.

[01:01:06.681] Kent Bye: Yeah. I think one of the things that I see at least with these issues around the privacy is that, you know, I go back to Lawrence Lessig, where he says there's the four major dials you can turn with these big sociological issues. There's either at the large level of the culture, So just educating people and telling them what these issues are and through the press and coverage and, you know, academic research, just to know what the issues are, kind of set the bounds of what the normative standards are within the culture. But then there's the laws that get set by the government that dictate what is and is not possible. And within the context of those laws is the economy. that have the market dynamics that then lets the market decide. So you have these big debates, like Apple has a whole different approach when it comes to privacy. And you can maybe go with Apple's approach if you'd like that better. And then you have at the bottom level, the underlying technological architecture and the code where there could be different things to architect privacy through homeomorphic encryption, or to not record more information that you need, or to really be contextually relevant to providing information that would be relevant to the context in which the use that you're using it within whatever the standards are for that context, which is Helen Isenbaum's contextual integrity approach to privacy. But you have those four layers, the culture, the laws, the economy, and then the technological architecture and the code. And what I've been leaning towards is that people are not willing to make the decision to be educated and to make an economic choice when these pieces of hardware are being subsidized to be super cheap, $300 to be able to get an amazing headset that is able to do so much stuff. But a big part of that is that people are mortgaging their privacy in a way that they may not be realizing. that these devices could be on the wrong trajectory, recording all this physiological and biometric data on us and creating these big huge profiles on us. So I think for me, it feels like a losing battle to try to like educate people to make these choices because it's been in this situation with the way that the internet has been running for a long time. And people don't seem to be changing their behaviors because they like free stuff. And the privacy harms are sometimes invisible. They don't always know how the harms that are happening to not only themselves, but also collective society with say hacking democracy or doing all these other things with getting this information into the wrong hands, what can start to happen. So for me, it feels like we're going to really need, at the end of the day, a new US federal privacy law that is really protecting our neural rights and dictating to these companies saying, OK, you should not use this type of information to do surveillance capitalism because you're not going to be able to maintain someone's neural rights of the right to mental privacy, the right to agency, and the right to identity in a way that you're going to be violating those rights unless we are coming in and coming up with these laws. And when I look at the legislative landscape, it doesn't seem like that's going to happen anytime soon, which means that we get the opposite, which is like a free-for-all for companies like Meta to be able to then do whatever they want and set whatever new normative standards they want when it comes to all these things regarding privacy. They can literally define how privacy, like whatever definition they say what privacy is, is what it's going to be. And they're going to say it's privacy when it's not actually going to be privacy.

[01:04:19.300] Ben Lang: Yeah. I think, you know, this reminds me a lot of like big tobacco. It's like once it's sort of got its hooks into society and sort of is the norm regulating it ends up becoming extremely difficult. Right. So if I tried to introduce, let's say cigarettes never existed. And today in 2021, I came out with this new product called the cigarette and I tried to introduce it. into the world onto the market. And I said, Oh, by the way, you know, kind of causes cancer. If you use it too much, you know, that's clear. It would never, ever be allowed as a product on the market ever. Right. And yet, because it was something that got big and became part of society before we actually knew and understood those risks, now it's sort of been grandfathered into the world, right? And this is sort of the same issue I see with this privacy stuff, your points, like we're looking far ahead, talking about neuro autonomy and, and all this stuff. And like, yeah, it's sort of just a wild West. And if you let, as you said, Facebook sort of define what privacy is on their platform and then use that word in the way that they've defined it and they get this traction and get a lot of people on their platform, then it becomes really, really hard for anyone to go and say, Hey, no, like undo that or stop doing that or change what you're doing because of these privacy reasons, because it's just becomes really hard to legislate and regulate. Once something is sort of like, especially if it's already making a company a bunch of money, then they can say, you know, Oh, you're trying to destroy our business. You're going to cost us so much money. And so yeah, really getting out ahead of it and trying to educate people. And also, you know, hopefully, hopefully getting the people who are actually building it to really care about this stuff might be the key. And maybe, maybe in the future, as younger people are a little more tech savvy, you're starting to get into government. Maybe this will be, maybe it's not a completely lost cause to try to educate people and hope that people actually care about this stuff and address these issues and might just need to be a sort of cultural temporal change compared to what it is today.

