#600: Jaron Lanier’s Journey into VR: “Dawn of the New Everything”

jaron-lanierJaron Lanier is a pioneer of the first commercially-available virtual reality systems with his VPL Research Inc startup that was founded in 1984. He has written a memoir called Dawn of the New Everything about his life leading up to and during his transition from a country hippie hacker to a over-stressed Silicon Valley CEO. He was inspired by painters like Hieronymus Bosch, musical instruments like the Theramin, mathematics, electronics, Ivan Sutherland’s pioneering work with the first virtual world head mounted displays. He also wanted to transcend his social insecurities and anxieties to connect creating shared social VR spaces. VPL Research pioneered the commercial “Eyephone” virtual reality head mounted display with tracking, haptic gloves, motion capture suits, 3D audio, and a cutting-edge virtual programming language. He was inspired by jazz to create technology that could enable mutual improvisation of communication and expression in what would feel like a shared dream in a waking state.

I had a chance to catch up with Lanier in Seattle, Washington on his book tour for Dawn of the New Everything, where we talked about highlights of his journey into VR, musical instruments as haptic devices, the tongue as an input device, and the body’s ability to embody a variety of different animal avatars. He also shared some of his thoughts on why he thinks artificial intelligence is a fake construct as long as the focus is on AI as a super intelligent parasitic entity rather than merely a tool for humans. He also shared some cautionary reflections on the dangers of the advertising-driven business models of Facebook, Google, and Twitter that are creating “massive behavior modification empires.” Lanier is a super humble guy, and his memoir is an interesting mix of impressionistic memories and reflections mixed in with technical deep dives and fifty-two definitions of virtual reality that explores the range of applications, metaphors, and unique affordances of this new medium. The Dawn of the New Everything is a fascinating story that captures a key turning point in the history of VR, and is packed with some deep insights and visions for what’s possible from someone who is still madly in love and inspired by this new medium.

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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 this is episode number 600 of The Voices of VR Podcast, and I am super grateful in order to have Jaron Lanier, who is on a book tour for Dawn of a New Everything. It's his memoir where he traces his journey into virtual reality. It's part memoir, part technical explanations about all the different ways that he sees virtual reality. In fact, he lists like 52 definitions of virtual reality that go through the unique affordances of VR and different metaphors and just different use cases of VR that make it so unique as a communication medium and as a technology. So Jaron is one of the original pioneers of commercial virtual reality and I had the privilege of being able to sit down with Jaron to be able to talk to him about some of the highlights and interesting concepts and ideas that he had that really inspired him to get into VR. Everything from the virtual programming language to haptic devices and music and trying to bring this infusion of jazz to create this mutually improvising of a shared dream from a waking state. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Jaron happened while he's on his book tour for Dawn of the New Everything in Seattle, Washington on Sunday, December 3rd, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:38.632] Jaron Lanier: My name is Jaron Lanier, and I just wrote a book called Dawn of the New Everything. And asking me how I got into VR is kind of what the book is for. It's a bit of a story. It starts when I was a young teenager in the 70s. And well, what happened was my mom had died when I was young. And I had this incredible feeling of isolation and loneliness. And I also had this feeling that there were these other people inside these fleshy orbs that were sort of floating around, like there were these other humans, but they were unreachable. I mean, I always thought of other people as being like the stars that you can see, but they're so far away, it's implausible to get to them. unless there was some kind of warp drive, but there wasn't. That's how it felt to me. And then the first thing for me that really got to me was seeing surreal art, especially Hieronymus Bosch, because there was something about that, that you could like craft these things that came out of your mind that other people could see that weren't reality, but were like something internal, and that still made sense to other people. Just the fact that you could do that and that it would make sense. was some sort of hope, like some sort of initial version of a warp drive between minds, you know, medieval mental warp drive or something. So I got really obsessed with that. But then the big thing that hit me was in the mid-70s, I found this journal article about Ivan Sutherland's early work with head-mounted displays. And it so electrified me that I was vibrating. I have this theme in the book about people who become so excited about something that they start to kind of vibrate, like it happened when I got to give the first VR demo to Leon Theremin and a few other times like that. But for me, I vibrated. I was so excited. And there wasn't an internet yet, so I just ran out into the street and stopped strangers and opened this computer science journal I got out of the library saying, look at this thing by this guy, Evan Sutherland. And they were like, weird kid, get out of my way. You know, it was like, just really strange. But Ivan's first headset was in about 69, I think. And it was just for one person at a time, which is understandable, because in the early days, just this stuff was fabulously difficult and expensive. But I got really excited about, like, what if you could share a world through these things? Would that be like this warp drive between people that I was longing for? Because talking just wasn't getting me anywhere in those days. And I just dreamed of this thing beyond talking. And Ivan had used the word virtual world to describe the thing that he was giving people access to with a headset. And not many people know that that actually comes from an art theorist named Suzanne Langer, who was writing about virtual worlds and art decades earlier. So to me, it was like, well, if I was going to have the social version, if there are going to be multiple people, that would be virtual reality. So that's where the term came from. And I was obsessed with the idea. I used to dream about it. I was sort of afraid to talk about it for a long time, because I really thought I sounded like a lunatic. I mean, to talk about this stuff in the 70s was to enter the ranks of, I don't know, like Flying Saucer fanatics or something. And I was in southern New Mexico, so that was like a very real problem. But anyway, some years later, not that many years, I'm in my early 20s in Silicon Valley and actually start the first VR startup. But yeah, that's how I got into it.

[00:05:09.238] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a couple things that, as I was reading and kind of tracing the history of the things that were really striking to you, a couple things jumped out. One was music and the theremin, of being able to use your hands to control music. And so it's like a sixth degree of freedom. It's kind of like this magical instrument that really sparked something in your mind. But also, you had some guy who mentored you in terms of like electronics and building radios and in this book it's part memoir and part kind of VR technical things mixed together both your direct experience and kind of the more technical bits and you have this maker hacker mentality of going to college when you were 14 and finding this journal article from Ivan Sutherland and then just starting building and tinkering, but there was a number of different things that I think the music influence and also just understanding electronics and mathematics, all these things are kind of coming together. So I don't know if you can expand on that a little bit more of the theremin and the other music influence on that.

