#593: AUTO: A Future Realistic 360-video on the Human Impact of Technology

steven_schardtAuto is a 360-video and morality tale available on Jaunt that takes a near-future look at the human impact of automation and emerging technology. It’s not a grotesque satire in the vein of Black Mirror, but it’s done in a more of a future realistic style that could be happening within the next 1-3 years — if not already. Auto a story that stuck with me given it’s authentic portrayal by non-trained actors who were Ethopian immigrants, and how automation could impacti their lives. Auto premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April, and I had a chance to talk to director Steven Schardt about the emerging grammar of directing attention in VR storytelling, the struggles of funding and distribution for independent VR storytellers (this was recorded before Jaunt picked it up for distribution), and insights on the evolution of new communications mediums from the Tom Gunning’s Cinema of Attractions and Marshall McLuhan’s media theories.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So I went to the Tribeca Film Festival and saw a number of different VR experiences that were taking a look at the near future, where we're at now and how is that going to evolve and kind of looking at the problems that are already there and emerging in our current day society and kind of projecting that out into the future to see what is the story of where we're at and where we're going as a society and as a culture and Our current level of ethics and morals as well as our technology and the evolution of technology So I think this is a topic that you're actually seeing a lot of news about in the mainstream whether it's the role of Facebook and Twitter in terms of the election of 2016 or just in general the role of technology and its impact on society and And it also gets into these larger questions of the future of artificial intelligence and continuing automation. And if we have the current ethics of our business, then what does that do in the future? And that's kind of the topic of this piece by Stephen Schart called Auto, which is looking at the future of self-driving cars and the human impact of technology. And so I talked to Stephen about the story, his inspiration, as well as the larger ecosystem of what it's like to be an independent virtual reality filmmaker at this point in the ecosystem when there's not a lot of distribution channels or funding to be able to create projects. And a little bit about the emerging language and grammar of virtual reality as a storytelling medium. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Stephen happened on Saturday, April 22nd at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, New York. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:03.307] Steven Schardt: My name is Stephen Shard and I've directed Otto, which is a piece that's showing here at Tribeca 2017. It's about an Ethiopian immigrant who gets hired as a safety driver for an autonomous car company in the imminent future, near future, present future. This is going on right now in Pittsburgh. Uber is doing a beta program that introduces human safety engineers. And my project is to tell a story about a technology and process and imagine the human consequences of an emergent technology before it happens, so that we can take a look at that human impact.

[00:02:43.392] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's like a morality tell, looking at the future of artificial intelligence. And, you know, I'm seeing that a lot, actually, when I look at the themes of virtuality narratives, and films are kind of like, you know, we've got Black Mirror that's out there, where you're looking at sort of the dystopian potentials. I think it's using the power of story to be able to put people into that future to make you make different moral decisions right now. So you're kind of fitting in that same thread of what I see happening. So maybe you could talk about that in terms of the, you know, there's the black mirror, complete dystopian, but then there's the complete optimistic, amazing potentials. But yet in terms of making decisions now, why you decided to kind of go down this route with a story.

[00:03:27.502] Steven Schardt: Well, I really admire Black Mirror for its take on the future, which tends to be more dystopian. And it's in a literary mode more akin to Flannery O'Connor, Mikhail Bulgakov. It's more in the grotesque mode of satire. And Otto tends to be more in a future realistic tone, such that the world that's shifted a degree off reality feels present, rather than feeling something more drawn out, more pointed. Maybe when you see Otto, you think this might actually be happening now. And I think that it is. We do know what's going to happen 10 years from now. We see the $2 billion investment and what is actually going to happen. So to take a look at that before it does is incredibly important. I've devoted the last two years of my life to VR, so I'm very optimistic about that technology. But what I see expressed in VR content is only optimism about that technology and not something that's critical, necessarily. And also the stories that we're telling don't always have to be about VR or about consciousness or about the meta-effects of VR. It can just take a look at traditional storytelling. And Otto is also a piece that just uses more traditional cinematic VR techniques and translates them into this new medium. I'm going to refer to a film scholar, Tom Gunning. He calls the early period of cinema from 1895 to 1906, the cinema of attractions. And this is a period where there were intrepid filmmakers, early experimenters, Edison, Lumiere brothers, that were essentially taking beta technologies out into the field and filming what? vaudeville acts, dancing elephants, scenes of social impact, but essentially single shots. An exhibition also was taking a projector and showing single shots. Now two years ago that was the case. We are certainly moving and taking that early film grammar and translating it, like in early film when we evolved the close-up, when the chase scene became a trope. We're now taking those kinds of micro innovations, little innovations, and bringing them into a VR context. And I think we do need to, you know, McLuhan says that, I'm paraphrasing, but every medium subsumes the prior medium. The writing subsumes speech, film inherits theater and painting and music, and VR stands to inherit all of those things that film does. in addition to the interaction, the haptics and other things. But as filmmakers, I think it's important for us to say which of these conventions translates into this new medium.