[01:06:22.808] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think this is going to be, you know, they, they're bringing it up and they said they want to discuss it. And I think another thing I just want to point out is that there is a whole nonprofit called access now that said that, you know, Facebook came to them to ask them about the bystander privacy for the Ray-Ban stories. And they told them, make it clear that you're recording them, put a red light or, you know, have it beep or something. And they said that they didn't even actually take their advice. But yet still, Mark will say, well, we've been consulting with privacy experts, but that doesn't mean they've actually been listening to what they've been saying or to be following what they've been saying. I did an interview with Sally Applin and Catherine Flick evaluating and critiquing their plans for Project ARIA that they announced last year at the Facebook Connect One. And the big things were they were going through the responsible innovation principles and saying, look, all these principles are saying they don't actually follow the best practices. for responsible innovation. One of the preconditions for responsible innovation is that you put ethics first and there's a big giant red button that you can push to stop if there's something that is not ethically right. And that doesn't seem to be built into their ethical design principles because they've already got their timeline for when everything's going to be launched. And so their conclusion is that all of these responsible innovation principles are just ethics washing for them to give the veneer that they're actually thinking about ethics without actually doing the deep down ethics that would be required to be embedded into there. A good example is just the bystander privacy for these glasses that they've released, the Ray-Ban Stories glasses, is that they have it in their terms of service that anybody who's recording, it's up to them to get consent from other people that they're recording. which is sort of like a new normative standard. You know, every time you take a picture, imagine that you were to go around and get everybody's consent. Well, that's the way that they've written these consent policies provide standard privacy. So to incorporate bystander privacy, now all of a sudden you're offsetting and you're changing the whole model of notice and consent and offloading that as new emotional labor that you're putting onto these users that they're clearly not going to do. So there's things like that where there's these whole new normative standards that the ways in which they've solved some of these intractable problems of say something like bystander privacy is to create these whole new definitions about what the terms of service are for the people that there is now responsible. So now it's the people that other people's privacy that are being violated is now being put on the individual who's doing the capturing, which is not really necessarily a great solution when you look at the normative standards for notice of consent. So it's things like that, where if you really dig into what they're doing, it's a lot of talk about what they're doing, but it's not actually, you know, following a lot of these best practices for responsible innovation. So when I look at some of this stuff, I guess I'm deeply skeptical to see the rhetoric that's being said versus the actions that have already been taken and how we're already on this nonstop roadmap for these products are going to be coming out one way or another. even if there are ethical complaints, how are they actually going to be integrated into this process in a way that really, truly incorporates this public feedback in a way that a lot of these things that they say they've been consulting with these experts, none of it has been open to the public. It's just like, so they've had some conferences that I've attended, but more often than not, these are behind closed doors, closed discussions. They're not available for journalists like myself or yourself to be able to be made available for review. So a lot of these discussions are happening in a secret. And the stuff that is happening in public, like there was the whole non-invasive neural interfaces conferences that did back in May, and it wasn't recorded and it wasn't published in any fashion. And I'm like, my record of my tweet stream is the only record of that. And even in there, there were people that were concerned that this whole event was an exercise of ethics washing and that there wasn't real issues that were being addressed. So I guess when I look at some of this, I, I guess I'm just super skeptical based upon what I've seen their behaviors around ethics and privacy and responsible innovation. And they're not really even following some of the best practices there.

