Unique Voices to Follow and Appreciate

This list is inspired by all the people who bring fresh, original thinking to the field of Spatial Computing: XR/AR/VR/MR.

They may not call themselves “influencers” or have lots of followers or a Wiki page. 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 good chance it came from such an original thinker, got digested, emulsified and regurgitated for larger audiences.

So unless you’re a baby bird, have a weak stomach, or otherwise need your ideas pre-digested for you…

I’ve spent the last 30 years working on XR, and the last twelve focusing on what’s so special about AR: what will we want or not want from it?

In 2008, I moved to Seattle (for the third time) and started working for Microsoft. I’d previously written blog posts about the problems we’d expect to find if anyone foolishly mashed up Second Life and Google Earth.

Some people were clamoring for this kind of Metaverse back then, where 3D avatars can roam around a virtual 3D planet. …

If The Metaverse represents our digital future, who decides what “it” is?

Will it be standardized, open and extensible like the network it’s built on? Will it have the same security issues as the Internet or all new ones? Who owns and profits from which parts? What happens to reality?

I’ll join the growing chorus for open, extensible, community-supported standards.

What I’m really hoping to see is a more diverse coalition. Besides the self-interested tech companies and the crypto/sci-fi enthusiasts, I want to see Human Rights advocates, DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) experts, LGBTQ+ activists and multiple veteran UX (User…

Much of what we think we know about XR is wrong

XR has Avatars representing our true selves in a safer space than IRL. It’s the ultimate empathy machine, where we can all have superpowers. The Metaverse is a social space where we will all someday play, work and even live.

These ideas are widely believed and often aspired to, but unfortunately remain largely bunk. Let’s take them apart, unpack and hopefully debunk.

The most important take-away from the previous article is that Virtual Worlds exist primarily inside our minds. They’re our mental models for the world around us, real or virtual. …

Much of what we think we know about XR is wrong

Jaron Lanier invented Virtual Reality and coined the term at VPL in 1987. Virtual worlds require high-resolution 3D graphics and low latency to feel immersed, present and co-present with others.

Those ideas are widely believed and oft repeated, but are mostly bunk. Let’s take them apart, unpack and hopefully debunk.

“XR” is just our shorthand for all variations of digital realities: AR/VR/MR and beyond. The “X” means “any,” though some people also say “eXtended.”

Based on the best on-line research money can buy, the term “virtual reality” was actually coined (in French) by Antonin Artaud in The Theatre and Its…

Holographic telepresence and eye contact.

A screenshot of me moving a virtual camera around

Eye contact is one of those things we often take for granted in face-to-face conversations, unless it goes wrong. We sorely miss it in telepresence, like video chat: Zoom, Skype, Teams and more.

It’s been twelve years since I built one unusually impactful prototype around this issue. It used a pre-release Kinect, about 12 months before the consumer device launched. I had just seen someone in the XBox R&D group use a Kinect to make a live 3D point-cloud. I got excited about the potential for 3D video.

I’d previously used a technique called “Parallax Occlusion Mapping” in OpenGL to…

VR enthusiasts got upset at Facebook’s recent announcement that their headsets will begin to test ads. One VR developer who had originally signed up to include ads in their game reversed their decision due to the controversy.

VR enthusiasts were also shocked last year when Facebook announced their consumer headsets will require real-name Facebook accounts, or risk a ban.

These moves were all expected. Let’s stop being surprised by Facebook’s ad-driven business model and try to understand it better. Like all business models, it selects for and rewards decisions that increase revenues. In this case, employees and features that increase…

Facebook says they have 10,000 employees working on XR, or about 1/6 of the company’s 58,604 employees.

I’ll do some simple math based on public information. I’ll include my notes in brackets if you want to try other variations or tell me where I’m wrong.

Using their public projections from Q1 2021, we might reasonably expect they spend about $6 billion on XR this year for salaries, hardware and overhead.

[ assuming 1/6 * 4 * (Q1’s “cost of revenue” + “R&D”) = $6B ]

Compensation alone for 10,000 mostly Silicon Valley employees could exceed $5B a year, depending on…

I’ve worked for some really big companies to help define their AR & VR programs early on. Skepticism of powerful players is always wise.

But it really makes a difference when a company’s core incentives, their income and KPI, are aligned with the needs of consumers, long-term.

I avoid companies whose business models serve other masters. Even assuming best intentions, as Upton Sinclair said: “It’s difficult to get a person to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

Ad-driven companies work, figuratively, like Casinos, although ad buys are really betting on us. …

When I raise concerns about ad-driven business models, most people shrug. Some may even get defensive. Ads pay a lot of salaries. They pay for so much of the online world that we consider essential. So why kick the golden goose?

Hear me out. Ads themselves are mostly harmless. We might complain about some overly loud videos for medicines we don’t need, or when ad-laden webpages jump around like monkeys on cocaine. We might vaguely suspect our cell phones spy on our conversations (they rarely do).

If you’re visiting a giant free buffet every day, you probably aren’t going to…

Avi Bar-Zeev

XR Pioneer (~30 years) former HoloLens, Apple, Amazon, Google Earth, Second Life, Disney VR, and more…

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