[00:06:34.434] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just did an interview with Rebecca Rouse talking about the cinema of attractions and Tom Gunning and how that there is a certain element that once Edison started to codify a lot of the standards for film that the economics start to really drive the narrative in terms of like here's the standards of how you make a profit. I think there's something that's gonna also kind of develop here within VR. Right now there's kind of like no real viable business models for people that are able to go in and create these pieces, it's really like a lot of passion and a lot of faith as you're producing stuff. And then, you know, those are starting to form. But, you know, I think the world of independent film has been like this for a long, long time, where you kind of have this dream of creating a film, getting into a big festival, getting distribution, and that was sort of your path of success and viability, and sort of like a side project for most people, or just cashing out their 401k or maxing out their credit cards. It's sort of this life of an artist of just really taking a lot of those leaps of faith. And so for you as an independent filmmaker coming from that world and going into VR, I'm curious to hear your perspectives of what's happened out in that pipeline as an independent filmmaker, but yet it's still kind of early enough for that still to make your dreams come true to be a viable full-time VR filmmaker. that's still emerging and evolving but it's still a little bit of like a lottery as to whether or not you're going to actually get the funding to pay back all that cost but also to make it a viable living.

[00:08:02.025] Steven Schardt: Yes. Independent film has set a scary precedent because Sundance gets thousands of submissions every year. Less than a percentage point of those films actually get into festival and fewer still get distribution. So we do have this kind of lottery mentality around what can happen. But I think that pervades our culture. We have a lot of mentality about a lot of ideas of what success is. But Truly the important part about VR is that we don't yet even have that lottery model yet. So we have heard some rumblings of bigger studios like Hulu and Amazon and not yet Netflix starting departments thinking about platforms thinking about developing and or acquiring content, but that still is a a bit of a dream. I expect that that will change. We hope that that will change. We have many studios who are doing their own work like Within, Felix and Paul, Okio in Paris that are providing their own distribution and I think that when Oculus and Google and the creative studios that exist in more traditional television and film and these many studios start to get together and make this kind of art world that can support an artist, then we'll see more experimentation. But not only do young filmmakers not have an economic model to go on, we really don't even yet have an artistic model or artistic conventions to go on. So I hope that in the next couple of years, and I point to another book by Howard Becker, who wrote a book in the early 80s called Art Worlds, And he takes a look at the world of photography. What do you need to make a finished photograph? You need the paper maker. You need the person that mixes the chemicals. You need the studio. You need the maker of cameras, lenses, the artisans that do that. And in VR, those people are developing their skills and the support around the artist now as the artists are developing the work itself. So it's so in transition and I think that's at once exciting because it feels like the 60s but it's also daunting for those filmmakers or those industrialists who don't see firm ground to land on and don't see early established models of how to make that work. And I do think that we haven't seen a lot of narrative within VR because the people that would be making that are filmmakers who have projects that they've been trying to make for years and don't necessarily want to take what they've done and risk it in an entirely new medium. And to have an idea that is appropriate for VR is just as difficult. So the tremendous amount of difficulty that I've laid out, I hope it's not a deterrent, but I think it's important for us to be realistic so that we know what we need to work on.

