So what are the barriers that make this kind of thing work?
I can give you at least three things. One is that nonverbal cues, such as nodding or leaning toward someone, aren’t working very well. VR headsets still won’t capture them. Headphones are really terrible.
The second one is 3D, spatial sound, which is what we’re doing at High Fidelity. You must be able to hear everyone. You can’t sit and have an effective group conversation unless you hear people’s voices from around the table where they are, because that’s what allows everyone to talk at the same time, like at a cocktail party.
And then another one is having a lot of people in the same place. There isn’t any technology yet that allows more than 100 people to be in the same place at the same time. And so many human experiences, such as a large freshman class, a concert or a political debate, require more than 100 people in one place. Facebook’s Horizon Worlds product, the closest they have to the current metaverse, can’t have more than 20 people in a space. Just that is not enough.
So you have to be able to have multiple people in the same place. You must have an expressive visual avatar. And you must have spatial sound. And then you need the right kind of bottom-up system for governance and moderation. Because of the systems we have today for things like Facebook or Reddit, they are not applicable to environments represented in the digital space.
What are alternatives to headphones that are hardware that allows this?
Your phone. Mobile, with futuristic camera, detects you and turns you into an avatar and takes you into the world. You don’t need to put on headphones.
When you look at using a VR headset, you’re mixing two different things, both of which are really fun. One is visual and sensory immersion in space, your ability to have a wider field of view and see behind you and everything. Great.
However, the other person can communicate with people near you, for example by nodding. That can be done using a forward-looking camera or a desktop webcam. You don’t have to wear headphones for that. I can track your face and animate your avatar with it. And in fact, if you’re not wearing a VR headset, I can see your whole face with the camera. So optical tracking and the AI engine that you can use to detect people’s faces, they work better if you do not have a VR headset.
With VR headsets, we are more than 5 years away, in my opinion. They still, 25 or 30 percent of the time, make us nauseous. And actually there is no R&D solution for that yet. The problem has to do with the discrepancy between the vestibule’s sense of movement and what your eyes see. If you make those two disagree, a significant percentage will get sick and they always will.
But I think what’s more obvious is that VR headsets are so divisive. If you put a group of randomly selected people in a room and ask them whether they are basically comfortable wearing a blindfold in front of other people, you will get a biased result, such as big white man will feel comfortable. wear VR headsets because they can also comfortably blindfold themselves in front of others. But that’s not true for everyone.