[00:06:08.365] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, sure. I mean, I guess, you know, one of the reasons I wrote this book was I just feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I feel like I've been so lucky. I've met the right people and I've been able to come across the right resources and the ideas that really turned me on. And it's just, it almost is like supernatural. I feel like how lucky I've been. Part of the book is sort of a thank you note to the world, you know, I just feel so fortunate. So one of the things that happened when I was a little kid is there was a Radio Shack. The Radio Shack used to be like the moral equivalent of, I don't even know what, like the Maker Faire or something. Like it was like this little shop and they were all over the place and you could just buy like your capacitor and your Like, it was a big deal. And then there was a drugstore with a newsstand with electronics magazines that were mostly about making amateur radios. But there was an article about making a theremin. So I started making theremins when I was pretty young. I'm not sure what year. probably around the time we just started designing the house, maybe 11 or 12 or something like that. And once again here, I just had these incredible lucky breaks. I wrote a letter to a guy named Bob Moog, who's the synthesizer entrepreneur inventor, and he was very generous with me because he'd started out when he was a kid building theremins, you know, and it was I mean, a theremin is really kind of like a VR device. It's this instrument you don't touch. You just move your hands. And it picks up your motions. And it's possible to play them very beautifully, although it's very difficult. It's a super challenging instrument. So let's see, when I was a kid, and you remember I was describing how I just had so much trouble reaching people. I just felt like people were these impossibly distant, inaccessible things. Especially girls, it must be said. But at any rate, when I was pretty small, and it's hard for me to date this exactly, but younger than 11, probably 10, but I'm not sure. The years are a little fuzzy. I've had a hard time putting together the timeline accurately, so I kind of leave it open in the book. Around that time, for Halloween, I made a haunted house out of a theremin. And so I met this wonderful guy, and I don't even remember his name. He was like a nobody. He was like a young radar tech at Fort Bliss, the big army base in El Paso, Texas. And he just said, oh, here's this weird kid who's interested in electronics. He taught me some basic electronics. Just like, not from a theoretical point of view, but sort of like street electronics. You solder these things together and stick this thing on and it'll do that. It was like a very non-technical approach to making electronics. And using some basic knowledge from him, I got this old junk TV that didn't work and turned it into a crude oscilloscope. And then I connected the theremin to it. And then there's this way you can do it where you get what are called Lissajous patterns, which are these amazing, diaphanous, three-dimensional looking things. And if you control those with the theremin, you can actually get, I mean, it's just amazing what you can get out. I mean, that should really be built again. Somebody should make that, because that's like, at least the theremin is like one of the wonders of what you can do with analog. It's just like one of the best things ever. Anyway, I did it and this is a whole story in the book I didn't get any kids to like it But I kind of scared the kids who were bullies away because all of a sudden they didn't know what to make of me So it actually did improve my life I got a little bit of the mad scientist power out of it, but I think we're up to the 90s now I, here again, I get a little confused about what your things happen, but somebody from the Stanford Computer Music Lab actually found Leon Theremin. And so the inventor of the Theremin, who's this astonishing inventor, really creative, wonderful guy, he'd even made one of the earliest televisions, all kinds of incredible things. And, you know, they found him and they brought, and he disappeared because what had happened is Stalin had had him kidnapped, and forced him to build spying devices for the KGB. And he always built in little, like his bugs would always make hums to announce themselves and things like that. So he was undermining that work. But they found him, and they brought him to America, and he came to Stanford a couple times. And so it was just so exciting to have him around. And I got to give him a VR demo, and it was really one of the honors of my life.

[00:10:16.764] Kent Bye: Well, one of the other things just in terms of virtual reality that you mentioned in your book is that you say that a musical instrument is kind of like the best haptic device you could possibly have because you have this range of fidelity in terms of the amount of expression that you can have. And I just found that really interesting and striking to think about what does it mean for VR developers to think about musical instruments as the ultimate haptic interface?

[00:10:39.573] Jaron Lanier: Well, to me, actually, it's not just VR developers, but just computer scientists in general should be thinking about musical instruments. Because my view is that the best way to think about computation is as a tool that helps us think better. Because what else can these things do? I don't believe in the myth that we're building this freestanding intelligence or this new kind of creature. I think we're building tools for ourselves. Or at least I think that's the most useful way to think about it. And then what you want to ask is, what are the most eloquent tools that have ever been made? Where do we find the precedence? And it's clearly musical instruments. And actually, can I rant about that a little bit? Yeah, yeah. I'm really interested. So in this interface between the technology world and musical instruments, one of the things that you see again and again is somebody saying, well, we did an objective listening test, and the listeners can't tell which violin is the Stradivarius or which flute is made of platinum instead of copper or whatever. And that's a totally wrong-headed approach. A good musician can make the instrument sound good. That's what they're paid to do. It's really about the interactivity. I mean, the properties of a Stradivarius or of a fine flute are these very subtle haptic refinements. It's a different experience playing them. And until we can wrap our heads around that, that it's the interactivity that's where the virtuosity is, we're thinking about it all wrong. Just thinking about the product is like cutting out the process, which is where the action really happens. And I feel like it's exactly the problem we have in computer science now. So you really, like, you can hear a great fiddler make a reasonable violin sound really, really good from behind a screen. But when you pick it up and play it, you really can feel the difference. And that subtlety is everything. And that's how we need to think about computers. One of my rants, one of the things that gets me upset is just how much VR has emphasized the visual display, or even the audio display, and how little it's emphasized subtlety of input and virtuosity of input. And then, of course, I feel like the social angle hasn't been emphasized enough. So those things make my blood boil. I really care about that.

[00:12:42.540] Kent Bye: Well, the thing that was really striking as I was reading that is that just playing all these exotic instruments anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 different instruments, How that you start to play these instruments, that you start to feel like you're embodying a mindset of somebody from ancient times or another culture, you know, and that you're able to really get into these trance states by just the way that you move your body. It's like this form of embodied cognition in the process of having that haptic feedback loop that you're able to kind of tune into that in some way.

[00:13:09.865] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, so I can't prove this is objectively true, of course, because, you know, how would one? But the way it feels to me is that when you learn to play an instrument from a distant place in a distant time, you have to learn to move and breathe like those people. And there is some way you're entering into their body experience, you're entering into their lives. It's a unique record. Like, you know, I've played instruments that came out of ancient Egyptian tombs, And they're different. Like, those people had lung capacity. They had stamina. Like, there's no joke, you know? And it's just really interesting to feel it, you know? Or another example is some ancient Chinese instruments were obviously played by people with extraordinary fine motor control of their fingers. And it's finer, I think, than musicians have today, actually. And you can feel that. There's so many other examples I could give you. And that, actually that experience with instruments, I have an insane instrument obsession, don't glorify it, it's a terrible addiction, it's family destroying, it's not, I don't recommend it, it's out of control, it's bad, but let's leave that aside for a second. That experience of feeling like I was time traveling by playing instruments or body traveling or something, I think I started this whole thing of VR being a tool for empathy in the old days. That was like one of my standard talks. And now I'm a little skeptical of it, actually. But it's at least potentially true that by creating sort of a holistic experience, it's different than your usual. And maybe you can expand your sense of what other people experience, expand your sense of what's possible. I mean, in theory, it should be true. I mean, in practice, it's not automatically true. But at least there's something there, I think.

