#744: Women in VR Dicussion Sponsored by Mozilla

Disclosure: Mozilla is financially sponsoring the Voices of VR podcast to collaborate on four different events in 2019, and our first collaboration was this conversation featuring the work of seven women within the XR space. Mozilla curated these seven participants and coordinated the logistics for this conversation to happen during Sundance, but it was up to me decide what to talk about and how to facilitate the overall conversation. I feel that the educational mission of the Voices of VR podcast aligns pretty closely with Mozilla’s mission of promoting an open and inclusive web, and so I’m excited to see how our three other collaborations evolve this year.


This conversation featured the following participants:

Some of these women are working directly with Mozilla with specific projects, but not all of them are directly connected. One of Mozilla’s key initiatives is to promote diversity and inclusion with the XR industry, and they created the XR Studio in San Francisco, which was a physical location that provided “mentorship, collaboration and equipment for 30 women to develop work in machine learning and mixed reality in San Francisco from May to August 2018.” Mozilla sponsored two of the XR Studio participants of Tyler Musgrave and Anastasia Victor to attend Sundance and network with other industry leaders, and they also sponsored Jacqueline Bošnjak’s Mad Women Breakfest club networking gathering at Sundance. Mozilla is also sponsored some of Nonny de la Peña’s work on Reach, which was debuting at Sundance New Frontier.

We ended up exploring the work that each of them are doing, their deeper intentions for why each of them are the XR space, some of the biggest challenges that they face within the XR industry, as well as what they think the ultimate potential of VR is.


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

Photo courtesy of Sandra Persing

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 next podcast interview is an interesting experiment. So Mozilla came to me before Sundance, and they wanted to both sponsor what I was doing at the podcast, but also find different ways that we could collaborate on different initiatives together. So for what I do at the Voices of VR podcast and what Mozilla is trying to do, there's actually a lot of overlap in terms of our common missions of what we want to accomplish within the larger ecosystem of virtual and augmented reality. So Mozilla is obviously working a lot on open standards and the open web and increasing access and diversity to technology for people that are working on WebXR, these immersive technologies, distribution platforms for how to get away from the app ecosystems and to have more of a decentralized web, all sorts of issues of privacy, So there's just a lot of overlap between what Mozilla wants to do with their mission and their initiatives and what I'm trying to do with the voices of VR podcast. So I think it makes sense for us to collaborate in these different ways. And this was the first experiment for what that collaboration looks like. Um, so Mozilla came to Sundance and they're trying to figure out ways that they can actually really support the larger ecosystem. They were a sponsor of the mad women breakfast where women come together from the industry. And also Mozilla is involved with this XR Studio, which is trying to bring more diverse and inclusive representation within the immersive technology community. They have a number of different initiatives where they had a physical space with different mentors. They brought a number of different women and underrepresented minorities into the XR space and then basically helped them create some of their first projects. So they kind of created this cohort with an XR studio and they actually sponsored a couple of members from that cohort to come to Sundance and to participate in networking and meeting what's happening in the larger ecosystem of virtual and augmented reality. And so Mozilla decided to bring together these seven different, really powerful women that are working within the immersive technology space. and to just kind of have a group discussion to explore what each of these women are doing within VR. And sometimes Mozilla is directly involved with some of these projects and sometimes they're not. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Miriam, Jenna, Jacqueline, Jess, Tyler, Anastasia, and Nani happened on Monday, January 28th, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:42.765] Miriam Lueck Avery: Hi, I'm Miriam Luke-Avery, I'm the Director of Strategic Foresight in Emerging Technologies at Mozilla, and what I'm doing in AR and VR is really trying to diversify the creators of these technologies, because oftentimes we don't know the problems that we don't know about, and so we want to make sure that the people who are making these really serious and impactful, both technical, but also social and ethical decisions about these very, very early technologies reflects the diversity of the world that we live in. So that's one of the things that we're trying to do with our mixed reality program at Mozilla.

[00:03:15.200] Jenna Pirog: Hi, I'm Jenna Pierog. I'm the Senior Director for Video and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic. So figuring out really interesting ways to adapt all of our storytelling into new mediums, especially virtual reality and augmented reality.

[00:03:30.790] Jacqueline Bošnjak: Hi, I'm Jacqueline Boschniak. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Marhwan, a spatial audio technology company. I'm originally from South Africa and I feel like I was always destined to work in spatial sound because I arrived in America with Mondo 2000 under my arm. packed with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and all those stories about psychedelic and cyberpunk and what we do is we sort of bring stories to life in XR through sound and we have a workflow of tools and a format. We also have an associated music studio called Q-Department and we work hand-in-hand to bring stories in XR to life through sound.

[00:04:09.818] Tyler Musgrave: Hi, my name is Tyler Musgrave, and I was a participant of XR Studio. I'm currently a futurist of the AR, VR Women and Allies residency program, and I also work at Mersion, which is an AI avatar interactive soft training skilled company. And what am I doing right now in VR is trying to show that there's space for diverse voices, as well as individuals with diverse backgrounds. I come from a humanitarian background and so thanks to the Mozilla program I've been able to get a great foot into the VRAR world.

[00:04:43.365] Anastasia Victor: Hi, I'm Anastasia Victor. I do a lot of things in the XR space. I was also a participant in Mozilla's XR Studio and I used to be an architect and so that's really the framework by which I'm approaching AR and VR. I co-founded a non-profit called Place and our main directive is really sort of exploring the socio-spatial implications of XR through the lens of art and architecture. So my work primarily deals with kind of immersive installation, mixed reality, things like that. Then also on the flip side, I've become really interested in the implicit bias, because as a queer woman of color, implicit biases in AI-driven systems adversely impact me. And so I've been working a fair amount with facial recognition and analysis technologies, specifically in commercially available systems like Amazon Recognition. So two sides of what I do.