[01:10:19.911] Ben Lang: Yeah, it does seem like rather than getting to define their own sort of rules and principles that they also don't really need to follow. And it's like up to other people to pressure them if they aren't, it does kind of seem like one potential path is like they need to come out and formally say, like, we're adopting this particular set of tech ethics guidelines created by this organization. And if this organization decides those needs change, we're still committed to it, right? Like we're going to evolve with what their structure is. Cause if they just have, you know, if it's all this internal thing and the whole we're consulting with experts thing, it's really, it really ends up being everybody else needing to look carefully what they're doing to call them on it, which is difficult because as you're saying, there's minimal transparency. One thing that I have looked at continuously very carefully. That's like sort of a concrete example here is, you know, Quest, it's tracking cameras on the headset. And Facebook has gone on record saying they do not send footage from those cameras to their server. They basically say they don't send it off the headset. So that means Facebook can't get it and developers can't get it. And that's great. That's how it should be, right? But I sort of have to end up continuously asking this question because tomorrow they could issue an update where that changes. And they may or may not say anything about it. They're not necessarily legally bound to. So it's like, I hope that they continue doing that where they're saying, we're going to make even these like mixed reality apps work without giving developers access to that raw footage. But a couple of years down the road, they could just decide that that's inconvenient and change it. Nothing is really going to stop that. And by that point, people might just not be paying enough attention and it slides under the radar and then that's the norm going forward. So yeah, I think that having them actually commit to something external to their organization is probably really important. And whether or not that happens, well, I guess we'll have to wait and see.

[01:12:19.386] Kent Bye: I've seen that same approach where they will have something in their terms of service and privacy policy. And then they'll write a blog post that says, we're not planning on doing this, but that blog post is not binding for anything. I mean, the blog post is just giving notice to the public, but what's really binding is whatever's in the privacy policy. So they'll be saying one thing in a blog post, but the actual terms of service and privacy policy will be saying the exact opposite that has nothing that's preventing them to do that. Meaning exactly that, which is I've run into the same thing, which at any moment they can change their mind and start doing that very thing. So there's very little accountability or transparency when it comes to what's actually happening to the data and whether or not the data that are being used is contextually relevant to whatever system that they're having. The argument that comes up again and again is that a lot of these functions of VR for Eva to even work, they need to have all access to all this different stuff. But then the big question for me is, well, there's a difference between being contextually relevant for whatever's happening in the moment, and then capturing all this information and being able to extrapolate additional information about me as an individual for what I like or dislike or what my environment is. And so the whole contextual integrity of how that information is being used is the biggest open question in terms of how can you give the users assurance that you're within this boundedness of what they expect in terms of what the context is and what you're using the data for. And there's a paradox of being transparent on all those things and being completely overwhelming for people to be very specific and nuanced, because as soon as you do that, then it just can be potentially even more overwhelming. So then you get the opposite, which are these generalized abstractions that basically allow them to do pretty much whatever they want. So yeah, it's a dilemma of the privacy paradox that Nissenbaum talks about, which is the, you know, the specificity versus the generality of that. And yeah, how to really ensure that I think is something that we don't really have good practices around. We just kind of have to take their word for it. And based upon past behavior, it's hard for me to give them my full trust because of how they've acted in the past.

[01:14:23.141] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think that this name change and the pivot, this is the moment if they're going to actually change as they are indicating that they will. This is the moment I think where it could happen. And if we just continue to see the same old song and dance from this point forward, then I don't have much hope for it. So yeah, we'll see.

[01:14:43.067] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, we'll see the thing I want to see. It's a new privacy policies and the new terms of service for meta that as they start to pull things back, as they've taken away the requirement for the Facebook user account, what's going to replace it? Because right now you have data sharing across all the whole family of apps. And if they come forward and they remove the requirement for the Facebook username, but you still have the same like association of your identity to all these other identities, then functionally, nothing's really changed. Um, so that's what I'll be looking for when that eventually comes out. But, uh, as we start to wrap up here, like, I guess I'll ask you the question of what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality, augmented reality and the metaverse might be, and what it might be able to enable.

