#301: Robert Scoble’s Mind was Blown by the Meta AR Glasses

robert-scobleRobert Scoble is veteran tech journalist who has seen thousands of demos, but last Thursday he saw a demo of the Meta Two AR glasses and it blew his mind. So much so that he told me that his life can now be separated into the two categories of “life before the Meta demo” and “life after the Meta demo.’ Robert hinted to me that he’s going to be making some significant changes over the next couple of months to put more of his focus into covering what’s happening in AR and VR space, and he decided at the last minute to fly out to Unity’s AR/VR Vision Summit to network with attendees. So what was it about the Meta Two demo that was so mind blowing for him, even more so than his first experience with the Oculus Crescent Bay prototype? I caught up with him at the vision summit where he talked about the Meta demo where he could place TV screens around the room, talk to holograms, and use natural gestures to have interactions with virtual objects that made him feel like he was living in Tony Stark’s futuristic lab.


You can check out my interview with Meta’s Soren Harner last spring to learn more. It sounds like from Robert that Meta has made a lot of progress since then.

Here are more reactions to the Meta glasses:

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.934] Robert Scoble: I'm Robert Scoble, and I'm a futurist, or a journalist if you want to put it that way. And I go around the world on behalf of Rackspace. They asked me to just go see the future. And I've done thousands of interviews with thousands of startups, all the way up to big companies. I used to work at Microsoft, I worked at Fast Company Magazine, and on and on. So My interest in VR it started a few years ago. I mean, I've been watching VR for 20 years But you know, it just never seemed real to me. It seemed like a military project That wasn't gonna be consumerized anytime soon, but a couple years ago I started seeing that it was gonna be consumerized really quickly. It became obvious when Facebook bought Oculus Rift But even after that, you start watching the reactions of people after they get their first VR demo, particularly in a high-end headset like a Vive or a PlayStation VR or an Oculus Rift. And they come out using expletives usually, you know, going, holy beep. I totally didn't even have any idea that was possible, you know. And it's that emotion that drove my interest in it, because I study when people are emotional about products, because that tells me that one might become the next thing. And then I got the bug just by trying it myself, and that gets reinforced every time I come to a conference like this and see all the exciting things people are doing in the space. It's a highly collaborative community of people who are exploring a new world and trying to build a new world of experiences. So that's VR. And then AR, you know, you keep hearing about things like Magic Leap, you know, my, Oh, Google invested half a billion dollars in Magic Leap. And I went down to talk to Ted Shilowitz, who's the futurist at 20th Century Fox. And he said, Oh, I saw Magic Leap and that's Google's first trillion dollar idea. And I go, what kind of dope are you smoking with Ted? You know, He goes, no, no, no, you've got to get a demo. Same kind of answer that all the VR people are giving everybody else right now. Oh, you're skeptical about VR? You've got to get a demo. Then you won't be skeptical anymore. You'll be one of us fanatical people. And I got a demo a week ago of Meta, which is a competitor to Magically. And HoloLens is here at the show, Microsoft's competitor. And it's so thoroughly blew me away. I think it's the most important demo I've ever had, certainly the most interesting demo I've ever had in my life. And I've sat through thousands of demos. So now I'm all bullish on AR too. And in fact, you'll see me announce several things in the next few months that I'm moving my whole focus over to this new space of VR and then AR. And, you know, the rest of the world still fits into this, right? Internet of things, our homes are being digitized, we're getting Nest thermostats and drop cams and plugs soon that are digital that you can address from any internet device. Well, if you're wearing glasses, you want to say, hey, turn down my lights or change them blue or Hey, it's too cold in here, tell them my Nest thermostat. You know, change the temperature to 72 degrees, something like that. You're going to be talking to Internet of Things. So there's a whole bunch of things happening in the world. And it's all aimed at about three years from now, right? Driverless cars are coming along. 3D manufacturing is coming along. Internet of Things is coming along. All of these things are going to hit in three to five years. AR is a huge one. hitting in three to five years. VR is going to be mainstream within three to five years, right? So that's my interest, right? Get a demo. And then, you know, once you get the demo and you buy your headset, because the headsets are starting to ship soon, end of March, you know, is when the first Oculus Rift products are coming. And HTC Vive is right after that and Sony Playstations around the same time. So by the summertime, many of us are going to have our first look at this stuff. And then it's off to the races and there's so much content coming and a lot of fun stuff happening. So you're in the sweet spot. You're doing a podcast on this. So you're going to see it. You're going to have a front row seat on this whole industry just start to take off.