[00:05:42.009] Jess Engel: Amazing. Hi, I'm Jess Engel, and I am the founder and producer at Crimes of Curiosity, which is my production company that focuses on VR, AR, and new media. And most recently, I produced Spheres, which is a three-part virtual reality series directed by Eliza McNitt and executive produced by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel of Protozoa. And it explores space and the music of the cosmos.

[00:06:10.272] Nonny de la Peña: My name is Nani de la Pena. I'm the founder and CEO of Emblematic Group. I've been working in the VR AR space for about 12 years now, and I guess I'm known for having first started doing journalism in VR. I had the first VR piece here at Sundance in 2012. But now what we're really working on is we've created a web VR platform and tool set that lets anybody quickly create volumetric content in the browser and then just share it as an HTML link. So it's embeddable. It's like volumetric YouTube. So finally, anybody can make it, right? I know how hard it is. I know you know that I've spent years 3D printing my own headsets, banging my head against the wall, becoming a better C Sharp coder, doing whatever it took to make the kind of content I wanted. So now I know what the pain is, and I'm trying to make it a lot easier for everybody else. And Mozilla's been a great supporter in helping me get there. It's the real Firefox-based platform.

[00:07:04.012] Kent Bye: So I just wanted to start with maybe getting a little bit of the deeper intentions for why you're involved with these immersive technologies and what you find compelling, how you make sense of it, and what you want to, I guess, achieve with it.

[00:07:17.492] Jacqueline Bošnjak: Early on in Q-Department, we started working with directors that had entered this medium and it was really exciting for us because suddenly we were presented with this medium where sound was so important. It wasn't about being an audiophile, it was really that sound became critical to maintaining immersion. And because we had a studio and we'd always worked in sound design and music, we were very excited to collaborate with directors and right off the cuff we started working with Robert Stromberg on The Martian, Guy Shalmadine on Catatonic and we were kind of horrified that we couldn't use the tools that we've always produced sound with and there was a sort of idea that we would need to throw everything that we'd learnt as masters in crafting of sound we'd throw out the window and sort of start fresh with ambisonics and these new tools. And that was kind of shocking to us and it was really exciting to, it was almost necessity as the mother of invention, through iterating and reiterating with directors, we actually came up with a way that we could have a one-to-one bridge with the way we had always produced sound and bring all that craft into this new medium. And our goal, in a weird way, we were trying to sort of be these defenders of the audio realm, where we keep studios open, keep engineers working, keep that craft alive. So early on, that was one of the main goals that we had, being able to unlock the key for all studios to keep working in sound and keep this craft alive.

[00:08:39.150] Jenna Pirog: So my background's in journalism and media. I started my career in the early to mid-2000s in the media industry as they were adapting to the internet and going from film to digital with photography and things like that, and saw how, if you hadn't been adopting the technology all along, how quickly you could get left behind. in the media and journalism world and how important it was to experiment with technology as it was coming out and figure out ways it can serve our audiences and the storytelling that we needed to do. So when, in 2015, when VR became a lot more ubiquitous, I joined the New York Times to help them adapt their storytelling strategy for VR and became the VR editor there for a few years, which was a really exciting time. It was sort of like a new, fresh medium to experiment with. and that's what continues to drive me today. Like obviously there's a very near future that's post smartphone and in order for media companies and especially journalism to survive in that space they have to experiment with this technology and figure out how best to adapt their editorial to those spaces. So that's what drives me to keep going is well don't get left behind. There's always something to try with this stuff.

[00:09:56.485] Miriam Lueck Avery: I think there's two levels that I'd like to answer this. One is for myself, and one is for Mozilla. So for Mozilla, our mission is to make the internet accessible to all, and our vision is to create and ensure an internet that truly puts people first, where they're empowered and safe and independent. On one hand, as AR and VR enter the web and enter the internet as we know it, we're looking to try to diffuse some of the risks that that entails that might erode people's sense of empowerment, people's sense of safety, people's sense of independence. And so from a mission perspective, that's what really Mozilla wants to get out of engaging in mixed reality. On the flip side, Tyler and Anastasia mentioned this pop-up development space we did, XR Studio, to bring women and gender non-binary people together in AR, VR, machine learning, and AI, all different ages, all different skill ranges, to help diversify the community of creators. And ultimately, we found so many really powerful things about physically bringing people together. And ultimately, I think my deeper motivation in this space is for the technology to get good enough that we can have those embodied person-to-person connections without the constraints of physical space. So the privilege of geography, of being in the Bay Area, is dismantled and erased over time. So that's the long game of what we hope to accomplish.

[00:11:29.705] Anastasia Victor: I've been interested in XR for a really long time. When I was studying architecture back in Berkeley, I wrote a thesis on using brain-computer interfacing as an input modality for automated environments. And I really began to realize there that spatial computing is just the inevitability, right? I found, especially at the time, that it wasn't really part of the conversation in architectural pedagogy or practice and really thought that as people designing physical spaces we should take a position on it and have some influence in doing so. And so since then I've been kind of working my way to be able to do that and have realized that there are so many other issues along the way. Like as a female developer, for instance, it's sad to think that I'm 20% not an 80%, right? So I found that as an advocate, there's a lot that I can do with the position that I've had. And it's part of why XR Studio at Mozilla was just such a powerful experience. Because honestly, for the first time in my life, I was with a group of women who did what I did. We shared the same interests, we used the same tools, we were able to collaborate and co-create and sort of elevate each other. And that is a really rare experience, at least in my life. It's interesting because that has now become one of the key motivators that I have in creating work and in sharing work, and I'm fortunate to have had that experience.