[00:11:15.504] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a couple of points there. One is the distribution and the other is sort of the artistic. And I just want to address a couple of points of the distribution first. Oculus Studios, I think, is probably the leading distributor and funder of content, especially if I look at what was at Sundance and especially a lot of projects here at Tribeca. They've actually been investing quite a bit into content, probably the most of any other company that's out there right now. When I was at Sundance this year, I read a piece by Brian Newman. He coined the acronym FANG, which is essentially Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. And so I think Google is also having different things where they're doing through YouTube and YouTube Red, where they're starting to experiment and perhaps give some filmmakers compensation for doing different projects, you know. And Oculus Studios, like I said, is mostly focused on computer-generated content, but there's also some 360 film narrative content that they've also funded and going to be having a distribution model. So those are two performance-based marketing companies that are basically driven by an established business model of advertising in order to sustain that. And so then you have the other Netflix, Hulu, Amazon that are more subscription-based. But in the subscription-based, we also have Viveport for HTC as well as Weaver. They're also doing distribution as well. And within, as well as Felix and Paul, they're kind of putting content out there. They haven't put a paywall gate on there. But I can see the different players that are there that are kind of curating the best-in-class content. But there's a bit of a challenge, I think, that we have from these performance-based marketing companies of Facebook and Google. Just over the last 10 to 20 years of advertisement-based revenue streams online, people have kind of expected that everything's going to be free. And you look at the subscription models with Netflix and Amazon Prime, HBO, and that there's people are starting to get trained to pay for what they get. up front in a subscription model. And I think HTC is actually the first one that's done Viveport doing the subscription model. So I think there's places that are out there, but it tends to be biased towards the interactive CGI content. And Steam, you know, is another outlet. But again, Steam is for games and interaction, and so any narrative content that goes on there, especially 360 film, just gets obliterated in the comments because people want that agency and interactivity. So, but anyway, I just wanted to kind of paint how I see the distribution ecosystem out there right now.

[00:13:44.188] Steven Schardt: I totally agree. HTC, which I learned from listening to your podcast, by the way, announced its own subscription-based service for, I think, $6.95 that would essentially carve out a channel that was non-gaming. The idea being that because the user base for VR is so heavily weighted toward gaming, if the algorithms that apply to The collaborative filtering that determine what you will like only applies to games. They don't know exactly what you're going to like on the other side. So to carve out a new non-gaming channel and take risks within that subscription model, I think is a way forward. And I really hope that other companies follow suit. And I have to applaud Oculus for making those hard investments and investing in artists without a track record, necessarily without a track record, to make new work. And I hope that each of these companies, along with engineering a subscription-based model for consumers, can also engineer a genius method for compensating artists so that artists are incented to take the risk that they have to take to put work out there.

[00:14:56.657] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I just wanted to move to the artistic side because, you know, this is something that I've been thinking a lot as well. I have, you know, some experience in filmmaking and when I look at the evolving language of VR, I start to see an evolution of even the grammar of storytelling in VR that's happened over the last three years. It's evolved quite a bit because there was that kind of cinema of attractions like, oh, you can't cut or edit in VR. And there's a certain amount of dilemma that I see, which is comfort in VR as well as experimentation. So you had a lot of rules that were made at the very beginning, saying you cannot do any of these things. And then a year later, like half of those were basically crossed off and said, no, actually we can. And most of them have to do with motion sickness and moving the camera. Acceleration through a camera can make people motion sick. Bouncing the camera up and down can be a trigger for people. And one of the things that you used in your piece that I would just sort of call out and something that I would say is a question as to whether or not it's going to be a part of the language or not is forcing turns. So you're kind of turning the camera. And you have a couple of shots in your piece where you're doing that deliberately. So you're basically taking over control of the camera. I'd say that's sort of a golden rule don't ever do that because to me that makes me sick and then you did another time It was more subtle that is slow But I noticed it was happening and then I kind of have to shut my eyes because for me I know it's a trigger and I think there's a dilemma here for filmmakers and that is that when you do something like this you're often showing to people who haven't seen a lot of VR they may not know their motion sickness triggers and And it may not make them sick immediately. It may possibly make them sick a half hour or an hour after you show it. So I talked to maybe up to a hundred creators now at this point who have said, oh, I show my experience to people and it doesn't make them sick. And I'm like, well, did you ask them a half hour, an hour later? Because sometimes if you're doing something that makes them sick, they're not going to feel it right away. So anyway, I just want to sort of put that out there as one of the language and grammar that that's sort of the challenge of that experimentation, but yet the trade-off of the comfort level. and having a full range of comfort that, you know, not everybody's going to be triggered by it.