[00:04:41.702] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I've been tracking it closely since May of 2014, and I've done over 350 interviews just specifically in VR so far. And I actually got a chance to try an earlier demo of Meta, and it was something that had a lot of latency, still not all that impressive. And it felt like it had a long way to go. But the thing that really- It was the same demo, and I thought the same thing.

[00:05:01.860] Robert Scoble: I thought, oh, OK, this is going to be a ways. But they made a lot of progress in three years. Very low latency, very sharp screens, very wide field of view, which HoloLens doesn't have. The finger control, they now see 10 fingers in space, in real time, and you can grab things out of the air, you can shoot things, you can throw things, you can move things around, you can move around things, and you can move things with your hands. I mean, it's just stunning. It shows you that, okay, this is becoming real, and the trend lines that are happening are so clear that the costs are coming down, the size is getting smaller, the screens are getting sharper, the software is getting far more rich and steadier and on and on, right? It all aims at three years. Three years and we're going to have it on our face. I don't know who's going to win, right? I don't know if it's going to be HoloLens, I don't know if it's going to be Magic Leap, Right now, my friends who've seen all of them say Magic Leap is the best, Meta's second place, and HoloLens is a distant third. But even, you know, walking in here, people were like, HoloLens is the demo to see here. Go upstairs and see the demo if you can, right? They didn't let me see it, but it's how it is. If HoloLens is getting that kind of emotion from people with a small viewing angle and only one finger controls, where Meta has 10-finger controls and a wider viewing angle, there we go. And we're off to the races.

[00:06:32.316] Kent Bye: Yeah, so you say you've seen a lot of demos, and maybe you could walk through, like, tell me the story of the demo experience you had, and why was it so great?