[00:13:02.607] Tyler Musgrave: Okay, well, I'm pretty new to the XR space. Again, the reason why I got into it was through XR Studio. The whole application process of, it was open to everyone, and all you had to do was apply with an idea, and they would select you, and they selected about 40 women to participate. And I remember when I first got the invitation, I was really excited. Again, I was new to the space. I actually recently had just moved to San Francisco. I was in the Peace Corps before then. But during my Peace Corps service was the first time I actually saw technology being used as a social mobility tool. I was working in Cameroon, and during that time there was a civil war going on. And a lot of the Cameroonians, they were using things like WhatsApp, even now Bitcoin, to help fund the revolution. And so, you know, with that background and not even really knowing a lot about technology because I have a public health background, like that's what I studied in college, you know, I was really excited about the opportunity because this is my chance now to participate in it. And so now, you know, it's been about like almost a year and now I'm thinking about this is a great question, like what are my deeper intentions? You know, one of my big intentions is, again, like I was saying before in my introduction, is making it known within the XR space that there's possibilities and abilities for everyone to be included, and that matters. We were at your panel earlier today, on the AR panel today. Yeah, and that was great. And one of the things that really brought home for me was the fact that you guys were talking about, like, how many different individuals and expertise are needed in order to cultivate this space to be a safe space but also for us to bring new people and create a market that is intentional as well as diverse because that's really important. We can't expect XR to grow or be as important as it can be without having diverse thoughts and individuals in this space. And I'm really glad that you brought that up there, Kent. So yeah, that's, I mean, simply put it, after nine months of actually really being in the XR space, that's my intention is to diversify. With that saying, I also, during my time at the XR studio, I began the beginnings of my VR experience called Restorative VR. I was working before, now working in the VR space with a restorative justice organization. And, you know, it's cool because restorative justice is really intimate. You're sitting in circles, but a lot of times those circles, you know, they're not open to other people. And what you're doing is that you're cultivating community, you're allowing people to talk about harms that were done to them, but it's not something that everyone knows about. And I feel like using VR as a tool to kind of help cultivate or help spread restorative practices can help people possibly use those in their daily life. So RJ, for example, you're sitting in a circle and you have a talking piece. And each person in that space are acknowledged. And if they have the talking piece, you have to give their full attention. So like right now you have the talking piece, Kent, but you're allowing me to talk, right? And so, you know, things like that, the philosophies like restorative practices, restorative justice are ancient practices that have been done all over the world for a very long time. And they have a space within VR, within XR, to be able to move people into adopting new tools for them to be able to relate to other people. So yeah, that's why.

[00:16:19.454] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just wanted to jump in and just say that there's a piece here at Sundance called Traveling While Black by Roger Ross Williams. And it's, to me, one of the first pieces that really starts to incorporate this feeling of restorative justice and There's been testimony VR, which has allowed women to share their own personal stories, but to actually gather a circle in real time and to have people share their experiences, I feel like is a strength of the medium of VR to be able to start to allow people to share their direct experiences and to allow other people who may not have those experiences to enter into that context and to listen to those. So yeah, I'm really excited to see where these larger trajectories of restorative justice go in the future. So yeah, thank you for that.

[00:17:02.308] Jess Engel: Well I first got exposed to VR actually at Sundance 2015 and I come from the film world so I would always come to Sundance to watch independent films and then one year I came and I was walking down Main Street and stumbled into the new Frontier section and that's when it was like the first big year of VR where they had Felix and Paul, Herders and Strangers and Chris Milk's Evolution of Verse and the Birdly contraption and all of that, and I just was very intrigued. I had never really experienced anything like that before, and I think about this a lot because if I first got exposed to VR, I think at a tech conference, I would have just been like, okay, that's cool, but seeing it in the hands of storytellers and artists, that's when I really saw this as a new way to tell stories and build worlds and create experiences for people. So that's kind of like what first piqued my interest and I mean since then it's been this like amazing journey and you know I just really love the community of people that are in this space and I love the pioneering aspect of it where you know none of us really know what we're doing or where this is going and there's a lot of experimentation and there's a lot of support and when I was working in the film world I kind of felt like there was a way of doing things and you sort of had a fit within a mold you know and I feel like with this kind of space there isn't yet a set way of doing things which is an opportunity I think to kind of carve a path and And it also is this feeling of like, this is happening, the train has left the station, you know, and like, let's make sure we get these new tools in the hands of great storytellers and artists and people to create great experiences, you know. And it's from both like a diversity aspect and then also just being able to actually make a mark in a way like on where this stuff is going is really exciting.

[00:19:00.325] Nonny de la Peña: So, because my background was I came from being a journalist, I was a print journalist, correspondent for Newsweek, I made a lot of documentary films, and I always knew that I wanted to put people on scene to better understand the story. We used to do things like 24-hour crack with like a Newsweek cover, and I'd go and hang out with crackheads for 24 hours and try to tell people what it was like being both the good, the bad, and the ugly, right, for human beings in a space like that. But you couldn't really put people on scene, even with that text. I mean, it's interesting how much people sometimes give written word over VR more legitimacy, which is just lines on a page, like what makes something legitimate. But I really feel like by putting people on scene, they could have a more visceral understanding of story. And the first piece I did was called, well actually the really first piece I did was a virtual Gitmo in Second Life. Because that was off limits, Guantanamo Bay Prison was off limits to most citizens and press, and I wanted people to not forget about this place where there's no habeas corpus rights. I made that with artist Peggy Weil, digital artist Peggy Weil. But then the second piece I did, we put you in the body of a detainee in a stress position. What did that mean, right? We're hearing, oh, they're put in a stress position for this many hours. Like, what did that really mean? Like, we couldn't see it. So I built a piece in a lab of Mel Slater and Maria Sanchez-Vives in Barcelona. And it led to the first immersive journalism paper, right, that got published by the MIT Journal of Presence and kind of helped start to put together the ideas, codify the ideas. But the piece that really, I think, helped shift things for a lot of people was the Hunger in Los Angeles piece. And we were recording audio at food banks because we wanted those people who were in these long lines who were invisible, I wanted to make them visible. I wanted people to understand their plight. And with an intern, we were recording audio, and she came back to my office one day just bawling her eyes out, and she just witnessed a scene where a man with diabetes, waiting in this long line for food, his blood sugar dropped too low, and he collapsed into a diabetic coma, and all this chaos breaks out, right? And I decided to build with that. At that point, we didn't even have GoPro cameras, right? So we weren't even talking about the possibility of doing 360 video. I made everything CG. But I think because of that experience, I also really was always directing my attention towards volumetric versus 360 because I wanted the full embodied experience of being on scene and being able to move around. And when I witnessed at the opening night, people like getting down on their knees and trying to talk to this CG character on the ground, like crying. And I was like, wow. okay, there's something very, very legitimate about storytelling in this space, and I've been hammering on it ever since.