[00:16:58.306] Steven Schardt: I do think that when I was first investigating cameras and editing and the prodigious amount of software that you have to use from acquisition to final exhibition, makers of VR or cinematic VR said, do not move the camera and do not cut. And those are two things which I do a lot in auto. And I do think that we need to consider that we can move the camera and we can cut, but we need to really consider the feelings and movement of our audience. It's such an intimate medium and it's such a medium in which the viewer is vulnerable that we should consider that we are actually moving our viewers' heads when we turn something to the left or the right. And there are some basic considerations. Rotation is generally very hard to accomplish well, even at the most subtle, subtle levels. But I do think with new stabilization techniques and with very subtle movement that we can continue to experiment with rotation. Translation, moving the camera in space, is generally proven to be acceptable if done respectively. Also, the movement inside a car is different because the environment around you isn't moving itself. So that seems to be a safer movement. If the viewer knows where you're moving the camera, that is, if you can telegraph where you're moving the camera, then it doesn't feel like the viewer is losing that much control. In fact, it might feel like they're motivating that move themselves, or they at least know what's going on. So there's some acceleration and deceleration. Those are actually quite difficult as well. If you have a move that is in a constant motion rather than slowing or stopping very quickly, that's more comfortable for a viewer. But these are the lists of recommendations that need to go out. A year and a half after, we kind of received this sort of received knowledge from what I believe to be industry sources. This is the way it makes sense. It's not a conspiracy theory. It's just that you have a new technology and a new piece of hardware that you're putting on people's heads and making them very vulnerable. The last thing that any company that manufactures this hardware wants is for 15 stories to come out about how people were getting ill in experiences. So I think it was good to kind of start with an early amount of caution. But I do think that we need to kind of engage in some experimentation with our audience, see what's working and what's not. And I expect too that it might be more generational experience where Kids growing up now in headsets are going to have a much different feeling of it's 90-year-old grandma looking at rough cutting in TV in the 90s and being confused or getting disoriented. Now we're going to have people who are growing up in VR games and experiencing VR content and I think we will move to a bit broader application of movement in translation and very carefully in rotation. Yeah, I think we're going to move forward with that.

[00:20:08.743] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm curious to hear a little bit more of the backstory of the actors that you chose for your piece, because I think there's a level of authenticity that is unique in what you were able to capture in Otto.

[00:20:20.594] Steven Schardt: So, again, Otto is about an Ethiopian immigrant who is hired as a safety driver for an autonomous car company. And I wrote the part for an East African driver because in Seattle, which is where it was filmed, there's an enormous population of Ethiopian drivers. And I had an Ethiopian friend that could help me to cast within that community. And I really wanted to make this near-future piece as close to reality as possible. It was very difficult to find the main actors, but in riding around in Ubers, I found myself telling this story to any of the East African drivers that I found. And I had told a number of men that I thought I could cast for the lead role. And somehow, even though they responded in such an enthusiastic way, even if I got their number, I would kind of lose touch or they would disappear. And I finally met the mother in the, there's an entire family that's Kasta, the Kasta family. I met Zee, the mom, in an Uber ride. I told her the story. And she said immediately to me, don't look at the Ethiopian Community Center. My family will do it. I said, well, I'd really love to meet your husband. But yes, that's wonderful that I felt like I had found on this kind of act of faith that this was, in fact, the family that would be in the show. And the lead actor, as I met him a week later, was just absolutely perfect. He had wanted to be an actor. He had an incredible story moving from Ethiopia to Kazakhstan to East Germany to Western Germany to Texas to California and then to Washington State where he has worked as a driver for 40 years. So he's actually done this work for his career. His son was very helpful in translation. He was an amazing young man who moved to Seattle there was no debate team at the high school that he had gone to so he signed up his mom as the coach and within two years had taken the state championship. So I knew I had met this incredible family that could be at the center of this story and working with them, rehearsing with them as first-time actors adapting the English script that I had written into Amharic, worked through several drafts of working with the family, like, what would an evening be like at home? What would you say in this case? How would the interaction between you and another friend driver work in a car? Like, what would you say? And taking those basic shapes of those scenes and really trying to make those authentic within that family and having that time with them was really important to establish this kind of authenticity that I think does carry over in the movie.

[00:23:06.930] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a number of VR experiences that I've seen here that I feel like there's a certain bias towards English that we have and that when you're in a VR experience you kind of want to have like a full immersive experience and you know the challenge of adding that diversity is that you are reading text so you end up sort of end up reading that within VR context it sort of takes you out of the immersion but yet There's a trade-off between actually having the authentic experience of what's actually happening in these other cultures. I've noticed that in a lot of different VR experiences that I've seen. Just that, you know, subtitles in English in a 2D film isn't as invasive or immersion-breaking, but in this particular case it's sort of like a I don't know, a challenge or a trade-off to have that authenticity and diversity, but yet kind of trade off the immersion with the subtitles and the text. Just curious to hear your thought as a creator, how you kind of think about that.