[00:06:39.942] Robert Scoble: Well, I've had lots of demos in my life. I was the 79th user of Instagram. Siri was launched in my son's bedroom. I've had thousands of demos over the years. And, you know, a good demo speaks to the time, the need, right? Instagram, if it had happened six months later, would have been nothing because there was a lot of competition. It was the first one that satisfied the need of the camera on the mobile phone, which we had just gotten, and it filled the need. Siri explained to me how we were going to talk to our devices and have our devices serve us in some way. as incomplete as it still is even today. It's a pretty magical thing when it does work. Every decade or so you see a paradigm shift. When I mean paradigm shift, some of them are really big. The Apple II at first didn't seem like a real important product because very few people could afford it. It had no software, it didn't do anything really. And you had to be a nerd to run it, you know. And my dad bought one because he was an engineer and he was interested in this new computing movement. And it turned out that product was actually really important to the world. Not maybe at that day, but because of the industry it set up. And the same thing happened with the Macintosh. It changed our expectations of computing. Most of us didn't go and buy the first Macintosh because it really was an underpowered thing. A decade later, the Newton comes along, right? And we started talking about the Newton the way I'm talking about meta today, right? This thing is going to change the world. Well, it did. It took another decade for the iPhone to come along. But being that first product is important, because you have to get out there with something. And iPhone came along, and now it's AR's turn. So the demo, they put it on this glass and they turn it on, and you're seeing virtual items laid on top of the real world. You're seeing through the glasses, and that's what's different from VR. VR, you're in a a black box and you see virtual items, right? You might still see the real world through a video camera or like in HTC's world, you put two little sensors on your wall aiming at you and it builds a virtual box of about 15 by 15 feet. And you can see things happening in that box, right? If your wife walks into the box, you can see her doing that because there's a camera on your headset and the sensors are showing you that somebody is in your space so you don't hit them or run into them or something like that. But that's a virtual representation of, you're not seeing her really, you're seeing a virtual outline on your glasses, on your display screen. with meta and HoloLens and magically. you're seeing the real world, and you're seeing items put on top of the real world. So as you're looking around, it's building a 3D map of the real world, right? So it's understanding the surfaces that make up your walls in your room, or your floor, or if you have a couch, it maps that, or if there's a table, it maps that. And then it can overlay virtual items on top of that. So I could put a, on this floor here for instance I could put CNN playing on the floor so there's a virtual layer on top of the real world and that when you see it in real life that alone is like Mind-blowing because now you can walk around that virtual TV on the floor and the TV is playing right and it's like whoa That's just changed my reality. It added a virtual element to my reality So you start doing these demos and you're like, well one TV is not good enough. How about 20 now? You have a virtual table in front of you with 20 TVs on it and right? All playing different content, you know, so you can watch all the football games in the world or you can be working on 20 different projects, you know, sort of like 20 monitors. Well, I can't afford 20 monitors and I don't have space for 20 monitors, but in AR I could make that happen because it's really easy. It's boom, boom, boom. Now you have 20 monitors and then they give you demos of, different kinds of work that we might do together. They showed off a new kind of Skype where both of us were 3D avatars in real time talking in a space like Leia in Star Wars, right? When she appears the table You're listening to her and and she's a hologram on the table. Well now you can have virtual live Holograms that are dialed into your space so you can talk to your wife even though your wife is in Europe calling in with a cheapo camera and now she's a hologram on your kitchen table and Right? That's cool. That's cool. And then let's just keep going, right? You can then say, well, get rid of my wife, but I want to have a chess game on my kitchen table. Or Microsoft has shown off Minecraft on your kitchen table. And it's full on Minecraft with all the attributes of Minecraft, and it's on your kitchen table. And you can walk around it. with your glasses, right? It's mixed reality. It's virtual on top of reality. And it that fucks with your mind. It's a lot of fun, you know, and that's just a little taste of it. Right. And they just showed off, I don't know, 15 things like that. Let us walk around a globe and let us see different kinds of models like that, a human body. And they said, touch the human body and you touch it's in the middle of there. It's a hologram. you touch it and it splits apart into the muscular group and the vascular group and the skeletal group, right? And you could put your head right up to it and look at each piece of it, you know, because it's a CAD drawing and it's like, wow, anything that's digital CAD can be put into a hologram in this world and you can walk around it and you can put your head into it through it. You can spin it around, you can zoom it with your hands, you can grab it and move it around and put it into different places in your virtual space. It's hard to describe, but it's Tony Stark's lab. Only it works. It's not a movie anymore. It's not science fiction. It's real. And it's like, wow. It's like, wow. I just got a new thing, which is going to be an important new thing for 30 years. I mean, 30 years from now, they're going to be improving AR glasses the same way they still are improving the personal computer today. We first saw it in 1977, right?

[00:13:47.507] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I was in France for the IEEE VR, Mark Billinghurst was actually going through kind of the history of AR, showing different moments in sci-fi and evolution of AR. And interestingly enough, he actually had a picture of you with Google Glasses, and it said, don't be a glasshole at the bottom. It was kind of a turning point, I think, for Google Glass in that moment with you in the shower with the Google Glasses. Maybe you could talk about that moment and how you see that contextualized with using this technology, kind of a pseudo-AR type of glasses, walking around using it.