[00:21:36.745] Kent Bye: So I was wondering if you could each talk a bit about either some of the biggest challenges that you're trying to overcome, problems you're trying to solve, or open questions that you're trying to answer within the immersive space.

[00:21:50.581] Jenna Pirog: You know, the thing that, as a director at a company like National Geographic, the thing I think about the most is, OK, we're going to spend all this time making these fantastic pieces. We're going to work with companies like Q Department to make incredible spatial audio soundscapes, taking you to the last wild places on Earth, taking you face to face with endangered wildlife as a way to care more deeply about it and consider your own conservation practices. And we do all the editing in headsets with headphones on. And then knowing that a lot of the audience members are never going to have access to headsets in order to see it is what kind of keeps me up at night. So I think a lot about distribution and how knowing that, OK, maybe the headset consumer market hasn't really taken off in any significant way, at least not in the way that all the companies were suspecting it would or hoping it would, investing in it like it would. But you still come to a festival like Sundance or a conference or a museum with VR and there's a line down the block because people want to try it. They want to experience it. So shifting our thinking more into how to get this technology in the hands of our audiences is really exciting. One thing we're doing is we have a live presentation series at National Geographic called NG Live, where photographers, explorers, and scientists get on stage, tell the stories that they've been funded through National Geographic, and show wonderful photographs and videos on stage. And we've now bought headsets for every seat in that theater. So there's now 400 Oculus Go headsets that are synced up in our auditorium so that in some of these NG Live presentations we can have everybody put on a headset at the same time and go to Antarctica and go to Botswana and sort of experience these environments firsthand so that people get to try it. So I'm really excited about that especially.

[00:23:50.535] Jacqueline Bošnjak: I can kind of pick up from that story. We went with Nat Geo to the Okavango and I think one of the big things that we constantly try to get over as a sound company is this idea that we are involved early on enough to be part of the capture and sort of be able to control the quality of what sound is captured. This project was actually a really great example where we got involved really early on. We had a lot of pre-production calls. We were asked if we could send a sound location recordist into the Okavango for a month, which sounded like a dream project. both me and Raj and we're like, we want to go. But of course we couldn't. I landed up calling one of Hollywood's best sound location recordists, Eric Potter, who does like Dunkirk and Transformers. And I said, we want you to go because we know you the best. And we want you to go with a Shops RTF 3D outdoor microphone, which is a $20,000 rig. And we want to go all out and capture this like a scientist capture sound, just like they were sending all these scientists in to document the Okavango and try to figure out how we are navigating it because so many different countries sort of control how it's run. And I remember when I called Eric, he just was so excited. He's like, I've got to check with my wife. And then it was sort of this checklist of taking, you know, waterproof stuff and you know solar panels to charge things but the sort of idea that you can be involved really early on and have some quality control on sound capture because if you don't have that it's really hard to do it later on and I think as a company we've been stimulated to do something in this space because I remember early on we were at a Mach 1 demo at Skywalker Sound with their top engineers, Steve Morris, and after we'd shown him our demo, he was like, wait, are you telling me my creative mix is the technical mix? And we're like, yes, because why would you have a creative mix and then it would suffer and sort of have filtering and processing in order to simulate directionality? Why wouldn't you be able to craft that like you did any other soundscape? And so a lot of what drives us is like we want to make the creative mix the technical mix. We want the artist involved. We want to be on location recording it. with the best sound and then following that all the way through to the festival. And a lot of my pain points like at the festival is that if the docents don't know to put the headphones on left and right ear, the spatial audio is flipped. Nobody knows that. If we're doing haptics with sound and they buy a cheap splitter cable, there's crackling and our sound quality goes down. So we've started showing up with like expensive splitter cables and start plugging them in because you've got to control the quality from capture to where a person actually views it in the festival. So I think quality control, creating a pipeline where you can be involved early on is really important for this industry to actually get what you made in the hands of the audience.

[00:26:49.514] Miriam Lueck Avery: Again, I think that there's really two challenges that we're trying to balance, and they're quite intimately related. One is precisely the reach and distribution issue, which is why we're at Mozilla, we're so excited to work with Nani and her studio, because as it came up in the second coming of AR panel earlier this morning, The model of trying to funnel all of these things through the control points of app stores and every company trying to make their own little fiefdom of a vertically integrated technological silo is, from our perspective, doomed to fail. There's so much friction in it for users that if you try to project that out into an actual future that we all live in, it's a miserable future. And so we're trying to work both with companies like HTC to kind of take a step back and think about distribution on the web and, relatedly, monetization on the web. Because ultimately, if we get amazing experiences in front of audiences and they have life-changing encounters, that's going to fall off a cliff if creators aren't getting paid. So, that's something that we care about a lot at Mozilla, and that is actually a cornerstone part of getting more people involved in making the technology, to make it less of a privilege to work in open source, less of a privilege to work in computing, and an easier on-ramp, to make it much, much easier, just as you say, Nani, much easier to create something and put it out in the world, so that those barriers are really much lower.

[00:28:18.565] Nonny de la Peña: I'll have to show you a demo of Reach. I saw it, yeah. Oh, you did? You were able to actually do the drag and drop, and you played with it a little bit, saw the directional lighting? It's kind of amazing, right?

[00:28:27.256] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's great. So what are some of the problems that you're trying to solve there?