[00:24:02.187] Steven Schardt: Well, the basic technical thing of putting subtitles has a number of questions. Does it occupy a stationary position on the image? Do you want the subtitles to move with your head? And those are technical problems that require different levels of technical solutions and considerations. But VR has the potential to put us in a different perspective, and that perspective sometimes might not be familiar. And I think in this case, going into what is an unfamiliar culture and an unfamiliar home, because we do begin in the perspective of Moussei, the driver, I think that the sphere around you of unfamiliarity and discovery outweighs the single point of reference that you have to have to read the subtitles. That you're getting enough that's outside of your perspective that you can forget that there is this necessity that you have to read subtitles. I do think that my version of Otto that I would like to finish, I would love to release a version so that we do have also Amarek subtitles, so that this can really be a piece that doesn't prize one viewership over another. And I do think that we do need to have a diversity of culture and diversity of voices that are in VR and not just what ends up being a more affluent or tech-savvy audience. And this piece does, a lot of times people ask the question, why VR? Like, why would you tell this story in VR? And I think it's very much about emergent technologies. It's very much about the ill effects of emergent technologies. And we do have a number of wonderful pieces that are coming out about what I would call awareness journalism or things that try to bring attention to other cultures and other problems. but there is an importance for having diverse perspective and diverse voices and part of the answer to why VR for Otto is that the viewership, I hope, feels somewhat implicated in the story because they might occupy the position of the passengers but start in the position of the driver. So there is an urge here to tell a story that's very relevant culturally to an audience

[00:26:20.586] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. For people, you know, once you see it, I think you'll kind of understand what that means exactly. And that, you know, to me, just as a technical point, for subtitles, kind of a standard best use case that I've seen in a lot of different stories is that they'll have the subtitles anywhere that you look. So they may have two or three different versions of that so that you're not sort of forcing somebody to not be able to look around. Because I feel like I've seen some experiences that have subtitles that only have it in one place, which means that I basically have to lock my attention. So then once I lock my attention, then it takes away the VRness of the experience.

[00:26:56.620] Steven Schardt: I made a choice to keep the chubs, not only because of the technical difficulty of actually making them move, but because in this story, there is a point of focus that I want you to have. And the subtitles actually help to direct your attention in this case. I don't think that that applies to all cases. I don't think that it applies to all works. But one of my favorite kinds of shots in films that I see that are foreign is that the subtitles, sometimes there's a scene where someone is talking about a particular character and it's literally putting the text on top of that character, describing the situation of that character. And for me that brings a real understanding of what's going on with that character in the moment and it kind of substitutes them for almost reading their thoughts or reading their feelings. So in this case there are a couple of examples where that technique applies.

[00:27:47.619] Kent Bye: And so what do you want to experience in VR?

[00:27:50.646] Steven Schardt: I want to experience longer form narrative. I want to experience a story world that you can inhabit over a period of time, rather than just short chunks. As a filmmaker or artist, or as a sketch comic, it's very difficult to make a story within a very short period of time that has deep resonance, and I think that VR because it almost substitutes an effect of memory or it does have a kind of deeper physical sensation that these stories can carry more weight in a shorter period of time. But the duration that you can live with characters really does have an impact on what you're able to get intellectually and emotionally out of a piece. And I think given our attention span right now and given a number of factors from economic factors to the current comfort of headsets to the current abilities of our knowledge of grammar and how narration can work in VR, our stories are coming up shorter. And it's my project, and I hope I'm able to do this in the coming years, but to tell stories that last over a period of time with more characters that you can live with and go deeper with.

[00:29:05.078] 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?

[00:29:14.042] Steven Schardt: The union of spirit and matter, ego dissolution. I do think that there is an ability for us to, because we can step into someone else's perspective, we can forget ourselves in a way and bring back experiences that don't necessarily have to fit with our own identity, or experiences that rather we would have to reconcile with our own conception of ourselves. So I do hope that in our pursuit of VR, it pursues the goals of art and spirituality to the extent that we can embark on a journey of understanding, of discovery that will live with us far beyond the current media that we have. Awesome.