[00:14:22.488] Robert Scoble: I hate that I'm used as an example of a product that got killed. First of all, I don't think Google Glass is dead. Google has invested half a billion dollars and magically And they're going to keep at this for as long as it takes. And I'm quite convinced that soon, certainly in the next decade, most of us are going to be wearing smart glasses of some kind, augmented reality glasses. glasses with little digital screens like Copin's making, or motorcycle helmets with digital screens like Scully's making, or ski goggles like Oakley's Airwave is, right? It has the Recon instruments in it. I'm quite convinced that most of us are going to be wearing some sort of digital screen, sort of like Google Glass. Google Glass failed, if you'd say it, not because of my picture. I mean, my picture became a representation of a product that just wasn't all there. It failed for a lot of reasons. One, it was a shitty product and it didn't live up to the expectations. The real expectation, the first time I brought mine home, my wife asked me, does that tell me anything about the people I'm looking at? And I'm like, no, you're too early. And she's like, damn, that's what I wanted for. I want to look at somebody at a conference and I want to know who they are and what their last tweets were. And, you know, some of their social graphs, some of, you know, all the stuff we do anyways. Right. I met this guy named Peter Pyatt at the World Economic Forum. And he had a badge on, so I knew his name. And he worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But I couldn't Google him at that time, because we didn't have any Wi-Fi or connectivity. But as soon as I got back to a place where I had connectivity, I Googled him, and he was the discoverer of the Ebola virus. Well, I sure wish I would have known that when I was talking to him. It would have changed our whole conversation, right? I mean, you're talking to somebody, and it's like, oh, you discovered the Ebola virus? That's badass. Can I ask you some questions about that? And her expectation was that Google Glass was going to do that. It doesn't. And it doesn't augment the world. People, based on the demos and some of the early videos, thought it would really augment the world. It would do what Magic Leap and Meta and HoloLens are doing. which is put virtual items on top of the real world. It really wasn't that. It was more of putting a little computer screen on the real world. And they didn't even try to overlay information on top of the real world. It was like having a little 40 inch screen up on the corner of your eye full time, which is helpful in a lot of ways, right? Walking around the street, it told you which way to turn and stuff like that. And if you're recording video with it, which got into a whole ton of problems because people didn't know it was recording. But if you were, you would see the video monitor and you would see where your camera's aimed and make sure everything was working correctly. But the mirror was bad. It flaked off if you got it wet. And which is funny that I took in the shower and it didn't do it then, but it did later. Everybody thought you were recording them full time, but you could only record for 45 minutes before the battery died, right? and the quality of the video was crappy compared to the iPhone. And that's just the product quality, and it just didn't meet the expectations. And that's okay if you're selling a product to developers and saying, hey, you know, we're exploring this new world, and we want you to pay 1500 bucks for this thing, and we're gonna keep iterating on it until we get it right, but you know, we need your help. That would have been okay. But the minute they tried to sell it to normal people, I got furious because this was not a finished product. And if Meta tried to do that right now, I would be just as furious. Even though Meta is the most mind-blowing demo I've ever had, it's not ready for the consumer yet. It's tethered, it's big, it's expensive, and it has no software. It has a lot of software written, but it needs a lot more to make it so that my mom, or a normal person, would find it useful and find it compelling as a mainstream product. It's three to five years away from that, right? And Google Glass just didn't meet those expectations. And when they tried to sell it to the public, I think everybody turned against them because it just was a product not ready for mainstream. Now, on top of that, there were a lot of social problems with the product. And there still will be with augmented reality glasses. We've evolved over millions of years to look into each other's eyes. And when there's something between you and me while we're talking to each other, it bothers us. There's a social contract, right? And so these smart glasses aren't going to be always appropriate. They're not appropriate in a movie theater, maybe. They're not appropriate at date night. They're not appropriate in many things. The Google Glass you couldn't fold up and put away. It was hard to hide. It was hard to take off. And that set up a whole bunch of bad interactions around the product. And most people didn't know how to explain that. So they blamed the camera. And it had nothing to do with the camera. And I argue to the death about this. And here's why. I was at Coachella, big music festival, and every freaking person had an iPhone in the air recording or a GoPro camera recording. Nobody cares about being recorded or recording. It's not about the camera. But there was two guys in front of me who were talking to each other and they said, I have to get away from the Google Glass guy. I wasn't wearing it. It wasn't me. And in fact, I was like, I'm not wearing it. Who are they talking about? I turned around and there was two guys with Google Glass on. And I was like, why are you freaked out by the Google Glass? It's obviously not about recording because everybody has a camera there. I mean, literally every teenager in the world at Coachella is holding up an iPhone recording. So it's not about the recording. It's about the social contract. It's about, there's a weird thing on my face or on this guy's face and it bothers me and I don't know why it bothers me. So I'm going to blame it on something else that I do know how to explain it. You're, you're probably recording me and I don't like it. It had nothing to do with recording. And most people, even when they say to your face, No, it's about the camera. No, it's not about the camera. You really don't care about being recorded. My brother owns a bar. He goes, people are recording every day in a bar with drunk people, right? It's not about recording. Everybody likes to be recorded. And we like to record shit, right? It's about the social contract. And so that's going to be an interesting challenge for the AR space. particularly since these glasses are probably going to be fairly big at first. And that's why you see the market is setting expectations appropriately. ODG and HoloLens and Magic Leap and Meta are not saying you're going to wear this in the street right now. Although you will, eventually. And Mehran says within five years. But today, he says this is only appropriate for enterprise use. Caterpillar's using them for mechanics who are going to fix the tractors that they build. And they put on the glasses and they see an overlay, a virtual overlay on top of the tractor. It says, hey, here's the oil filter, here's a problem that you need to check out, here's where you need to unbolt the four bolts to get to the oil filter, and it shows you how to do it, and everybody's happy, right? And they're not the only ones. Ford's using AR for designing cars, Disney's using it for designing theme parks, there's architects who are using it to design new kinds of buildings or shopping malls, and everybody involved puts on the glasses and they can walk around the shopping mall in virtual space. At Virginia Tech, I just visited there. They're building a home of the future all in virtual with AR glasses so that people can walk around the home of the future and think about it and talk about it. It probably won't have an Amazon Echo there. It'd probably be over there, right? And on and on. So it's coming. And it's certainly an important product. When is it going to be that everybody in society has one? Certainly in the next decade, absolutely in the next decade, and probably in the next five years. Five years is aggressive for everyone, but certainly everybody in this conference at the Unity Vision Summit, everybody here is going to have AR in five years, no doubt in my mind.