[00:28:32.438] Nonny de la Peña: The reason I say it's kind of amazing, because I can't believe my engineers pulled it off. I mean, I'm sort of shocked too, really, that it's working so well. I know, because my product director, Hannah Eves, she was always like, well, I think it's kind of like barely an alpha. And I'm like, it's ended up being so much more robust than we expected for this launch. It's super exciting. But, you know, I was like, oh my god, if I'm going to put something on Steam, I have to make a 2D video just to show what I'm trying to give a trailer. My stuff isn't flat 2D stuff. Like, why do I have to cut a 2D trailer? Of course, I come out of, you know, I wrote on staff on TV shows, and I worked in drama. I can't just put a regular old trailer. I have to do a nice trailer. And when am I going to have time to do a nice trailer for something volumetric? I don't have time to cut a stupid trailer. It's the stuff that never gets up on Steam, right? And then you put them on Steam and you get all this hate mail, like, you know, like I did, I did for putting up the Syrian, defending Syrian refugees, right? Like I got, I stopped, that was when I stopped putting any of my personal stuff on Facebook because of the nastiness that got thrown at me. Okay, so there's a horrible community I have to interface with, right? I am excited about Viveport because that seems to be a more healthy place, but these were like one of the things. I couldn't get my content out there and I'd see the lines around the block for my pieces and I'd get these incredible critical reviews. And yet my audience just could not really see the work. So I had been dreaming about solving this problem for some time. It's been in my head for several years. And then last year we got a little money from Mozilla to do the first demo. And we had it in a crazy adventure here last year. And then I was like, look, see everybody? See everybody? And they're like, I can kind of see, but what are you talking about? I'm like, oh, do I really have to make the whole thing? You know, before I can get any money to do this or I'd have to do that again. And luckily, I've had these most amazing women support me. It's been almost all women who've helped me up the ladder. I mean, I'll give Mike Rothenberg a shout out, but it's been really a lot of women who've mostly said yes. And so Jennifer Preston at the Knight Foundation was like, you know, I think you're really interesting, I'll trust you. And she gave me a grant, and that's how we were able to pull this off, out of grant money. But it is a browser-based solution that is just drag and drop. It's all the things that I needed to do in Unity, or Unreal, I mean, particularly Unity, where I had to become a better C Sharp coder, you know, and where I had to learn how to use the tools to make the stories I wanted to tell. And I think it's been a real barrier to entry for the diversity of kind of storytelling that's possible out there. And so I needed to take care of my own pain, right? And hopefully it'll offer a solution for a lot of people to be able to really... Because it's headset optional. You can just use your keyboard like Minecraft or Fortnite. or you can hit a button and walk around. Literally, it's that easy. And it's embeddable like a YouTube video. So you can embed it into your website. You don't even have to put it on a platform. And then we can export it out onto a phone or, you know, any kind of tablet. It doesn't have the same dimensionality and obviously the best experience is always going to be in the headset, but at least we're now at a point where it is a beta. There's things I really want to do to improve it. I'm hoping we're going to be able to raise the money. Had the unfortunate statistic come out this morning, if anybody saw it, guess how much venture money went in 2018 to women. Less than last year. Less than last year. Less than 2.5% of venture money went to women in 2018. So like when people go to me, oh, things are better, right? Me too movement. It's like, that's just bullshit. So women-led businesses, we just don't get that kind of backing. I needed Jennifer Preston to give me a grant. I need my women friends who are starting to be in positions that they can say yes to help me grow. Although I do admit that the platform is starting to get more interest from a more, I would say, diverse funder than women. I'll flip that on its head. But you're looking at a group of people who face really difficult obstacles to get what they want to get done. And I know you were with me at that very first event where I was the only woman in two days of speakers and there were 300 plus guys there and like two women and you and I talked about this. This is I don't even know how many years ago now. It's hard. There are a couple of reasons why I thought so much about it. Why is it so hard? Well, one of the reasons it's hard is because you don't have the power. Women don't have power like the men have power. So of course people don't talk to you. They don't engage with you because you're not going to be able to give them something back. So you feel that sense of being slightly invisible because they're not looking at you as being somebody who's going to help them out or there's going to be an exchange or there's something in there. But after those two days, I remember, because that was the first conference where I called up the organizer. It was a Silicon Valley virtual reality conference, first one. And I wrote the organizer, I said, you have no women. You need a woman. It was the first time I'd ever done that. And he was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, I don't. I'm good. I'm booked. And then I went to my male friends who were on panels and said, you need to tell him he needs a woman. So he agreed to let me be a moderator to five guys, right? Um, right. I'm gonna give him a shout out right here too before I go to the second half of the story, which is that the next year, he made it free for all women to attend. He got it. Like, first he didn't get it, but then Carl got it. And he's been fantastic at being more inclusive since then. So sometimes you have to do a kind of painful thing, but I can tell you after those two days of not being spoken to and feeling completely invisible, I literally, I walked in my front door, I shut my door, I put my head on my kitchen table and started bawling my eyes out. So, it's not easy, right? It's just not easy to be in that position, but all of us obviously really, really are passionate and believe in what we're doing, and it just keeps us going.

[00:34:13.219] Miriam Lueck Avery: I just wanted to connect to a few things that you said there, Nani. So when we did XR Studio and Karen Cleveland, who's a designer and developer at Google now, and I really tried to think about what was essential to make an inclusive development space, to make a space where women could feel like they could come in and, at least together in that space, attack all of those barriers. And even just make themselves aware of those barriers, because when you're in it, it's all so overwhelming. And a couple of essential elements that we identified out of the choices that we made were that we needed to give people autonomy precisely because in so many areas women don't have that autonomy to work on what they think is most important to work when and how it's good for them to work. So like creating a physical space that people had access to 24-7 to use as they will to work on their own projects was incredibly important to us. And then adding in a layer of mutual support, recognizing that yes, we are in this incredibly challenging environment and the only way that we move forward is to help each other. And so really codifying that and taking it from all of our individual personal experiences into a way that we think about the right way to make tech so that we can connect to those long-term underlying motivations, work on what really matters, because otherwise we're just going to work on the things that make the most money, which also happen to be many of the things that do the most damage to us as humans.