[00:14:52.143] Kent Bye: Well, one of the other things that you had said that I haven't heard anybody else in the VR community say is using your tongue as an input device and, you know, and your teeth as buttons. But, you know, can you expand on that a little bit more? Like what does that even look like? And this is outside of playing musical instruments. You're just talking about like using your tongue to do all sorts of like creative expression.

[00:15:12.790] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, in the 80s, when I was in my 20s, I guess, I just was determined to figure out, to kind of map out the ways that people could be the most expressive in technology. And so if you just look at the human organism, there are these various things that connect to the brain through different size nerve bundles, you know, and there's a huge one, which is the visual channel that comes in from the eyes into the brain. But if you look at haptic channels that they're bi-directional of course haptics is intrinsically a two-way thing But if you look at the size of those first of all the motor cortex and the spinal cord are Overwhelmingly huge that's one thing to say that's one of the reasons why I'm so interested in haptics, but there's this particular thing which is the tongue that Of all of the haptic organs that we have, the tongue is the one that is sort of the most like a morphable form, where it can take on all kinds of different shapes. It's a high-parameter shape, and it varies from person to person, actually, what range of shapes it can attain. It's interesting. There are genetic differences and perhaps early childhood differences. My daughter can do all kinds of things with her tongue that I can't, actually. She can fold it in ways that I can't. But the interesting thing about it, though, is that there's all this cognition applied to the tongue. And if you want to engage in adaptation storytelling, which is a dangerous game, but if you want to do it, it makes sense that we need to sense the food we're eating, right? That that would be a heavily invested sensory system going back up the phylogenetic tree. The thing about it is that this is this big cognitive capability that's just sitting there unused most of the time. So the tongue is flexible enough that we can speak with it, which is astonishing. I mean, if you think about it, what an amazing thing. But when you're not talking and you're not eating, And in my family, there might not be that much time that's neither of those things. But let's say, hypothetically, there's at least a little bit of time in the day when you're neither talking or eating. Then the question is, like, what's that system doing? And the answer is not much. So I said, well, this looks like a resource. Like, to me, this is like finding a gold mine or something. Like, OK, let's see what we can do with it. So my first experiments Well, I tried all kinds of things. I tried putting sensors inside the mouth. And this sort of thing, actually, there's a whole community that studies this now that's mostly interested in interfaces for people with disabilities. So there is actually a fairly large world of people who are trying things like this. But you can put sensors in the mouth. Eventually, when it became possible to get ultrasound devices for just checking out fetuses inside a mother, I just put one of those up against somebody's cheek. And I realized, oh, yeah, hey, I can get a signal out of that. And I did some experiments, and you know, the thing is, the tongue's a high-parameter object, so you can give people simultaneous control of a number of parameters, and they just do it without even trying, which is actually not that easy with other parts of the body. So I think it's just based on the potential. I would expect the tongue to be a vital input device for the future. It's important to sense it non-invasively, and there are a few ways to do it. It's not easy, but it's doable. We had a few sort of weird conversations where I was trying to talk Microsoft into trying to put a tongue sensor in Holland's and that went nowhere, obviously, but somehow they put up with it.

[00:18:26.904] Kent Bye: Well, you mentioned the phylogenetic tree and the other part that you talk about that in the book is talking about the homuncular flexibility or also homuncular plasticity would be another maybe what it's.

[00:18:39.129] Jaron Lanier: That train has left the station. It should have been homuncular plasticity, but it's currently homuncular flexibility, because I was just coining terms sloppily at that point, so my apologies to everybody for that. It would sound more professional and better if it was plasticity.

[00:18:53.497] Kent Bye: Okay, so it's homuncular flexibility. So basically what you were talking about is that we have evolved over time. We used to have tails. We no longer have tails, but in VR, you could start to add additional limbs and start to get haptic feedback that, is kind of tricking your brain into feeling it. And you can actually get haptic feedback through a virtual limb. So you actually start to have feeling on these limbs. But our brain is, I guess, plastic enough or flexible enough to be able to actually process this. And so this is one of the things you've been looking at with Jeremy Bailenson is trying to figure out what are the different categories of different animals you can embody and what our brain can be able to start to process.

[00:19:32.114] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, I mean this is a huge topic and I hardly even know where to begin. It all started with an accident where I just had some bugs and avatars and was surprised that I could still control them because it's really easy to make an unusable avatar. That's like not hard to do. But to make a weird one that's still usable was a surprise. And then started playing around to see how weird an avatar we could make. This is going back to the 80s and I eventually discovered we could make really weird avatars with different body plans and different numbers of limbs and just find a way to map from the real body to that one and people would learn it, especially kids, really quickly. So, a theory developed, and I think this originated with Jim Bauer at Caltech, that, see, from the brain's point of view, the brain's just been sitting there incrementally evolving through all these different body forms for hundreds of millions of years, right? And so from the brain's point of view, oh, a new body comes along, no big deal, you know, but it still retains the patterning of the previous ones. And it's also what we call pre-adapted for other bodies that might evolve in the future. And this is where I was saying that adaptation storytelling is a little dangerous because the truth is it's kind of a loose fit that any particular adaptation, if it was too tight, evolution wouldn't be possible. Everything's kind of loosely fit so that it can sort of slide along to the next situation that evolution requires. So anyway, So our brain, in a way, still remembers the other bodies we evolved through. Because when we started to look at what bodies we could inhabit, they tended to resemble things that we'd once been. Now you mentioned tails. We did tails, but the first really effective tail that was studied rigorously would be in Mel Slater's group at UCL in London. And they actually gave you a tail. And then you had to learn to fling that tail around for target practice. And people could do it. And it was crazy. That's still in there. That's still in us. It's something we didn't know about. Now, Jeremy Bailenson from Stanford and I have had this sort of long-term project of trying to figure out what range of avatars is actually usable so we can sort of map out the potential for what the homunculus can become. What kind of haptic configurations can the brain handle? It's a really big project. I don't think we'll finish it, but it's a really worthy project. And I'm sure there'll be variations between individuals. There might be cultural associations or racial ones even. I don't know. I mean, we just have no idea. But one thing I am sure of is that when we explore this hidden world of haptic cognition, we'll discover capabilities we have that'll be at the very least beautiful and wondrous and very possibly extremely useful and important.

[00:22:04.371] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your virtual programming language ideas, because that seems to be a continual thread throughout your entire history within virtual reality. And also the tie-in to jazz and music and improv of wanting to be able to creatively express and code in a way that you're really just tearing down all the barriers to be able to take what's in your mind and to be able to creatively express it as if you were a piano player and being able to express something through the keyboard. in VR with actual coding. And so maybe you could talk about, when was this first started, this idea of either a visual programming language or a virtual programming language?