[00:23:27.051] Kent Bye: So, you know, go all the way back to 2012 at E3's when Paul Marocchi took his duct tape prototype of the Oculus Rift to E3 and, you know, John Carmack showed it around. And then you have Facebook buying Oculus Rift in 2014, you have in 2015 the GDC's when the Vive came out, and we're just on the cusp of the consumer launch of virtual reality. So for you and your own personal story of deciding to make a pivot more towards these immersive technologies of AR and VR, what was the moment that you decided to move more into these technologies?

[00:24:02.491] Robert Scoble: Probably at Web Summit a year ago when I sat outside the Oculus Lounge and they were showing off the Crescent Bay prototype. And I watched people leave, and they just had a stunned look on their face like they had seen the future, you know? And I got a demo, and I had the same reaction. I was like, I came home and wrote a blog, or I, right there on my iPhone, wrote a 2,000-word blog post, which is sort of impressive in itself, right? Because it caused my whole world to shift. It's like, oh, now I get why Mark Zuckerberg spat. the money to buy this. I didn't quite understand it before then. I think that's really the key date. I mean, when did I decide to really shift my life hard? It's a gradual process between that and last week. Last week was no. You have no other choice because this is going to be a half trillion dollar industry in five years and you're going to walk down in the street in five years and there's going to be people wearing glasses, augmented reality glasses, and they're going to do stuff with you while you're walking around the shopping mall like we're recording this interview in. And so, yeah, there's no choice now.

[00:25:21.704] Kent Bye: So last week was when you really saw the meta demo then?

