100 Original Voices in XR
This list is inspired by the people who bring fresh, original thinking to the field of Spatial Computing aka XR/AR/VR/MR. They may not market themselves as “influencers” or “visionaries” or even count their followings. You may not yet know their names. But when they speak, we should always listen, because they’re likely sharing something important that we haven’t heard before.
And to the extent we have heard something before, there’s a decent chance it came from one such original, then got digested, emulsified and regurgitated for larger audiences, too often without credit. [People are most likely to give credit to the set of people they want credit from.]
So unless you’re a baby bird, have a weak stomach, or otherwise need your ideas pre-digested for you, I humbly suggest you go straight to these sources for their more nuanced and often spicy takes.
The most seasoned veterans in XR follow originals.
Of course, there is no official arbiter of originality. But I’ve seen enough in the last 30 years to help identify things that feel new and original vs. innocently re-invented or cleverly recycled. I’m aways happiest to see and learn something new. And many of these folks challenge our pre-conceptions with their questions and ideas.
Note: if you feel someone is missing from this list, make sure to read to the end. My goal is to be most inclusive, focusing on people who are contributing ideas publicly but with less recognition than I think they deserve. I’m intentionally not listing people who work in secret or are already very well known, for reasons I’ll explain below.
The First Fifty
The people were selected based on awareness of their public-facing work and on recommendation of people I trust. We’re looking at the originality of their ideas and not social media reach, popularity, CV, prior recognition or funding.
I tried to have everyone provide their own bio, but I limited the overall length and helped edit. Shorter bios don’t imply any less value (just less editing). There is no order or ranking in this list.
@ handles link to Twitter. If there is an asterisk after their name, their names also link to Medium accounts you can follow.
Dr. Helen Papaginnis (@arstories) has been researching AR, creating novel art and stories for over 15 years. Her book, “Augmented Human” is a deep and thorough dive into the many ways that AR technology will impact humans. She consults about XR and is a professional speaker represented by The Lavin Agency. She is also an invited member of the World Economic Forum AR VR Global Future Council.
Andreea Cojocaru* (@andreeavr) is CEO of @numenavr, who comes to XR with the keen mind of an architect and social scientist. Her thoughts on the looming issues with avatars and identity run deep and wide. She believes immersive tech opens us to a new conceptualization of space and a wider exploration of its social and experiential richness.
Kathryn Yu* (@kathrynyu) is a game designer & XR developer bridging UX, augmented & virtual reality, games, and immersive theatre. She’s an MFA student at USC Games and the Executive Editor at “No Proscenium: The Guide to Everything Immersive.” Kathryn is also a co-founder of HERE, a non-profit dedicated to the development of immersive & experiential artists and audiences, and the associated HERE Summit & Festival.
Silka Sietsma* (@silka) speaks passionately for “norm core” design principles for XR. She works hard to bring designers together across companies and even domains. She is Head of Emerging Design at Adobe and long-time advocate of thoughtful, inclusive design.
Keiichi Matsuda* (@keiichiban) is best known for his dystopian video “Hyper-reality.” He has demonstrated even more original (and less scary) ideas for AR interaction while directing UX design at Leap Motion. He served as design director for consumer experience at Microsoft mixed reality, before establishing his own design consultancy earlier this year.
Kavya Pearlman* (@KavyaPearlman) is a well known CyberGuardian (aka cybersecurity consultant) and founder/CEO of XRSI, the XR Safety Initiative, which has helped develop awareness and planning to mitigate the many new safety and security issues raised by XR technology and its design patterns.
Dr. S.A. Applin / AnthroPunk, Ph.D.* (@AnthroPunk) is an Anthropologist with a background in technology. She is currently affiliated as a Research Fellow at HRAF Advanced Research Centres (EU), a Research Associate at HRAF at Yale University, and an independent consultant. She researches the issues intersecting XR technology with a focus on societal impact and adaptation, including the ways that XR will impact our lives. Her publications can be found at http://sally.com and http://PoSR.org.
Cix (@Cix) Cix has started LIV and YUR, VR companies doing virtual content creation and fitness. Facebook recently copied and blocked his most recent company. He regularly speaks out against Facebook’s monopolistic practices. He is working on a 3rd XR company now to be announced soon.
