Sunday Screenshot: Scott Bennett, aka Scobot

scobot_VRART_071416 (5)

“A fully immersive VR environment inspired by Abstract Expressionism. A place to wander, or sit and meditate. Created in PaintLab with the HTC VIVE.” –Scott Bennett.

Have a screenshot of something you’re working on in VR? Send me a jpeg and I’ll post it here. I’d like to make this an ongoing feature to showcase the visually dazzling work of VR artists, game designers, and storytellers.


The Augnet: Where Pokemon Goes from Here

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

 —Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Exactitude of Science.” Translation by Andrew Hurley.


Jorge Luis Borges

Augmented reality gives us something that only Argentinian literary giant Jorge Luis Borges dared dream of–a map as vast as the terrain it demarcates. Pokemon Go is the first landmark augmented reality experience, but definitely not the last. Right now I imagine there are developers working on AR treasure hunts, games, and enterprise applications that will become the Pokemon Go of their various categories. All of these will form a collective commons of AR content: the Augnet.

The Augnet will allow us to annotate the world we see around us. Forget looking up Yelp reviews on your phone. You’ll be able to see Yelp reviews hovering in front of the restaurants you pass on the street. If you thought Amazon showrooming was a big deal now, just wait until you’re able to walk into a brick and mortar store wearing your AR device and see the Amazon prices and Buy Now buttons for items superimposed on those items in the real world.

One big milestone for the Augnet will be when someone develops a user generated content platform. Continue reading

CoMotion Labs in the Old Neighborhood

IMG_20160728_105529200_HDRI’m getting psyched for the opening of CoMotion Labs. I took the train to UW station today, walked across campus, traipsed up the Ave, hung a left on 45th and was soon gazing up at a building that almost looks like an architect’s computer illustration of a future building, rather than a building that actually exists in physical reality right now. This is appropriate, being that this facility is set to become one of the places where virtual reality is born. When I told my mother about CoMotion Labs, she said, “So it’s like a virtual reality maternity ward?” Exactly.

Speaking of young people who make a lot of noise, twenty-four years ago, during the Summer of Grunge, I lived two blocks from where CoMotion Labs now stands, in a crooked little house on the 45th Street off-ramp with four or five other dudes. We called this domicile the Punk Rock Pagoda. I worked as an ice cream man for Joe’s Ice Cream, read a lot of Neil Postman, listened to tons of Sonic Youth and Beastie Boys, and wore the same pair of plaid shorts for three months. Our parties were legendary. Summer of ’92, man. That shit was for real. It would’ve blown my mind to know that one day this neighborhood would be home to a cutting edge virtual reality startup incubator. I wouldn’t have known what most of those words even meant.

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Zuckerberg the Mystic

Here’s a must-read story on Facebook’s plans for VR in general and Oculus specifically. Key takeaway is that Zuckerberg, Luckey, and company envision a future for VR that even they can’t describe:

Talking about the future, even Zuckerberg can get stumped and slide into the mystical. Some of the problems don’t even have names yet. VR, at true fidelity, entails creating another reality, the presence and automation of everything that exists. Then there are the deep problems of connecting to the brain, which leads to telepathy, something he isn’t opposed to discussing. “I think you get—I mean, there’s something that’s just—that’s deeper, that I don’t even think we scientifically understand about just how you actually experience the world,” he says. “I think there’s outside, and there’s different fidelities of capturing that. And then there’s the human experience of it, which I think is—I mean, we don’t even have enough of a scientific understanding to even have—I think I don’t, at least, have the vocabulary to even fully describe this.”

Pictured: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

As a science fiction novelist unencumbered by a great math and science education, I think I can help Zuckerberg out. If I were to project 100 years into the future, I’d bet VR will evolve into a telepathic platform. I’ll be able to imagine a setting, say a tropical island floating in space populated by sentient elephants. An implant in my brain will render this in code as I imagine it. I’ll telepathically send you an invitation to “join” me there, and you’ll be able to visit me in my imagined mindscape. We’ll constantly interact with each others’ imaginations this way, visiting virtual reality environments that we create for each other in our brains that are connected to each other via whatever platform the cloud evolves into.

And it won’t just be people imagining these VR mindscapes. AIs will be able to do it, too, and the difference between the two will narrow to the point of becoming indistinguishable. Whole popular cultures filled with art and entertainment will be created with and consumed by AIs. At some point the human race will become keymasters of various alternate universes of our own design. And even after another thousand years of evolution, we’ll still laugh at funny cat videos.



Let’s Give Google Cardboard Some Love


If a genie granted me the ability to earn royalties on one technology that’s been developed over the past 100 years, I don’t think I’d choose VR, the smart phone, or the microprocessor. I’d be tempted to choose the ballpoint pen.