[00:29:59.465] Kent Bye: Is there anything else left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:30:03.057] Steven Schardt: As an independent maker of VR, so much of my experience has been online doing tutorials. I really want to send a shout out to all of those people who take the time to post tutorials for doing live-action work, CG work, stitching, compositing. Those people who are taking that time to educate others really does expand our notions of what we can do and give us tools to further the art and further the medium. And I'd also like to encourage those of you who are in positions where you are earning a living from VR, if you work at a bigger studio, if you work at a tech company, and you have been listening to Voices of VR, I really hope that you join the Patreon program, encourage your company to enjoy the Patreon program for Voices of VR, because we have here an incredible resource that goes across disciplines, through technology, through the creation of cinematic VR, gaming. Everyone who is listening to this program benefits from the work that Kent Bias is doing for us now. Thank you so much, and please donate. Patreon.

[00:31:20.669] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I did not pay you to say that, so I very much appreciate it.

[00:31:23.732] Steven Schardt: Thank you. Yeah. In fact, I am a Patreon, so do it, please.

[00:31:27.797] Kent Bye: Yeah, thank you for saying that. One thing I just wanted to also throw out there is that your piece that you're making here about auto, it's about the ethics of our culture and our society. I think about there's these two strands of currency, of yang currency and yin currency, And the Yen currency is something that promotes community cooperation, connection. It's people who are donating their time to put stuff out there. And that, for me, as I put more information out there, I get more information. So I deal in Yen currency. And Yen currency is like open source. It's also like a negative interest rate. So it's a bit of like, I have information, you have to get it out soon, otherwise it sort of degrades because the information isn't timely. And it's like bread. So if you were to think about a society that was driven by a currency of bread, you don't hoard bread. Because the more that you hoard bread, the less valuable it becomes and that you have to actually give it away. So the person who gives away the most bread becomes the most wealthy. And so by me giving away information, I'm wealthy in that information, but yet I also need the yang currency to actually make a living and to keep doing this. And I think To tie that back into the theme of your story is that we have a lot of companies that are driven by this young currency, sort of like this ideal of the market will decide, but yet without looking at the human consequence of this. Just as a concrete example, if you think about these AI companies that are going to be these huge players of being able to drive these amazing capabilities, You're going to have a further concentration of wealth and power into the hands of companies with Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Facebook, as well as Microsoft. So you have these huge companies that are developing these AI algorithms, but the economic model that we have is going to basically be putting us onto this trajectory where it's going to be putting a lot of these people out of a job. And I think that part of what I'm just trying to live within the practice of my podcast is having this balance between yen and yuan currency. And it's not easy because I think it's a story that, again, we're kind of living in a culture where we're used to getting free things, but the consequence, the human consequence, I think we can start to look at AI as an anomaly that is going to really make us question our entire economic model How are we going to basically survive as a species with this kind of libertarian idea of capitalism, but yet have the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few people that are going to be putting tens of thousands, millions of people out of jobs?

[00:34:03.162] Steven Schardt: Well, I do think that there is some responsibility that has to be taken on the part of consumers as well. And I think that within VR, I think that there has been in the last year such an investment by gigantic corporations The community and sharing element of VR has gone away because people are developing proprietary technologies. People are developing things that need a competitive secrecy in order to gain market share. So it is my hope that, and I have heard from people who work at these large corporations, their intentions and their desire to reach beyond these ideas, and I hope that they can overcome that precedent that has happened over and over again in our economy. And auto takes a look at a very, very small interaction. These are micro transactions that the passenger has with the driver that have large consequences to the market. So I won't talk too much about the story, but the story itself is very anti-spectacle and attempts to draw close attention to the tiniest act. And that tiniest act is what is determining the data that the algorithms will use to tell the executives what decisions they must most rationally make.

[00:35:36.801] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that's a great point. And talking to Dan Fung-Dennis about bringing compassion into VR is that I think we're going to see a lot more pieces like this that are connecting the dots between our small decisions that we make every day and the impact that that has on our environment, on our ecosystem, on other people, as well as ourselves. That's something that we have right now, which is essentially this dilemma of out of sight, out of mind. And I think VR has, as a medium, this potential to make those connections, connect those dots in a way, of those small decisions that we're making and how it ripples out into the larger economy. And so, you know, the libertarian ideal of having no regulation and the free market capitalism and everything, there is power in people. But there's a responsibility as well, as to looking at if you're going to be spending your money on the least expensive things, then are you participating in a system of violence? Or are you participating in a system that is compassionate? And sometimes those compassionate decisions actually cost more money, but it's an expression of values that either you can afford or you can't. Or if you don't know the full story as to what the difference of a few cents or a dollar is going to make between those two different choices, then I think that's the kind of role where VR has to play, is to connect those dots.