[00:22:41.831] Jaron Lanier: Well, OK, so what I always wanted to do was have this state of connection with other people where you'd be mutually improvising a sort of a shared dream from a waking state, kind of like being inside a surreal painting, like being inside of Ronymous Bosch painting. And I mean, like, from when I was a kid, I imagine there'd be something like a musical instrument, like a clarinet or a violin, that you'd play that would just create the world. It would create the forms and the physics and everything, you know? Instead of doing it triangle by triangle and writing lines of code, there'd be some kind of holistic way of doing it. There'd be some kind of mapping between the huge space of things you could play on some kind of virtual instrument and the huge number of worlds that could come out on the other side. That's kind of what I dream, but then it's very different to have a vague dream of that than to actually figure out how to do it. It's really hard. So I feel like I've gotten a little ways towards it. I can't tell you for sure that it's doable or to what degree it is, but it's another one of these things that I think is a really worthy direction that I hope people will pursue, because I think it could be both tremendously beautiful and also useful. So the first step is you want to have a form of programming that doesn't involve stopping to program and then test. It has to be continuous where you're always making stuff from the inside. And that suggests a program that you can kind of change as it's operating and it won't crash. And that's a little bit of a puzzle because there's some fundamental computer science issues that come up. So it's probably a probabilistic program rather than a perfectly deterministic one because that gives you a way to sneak around some theoretical problems that come up otherwise. There are a few other things we can probably guess about what kind of program this is. We have an existence proof in our brains because the brains are like that, you know, that's... That's how they work, so we know it can be done. And it cuts against the grain of every little bit of computer science that's been developed since sometime in the early 50s. When computer science was brand new in the 40s, some people were thinking this way. Norbert Wiener, in particular, one of the founders of computer science, was thinking about continuously interacting computers instead of ones that had an input and an output. The original formal definition of a computer from Alan Turing has a discrete input and an output stage, but to have something that's in continuous interaction that's also changing is another way of thinking. But the thing is, the person who really solidified this like code first, then test, then code again, the person who really, she didn't invent it, but the person who really kind of perfected it and made it standard was named Grace Marie Hopper. And she was a Navy coder. And this, in turn, is a whole amazing social story. Because during World War II, a lot of the top mathematicians were sent into nuclear weapons programs and other things. And computer science was treated as kind of like the backward, less important thing in some ways. And so female mathematicians were recruited into it. And in fact, a lot of Alan Turing's assistants were female. But anyway, let's back up. Grace Hopper really kind of perfected and solidified this idea that you write the code, you test it, then you write it again, or you modify it. And that's terrible for VR, because it means that you're experiencing something, then you have to take off the headset, you sit there and you code, then you put the headset back on. Now, there are people who've done coding while you're inside, like Anyworld or something like that? Yeah, Anyland. Anyland, yeah. But the thing about that is that the types of programming structures are still the ones from a Grace Hopper style system. So even though it's in VR, you're still coding the thing and then seeing what it does. It's not this kind of continuous interaction that I would imagine and that our own brains seem to be capable of. In fact, even what we call deep neural nets have a training phase and then a test phase. We haven't gotten to the point of continuous interaction with programs yet. And that's what we have to get to for VR to become expressive, in my view anyway. Maybe it's just my own craziness. So the question is, how do you get to that point? How do you get away from this A, B, go back and forth, program test? So we developed these really crazy systems that were unprecedented where we had these mappings that we called editors. So what you'd have is like an editor would look at something and make it look like something else. You can imagine this little virtual screen. So it might look at some bits raw in memory and then make them look like a traditional program or like something else. And then those screens could be looked at by other screens. So you had this network of screen to screen to screen. It has a slight relationship to some of the things going on with machine learning these days, actually, although that wasn't the framework in which we were thinking. And you might think, well, how did you do this on early machines that were so slow? And it was actually more efficient. That was the crazy thing. Like we were writing more optimized code with these things. I sometimes called them incremental assemblers because these visual things would map down to assembly code. And we had this really clever scheme where as you're editing it, it would always skip around the little piece that you were editing so it wouldn't crash. And I think we did some really cool stuff. We should have published it in straight computer science journals, but we were in this startup. And you know how it is in a startup. You stay up all night and you're just working. trying to deliver something. You just don't have time for journal articles. So we never really documented it well enough. But we did make a bunch of versions of it to the point where, like, I did have instrument-like things in VR that would change programs, but never with the kind of generality or vastness or fluidity that I dream of. But, you know, we made it part of the way there. And I still feel like that path might go somewhere. You know, I can't prove it, but I still think it's a really worthy direction.

[00:28:25.388] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things that you mentioned in your book about Ivan Sutherland is that he's been working on this computer that is asynchronous. It doesn't have like a clock. And is this something that you think might be a key part of what you envision with this sort of real time is getting beyond the paradigm of a time clock? Or is this, I'm trying to wrap my brain around what that even means to have an asynchronous clock or this new paradigm that Sutherland is working on.

[00:28:49.327] Jaron Lanier: Well, Ivan's asynchronous chips work. I mean, he's proven it. To me, the strongest metaphor between what Ivan's doing and other fields is actually, this is going to sound strange, but with loop quantum gravity. So, like string theory, inherited a lot of baggage from quantum field theory, including there's this external clock that's making all the matrices multiply by the Planck constant. So there's this thing outside of the universe, which is this clock that's going Planck, Planck, Planck, Planck. And that kind of bothers relativists, because in general relativity, you sort of are trying to imagine the universe as really totally explaining itself without any external background or anything sitting out there. And so if you try to expand general relativity to take over the quantum side instead of the other direction, there are different ways to do it. So my buddy Lee Smolin is one of the people who developed this thing called the quantum gravity where, and this is, you should really interview Lee about this because this becomes this whole big deal, but you have these universes that emerge and instead of having an external clock, all the little pieces just kind of work together and things like clocks kind of emerge implicitly, but they're never explicitly sort of designed as some external prerequisite to the universe. And Ivan's approach to digital systems has that quality where instead of saying, well, there'll be this external fixed thing, there'll be this clock, it's like all these little pieces that just kind of talk to each other and the organization emerges. Now, if you ask me, does that have anything to do with what I was just talking about? I don't know. I mean, like, I don't think any of us really know where all these ideas are leading. I will mention a sort of a psychological or social phenomenon, which is that sometimes people who have kind of singular creative visions in computer science will just keep on pushing on them, And I think of Ivan and his asynchronous architectures, and I think of Ted Nelson and Xanadu, and perhaps myself with some of my crazy VR stuff. And you push on them, but at the same time, the world kind of encrusts itself around some mediocrity that's very disappointing, that younger people think is a given and could never be different. And it's kind of frustrating. It's a repeating phenomenon that we see over and over again. And I kind of, I wonder what the future will bring. I have a feeling someday there'll be some massive deconstructionist movement in computer science of people trying to go back to some of these things and reconsider them.