If ballpoint pens suddenly, mysteriously disappeared from the world, I think we’d be shocked at how quickly our culture devolved into Lord of the Flies style anarchy. Important documents would have to be signed with pencils and drug company representatives and real estate agents would be deprived of one of their most effective marketing tools. I’m pretty sure there’d be riots, wars, and cannibalism. I shudder to imagine a world without Bic.

Ballpoint pens are so ubiquitous that stealing them is pretty much legal. At coffee shops that still use printed sales slips, ballpoints are augmented with feathers, fake flowers, or other doo-dads to ensure that patrons don’t accidentally walk away with them, but even if you did, you wouldn’t get in much trouble. A ballpoint pen is such an unremarkable feature of our lives that we often don’t even know how they show up in our houses. Take a moment to pay attention to the ballpoint pens in your home and try to identify where each one of them came from. Do you know the origin story of that pen from some Las Vegas hotel? What about the pen stamped with the name of an arthritis medication? How’d this ugly chewed-on blue pen even make it into your junk drawer? You have no idea.

Sophisticated technologies that cost thousands of dollars grab all the headlines, but there’s something to be said for technologies that are cheap, simple, and useable. Take the Google Cardboard, for instance.

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What I’m Learning About Compliments

Google calls this stock image of a compliment “Businessman and businesswoman shaking hands at conference table.” Nice work, Google image namers!

I started a project last week called Monday Compliment. I’d grown weary of the rancor on social media, and thought that giving people compliments on Facebook might be a way to alleviate some of the negativity. I decided to focus my compliments on one day, Monday, traditionally the least looked-forward-to day of the week. I launched a site, Monday Compliment, with a stock photo and a blurb. I posted a few compliments to Facebook friends and got some friendly responses.

I have to give credit for this idea to my mother, the great Nina Boudinot. She worked as a school counselor for many years and became adept at de-escalating conflicts between grade school kids. The most intense conflicts, as one can easily imagine, were those between girls. One of my mom’s strategies with two girls who were at each others’ throats was to sit them down and have them each give each other a compliment. This technique worked wonders.

It makes you feel vulnerable to give somebody a compliment, I realized. Really, truly, complimenting somebody is a small but powerful act of love, and it’s harder to be sincere than flippant. Complimenting somebody requires more of you than putting someone down. It means that you have to recognize something good in someone else and acknowledge it. Why does this sometimes seem so hard to do? Maybe it has something to do with how invested we become in our own grievances, our own sense of deserving more adulation than we get. Maybe we feel that we’re owed more recognition than we get from the people in our lives, and as an aggressive counter measure to this perceived imbalance, we withhold our own recognition of other people.

I complimented my girlfriend, my mom, my brother and sister. These compliments were easy to give. I love them and my relationships with them already involve telling them what I feel about them. Then there were long-time friends who I complimented. I thought about what qualities I admired about them. This forced me to reflect on my friends by focusing on their most redeeming qualities. This made me feel really good. I liked imagining the good feelings they got when they read my compliment.

Then there are the friends I don’t know as well. It felt riskier giving them compliments. I imagined them encountering my compliment on their Facebook feed and thinking that I was being a weirdo.

I also started to realize there are different levels of compliments. On the most superficial level, compliments are about external things–what people wear, how handsome they are. Who doesn’t like to get one of these kinds of compliments? We love to hear positive things about how we look. These kinds of compliments give us short bursts of energy.

The next level of compliments are those related to what we do. A “great job!” from one’s boss always makes us feel better. Compliments related to our achievements go a long way. Here’s one of the best compliments I have ever gotten, from one of my heroes, Tom Robbins. “Ryan, you’ve got more ideas in your new novel than most writers have in their entire careers!” That compliment made me explode with happiness, and it still does. I can still think about that compliment that Tom gave me three years ago and it still makes me feel good. A well-phrased compliment from someone you admire can feed you for years, or even over a lifetime. I’m still comforted by compliments I got from friends, my parents, and teachers when I was a child.

There are compliments about how we look and compliments about what we achieve, but the greatest compliments are those that are about who we are. Our character. These are the compliments that touch us most deeply. They reinforce the aspects of our personalities that we admire most about ourselves. It’s easier to give this kind of compliment to somebody we’re closer to. It seems kind of creepy to give this kind of compliment to somebody we don’t know so well.

The journey of getting to know another person proceeds from noticing what they look like to learning about what they do to understanding who they are. Compliments are a way of recognizing the best qualities of the people in our lives, and they form little bridges to our own best qualities. The most interesting part of this little project for me has been discovering how much better it makes me feel to compliment other people. And after establishing a somewhat arbitrary day on which I plan to make it a habit to compliment people, Monday, I found that I spent the other six days of the week thinking ahead to the compliments I planned to give. This made me think about all the good qualities of the people I know. It made me shift my perspective and filter my relationships through a frame of what I appreciate most about them. And in this way, I think I’ve come up with a little, simple way to become a better person myself.