[01:15:27.639] Ben Lang: Yeah, that's a great question. And it's interesting, as you pointed out, I think the last time you asked me that question was several years ago. And I sort of had this response, something along the lines of, you know, I live away from my friends and family presently, and it would be great if I could just, you know, sit down and play a round of poker with my friends or whatever. And now today, several years later, like that's not only possible, it's like it's almost easy, right? With the tools and the hardware that we have. I have an aunt that got a Quest headset and she lives on the other side of the country and we have played ping pong together and kind of just used it as like, you know, normally I'd give her a call and we'd catch up, but we've kind of started using that as our catch up. You know, we're just feel like we're hanging out playing ping pong and we're chatting and whatnot. And it feels really a lot like we are just there hanging out. And that's really cool. So I think the bar has sort of moved now, because some of that stuff has come to pass. I would say, I think the ultimate potential, as I see it right now, is really related to, I think, human connection. So I'm starting to get that glimpse of, hey, even though it doesn't look like my aunt, it does sound like my aunt, and it moves like my aunt, and it does feel like I'm hanging out there in the same room, Hopefully in the next five years we'll move closer to a feeling of the avatar being much closer to capturing the essence of the real person, right? So that if you know them in real life, well, and their virtual avatar came into a room without them even talking, even if it's a generic avatar, you might say, you know, see from their movements or their expressions that like, that that's the person that you recognize them. So I think, uh, yeah, today I'm going to answer that question and say, I hope that the VR becomes sort of more personal in the way that it is better at representing us accurately in a way that makes it easier to meaningfully connect with either people we already know or people that we're just meeting for the first time in virtual reality to the point that hopefully it will just be normal to be like, Oh yeah, like, Oh, I met him in VR chat. And then like, you know, yeah, like a year later, like we just met up and we were just hanging out. It wasn't even a big deal that that was the first time we saw each other, like, you know, IRL, right. If it was just, that's just can be such a natural thing, both from a representation of the person standpoint to what activities can you do and how easily can you do them together and hang out in VR that it would just almost feel like an extension of a real world hangout.

[01:18:07.086] Kent Bye: Yeah, it reminds me of the meta's keynote where they have Michael Abrash talking about the Kodak avatars. They had this demo that was really quite mind blowing, which I thought it was a volumetric capture, but apparently it was an avatar that was some strange combination of someone's real-time emotions with presumably some level of AI to be able to help modulate and make it more fluid and everything. It was really quite confusing as to what was real and what was generated by AI. But it was really that question of like, wow, if that can be that good of someone's avatar representation, then what's to prevent someone from deep faking their voice and embodying their avatar. And then basically starting to embody other people's identities. So yeah, there's ways in which that having verified identity can be, you know, one of the things that are going to be an issue when it comes to these different types of photorealistic avatars and also the relationship between humans and the way that the AI is mediating the expressions of the humans as well. So it's going to get kind of weird as we move forward. That's for sure. Great. Well, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[01:19:15.244] Ben Lang: No, I think we covered some good ground. I guess the only thing I'd leave off on is, you know, it's, it's been 10 years for me now in this space and it does seem like the next 10 are only going to be sort of a faster acceleration of all of this stuff, which is pretty damn exciting for somebody who started when, you know, the rift DK one was the cutting edge, a headset that you could get your hands on at the time. And now we have just so many more advanced, crazy, headsets and content and all this stuff. And it does seem to be continuing to grow. And I'm just really excited to see what the world looks like 10 years from now.

[01:19:55.103] Kent Bye: Yeah. And just coming off of this keynote where Zuckerberg was looking 10 years into the future, you know, it was really at that scale. And just to see how far we've come from the duct tape prototype of the Rift to now the Oculus Quest 2 and how many rapid iterations year over year has taken to be able to get from where we were a decade ago to where we are now. It's really quite astounding to see how much progress has been made and to where it may go in the future. And, you know, hopefully we'll, we'll be checking again in 10 years from now, and then being able to reflect even more about this continued journey. So Ben, thank you so much for not only tracking everything for the last decade, but also to come on today and kind of unpack the latest big shifts are. And yeah, it is quite astounding that, you know, know, a company like Facebook now meta has been able to do that. And I think it's in large part of Zuckerberg having essentially being the dictator of the company, having a controlling share of all the voting and being able to make this strong of a vision and a change. It may have not happened in any other way, because the shareholders may have only been concerned about the short term and not really making sense financially, but it is happening. And I'm excited to see where it all goes and how we can have a real fully open and interoperable ecosystem. And the vision that they're saying, I'm really curious to see how that they actually live into that. But thanks again for coming on and helping unpack it all.

[01:21:19.584] Ben Lang: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Kent.

