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Niantic CEO John Hanke on his take of the ‘metaverse’

November 30, 2021 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated December 09, 2021 16:40 PM UTC

The metaverse means different things to different people, but to the CEO of Niantic, this fully-immersive future is “technology gone wrong.”

your vision of the metaverse is very different. This helps inform what you were talking about in a recent blog post where you called it a dystopian nightmare as it is being more widely Formulated right by maybe some of the tech giants you wrote, a lot of people are talking about the metaverse these days coming off 18 months of Zoom Netflix and Doordash. You can count me out at least in the form that most folks are imagining. And so what is your vision of the metaverse in that case and where does it differ? Well, you know, I mean, I'm a fan of the metaverse as a work of fiction, like I'm a huge neal Stephenson fan and William Gibson fan already play our one fan, but if you read all the way to the end, I'm not sure everybody, you know who's been talking about it has read to the end, but um you know, the world in those books is like this horrible place, you know, where everything has gone wrong, nobody can go outside anymore. It's polluted, there's crime everywhere. Well, it's kind of like the way things are um the point being like that's I think that's not the future that we want, where like the world is so horrible that the only our only respite are only relief is to Jack into this digital thing and just block it all out, I think that would be really horrible. Actually, don't think that's where tech is headed. I don't think that's what's going to happen. But as people are getting really excited about that vision, I just felt compelled to raise my hand and sort of say like, hey let's pause a moment here and ask the question like is that the future we want to build or is there may be a different future where we use this technology that we've invested hundreds of billions of dollars and maybe more over the past few decades and apply it to try to like reconnect us as a society and you know, just make the world a better place, a place that we would. You know, hopefully you feel good about passing on to our kids and you know, I think that technology has the potential and promise for that. And you know in many ways we have an obligation to use technology and our position in our companies to try to try to do that. Do you see a future? Right. Your focus is A. R. But do you see a future in which VR do you ever see a future where you maybe dive into VR or do you think VR as a technology as an entirety is immoral or problematic? Yes. Well I often will point to this guy, Mark Weiser who was a computer scientist at xerox parc. Uh he's passed on but he did it a lot of similar work around this notion of like he called it ubiquitous computing. The basic theory is that over time computers become smaller, less intrusive and they just sort of fade away. They become invisible to us, but they're always there to help us give us information that we need guidance to the world, help us do things that we couldn't otherwise do give us superpowers, but they don't get in the way of us being human beings and like talking to other people face to face and interacting with the world. Um and he compared that vision of ubiquitous computing even in 1991 to VR and he said, you know, VR literally cut you off from the world, like you're jacked in, the glasses are on, you're not seeing anything except what's being projected into your eyes, are not aware of what's around you. And um you know, he said the future is the former, you know, it's this world where computing is there to help us and it's kind of invisible, it's this great assistant to humanity. So um I think that that is going to be the main way that we use tech now. They are, I mean you all probably have amazing home theater system set up at home, you probably have surround sound, great speakers and giant LED screens. Like there's a place for like immersive entertainment, you know, I like watching, you know, a great movie on a giant screen, I want to see Dune on the biggest screen possible. Um but it's it's I think VR is kind of good for that. You know, it's good for like when you those times of the day when maybe you really want to get away even for that though, Like what I want to watch a movie or have a VR experience with my wife at home, with us, sitting side by side on a couch with a VR headset on, vs watching a screen and having checked out with her and just kind of feeling her presence and being there together. Like I, you know, I'm not sure, I think VR is kind of a niche application.