By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
June 26, 2017

Happy Monday, Aaron in for a vacationing Adam this week.

I slipped into a back booth at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge near Harvard University last week to meet with former Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs. I was expecting to talk about the latest mobile phones, chip designs, and maybe the company’s lawsuits with Apple. Jacobs stepped down as CEO more than three years ago from the company his father helped found, but he is still executive chairman of the board.

After a little chit chat about travel and families, though, what was on Jacobs’ mind was more science fiction-esque.

Jacobs is working with a project to create real life avatars, à la the James Cameron movie, or for deeper sci-fi buffs, the Neal Stephenson conception from his 1992 novel Snow Crash. This is virtual reality plus—not just seeing and hearing another place with goggles and headphones, but adding gloves or a suit to control the movements of a robot that is physically located in the other place and transmit touch sensations back to the wearer.

“You project your consciousness into a robot somewhere else,” Jacobs explained. “Before you think that sounds weird, it actually works.”

When Jacobs tried the set up recently, just with a robot across the room, he suddenly found himself looking back at his own body and feeling disjointed and separated. But the robot could be much, much farther away, limited only by high-speed data links. “You’ll be able to travel and do all sorts of stuff without actually being there,” he told me.

Sounds crazy, but then again, it could save huge amounts of travel expense and time. Jacobs isn’t the only one thinking about it, either. Sci-fi author Stephenson was just interviewed by Vanity Fair on the 25th anniversary of Snow Crash. He’s hoping that the evolution of virtual reality and other tech will be a little more warm and fuzzy than the isolation brought on by smartphones. We shall see.

Aaron Pressman


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