[00:31:08.655] Kent Bye: Yeah, I see that happening already, just in terms of bringing phenomenology back into mathematics. And the thing that you mentioned with iconic math, looking through the footnotes, reading through some of the people like Weil and David Hilbert, I'm reading a book right now called The Reign of Relativity, which they're going back into from 1915 to 1924. where they're trying to look at this debate that happened with general relativity as it was first coming up, there was all these phenomenologists that were coming in and saying, let's infuse physics with spirit. And Einstein basically shut it down. So one of the things that was kind of striking when reading your book is that there's this kind of tension between art and science, as well as having a bit of humility, as well as open mindedness about what is known and what is not known when it comes to science. And I think that In our world today, we can kind of have what is known about science, and that becomes a little bit of a dogma and ideology. And we kind of lose the open questions of the things that aren't known, whether it's around consciousness, whether it's around all these open questions. But for you also, I see this theme of trying to balance between what's it mean to be connected to your direct experience and your phenomenology and the more mystical parts of yourself, but also be a skeptic and a rationalist and a reductionist and a scientist. And so that also seems to be kind of a big theme of your work.

[00:32:25.613] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, that's a tricky thing. I used to talk about it as a tightrope that you have to walk, where if you fall off to the right, you become this reductionist, nerdy, rigid person. And if you fall off to the left, you succumb to superstitions. And there's some fine line in there. And it kind of depends what company you keep, because I find that sometimes I'm always battling against what I view as overly rigid or sort of irrationally rigid thinking, where Well, for instance, I don't think AI is a real thing. I think AI is just a fantasy we impose on computers that undoes the clarity of our engineering, so I'm sort of opposed to it as a way of thinking. And that's an unusual position. A lot of people these days believe in it. I'm not telling anybody else what to believe, but I at least want them to acknowledge that a different belief is possible. And just even getting to that point where they can see another belief as possible is pretty hard. So in that case, I feel like I'm trying to pull people who've fallen off the tightrope on the right side, or they're being overly rigid, overly reductionistic. But then, you know, Einstein's problem with bringing superstitions or sort of weird, vague beliefs is also a very real problem. And I run into that. I live in the Bay Area, for God's sakes. I mean, like, It's like, that's also a very real problem. Like, you know, I believe consciousness is a real thing. And if you want to call that a supernatural or mystical thing, you can. But what I firmly believe is that you shouldn't attempt to say more about it than you can really back up. So I feel I can say it exists. I experience it. I think denying it's there is lying. But then to say, oh, well, that means there's an immortal soul, or oh, that means that ginseng is good for ... You can't extend from that beyond what you know. You can only know the tiniest little bud of mysticism, and to pretend you know more is this kind of arrogant confusion. And so you have to have this discipline to accept how little you can know, but also not to reject what you actually can know, just because it's not everything. And that in-between position is that tightrope. It's a really tough one to stay on.

[00:34:27.350] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I noticed a footnote that you had talking about your style of even writing this book because you are kind of blending this objective and subjective and it's kind of like these ephemeral impressions and sensations and feelings and non sequiturs and kind of just a feeling and a mood that you're sharing about your life story, but also kind of diving into the technical bits of VR. And I think that in some ways it's informed by your experiences from virtual reality where you are doing all the technical bits in order to create this. But then once you're in it, you're submitting to the experience of it all and the sensory experience of it.

[00:35:02.387] Jaron Lanier: Well, I think the best science writers don't try to erase themselves. And there aren't that many models that we can draw on, but they exist. And I think Oliver Sacks is a good example. And there's another book that's a little like this book, which is Primo Levi did a book where he went back and forth between his life experience in chemistry, going through elements, although it's different. This balance between being a real person, a genuine person, and being technical, I think it's hard to get it right, but it's really important for us to strive to do it. I think this sort of made-up voice from above that we use to talk about science and technology confuses us. I think it's actually kind of dangerous. The AI thing is an example. Like, there is no AI. It's just a fantasy in my view, but people speak of it as if it's real. And I think that if you're building a being, then you defer to that being. You can't be a good engineer anymore. Like, I think you make yourself absurd at that point. I mean, I learned about Turing like everybody else in this abstract way. And like, oh, here's his thought experiment, the Turing test. Here are his papers and everything. But for years, I didn't know his life story. And when I found out, all of a sudden, it completely popped for me. It's like, in the weeks before his suicide, this is the period when he made up the Turing test. He invented the concept of AI. Now, I won't presume to know Turing. I won't presume to know what he meant. Although somebody who worked with him thought my theory about it was plausible, I have to say. But, you know, it seems to me that it was a cry for help. It was saying, you know, here I help defeat these racist Nazis, and yet the society that I am in is rejecting me for my sexuality and is torturing me. And I think it was some kind of a longing for a more abstract being that just escapes sexuality, escapes identity, and doesn't have to prove itself by anything other than objective means, you know? Something like that. That could be wrong. There's no way to really know. But knowing his story was so important to me. And I think another one is Everest Galois, where this drive to be able to capture symmetries and find this perfect thing. And when you realize that this was a teenager who would die in a duel the next morning when he wrote this thing down, it was like he was searching for something too perfect to have. And I feel like that, in a way, describes the state of modern mathematics. And I don't know, just like knowing his life story is vital to understanding it. So I think we can be precise. I think we can be rigorous. I think we can be empirical. And I think we can keep to the highest standards without erasing ourselves. And we have to figure out how to do that. So this book is, in a way, like my little exercise in trying to find that solution where we do both at once.

[00:37:45.372] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I've done about 90 interviews about artificial intelligence, and the thing that I see about AI is that it's a bit of a mirror of ourselves, so that as we try to define what intelligence is, it actually makes us understand what our intelligence is, and how we understand common sense, and how difficult that is. we kind of see these gaps and also whether or not we can create consciousness in a computer then we'll be able to have a formal definition around it or if we can't then we will say okay well consciousness is something that is unique to a human organism and it's something that we can't create so it's just what is unique to us and that for virtual reality the more we do VR the more that we learn about the nature of human experience and perception and all these things and so I think all these technologies are, not that they're fake or not real, they're just mirrors to ourselves and that the more we study it, the more we learn about ourselves.