Nicole Lazzaro* (@NicoleLazzaro) is a serial innovator, immersive media trailblazer, and game industry veteran who runs XEODesign and XEOPlay, where she makes novel games using unique interactions. She designed the first iPhone game. @TiltWorld, was the first to use facial expressions to measure player experiences. She now focuses on original games, spatial audio, emotion AI and emerging XR technologies. Her latest project is Follow the White Rabbit, an XR mystery adventure. @PlayWhiteRabbit
Alexandria Heston (@ali_heston) works as an XR Designer at Niantic Labs, Inc on Pokémon Go and other AR experiences. Previously she has worked at Magic Leap and other tech consultancies, and over the past couple years has published multiple projects on the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) as it relates to VR/AR experiences. In her work she advocates for the importance of Accessibility in the VR/AR industry, and is best known on Twitter for asking deep questions that challenge conventional thinking.
Galit Ariel (@galitariel) is a TED speaker, creative and author of “Augmenting Alice — The Future of Identity, Experience & Reality”. She runs Future Memory Inc., which consults on future technologies.
Jeri Ellsworth (@jeriellsworth) is a tireless innovator who spends her time building inspirational technology, and occasionally tweeting clever memes. She’s co-founder and CEO of Tilt5, which is launching a unique low cost and high quality consumer AR headset this year.
Blair MacIntyre* (@BlairMacIntyre) is a professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where he teaches and advises students studying XR. He has been researching the socio-technical aspects of XR for more than 30 years, including games, education, and enterprise applications, to social experiences, privacy, and ethics. He contributed the initial design of WebXR and Hubs while at Mozilla, and consults and advises large companies on AR.
Sarah Ticho* (@SarahTicho) is a producer working at the intersection of XR and wellbeing. She is the founder of Hatsumi and co-founder of The XR Health Alliance and Lemonade. She is also the producer at Explore Deep, a breath controlled virtual reality (VR) experience for managing anxiety. She sits on the XR Safety Initative’s Medical XR Council and is training as an end of life doula, supporting people through the end of life process.
Lynette Wallworth* (@Wallworthy) has worked for over 20 years in immersive technologies and has won two Emmy awards for her innovative VR and XR works. She has recently developed a pilot program using VR to help reunite Covid-isolated families in hospital palliative care. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s AR VR Global Future Council.
Blair Renaud* (@Anticleric) speaks most often about VR, game development and user experience. He is a fierce advocate for independent developers, runing an indie event at Oculus/Facebook connect each year. He’s developing an indie VR game called Low-Fi.
Liv Erickson* (@misslivirose) shares deep reflections on their experience in tech. She is a product manager and former evangelist who has worked on interesting XR projects at Microsoft, High Fidelity, Mozilla (Hubs) and more. She is now at AWS Game Tech working as a PM on the Open 3D Engine.
Nancy Baker Cahill* (@4thWallApp) is a new media artist who examines power, selfhood, and embodied consciousness through drawing and shared immersive space. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of 4th Wall, a free Augmented Reality (AR) art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression. Her projects have been featured in the New York Times, Frieze Magazine and others.
Jesse Alton (@mrmetaverse) is a founder and co-chair of the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group (@open_metaverse). He’s also a founder of an open XR community AngellXR and the open source XR portfolio site http://xrshowcase.xyz.
Priscilla Koukoui* (@Pri_op, Priscilla Koukoui) is founder of Ovisquare.com and an Emerging Tech Adventurer. She drives innovation in organizations by designing new ways of working; XR & emerging technologies as Business solutions. She also crafts multi-sensory XR creative stories, focusing on emotional design in immersive environments. And she is an XRSI strategic global advisor helping to build a safer XR immersive world.
Elgin-Skye McLaren (@elginskye) is doing amazing work as the PM of Hubs and knows more than most how the raw materials of the web interact with the possibility of the immersive web.
Stella Cannefax* (@simulacracid) is an XR developer focused on creator tools. After pioneering procedural content methods for AR at Unity, she is now on a long vacation. She has commented on many industry issues and encourages thinking about the future of XR through a critical, materialist lens.
Noah Zerkin* (@noazark) is an open source hardware developer who has been building prototype wearables and custom XR devices for over a decade. Currently residing in Shenzhen, he has been supplying kits of parts to help enthusiasts and developers build Project North Star AR headsets. He’s working towards launching a crowdfunding campaign to underwrite mass production of a refined North Star derivative.
Lucas Rizzotto (@_LucasRizzotto) describes himself as a “mad scientist,” but is best known for his unique and funny videos documenting his prototyping exploits in XR. Unfortunately, Lucas is becoming a bit too popular for this list. Netflix, please sign him up for a limited series at least.
Amy LaMeyer (@amylameyer) and Martina Welkhoff (@welkhoff) are tireless duo advocating for and directly supporting female entrepreneurs in XR. They organized and have now completed the first round of funding for their VC fund, WXRFund.