[00:36:54.595] Steven Schardt: And I think because, I said earlier, it feels like the 60s because I think we are encountering this new medium and we've seen the precedent that prior media have set for us. And some of us are dissatisfied with what's happened. And we have an opportunity to put all of our idealism into this new medium now and draw awareness to what this new medium can be. And a lot of us are talking about compassion and empathy. And I think we just need to move that forward and do as much as we can to make this medium live up to the promise of all the other.

[00:37:33.950] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:37:35.652] Steven Schardt: Thank you, Kent.

[00:37:37.140] Kent Bye: So that was Steven Chart. He's the director of Otto, which is a 360 video, which is now been released on Jaunt. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I really enjoyed Otto. I think that the story was something that it actually gave a new perspective of something that I hadn't really thought about before. And I think that's the power of storytelling is that It's able to get into this symbolic realm of the future of like telling the story of where we're at now and where we're going. And it makes us question some of the fundamental assumptions that we have about our society. And I think that Stephen's point in terms of like, Hey, you know, the point of these stories is that it's actually providing a mechanism for the market to be educated and to make different consumer choices. Because on the one hand, you have these companies that are putting forth a certain agenda with their business practices and their models and their own core value systems that they're putting forth into the world. And a lot of times the impact of what they're doing, you're not able to necessarily see that. It's something that you have to connect the dots on your own or to have stories like this to be able to connect the dots or to be able to have other people talk about the things that are unseen. As a consumer, whenever you're making decisions, there's all sorts of things that are hidden from you in terms of the impact of your decision. And I think collectively As individuals, we all have the power to make huge shifts in the culture, but until we're able to actually connect all those dots, then the lowest common denominator tends to move forward and win. I think that in our current economic system, whatever's the lowest price, people tend to go towards that. But there's trade-offs and costs of, like, maybe people aren't necessarily thinking about the environment, or maybe there's these huge impacts of technology that we're not able to fully take into account. So this is a bit of a paradox of everything that we're in right now, because just the whole trajectory of technological growth and evolution means that there's going to be a disruption between the status quo in terms of people's livelihoods or the way that things are currently done. And that's sort of the model of evolution. It's just that on the same time that we have a technological evolution, we may actually have this sort of spiritual and ecological crisis that's happening at the same time. And those dual myths are actually happening simultaneously. And I think that right now, a lot of these technology companies don't necessarily take into account the human impact of whatever they're doing. And that is actually very difficult to measure, so I don't blame them for not being able to do that. But there's some initiatives within Silicon Valley, something with Tristan Harris and Time Well Spent, where he's starting to look at the phenomenological experience, people's direct experience of what they're experiencing when they go through these different apps. So right now, if you look at Time Well Spent and go to their apps section, they have a whole bunch of data that's been collected by people to both figure out what the apps are most used as well as whether or not people are happy or not. And it turns out about one third of the time people are really happy with the most popular apps and about two thirds of the time they feel unhappy or regret or perhaps they feel manipulated or used by the technology in the sense that it's kind of like hijacking attention. Attention and time spent on an app is something that is very measurable. You can measure it with a number and then companies right now can optimize towards that number so you have this optimization towards things that are quantitative but the qualitative impact of how it makes us feel or the impact on the environment or there's a whole range of other aspects that aren't easily quantified and it's that qualitative impact where as a stopgap that's where the role of storytelling and pieces like this are to come in and start to tell that larger story to be able to show those larger impacts. And that's a big part of what Stephen is doing with this piece. And I think that in our culture, we're kind of on this crash course as to how sustainable is it doing all of our current systems that we have. We're vastly out of balance. Stephen was just even talking about how difficult it is to be an artist and to try to tell these stories, but yet there's not a lot of funding for artists. either from the government or from infrastructures to make it easy for artists and creatives to tell these stories. And then there's the whole ecosystem of virtual reality distributors who are funding some stuff but they're not really funding a lot of stuff unless you've already kind of jumped through a number of different hoops and are on their radar. There's a small group of people who have been able to get funding but there's a huge group of people who aren't able to get the funding for that. And then on top of that, if they're able to persevere and make the piece, then there's no distribution channels to actually sell your piece and actually make your money back. And so it's just like this situation where the economic incentives are not really encouraging people to get into the virtual reality storytelling to be able to