[00:38:34.855] Jaron Lanier: Yeah, well, that's a different point of view than mine, but I will respect it. Because I mean, I don't think there's any meter for consciousness. I think consciousness is something experienced internally. I don't think there's such a thing as external evidence for it. And in fact, well, this is a whole long thing to go into. In the book, I talk about this a bit, like the difference between a charlatan and a magician is a magician announces the trick, right? So I feel like VR engineers are magicians and AI engineers are charlatans. Similar in many ways. But I mean, this is a whole long thing. I know a lot of people disagree with me about it. And I've paid a price for it. A lot of people get pissed off about my attitude on AI. But it just, that's the way I read it. I, you know, and just repeat, the most important mentor to me when I was young was Marvin Minsky, who kind of made up this stuff. And oh, we loved arguing about it. Whenever I argue about it, it just reminds me of Marvin. It makes me feel good. But other people are less happy that there's somebody arguing that what they've devoted themselves to doesn't exist. But, you know. I don't know. I just have to follow what seems to be true to me.

[00:39:42.028] Kent Bye: I think there's a dimension there of the context of like surveillance capitalism and trying to get all of this data about us and that, you know, one of the things you say is that it's stolen data. It's not data that's sort of given under direct consent or it's sort of sneaky in a lot of ways of how it's gathered. In order to actually train these algorithms, you have to kind of like get all the data and it just is in the context of these economic systems that are creating all sorts of other unintended consequences that We as a culture may not be able to identify, but you as an individual have been able to say, okay, this is dangerous and I choose not to really participate on these different levels.

[00:40:17.834] Jaron Lanier: Well, I mean, I participate. Listen, I'm not some outsider criticizing this world. I'm in this world. I've worked on the very systems I criticize. I think it's really important not to divide the world into people who do tech and then tech critics. I think that would be a dysfunctional arrangement. I think people from within the technical world have to become self-critical because we understand what we're doing. So we're in a better position to improve. What you were saying about AI and theft is something that really bugs me. For years, in the late 50s, Marvin assigned some grad students a summer project of building a universal translator, a Babelfish. Well, that was before Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was written, so it couldn't have been a Babelfish. Something like that. And the idea was you represent the Chomskyian core of language and you feed it dictionaries and it should just spit out translations between languages. And of course that doesn't work. And people tried and tried for decade after decade until in the 90s Some researchers at IBM said, no, no, let's just use big data and statistics. They started to correlate fragments and put them together and all of a sudden you had not great, but usable translations, which is approximately where we are today. We've improved it a little bit, but it's basically similar. And in order to do that, you have to go and steal tens of millions of examples of daily translations by people who don't even know that the stuff's being stolen from them, because the language does change every day because of current events, you know, and especially with social media, it moves really fast. So, you know, we're pretending we have this pristine electronic brain, but really we're stealing all this example data from people, and you could say, well, what's the harm in that? It's just pretend. Except that those same people have seen a disastrous reduction in their livelihoods, very similar to what's happened to recording musicians and investigative journalists and photographers, they've lost something like nine-tenths of their earning powers collectively. So there is a real consequence, and it is unfair. And the only reason that those people have lost their livelihoods is for us to be able to maintain this fantasy that they're not needed when they actually are. We're telling them they're buggy whips when they're actually not. And so this can't go on. You can't have a stable society where you're playing a game like that and lying about the worth of people. And it's also just so insulting. It's vile. So we have to dig our way out of it.

[00:42:40.779] Kent Bye: Well, just to go back to VPL Research Incorporated in the 80s, I was really in awe of all the things that you created that didn't really exist before. Everything from the iPhone head-mounted display with, I don't know if it was six degree of freedom tracking, but with tracking. you have the data glove, you have the data suit to be able to do like body motion capture, then eventually you do the video sphere, so 360 video, 3D audio, and you're kind of leveraging the silicon graphics. But you're putting all this stuff together when none of this stuff had really been integrated to that level before, like all these components. And I'm just, I'm curious, what was it like to be pioneering all of these systems that didn't exist before and then you just have this vision that it's possible and you just go and do it?

[00:43:29.501] Jaron Lanier: It was just a shitload of work and a shitload of fun. It's hard to believe. VPL was founded in 84 and I stayed with it until 92 and we actually, in that time, we built a small factory in Redwood City, California with workers who'd previously only had experience in hospitality or construction and taught them how to make the first commercial head-mounted displays and all these things and we shipped. We shipped, we actually shipped and we were selling VR systems that were a couple million bucks a seat to fancy places like government agencies and big labs and corporations and we were just a really weird hippie shop and we somehow got it together and it's still hard to believe we actually pulled it off but we did.

[00:44:16.071] Kent Bye: Well, one of the customers that was really surprising and shocking was that there was some tribe that was going to be losing their language. And it was like their language was based upon mythologies of their tribe, and they were using metaphors from those myths, and they wanted to try to preserve it. And they couldn't translate that into words and dictionaries. So you have one brief mention. What did you do with them?

[00:44:37.428] Jaron Lanier: Well, yeah, this is one of these crazy things. I got this call saying there's this tribe there in Canada, and their language has been hard to capture in traditional dictionaries, and they are constantly referring to a body of myths that they all know, and they're wondering if they could use virtual reality to create a way of preserving, teaching, conveying their language. And they were rich. I can't remember if it was because of casinos or resources or something, but they sent a private jet. So I actually flew up to this place in freezing Canada in this private jet and met with them. I mean, the problem with ideas like this is that it was so early, and just the whole issue of how to program with the technology and deal with it and everything about it was just, it was way premature. I mean, I think now something like that might be more feasible. And I've heard of things like that around the world. It did indirectly turn into a Star Trek Next Generation episode, though, because some of the people who made that show were friends, and especially a guy who directed a lot of the episodes. And some of the people from my company would visit the set sometimes and vice versa and whatnot. Somehow they ended up with an alien race with a similar problem, and they did this thing in their holodeck. But yeah, there were so many stories like that. I tried to just put a few of them in the book. I could have put in many more, but it was just too much.

[00:45:55.965] Kent Bye: What was your favorite demo of that era, that time period?

[00:45:59.404] Jaron Lanier: Well, I mean, my very favorite was probably The Sound of One Hand, which is this music performance from inside VR. And I have a link in the book to a little bad video of it that I have on my website if anybody wants to see it. And my second favorite was probably this crazy thing we did for the introduction of Prozac, the first antidepressant, where you fly into a patient's brain and play with the chemical action of Prozac on a synapse. That was by far the most difficult and technically challenging virtual world that had been built up to that time. It was even harder to do than the surgical simulations because it existed on so many levels and had so many kinds of dynamics in it.

[00:46:36.276] Kent Bye: Do you remember the first social VR experience that you had after getting all the technology working and being able to be embodied with another person in VR?

