Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Oculus Went, Atlas Shrugged

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This has been some couple of weeks in technology. 

First, Facebook’s F8 conference last week, then Microsoft Build and Google I/O this week.

Coupla things stand out.

First, Facebook’s introduction of Oculus Go, the company’s new “everyperson’s” more friendly and accessible VR.  Looking back, I think the announcement was almost understated (and yes, there was a lot of other new news).

Like I always do when I’m considering a new tech purchase, I started searching for early reviews, and clearly Oculus/Facebook had done a good job getting devices into the hands of valued reviewers and sources. Almost to a one had mostly good things to say.

How often does that happen?  So I bit, and received my device one day ago this week.

For me, getting the Oculus Go was kind of like one of those moments you won’t forget: The first time I used the Netscape browser, the first time I used instant messaging, the first Tweet…Oculus Go was that moment for me where VR is concerned.

At SXSW two years ago I got to handle several of the leading VR goggles, and wasn’t really blown away by any of them — maybe it was all the umbilical cords and overweighted goggles. And maybe it was also the experiences themselves.

But when I got the Oculus Go last Friday, it just went. From the moment I turned it on to the quick setup to immediately blowing another $40 on a bundle of VR games and experiences, it was all easy peasy and sense surround.

Saturday morning, I downloaded a single shooter space game called “End Space.” It was so immersive that it had my brain thinking I was traveling through 360 degrees of space, requiring a spinning chair and, later, the spinning brain and dizziness to prove it. 

Now THAT was the kind of VR experience I’d been waiting for. Like I said when I first got it, finally good enough is more than good enough. Sure, you can complain if you’d like about the resolution not being where we’d like it and the fact that it’s really only 180 degrees, but those are minor roadblocks.

And these are still early days.

No, if nothing else, Oculus Go opens one’s imagination as to all the possibilities of full VR immersion, from education to virtual travel to gaming (already a strong suit in VR) to remote work and collaboration and beyond.  You can’t smell it yet, but you sure can touch it and feel it, and it feels pretty cool.

The second thing was experiencing yet another of those AI aha moments.

My first was back in the Web’s early Dark Ages, in 1997 in the auditorium of the Equitable Center in NYC where IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess — for those who saw it either there or online, it was an unmistakable leap forward — the machine beat the man. The next were IBM’s Watson beating the world’s best in Jeopardy!, and Google’s AlphaGo beating the world’s best humans in Go.

This week, watching the Google I/O webcast, I saw the Google Duplex technology in action, one where a disembodied Google Assistant voice was “smart” enough to call a hair salon and make an appointment…over the phone, and using her voice. The hair salon attendant seemed none the wiser.

I don’t know if that comes close to passing the Turing Test, but it’s pretty damned close.

And yet the very next day, I was attending a social media seminar given by our friends at Fleishman Hillard where I was introduced to “Lil Miquela” an Instagram influencer with over 1.1 million followers. 

Lil Miquela supports Black Lives Matter and seems to have a keen fashion sense. Lil Miquela is also not real. “She” was invented by an influencer marketing company called Brud, which Crunchbase says is “a group of problem solvers specializing in robotics, AI, and their applications to media businesses.”

Brud is in the business of selling access to brands to made-up influencers like Lil Miquela, and is backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital. And if you think about it, such a venture makes sense. As our Fleishman friends explained, “You don’t have to worry about Lil Miquela and her friends doing something in Vegas they shouldn’t be doing.” A, because Lil Miquela isn’t real, and B, because she has no “real” friends.

In other words, Lil Miquela and her ilk are “brand safe,” so why wouldn’t having a big brand associate themselves with her/it??

As I said in a room filled with actual real people, “We’re entering a wild wild “Westworld” where there are no rules and the boundaries aren’t clear…which makes for a nice petri dish in which just about anything and everything can by manipulated by digital, social and, now, AI and VR media. One day you’re talking to a Google Assistant to make your hair appointment, the next day you’re talking to a fake virtual IRS agent who’s taking control of your tax refund for you.

On October 30, 1938, renowned actor Orson Welles aired a radio broadcast on CBS based on H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. 

Because the program was hosted on a “sustaining” show without commercial interruptions, “Mercury Theatre on the Air,” the program went on for 30 minutes and people across the country mistook the science fiction for an actual new broadcast. It caused panic across the country and people took to the streets. The Martians had arrived at Grover’s Mill!

That was 56 years before we saw the advent of the commercial Internet, and 80 years before we witnessed the Google Duplex phone call.

The saying used to go “Truth is stranger than fiction.”  Now, VR goggles and AI algorithms in tow, truth is increasingly turning into fiction, and that may be the slippery-est slope of all.

Written by turbotodd

May 11, 2018 at 10:21 am

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