Sutu Eats Flies aka Stuart Campell (@sutu_eats_flies) is an artist and director, using technology to tell stories. He’s created commissioned VR art for Doctor Strange, Ready Player One, and Spider-Man Enter the spider-Verse; plus three VR documentaries; He is also known for his interactive comics including Nawlz, Neomad, Modern Polaxis and These Memories Won’t Last. He holds a Honorary Doctorate of Digital Media, is a 2017 Sundance Fellow and is the co-founder of EyeJack an Augmented Reality company.
Greg Madison* (@gregmadison) is an Interaction Designer for Spatial Computing. He brings the skills of a magician to XR. He currently works at Unity and occasionally posts interesting videos of his work.
Aleissia Laidacker*(@Aleissia) is a Creative Technology Director, who builds XR based products and experiences. She was Head of Developer Experience at Magic Leap. Before that she directed the AI & Gameplay on the Assassin’s Creed games at Ubisoft. She is now working with companies such as The Mill and Spatial Activations, creating immersive experiences that embrace emerging technologies and design. She is passionate about building XR based experiences, platforms and tools, to push forward the Metaverse.
Doug Thompson* (@Dusanwriter) writes about the Metaverse, XR and spatial computing. He started 13 years ago with Metanomics, the first serious VR talk show. His XR work has supported military amputees. He produced a training program for Johns Hopkins and has helped draft XR strategies for the largest financial institute in Asia. His blog, Out of Scope, provides thought-provoking insights into emerging technologies. His company Noodle & Sprout is mapping major trends in XR using a unique proprietary algorithm.
Charity Everett (@charityARtiste) is a former Research Fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. Her work with Go Back Fetch It has been recognized with the Nextant Rising Star Prize by the Virtual World Society. She is an XR augmentor and storyteller.
Juliana Loh* (@Splashmango) is a Creative Producer working hard to change the world by bringing imagination, critical thinking and a sense of play and wonder to the forefront. Drawn to global perspectives, she identifies with the storytellers, futurists and game changers in a world in need of a better vision. A talented XR artist (tiltbrush) and in-world designer (VR/AR), Juliana uses human centric design thinking to give structure, inspiration and meaning to ideas, people and places.www.julianaloh.ca www.splashmango.com
Layla Mah (@missquickstep) founded @InsightfulVR in 2016 to build a renderer optimized for VR/AR/Holographic Displays. She was AMD’s Lead Architect of VR and Advanced Rendering, the creator LiquidVR, and responsible for the company’s unified vision, strategy and architecture (both HW and SW), with respect to VR and other advanced rendering paradigms. Prior to her time at AMD, she also spent many years within the game industry, working on graphics engines and shipping games for both consoles and PCs.
Anselm Hook* (ʞooH ɯlǝsu∀/@anselm) is a developer who tends to work with designers and artists; notable projects include working closely with Terry Gilliam on the Zero Theorem, and at Xerox Parc and Mozilla on Augmented Reality interfaces as well as writing several video games. He is passionate about new monetization models for the web and 3D.
Reginé Gilbert* (Regine Gilbert/@reg_inee) is a designer and professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering in the Integrated Design and Media program. She’s researching inclusion and accessibility in XR with VEIL (Virtual Experience Interaction Lab), is on the advisory board for the W3C, and is a part of the coordination and engagement team of XR Access. She is the author of Inclusive Design for a Digital World and is working on a second book related to Spatial Human Computing.
Joanna Popper* (@JoannaPopper) is an award-winning media executive currently leading @HP’s VR Go-to-Market initiatives. Recently Joanna was executive producer on @DoubleEyeCo “Finding Pandora X” (winner of Venice Film Festival’s Best VR, SXSW’s Audience Award) and on Tribeca premiere “Breonna’s Garden” (to honor the life of Breonna Taylor). Joanna is involved in organizations to drive inclusivity in XR including @WXRfund & created a Twitter list of XR women to follow. For job hunters, she tweets about #XRJobs.
Sophia Batchelor* (@brainonsilicon) studies the neuroscience of immersive technologies. She is a PhD student with the University of Leeds and affiliated researcher with the Whitaker Lab at the Alan Turing Institute. Her aim is to support the translation of academic findings on how we learn in VR into strategic interventions for the learning and development of children in underserved areas of the UK.