[01:21:21.216] Kent Bye: So that was Ben Lang. He's a co-founder and executive editor of Road to VR, which has just celebrated their 10 year anniversary on October 13th, 2021. So I have a number of different takeaways about this conversation is that first of all, Well, yeah, I think both of us are kind of like, let's wait and see where this is actually going. We've seen the behaviors of Facebook and now Meta over the past, and so just trying to figure out, OK, what are they really committed to when it comes to their actions and their behaviors? Because they can say all these things, but until we actually see how it plays out, they have this tendency of using definitions of words that most people wouldn't have those same definitions. The privacy one is the one that gets me the most, just because There are definitions of privacy that are, say, what would be required for education or what would be required within a medical context, and their definitions don't fit FERPA or HIPAA, meaning that there's certain levels of privacy that they're not really meeting, but it's within this consumer context that is very focused on this advertising model that they're moving into in the future. Like I said, it's all yet to be seen, where that's all going. One thing that did happen yesterday was that Facebook announced that they're going to be deleting one billion raw data from facial tracking. They did train an AI deep model on that, and they're keeping that. They're not deleting their model that they were able to train of those. billions of different faces that they've been able to identify and capture. But that's, in some ways, a positive step in the way that we don't necessarily want to have these augmented reality glasses that are going out and about and doing facial recognition on people. There's all sorts of privacy implications there when it comes to what we have a reasonable expectation of what that privacy is, and if they start to do that, then the government can start doing that. That, overall, is a good step. But just this real deep skepticism as to what they actually mean. and a difference of their actions between what they're saying. Interoperability was the other big thing in terms of, how really have they been interoperable in all their actions of their entire ecosystem? Are they only thinking about this very one narrow thing of avatar interoperability, as an example? I just really appreciated discussing some of these different things with Ben. I guess it's a point of wait and see. Some of this stuff, like I said, we may need to have government intervention at some point, to have a U.S. federal privacy law that's really protecting our neural rights, our right to identity, our right to agency, our right to mental privacy. Those are the big ones that I think are going to be under threat with the future of whatever this metaverse ends up being, because it is clear that meta still wants to use advertising as the basis for how they're going to fund a lot of this. the implications of that privacy are the thing that's going to be the most at-threat. I guess we'll wait and see. I also had a conversation with Monica Bilaskita, where we dig into a lot of the other deeper aspects of Facebook as an entity that has 3.58 billion people using it around the world. It's kind of like this digital colonialism that has these other parallels between other imperial colonial entities of the past. What does that look like now, and how do we start to really deconstruct it? start to try to design protopia futures that go above and beyond that. I guess the only last thought that I'd say is that they kind of bury the lead in the sense that they're essentially retiring and killing the Oculus brand. The Oculus Quest is now going to become the MetaQuest. The Facebook portal is now going to become the MetaPortal. The Facebook AI is now MetaAI. Instead of Facebook Reality Labs, it's now Reality Labs. Not sure what their Facebook Reality Labs research is going to become, but they've done all these rebrandings and renames. but there's a bit of just killing the Oculus brand in a way that was not really even having a proper send-off. They kind of buried it in Boz's blog post. He said that they were retiring it, and I posted that out in my big, long Twitter thread, which is 127 tweet threads that I did, 22 straight hours from 10 a.m. on that Thursday into 8 a.m. into that following morning. I watched all the different videos and whatnot. That thread, I think, has a lot of the digest of the big other news that we didn't necessarily dive into here. But, that post from Baaz said that they're retiring Oculus as a brand. I tweeted it out, and there's just a lot of reaction that they got. He, in some ways, retracted aspects of that and I don't know if he went ahead of what he really meant or I mean they are retiring Oculus from the hardware brand but they're going to keep it around for like Oculus Studios and other software based aspects of the brand of Oculus so it's not quite dead yet but functionally dying from moving from the Oculus Quest to the MetaQuest I think that's something that, as people have been tracking for a long time, Oculus was seen as this independent entity. As soon as it was bought by Facebook, it was only a matter of time before it was fully encompassed into Facebook as just a brand name rather than an independent entity. In some ways, moving from Facebook to Meta is maybe another way of trying to differentiate Oculus from the Facebook brand, which has become not the greatest brand because of their actions that they've taken. I'll be digging more into other things of my reactions of the keynote with Monica Belsky, of just moving on and building without really having an accounting of all these other things that are happening with the larger baggage that is coming with the Facebook as a brand. More to dig into for sure, but just happy to get Ben's take. He's been at it for a decade, so I just really appreciate a lot of his perspectives on this. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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