CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Ultisim issued an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg today with a direction for the Metaverse.
An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg:
You’re Doing the Metaverse Wrong.
Here’s some pointers from three decades of efforts that preceded you.
Love the enthusiasm. Love the vision. Love the fact that you’re putting your money ($100 billion and counting) where your mouth is.
But you’re doing it wrong. I wrote about the Metaverse in 1995. And many of us had a big meeting about the Metaverse way back in 2006 (The Metaverse Roundup) and most of those lessons still apply. Let’s put your treasure to good use and get it right.
The Metaverse is not about VR headset hardware. And it isn’t about walled gardens filled with avatars so you can monetize human attention and behavior.
The fully realized Metaverse is a super medium that includes every communications method ever used in human history. As we will discuss when we meet, the last century was about televised 2D imagery. This Metaversial century promises to give us every medium ever used before in human history: images, sounds, text, 3D interactive objects, 3D avatars of real and simulated humans, vast simulated virtual environments or augmented real world overlays. Because of this super medium set of attributes, it can serve as the vessel and testing environment for the future of human and machine collaboration. We can test how generative AI like ChatGPT, DaLL-E and Stable Diffusion provide even deeper meaning and experience, communication and collaboration to help us achieve the right balance between humans and machines to optimize our future.
As I said, the Metaverse is not about stereoscopic VR headsets. If you make it about that you automatically exclude somewhere between 20% and 40% of humanity. Higher fidelity, refresh rates, field of view and latency will help a lot. And the untethering of the Quest headset was a much-needed upgrade.
But the problem is humans have not had an upgrade since, I don’t know, maybe the Pleistocene – and that will continue to be a problem.
Also, when you build these super medium worlds remember that during the last few decades we have learned that 3D is not applicable everywhere. As good application designers, it is our duty to never force 3D where it does not belong or may detract from our message.
Real-time 3D is proven in three areas and remains an open question mark for a fourth application area.
The three proven areas are Design, Entertainment, and Simulation (especially simulation learning). The final area where we have stubbed our toes repeatedly from the early days of VRML and the ghosted efforts of Taligent, General Magic and others is in computer interfaces.
Computer aided, collaborative real-time 3D design applications are becoming ubiquitous for any manufactured good. Look in the architecture office and specialized agencies doing city planning and crime scene recreation. With each 3D special effect or animated movie, with each architectural walkthrough, with each courtroom presentation of a 3D car crash, the expectation bar is raised. The benefits for CAD are easier visualization, better communication with the customer, and a more thorough design document.
In the motion picture industry, 3D provides easier set design, storyboarding, shot blocking, cheaper sets and a more realistic and entertaining viewer experience.
3D certainly has a place in design. The more 3D content created by designers today, the more valuable and economical will be the 3D multimedia applications of tomorrow.
Computer gaming exceeded movie box office receipts for the first time back in 1997. Every year since then it has been a bigger business and continues to grow. All of the top selling computer games are 3D. (The first ever immersive desktop 3D game was The Colony, by my long time colleague and friend David Smith in 1988.)
And now the genre of first-person immersive 3D games has expanded to include games that offer more strategy and storyline and multi-user capability. Realism and engagement are growing with this powerful medium. Elements of play should be employed whenever possible in our metaversial constructs.
“Games are… the most ancient and time honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don’t see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don’t see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, ‘Can games have educational value?’ becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning.”
–Chris Crawford in “The Art of Computer Game Design”
The last century was about the moving image. It was the first time in human history when we could review and critique major events by looking at recorded footage. The 21st century, I believe, will be the simulation century and will be about modeling and simulation.
Those who become adept at modeling and simulation in the future will prevail over those who don’t. But it will also help us conquer the accelerating complexity of the information age and help us design a better future. The key to the Simulation Century is the concept of Digital Twins. Let’s make a Digital Twin of the planet and every city and hamlet on it and design a better future for all of us.
The virtual representation of a real-life physical location, system or process has been increasingly used and wildly beneficial in predictive modeling for risk management and large-scale decision making.
A variety of industries – including healthcare, manufacturing, oil and gas, and urban/civic planning – are able to increase efficiency, identify and address potential roadblocks, and expand engagement and understanding through the use of Digital Twins.
Any time you begin to believe that progress is truly accelerating, just call Alan Kay. He designed the interface at Xerox Parc in the 1960s that we are still using today. It is true that our computer, tablet and phone screens still have two dimensional surfaces. This partially explains why we still use a 2D page-based metaphor for the Windows interface and the internet.
We have tried for three decades to replace that tired old overlapping windows-hiding-information interface with something more game-like. We built one for Taligent in 1992. I wrote a book about it in 1995 when VRML emerged. And we tried again with the Magic Cap interface and in our collaboration with Michael Crichton on Jurassic Park and Disclosure. With your access and treasure you could potentially help us deploy our best metaverse interface ideas, even without the friction of stereoscopic display devices.
The original vision of the Metaverse as established by Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash – and picked up and amplified by some of the early computing and internet pioneers like Alan Kay, David Weinberger, Vint Cerf and Doc Searls – was a shared, collaborative, networked digital world where every communications medium existed. Models of the past, present, and future could co-exist in real and simulated incarnations.
Mark, you’re obviously a visionary and a successful one. You can only add to your legacy by building a Metaverse worthy of its name – and one that can profoundly alter how we live and how we work.
I’m rooting for you to do it, and do it right.
–Richard Boyd is a tech entrepreneur and expert on AI, machine learning, virtual worlds, computer gaming and human/computer interfaces. The Founder and CEO of Ultisim Inc., Boyd was instrumental in creating several pioneering computer gaming companies, including Red Storm Entertainment with author Tom Clancy; iRock Entertainment with Ozzy Osbourne; and Timeline Computer Entertainment with author Michael Crichton. His Twitter handle is, and has always been @Metaversial