Jay Wright (@jaywrightnow) has been working in augmented reality since 2008. He’s best known for co-founding Vuforia at Qualcomm. Upon selling Vuforia to PTC in 2015, Jay focused on the enterprise market and launched Vuforia Chalk — a remote assistance tool described as the “future of education, service, and support.” Jay took on a new mission with Campfire3D in 2018 — to deliver on the promise of holographic collaboration for design and engineering. (disclaimer: I am an advisor to Campfire3D)
Darragh Dandurand* (@DarraghDandy) is an award-winning creative director, strategist, photojournalist, and curator. She has worked with a number of top media companies, creative studios and institutions. In the past year, she served as a guest curator for SXSW by creating and moderating the first Future of Fashion Technology track for the festival, as well as co-hosted and organized the first Women of Spatial: a Creative Tech and Start-up Summit with Verizon, The WXR Fund and the Artizen Fund.
timoni west* (@timoni) is a deep thinker on issues of UX design in XR. They are now VP for AR/VR for Unity, after having lead teams building many of Unity’s XR tools. They are passionate about social justice and equity.
Alex Bowles (@alexqgb) is a former film and television producer who transitioned to immersive media with the launch of VR’s first generation of consumer hardware. He was attracted to the field by the historical role of spatial technologies, where sudden advances have triggered far-reaching changes in social, political, and economic life. He serves as Founder of Inversion, an immersive media consultancy that helps clients navigate the transition from two dimensional to three dimensional media.”
That’s the first 50 or so. And what a list of originals!
I want to give special shout out to just a few of the best known names in XR. They don’t need my help for spotlight. While they most often spotlight others making news, they have certainly shared original ideas of their own:
Kent Bye* (@kentbye) is an avid podcaster, documenting so many original voices in XR on his VoicesOfVR podcast. He’s also an advocate for privacy, fostering coherent ethical principles at many conferences and out of sight.
Where are All the Big Company XR Folks?
Turns out, there are many more originals tucked away inside the big companies, focusing on prototyping, R&D or shipping products like Spectacles, HoloLens, and so on.
Alas, you don’t get to see their best individual ideas — unless you work with them — because they’re generally not allowed to talk about it.
I’m honored to have worked with so many original thinkers inside Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Disney and know many that are currently inside Facebook, Snap (and more) that I would love to include.
I don’t know if spotlighting them without management or PR approval will help or hurt their job status, so I’m playing it safe here. You can at least follow their products.
Some big company employees do tweet publicly, like my former colleague Sterling Crispin, who shares his amazing independent work as an artist. And James Powderly, shared some great ideas while he was between jobs.
I feel very lucky that, despite several former and current NDAs limiting what I can share, I’m able to make a living as well as listen to and speak out on important issues. Many people have to choose one.
What about Famous Execs and Influencers?
I’ve named several CEOs above, but we could easily name another 30 well-known leaders, like Rony Abovitz, Philip Rosedale, John Hanke, and Tim Cook, that deserve credit for bringing XR ideas and credibility to the masses.
While they are all originals in their own right, it’s difficult to give credit to the leaders of companies without also giving credit to those who work for them. Companies are team efforts. It’s like crediting the owner, coach, or quarterback for a football team’s win. So I think it’s better to just name the overall company as being innovative — but that’s another list.
Influencers provide a valuable service by shining their spotlight on other people. It takes a lot of legwork, self-marketing and tasteful self-promotion to get to their current followings and beyond. But to be included here, I looked for truly original individual contributions as well. Influencers tend to be more like editors or like ferry operators, taking good ideas across the river.
For this article, I hope it’s clear by now that I really wanted to focus on the people who are sharing great ideas with the world, but don’t yet get as much spotlight or credit as they deserve. These voices more often keep their heads down and quietly make the world go around.
Don’t Forget the Original Originals
There are more voices that we should rightly include, based on their foundational contributions to the field. I’m thinking of people like Ivan Sutherland, Jackie Moire, Jaron Lanier, Brenda Laurel, Tom Furness, Nonny de la Peña, John Gaeta, Steve Mann, and Mark Bolas. They all have Wikipedia pages and substantial followings already. This group probably deserves its own unique list.
Wait! Someone I Know is Missing from this List
This is the first 50 or so, out a planned 100 profiles. I expect there are many interesting originals that I don’t yet know as well. There are certainly a few I couldn’t get bios for yet.
So let’s plan another installment of the second 50 in a few months. It takes time to read and learn about everyone that deserves more spotlight.
If you want to nominate someone for inclusion in the full list of 100, please DM me on Twitter or Medium (private note) with all of the following info:
- their name & handles
- a short bio (3–4 lines)
- one or more public-facing examples of their original work in XR
I will read through all suggestions over the next few months and add people wherever possible.