[00:35:47.631] Jess Engel: I want to go off what Nani said because I just found that really inspiring as someone who runs my own business in this space like I look at what Nani does and I recognize that I really wouldn't be where I'm at without somebody like Nani fighting for that and it's kind of the reason that I do what I do because hopefully teenager girls today you know like they're gonna have so much more opportunity than we have right now and that's the point is like every generation of it is like you recognize and you sort of like pay your gratitude to the women who sort of fought for you before and then you also continue to fight for that for people coming up and And also just the current landscape right now, you know, I think to Nani's point, when I came into the VR space, there were already like several women who were in positions of power and there continues to be that. And I, without question, I would not be able to do what I'm doing without those women in those positions of power. Like I would not be getting the jobs that I'm getting without that. And I recognize that, you know, and it's like, I find it really interesting, even as a producer, I work a lot with female directors and it's not even something I'm intentional about, honestly. It's just like I connect more with women as a woman, so I want to work with women. And I think that's why we, as an industry and as like an ecosystem, need that diversity. Otherwise, it's just going to be one type of person getting opportunities, you know? So that was just why I wanted to talk about that.

[00:37:23.861] Anastasia Victor: I'm going to piggyback off that a little bit and of what you've all been speaking about. And yeah, I mean, it's a huge issue facing every woman I know in the industry. And, you know, I think because we all are acutely aware of how much of an issue it is, you know, I think we all internalize that and then do everything we can to sort of rectify this problem. I think one of the biggest challenges that I'm facing personally is that a lot of my energy is now going towards trying to address this problem and making it better for other women. I'm developing curriculum to teach other women some of the tools that I know like Unity and C-Sharp. I go to high schools and talk to girls about how they could make things in VR. And I think that's really cool, but it's also like, you know, I would like to spend a lot of my time, you know, figuring out how to make that wall look cool in AR, you know, just actually creating. And it does, I'm not complaining about it per se, but I just wanted to state that that's something we all sacrifice in trying to change the status quo right now.

[00:38:30.867] Tyler Musgrave: Yeah, and I guess to just like, again, piggyback off of what everyone has said, you know, one of the things that I love, again, I'm going to talk about restorative justice and restorative practices is that, you know, it's the concept of when harm is done, right? And we're talking about the VR community. And of course, you know, there has been harm that has been done. And so with my experience at the end, those individuals who were a part of the harm that was done, they're all sitting in circle and they're talking about that harm. They're talking about how I was harmed, how did that feel like when I was harmed, and what are we gonna do about it? And the great thing I love about restorative practices is that the best way it's being used or the best way it can be used is in physical space. And so how can the VR community use that, right? Like how can we address those men maybe who have caused harm to other women, you know, we can talk about that another night. I know you've done a great job of kind of unraveling those situations of the sexual harms that have been happening within the VR space of women, just as an extremity, right? That's an extreme case. But how can we have those individuals sit in a circle or sit somewhere and be able to listen about the harm or listen to the women about the harm that they have caused and then be able to have a reply and have feedback. And then we all can come together and be like, okay, well, now what are we doing about it? Like, what are you going to do about it? And so that's a lot of the things that I've been thinking about, not so much in the virtual space, but in the VR space as a physical space, that's physical people who are coming together in community. Like how can we, you know, address the harms that happened in the past so that we can go towards a future that's inclusive and safe for everyone.

[00:40:08.961] Jacqueline Bošnjak: I was going to say, what needs to change also is how sort of business and sales and deals go down. I found like maybe 10 years ago, I realized that women play a lot of different roles in their lives. They have children, they have husbands. they run companies, they do all these things and you know going out late at night and having drinks wasn't like the most constructive way of doing a business deal or getting new clients or getting projects funded and for some reason I just thought breakfast is the new dinner and I started a mad woman breakfast club. It was a really simple idea and I just kept doing it, I kept building it. Nonny actually helped me fund the one that was funded by Mozilla, Climbs of Curiosity and my company Q Department, Mark one at Sundance. It's grown into this huge movement of women. There's no structure to it because I feel like Women don't need any structure. We're really good at networking. We're really good at building and pulling each other up so I'm very antsy having any kind of panel any kind of logo any kind of a structure to it because I just feel like it's a place where people can have breakfast and meet and help each other figure out what they're doing next and it's grown over the 10 years. We've done it everywhere. We did it at the Venice Film Festival. Liz Rosenthal invited me to do it there which was really great because the whole American counterpart got to meet the whole European counterpart which in Europe there's a lot more funding coming from the arts and so the way they're doing funding IP and building new properties was really interesting for the two groups of women to collide and come up with new things. And so I think that it's also interesting just to create those platforms where people can meet and trade, whether it's trade secrets or trade business or trade money. And, you know, I'm going to continue to try to keep that going.

[00:41:57.473] Kent Bye: So I'm curious to hear each of your answers of what you each think the ultimate potential of VR is and what it might be able to enable.

[00:42:06.265] Nonny de la Peña: So that's kind of an easy one for me. Martha Gilhorn, who was a reporter in World War II, she called it the view from the ground. And that's what she was trying to give people a sense of what stories were transpiring around her. And to me, once we've now hit this moment where we're going to be doing WebVR and WebAR distribution, we're going to really be able to give people the view from the ground and whatever that view may turn out to be.

[00:42:29.496] Jacqueline Bošnjak: I think throughout the ages as storytellers we've always tried to figure out our presence in the world and I think VR has been a really effective way to understand our presence in the world. I think ultimately VR will help us sort of unlock the true nature of reality and why I say that it's almost like Plato used that parable of Plato's cave to sort of explain Imagine prisoners tied up looking at shadows across the wall of the cave, and if they were to break free of those shackles and exit the cave through the light into the three-dimensional world, that sort of experience, I feel like VR is able to show us the true nature of reality.