[00:46:46.082] Jaron Lanier: Oh, yeah, very much so. The first avatar in, well, this actually, I should say, as you probably know, in the VR community, everybody's always arguing about who did what first and who came up with this or that. So I, well, certainly the first three-dimensional avatar in an immersive context, without question, was the one that Ann Lasko designed at VPL. And it was 20 polygons, because that's all we could afford in real time to have two people at once. So she came up with this way of making that look like a face. And it was just amazing, because it's usually called biological motion, but we perceive motion in each other with incredible sensitivity. So just seeing how somebody moves their head gives you the identity of that person and a lot of their emotion. It's really extraordinary. When you have proper scale and sight lines, if it's aligned in 3D, it's really vivid. It's amazing. We did some early work with trying to sense facial features, often mechanically, to animate the faces a little bit, but yeah, just the simplest avatars were just, it was really a revelation. It was really surprising how powerful they were.

[00:47:46.741] Kent Bye: Yeah, and now you're at Microsoft Research, and in the book you say you stopped at 1992 from VPL. When did you start back up into VR again? I mean, were you continuing to work in the field, or when did you start at Microsoft Research then?

[00:48:01.441] Jaron Lanier: Well, you know, the manuscript I wrote did go closer to the present, but it was like three times longer. And my publisher said, no, this is not happening. We're not going to publish this giant doorstop. Cut it off somewhere. And I thought 92 when I left VPL was a reasonable place to stop it. So let's see, what did I do after VPL in virtuality? I kind of got out of virtuality for a while. I went to be a musician in the 90s in New York and actually was reasonably successful. I got signed to a major label and all that, and it was pretty good. But then I kind of missed computer science and I got a gig as the, I was called the Chief Scientist of the Engineering Office of Internet 2. And Internet 2 was a consortium of universities trying to figure out how to make the internet scalable, because there were some problems related to that. We did a bunch of stuff there. I started a VR section and among other things we did this thing called the tele-immersion initiative where we did the first volumetric interaction and the first real-time volumetric and streaming so we had like volumetric conferences at distances where people could manipulate models, all kinds of things. And this was in the 90s. It was pretty early, and in a way it's still not replicated. We did a version at the lab a couple years ago called Colportation or something. There's always this proliferation of names of things. And it's gotten better and better, but it's not quite out there in the world as a standard thing yet. But we did the first of those, and then I did, what else did I do during that time? I was involved in early machine vision. I have a friend named Hartman Nevin, who you might know. He started Google Glass. He currently runs Google's quantum computing initiative. But we had this little startup with some other people, and we sold it to Google at some point. But we had probably the earliest version of code that could really follow facial features so that you could turn into some other creature. And this was part of this dream of having animated avatars. It's funny, the first application of it wasn't for security or anything. I used to use it in stage shows at jazz clubs in New York where I had like musicians turning into the politicians of the day and we'd make fun of them and stuff. We did some really crazy stuff back then with just projectors on stage and whatnot. But that went to Google. And I kind of, in retrospect, I should have, I'd been thinking about the politics of this all for a really long time. Starting when I left VPL in 92, I started writing these critical essays about how the internet could go wrong. And I was reading them over because somebody published a collection of them in German called When Dreams Grow Up, like a collection of my critical essays. And there's one from 92 called Agents of Alienation. where I talk about how you could have what were then called agents, and these days we'd call them bots, that would do warfare with each other and would make society crazy and could affect elections and all this, and addict people, like exactly the world we've entered into. And I was worried about that, but somehow at that time, I just wasn't thinking that way. I probably could have done more to influence where Google would go, and I just, I don't know, I didn't engage on that level. I should have. I regret that. But I don't know, it's hard to see everything as it's happening. It all happened so fast. Yeah, and everybody was going to go to Google. Google was brand new. I mean, Google was not in the Googleplex. The Googleplex used to be Silicon Graphics, and the current Googleplex dining room and little talk space used to be my lab. I used to do all these crazy things there. Oh, I had a gig with Silicon Graphics, too. I forget what they called me, but I had a... When Silicon Graphics was still big, I had this thing where I was doing VR experiments there. But Google was just like in this little crappy building and Sergey Brin, you know, said, you know, you're writing all these controversial essays. We don't want people doing that at Google. And I was talking to Bill Gates actually at the same event. It was just at this thing where a bunch of Silicon Valley people were. And he said, you know, every bad thing that can be said about Microsoft has been said mostly by you. We don't care. Why don't you come to our labs and see what you think? And I said, yeah, okay. And I was really impressed. It seemed like such an extraordinary enlightened, because I used to be pretty mean to Microsoft.

[00:51:55.518] Kent Bye: I said some pretty bad things about Microsoft in the old days. Well, I think their new CEO, I think they've actually changed a lot, the culture. I think because they kind of missed the mobile boat, they're kind of taking a lot of open source strategies. And I think surveillance generally within all of the major tech companies is something that I worry about. And that's still an open question I have around Microsoft.

[00:52:17.043] Jaron Lanier: I mean, first of all, Satya Nadella is amazing. There's a lot of really great things, but it's not perfect. And this general, I call it the mass behavior modification empires is what I'm calling it. But yeah, it's a problem. And I think we're not as bad as some of the others. But I mean, the way I see it, of the big five, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, whatever your complaints about them, are still basically companies that sell goods and services. That's how they make their money. But Facebook and Google do what they call advertising, but we shouldn't call it that, because when you're in a constant feedback loop with an algorithm, it's really more a behavior modification loop. It's no longer advertising. And basically, Google, Facebook, and then some of the smaller companies like Twitter have to change their business model for the species to survive. I can't put it anywhere bluntly. They're great people. I really like a lot of people at both of those companies a lot. And a part of me is at Google. And it's not a question of good people and bad people. It's just bad incentives. And so they just have to change their business model.

[00:53:23.366] Kent Bye: Yeah. And just to kind of wrap things up here, I'm curious, what do you want to experience in VR that you haven't yet?

[00:53:31.192] Jaron Lanier: Oh, God, I want to make up the world while I'm inside it with other people, without bounds. I don't mean just playing around with traditional programming, but through some kind of weird... I want some kind of new thing where it's like playing an instrument, except the world changes, and it's a form of expression that directly creates the world. And that might not even be doable. It's a tremendously difficult problem. Nobody needs to tell me that. It's not a completely well-defined goal, nobody needs to tell me that, but there's something there and I so want to experience that.