tell some of these types of stories. So it's a bit of a miracle for anybody who's been able to go through all the trouble to be able to actually create a piece and then put it out into the world. And my final thought is just on this balance between the yin and the yang. I think our culture right now is heavily biased towards competition and the free market and being able to basically have the winner-take-all type of mindset. And there's other aspects of our society that are trying to give more balance into the cooperative aspects academia or open source or libraries or the government in terms of taxing and trying to regulate companies and I'm not sure how this balance is going to evolve. I suspect that the economy is going to get to a certain point where it's just going to hit a breaking point. I know that we had an economic crisis back in 2008. There was a big crash. I suspect that there was a lot of aspects of that economic crisis where the government came in and bailed out a lot of financial institutions, but there wasn't really much accountability. There wasn't anything that much changed. So I suspect that the toxicity of that economic crash is kind of at some point going to hit another breaking point and I think that's where you see over this past summer you have Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies and all these other alternative economic models that are more like they have a fixed number of bitcoins are going to be created so it's almost like this digital currency is being treated as gold where if you hold on to it it's just going to maintain its value and that you could Split that down into many different fractions of the money but that the fact that a lot of financial institutions are still able to have this fiat currency where they're able to Manufacture new money the impact of that that actually causes everybody else's money to go down in value in terms of the purchasing power And so you have this inflation that's happening over time and So I don't know if Bitcoin would be considered deflationary It's at least at this point where they're not going to be adding any more at a certain point which means that it could potentially Drive new economic behaviors and Rave Mehta in this interview about flow that I just did a couple days ago He was talking about how he predicts how because of that it's going to perhaps move away from competition and more into these cooperative models I think that's yet to still be seen but I I just see that right now there's a lot of the fundamental operating system of our culture that is driving these higher level behaviors when it comes to technology companies who are just operating by the rules of the economy and then driving these behaviors that are kind of at the end of the day creating all these potential risks when it comes to the further consolidation and automation of the power to just economically dominate a specific vertical. You have the huge major technology companies, and as we continue to automate and have artificial intelligence, if it's just within the operating system of that existing economic structure, then there's going to be a lot of issues that are explored in this film auto that I think are just this cautionary morality tale. in the near future. It's not grotesque Sour Tower. It's like this future realistic mode of exploration of where we're at now and where we're going in the future based upon looking at these higher patterns and then being able to tie a story to it so that we can watch it and then perhaps make different decisions as consumers. There's only so much you can do if the operating system of the entire economy and our culture is operating in a certain way. And I think that's where these alternative financial cryptocurrencies are coming in to be able to provide these new alternatives. And I guess we'll see whether or not the government comes in and tries to prevent the impact of these disruptive technologies. I know that the initial coin offerings that were going out, there's a number of countries that said, you know, hey, we're going to prevent you from actually engaging in these new economic models. So there's a bit of a backlash already from being able to fully participate in some of these potentials but at the same time that could just be the government stepping in and to prevent the abuse of some of the companies to have an initial coin offering but have no real intention of being able to actually provide any value from that offering or it's essentially like flipping an asset where you're just getting a bunch of money and then kind of cutting and running. So what do you do to prevent that type of scenario? So the government tends to step in and to prevent the abuses and ideally you'd have a system that had a number of morals and ethics where you didn't have to do that but right now we're still in this sort of tension between competition and cooperation that that's kind of where we're at right now and some of these major technology companies have been able to kind of not have a lot of that government regulation not convinced that the government is going to be able to actually understand the full dimensions of all of the technology industry. But at the same time, we're getting more and more out of balance. And there's more and more of the unintended consequences of the evolution of technology that is being discussed all over the news and the culture right now. And I think will be continued to be explored within these visions of the future that are explored through storytelling, through films or virtual reality experiences like auto. So that's all that I have for today, and thanks for listening to the podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, then spread the word, tell your friends, and do consider becoming a member to the Patreon. It is a listener-supported podcast, and I rely upon your donations to continue to bring you this type of coverage. So you can become a member today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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