[00:25:23.886] Robert Scoble: Yeah, last Thursday night. There's life before seeing that demo, and there's life after. And if you're lucky enough to get the Magic Leap demo, they say it's the same experience, the same kind of life-changing experience. And a few fortunate people have had demos of all three, the HoloLens, and the Magic Leap, and the meta. All three are life-changing experiences here. They're showing off the HoloLens, and people are like, oh, that's the demo to see here.

[00:25:50.853] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:25:57.435] Robert Scoble: Well, I mean, we're going to be answering that question for 30 years. Because as big a dream as I can try to articulate to you, It's going to get bigger, right? Because the human capacity to dream... I mean, if I told you back in 1977 what Star Wars was going to be like in the future, you wouldn't believe me. Because you had just seen the most mind-blowing demo done with physical models, and that was pretty mind-blowing for 1977. Today, we look back on the original Star Wars movies and go, that's sort of lame. It's quaint and lame in context of today's technology where everything is built on a computer screen and they can just do anything the human mind can conceive from blowing up a bridge to making a guy melt out of the floor to recreating reality to such an extent. I can't tell that that actor is not real, right? And I met the costume designer last year on Star Trek, and all the costumes are virtual. They look real on the movie, but they are done in a computer by a nerd putting them on an actor, right? in that frame in 30 years. What is the difference between reality and mixed reality? You're not going to be able to tell. And so since you can't tell, everything is possible, right? I could make a zombie come out of that wall and I could put virtual cosmetics on you. I could dress you up in the most fantastic costume ever known and it would look real. Then I would take off the glass and I like oh, well, that's not quite the same And so does that change journalism? Yes. Does that change education? Yes. Does that change banking? Yes. Does that change movies? Yes. Does that change TV? Yes. Does that change being human? Absolutely You know, we're about to see really deep cultural change The kind of change we saw in the 1960s when the pill came out and all of a sudden we could have sex with each other without certain consequences. And we had rock and roll and we had massive political shifts, you know, due to the war and due to the human rights movements of that era. We had massive shifts in music. We had massive shifts in drugs due to LSD. We had two presidents get shot and that caused massive shifts. And then we went to the moon and had a whole space race that employed hundreds of thousands of people and caused all sorts of technologies to be developed that have shifted our lives ever since. And we're about in 1962 of another age. And we are just starting to get a taste of how big a deal this is coming at us. I mean, new kinds of art, new kinds of music, new kinds of experiences, new kinds of sex, new kinds of education, new kinds of journalism, new kinds of transactions, new kinds of manufacturing, new kinds of data visualizations, and on and on and on. There's a company in Illinois who's growing virtual crops to tell the farmers what to do on their farms tomorrow. There's 80 people employed growing virtual crops. If you told me 20 years ago there would be a company like that someday, I would be like, what kind of weird grass are you smoking? Right? And we're about to do fantastic things with these technologies and they're going to have deep shifts on our culture and on our society and scary ones. You know, every time I give a talk, I ask my audiences how many people are freaked out and A third of the people are freaked out by what's actually on out. You know, we have a football stadium and the Superbowl was just in the Levi's stadium. It has 2000 beacons and knows where you are full time. It's tracking you, right? Football stadium and on and on, right? The shopping malls are tracking us. The airports are tracking us. It's scary sounding stuff if you put it in the right frame, but it also brings real utility to us too. So, Anyways, I got to go. I got to go. Awesome. More of the future. It's so crazy right now. I mean, it is absolutely stunning what is about to come to the world. I mean, just VR alone would be a huge thing, right? But we're seeing all this stuff hitting at the same time. Human beings, I don't think, are ready for it. That's also fun. It's fun to watch people put it on for the first time and see their amazement. And then, you know, over the months of new things coming out, new games, new entertainment, new journalism, new kinds of experiences, it's going to be fun to see what it causes.

[00:31:08.227] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for listening! If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voicesofvr.

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