[00:43:10.019] Jenna Pirog: For me, my inspiration is similar to Nani in a journalistic sense. You know, we're trying to do a lot of reporting on things that are very hard to visualize, like the effects of climate change on our world. And the idea of conserving large, vast wild spaces is a necessity to human survival. So using Immersive and XR to do that has really changed our ability to construct these futures around ourselves and sort of be forced to live with them a little more tangibly. So having to live in those worlds a little more tangibly and face the consequences of our choices. So that sounds very ominous. I actually just think it's actually quite of a hopeful way to make sure we can alter the way we act now in order to change our future.

[00:43:57.417] Jacqueline Bošnjak: It sounds a little bit like Red Dead Redemption 2.

[00:44:03.712] Miriam Lueck Avery: Yeah, I've been for a very long time a fan of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford as a place where we've built up decades of knowledge about how VR impacts us and impacts our ability to empathize with others and to understand ourselves better. But I'm going to actually completely agree with you that the one thing that I think is transcendent about VR is the ability to time travel, the ability to think about the consequences of our actions long-term in ways that our brains are really not wired to do. As a futurist and anthropologist, I'm really looking forward to those points where we can really help people connect to the fuzzy long-term consequences of very, very small actions today.

[00:44:49.445] Anastasia Victor: I think we are in the current state that we have today. It's like the ultimate communication tool. It allows us to transcend physical presence. It allows us to embody anything that we could or could not want to embody. And I think that there's deep power in that that we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of. So I'm really excited for where it's going to go, because given what we have right now, it's only going to get more profound and more impactful. And we have in our cultural collective the metaverse idea. We understand how it could be bad. And I feel like because we have that collective understanding, as creators shaping it, we're going to make it not like that.

[00:45:35.712] Jess Engel: Yeah, I see VR really as like another tool, an extension of the way for us to understand the world around us and to experience the world around us. And I think that's what art does in general, you know, and I think paintings, you know, paintings are stories as well, you know, like that's why so many of the paintings Like when you go to Florence, it's all Madonna and child and it's like religious paintings because people didn't know how to read but they would look at paintings and understand you know that those stories and if you think about books and you think about photography and you think about film like these are all tools for us to understand and connect with the world around us and with ourselves and And I think that VR is an extension of all of that, and it's another tool that enables us to connect with that. And, you know, when I think about spheres, for example, and there's the episode where you fall inside of a black hole, you know, it's like one thing to look at a photograph of a black hole or watch Interstellar, but it's amazing to actually really feel like you're falling inside. And that's sort of what I'm inspired by, which is like how can you take this technology and create these experiences that you couldn't have in any other medium, you know, and get people to actually feel like they're there and live within that.

[00:46:51.821] Tyler Musgrave: Yeah, the future of VR, I think I'm really excited about its ability to allow individuals who are coming from, again, different spheres and different backgrounds and different walks of life to tell their stories. And then as well as, I'm really excited about VR's capabilities of being able to train people to be in better relations with each other in the physical world.

[00:47:15.339] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, I just wanted to thank you, everybody, for joining me today. So thank you.

[00:47:21.093] Nonny de la Peña: Thank you so much. Great to see you again. Thanks, Kent. Thanks, Kent. Thank you.

[00:47:25.480] Jess Engel: Thanks, Kent. Thank you.