[00:54:06.695] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:54:15.971] Jaron Lanier: Well, I like to think of it as something like language, something that's very fundamental and very broad, but that could take a long time to develop. Like, you know, what we know from language is that the older language is, the more sounds it has, which suggests that the earliest languages might have had a different sound for each thing. So there would have been a kind of a more direct mapping with less abstractions and less structure, which stands to reason, right, that it would have to start somewhere. And I think we're not even at that stage of virtual reality, but I think the path forward is one that could become as rich as language. And I think someday there'll be Shakespeare's of virtual reality. But that's one side of it. It's also like music. Music is the thing where we can improvise forms together. with ever greater beauty and sensitivity, and so it'll be like that. And there's no end to music, certainly. And it might be a little like cinema, where we can just make all these weird and beautiful looking things, although I think that side of it is the less important one than the musical or the language side. But also, I think maybe the most important thing virtuality can do is keep us sane. Because in the book, I talk about this, that to me personally, the greatest gift of virtuality is the moment when you take off the headset. And I think you can perceive reality then with fresh eyes, because you never get a chance to compare reality too much. except maybe your dreams but you know I used to sneak a rose in front of somebody when they were doing a demo and then you like look at a rose or look into somebody else's eyes even more intensely and it's like you really see the world freshly and I think this clarity about this miracle that is reality is something that we can fail to appreciate you know like it's easy to take the fact that we're living in this amazing thing we call reality it's easy to take that for granted but it's actually astonishing and I think virtuality will forever be lesser in a way. It's one of my predictions is that people will keep on getting more sensitive as VR improves, so we'll always be able to tell what's virtual and what's real. And so I think just giving us the gift of appreciating reality is the best thing virtuality can do. So in a way, negating itself is its most sacred mission. Oh, there's so much more I could say about it. Fundamentally, I still just love this stuff. I really, like, some of my favorite younger designers who are doing things, and I mean younger, they're not necessarily like little babies, but like, you know, Chris Milk brought by his Story of Us to my house the other day just to show it to friends. It's really just cool to see like people are starting to really make things that I think have some depth to them. And they're just beautiful. They're fun. And I love it. I just really love it.

[00:56:59.116] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Jaron, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been great.

[00:57:02.740] Jaron Lanier: Sure. Hey, thanks for being interested. I really appreciate it.

[00:57:05.943] Kent Bye: So that was Jaron Lanier, and he was talking about his new book called Dawn of the New Everything. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I just really appreciated Jaron's honest take about, you know, his journey into virtual reality. But I also want to focus in on some of the deep, deep insights that he has about virtual reality as a new communication medium, because I think in a lot of ways, VR is providing all these amazing new, unique affordances. And I just super appreciate Jaron's perspective that as you go into VR you come out and it's almost like you have something to compare reality to And then you just have this new appreciation of what it means to be within reality And that from Jaron's perspective of being musician, he has a very specific thing about what's it mean to be able to play an instrument and have this dynamic interactive haptic device. And what he says is that it's the interactivity, that's where the virtuosity is. It's in the responsiveness of these different instruments are able to have this interactive haptic feedback and it's bi-directional. you're pressing and you're creating and controlling an instrument, you are actually receiving that back within your body. So you're getting this embodied cognition of this device and how it is speaking to you in different ways. And that's part of the reason why Jaron has had this huge obsession with all these different exotic musical instruments is because they have all these variety of different haptic experiences and that he's just really dedicated his life and be able to have this full range of different sensory experiences. And, you know, just thinking about the tongue as a input device, how it has a high parameter shape, which means that you can control different variables on many different axes at the same time, and you don't even really think about it, and how difficult that is to do with other body parts. In some degree, I think the process of language is a form of doing that where you're able to speak and have conversational interfaces with artificial intelligence. And that will be one dimension of expressing your agency with your tongue in your mouth. But just to think about, you know, what if your tongue became some sort of controller or being able to control multiple axes of different variables at the same time that your body would just kind of intuitively start to understand that. And just this idea of the homuncular flexibility that you can start to embody different creatures and avatars and that it's like tapping into the deep time of your brain of stuff that's kind of laid dormant and almost like these latent human potentials and What does it mean to start to reactivate those parts of our body that are there, that haven't really been activated for tens of thousands of years? Are those experiences going to then somehow have expression of our DNA in new and different ways, or are there going to be new capabilities that we had once had but lost, but now we're able to recover in different ways? And that it really is quite remarkable all the things that the VPL Research Incorporated was able to do. I mean, for anybody that was around during the DK1 and DK2 days, you saw the progression of a virtual reality headset that didn't have 60 degree of freedom tracking, and then it took a long time to do the positional tracking, and then to eventually get the touch controllers. you know, they were on one shot coming together with the VR headset, the tracking, the data glove, the data suit, 3D audio, you know, there weren't the game engines and they had to actually like go out and train people within the local community how to create this manufacturing line. There was no ability to outsource any of the production to China. And so it was completely like this homegrown system that was really bespoke to all these different customers. So for me, it's just really fascinating to read about that history a little bit more, the different people that are involved, and the different key parts that were kind of leading up to that. I was able to cover some of the highlights leading up to it, but it really is a much more comprehensive story that is worth digging into, especially if you're into the history and the evolution. And there's just a lot of really canny insights about the descriptions about what the unique affordances of virtual reality are. And finally, I just really appreciated Jaren's gratitude towards, you know, all the people that were really helping and mentor him. And, you know, I think it's pretty amazing to read his story and to meet him and talk to him and just to see his humility and his deeper conscious about trying to do the right thing. He is somebody who is like the essence of a hacker and a maker. someone who just wants to make the best possible thing. And I think in the course of reading the book, you kind of see this tension between the investors and getting caught up in the Silicon Valley and just the history of Silicon Valley and those early days of Silicon Valley. So I think some of the criticisms that Jaron has is from the perspective of being a maker. And as a maker, he's an engineer and an architect, and so he's trying to architect something that is just completely different. And there's this frustration that he was talking about with some of these technologists who are trying to create the best possible thing that's possible, and that in the book he talks about that's kind of like in the realm of mathematics, where you have this ideal form of what's possible, and then computer science is kind of like this tower of compromise and mediocrity of being able to just get something that works and is done. And so as technologists that we have to learn how to be self-critical of the things that we're making and that we can try to create and design and architect better systems. But there's also a dimension of culture here that what are the business models and what are the ethics around thinking about things other than just your own self. And I think that is a big thing that I got out of this conversation as well is that There's a bit of a philosophy of organism when you start to think about the entire community in the ecosystem rather than just you as an individual But you're in the context of these larger systems and that if you are only thinking about maximizing your own profit it becomes more of an issue of culture than of the technology and I think that's the thing that Jaron is kind of speaking to as well is just you know critiquing the the larger ethics and culture within these technology companies and Arguing that these companies that are doing surveillance capitalism through the business model of advertising He calls them these massive behavior modification empires and that it's not about advertising It's about having these behavior modification loops and that the more that that continues especially as we move into deeper and deeper virtual reality the more Dystopian and scary that it's gonna get and so it's like almost both the technologies of virtuality and artificial intelligence are kind of bringing up these deeper questions about the assumptions of our economy and if there's other methods or business models that can really take us into what Jaron calls a dawn of a new everything. 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, there's a couple of things you could do. Just first of all, just spread the word, tell your friends. And secondly, this is a listener supported podcast. And so I'm relying upon your gracious donations to continue to bring you this kind of coverage. And if you enjoy that and you want to see more of that, then please become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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