[00:47:28.743] Kent Bye: So that was Merriam-Lewick Avery. She's the Director of Foresight and Emerging Technologies at Mozilla. Jenna Pierog, she's the Senior Director of Video and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic. Jacqueline Bojnak, she's the Co-Founder and CEO of Mach1. Tyler Musgrave, she's a participant of XR Studio and is working on a project called Restorative VR. We have Anastasia Victor, she's also a participant of XR Studio and is working on an architectural non-profit called Place. There was Jess Ingle, she's the founder of the Crisis of Curiosity and the producer of Spheres, Songs of Spacetime. And finally, Nani de la Peña, she's the founder and CEO of Emblematic Group. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, to me, the common thread seemed to be that each of these women are working on seeing how technology is changing the different dimensions of storytelling. And everyone is really also thinking about diversity and inclusion and trying to find different ways they can help to bring more inclusion and more diversity within the larger virtual reality ecosystem. One of the things that Anastasia said that I think really stuck to me is she said that she's actually spending a lot of energy going into trying to address the problems of diversity and inclusion and that if it were really up to her she would almost rather just be a creative and to really be exploring the potentials of the technology but that for her and for actually many women that I ended up talking to after this conversation there's a bit of a moral imperative that women feel to be able to try to create a context and an environment that makes it easier for them to operate within these industries. And the thing that happened in this conversation, it was kind of a unique conversation in the sense where I haven't very often gathered seven different people who were from so many different disparate backgrounds. The common thing here was that Mozilla saw in each of one of these participants something that they're doing that's very interesting or contributing to the larger ecosystem within virtual reality, and they just wanted to bring them all together. And sometimes Mozilla was working more explicitly and more directly with some of their projects, and sometimes they weren't. And so for me, I just wanted to hear what each of them were doing, what their deeper intentions are, and that usually I like to hear from people what their open problems that they're trying to solve or questions they're trying to answer. And in this particular conversation, it added a new element, which is what are some of the challenges that you're trying to overcome? And I think that started to open up a part of this conversation of what it means to be a woman in technology that up to this point, you know, I've covered aspects of this before, but there was something that was different about this conversation. And I think the thing that was different was that you have somebody like Nani de la Pena, who's been in this field for over 12 years and has been facing a lot of resistance and adversity and actually not getting a lot of help. She's talking about. her experiences at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference, which was on March 19th and 20th, 2014. That's when I started the Voices of VR podcast. And, you know, I pulled her aside and did a whole interview with her. But aside from that interaction that she had for me, she didn't get a lot of people that were at that conference that were actually engaging or interacting with her all that much. and she told this really heart-wrenching story of her going home and just feeling completely powerless and completely invisible. She's a huge aspect of what has really helped catalyze what is happening with virtual reality within the new frontier in Sundance. The conversation I had with Nani back in 2014, where she talks about coming to Sundance and working with a very young Palmer Luckey who brought some of his prototype technology, which happened to be some of the early prototypes of the Oculus Rift. That was in January of 2012 before he launched his Kickstarter later in August of 2012. And so, you know, Nani was an intimate part of the history of the evolution of VR. And I think it's like a fascinating story to hear how like the independent filmmakers and the storytellers have been a huge component of trying to figure out what the affordances of this medium are. This was way back in 2012, before the modern resurgence of VR, which the dev kits didn't come out until like 2013. I didn't buy mine until 2014. 2014, I think was the next year at Sundance when they actually had like four different VR experiences. And Jess Ingalls said that when she was there in 2015, that was when there was a lot bigger push of some of these different experiences. But the thing that happened when Nani started to talk about her experience is that there was like six other women that were having a lot of those shared experiences. And she was able to create a context that opened up the door to have this deeper, more authentic conversation about the struggles that these women face in terms of what it means to be a woman in technology. I mean, Nani cited a statistic, which was that 2.5% of venture capital goes to women founders. That means that 97.5% of the funding is going to male founders. That's certainly something that is extremely skewed and there's some deeper patterns here that are going on in terms of like these biases that are happening within technology. And so I think Mozilla is seeing this and saying, hey, if these emerging technologies of VR and AR, this is actually going to be a huge part of the future of our existence, then The time to actually get involved with trying to diversify and get more people involved and have a seat at the table to be able to actually discuss like what direction they want this technology to go in. Like now's the time to be able to start to do that. And I think that's the deeper intention of some of the major initiatives that Mozilla has. And, you know, this conversation was a bit of a experiment. Mozilla is sponsoring me to do four different events this year, and this was kind of like our first event. And I think after actually doing it, the way that I think about what we were able to actually do was to create this cultural artifact that is a conversational piece where you can listen to these experiences just to get a sense of what these women are doing, but also to open up the broader conversation about some of the deeper challenges that these women are facing. And very similar to the Traveling While Black experience where you're able to use the virtual reality technologies to create a context to be able to have conversations where they're able to share their own direct experiences. I think the podcasting medium is able to do that as well. And I think what we were able to create in this conversation was a little bit of that restorative practice of being able to actually get a group of people together with shared experiences and then able to talk about things that Nani really shared her own experiences and that allowed other women to talk about oh yeah by the way you know I'm making this decision to not really do as much creative work as I want in order to try to work on this issue and for Jess to say like this is such an inspiration for her to see Nani working in this field and then she's working in her place to be able to think about the future generations. And so Jacqueline Bojnak was talking about how a lot of business deals that they go down after hours, like she wanted to create a new context where these types of networking and deals could go down. And then she created this Mad Women's Breakfast where the breakfast is the new dinner. Rather than having things happening after hours is that if it's actually happening before hours and that's actually a more inclusive time for people to kind of take care of all the logistics that they need to do and that you have this time period before the day gets started where you're able to have this networking opportunities. So like I said, this is a bit of an experiment between myself and Mozilla, and there's going to be like three other different events that we're going to be doing over the course of 2019. And we're still trying to figure out what exactly there's going to look like, but I do see that there's a lot of overlap between what I'm trying to do and what they're trying to do. And I'm excited to see where this is going to go. You know, just to kind of recap some of the connections that Mozilla had with each of these different speakers is that. They helped sponsor Jacqueline's Madwoman's Breakfast. They created this XR Studio, which is trying to increase the access and diversity within the VR ecosystem. And they're also helping to sponsor Nani La Pena's work on Reach, which was featured at the Sundance New Frontier. And it basically allows you to upload volumetric content to be able to be viewable within the web browser. So using Firefox, you're able to go and see these web VR experiences, you're able to pull it up and watch it on your VR headset. And I do think that the web VR, web AR, web XR as a medium is going to be huge. And I, I fully support Mozilla's effort initiative to push this forward because it is going to be limited to have just app ecosystems. I mean, apps are able to control the quality to some extent, but yet at the same time, there's a lot of limitations for what you can and cannot have on the app stores. And so. just to be able to diversify the different distribution platforms, I do think that the open web and the affordances of WebVR and WebAR are going to be crucial for catalyzing a lot of innovation and creating a more diversified platform so that you don't have to go through the gatekeepers of these different controls that a lot of these companies want to have. They want to filter a lot of the content so that they have a certain level of quality. But in the process of doing that, they basically are eliminating a lot of the diversity because it takes a certain amount of money and resources to even reach that level of polish and because of that I think it's been in some ways pushing back a lot of the more diverse content that could have been possible and made available. I think to some extent there's things that are available on SteamVR that are way more cutting-edge and innovative that are available on something like the Oculus Home Store just because it takes so much more resources to get something ready to be launched on the Oculus Home. And that Steam as a distribution platform for some of these narrative content isn't necessarily the best platform to be able to explore narrative content because narrative content doesn't have a lot of game elements and it's more about receiving a certain story. And so it's just not like a perfect fit. And the gaming community just ended up sending a lot of harassment emails to Nani. So she's had trouble of trying to find good distribution solutions. But even if there was a good solution that some of the requirements for distributing on some of these platforms is that you have to have a 2D trailer, and then once you start to cut something together with the volumetric, then it just kind of loses its essence of the volumetric presence that you get by actually being embodied within an experience. And so hopefully this WebVR, WebAR platform with reach is able to actually start to provide an alternative distribution platform to get some of this content out there. So I think that the WebVR, WebAR is actually going to catalyze a lot of experimentation and innovation and also just make it much more accessible for diverse voices to participate within immersive technologies. 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 my Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations 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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