Thursday, July 17, 2014

What Disruption Looks Like: The Oculus Rift

Dark Enlightenment blog Outside In sees the Oculus Rift, the coming VR-headset, as the vanguard in the realization of the cyberpunk future the 80's envisioned but saw fizzle in the 90's and 00's:
There’s a wave of change coming. If we want to be realistic, we need to be ready for it — at least, as far as we are able to be. Anyone making plans for a future that won’t be there by the time it arrives is simply wasting everybody’s time, and first of all their own. ...

The hype wave carrying us now has cyberpunk characteristics. Anticipated in the 1980s-90s, its delivery lag-time had drawn burnt-out excitement down to reflexive cynicism by the turn of the Millennium. The only thing preventing the first decade of the 21st Century being defined by broken promises was the intolerable embarrassment of having to admit that cyberpunk futurism had ever seemed credible at all. Social Media rushed in to paste an amnesiac banality over awkward recollections of the lost horizon.
Outside In, of course, sees a gleefully grim future (things aren't falling apart fast enough) but finds the VR Headset at least the harbinger--if not the enabler--of ominous things to come.
The Rift. Recently Purchased By Facebook
Is Oculus / VR The Big Change?

The concept of "Disruptive Technologies" is, simply put, that some technological innovation comes along and changes everything. Examples could be the electric light-bulb, the mass-produced automobile, and so on (note: there are distinctions between disruptive innovations which take common components and use them in a startling new way and disruptive technologies which, with their maturation, totally change the landscape--for purposes of this we aren't being that discerning).

Is The Oculus Rift really the herald of a new age--is it a truly disruptive technology that will change everything? Or is it just a TV you wear on your head?

A Quick Look At Disruption

The Outside In article doesn't use the term 'disruption'--and The Omnivore probably wouldn't either since it's been buzzworded into marketing-speak. On the other hand, it's handy and probably helps with SEO so there you go--we'll use it as a starting point.

Let's start with a look at a list of "disruptive technologies" that PC Magazine put together in 2008. The Omnivore was looking for some quaint, naive examples of people discussing real disruptions and, when he found the article (and its date) he was intrigued: would it be any good? The answer? Yes--these examples are all indicative of game-changers within their specific scope. They (mostly) didn't utterly change society (although The Web, yeah)--but they did certainly disrupt their specific activity (or create a new one) for their target area. Here's the list:
  1. DVR and Entertainment on Demand: Game-Changer. When The Omnivore watches TV at night it's all on-demand stuff. He doesn't even know what channels regular programming are on.
  2. YouTube and Cheap Digital Cameras (they said 'camcorders' in 2008): Game-Changer. We see YouTube-Only content and it's professionally produced by small operators. We see online educational resources (want to learn about Big Data Hadoop? Get thee to YouTube). It's a huge change.
  3. Open Source + Web Tools: Game-Changer. Private individuals can launch professional sites for no more than the server space and bandwidth. Owning a printing-press or a store-front has never been cheaper.
  4. MP3 and ... Uh ... Napster: Well ... The MP3 model, though, has changed things. Today it's streaming music (The Omnivore is listening to Spotify as he writes this)
  5. Blogs and Google Ads: Game Changer. Anyone can start their own newspaper and sell ad-space. Yeah, your blog isn't gonna make it--but it doesn't change the fact that it's an incentive to publish yourself in a way that simply was impossible to envision a couple decades ago.
  6. Cheap Storage + Portable Memory: Game-Changer. Storage is getting close to free. What needs to improve is the speed of storage and that's coming.
  7. Cloud Computing + Always On Devices: Game-Changer. Virtual applications are changing the way that companies think about their infrastructure. 
  8. Broadband + Wireless Networks: Game-Changer. The ability to get online is ever-expanding. Massive-scale wi-fi is a few years out but its coming.
  9. The Web + Graphical Browser: Game-Changer. Amazon? Google? Wikipedia?
  10. Cell Phones + Wireless Access: The spread of these devices should be proof enough of how they change things.
If you want to see how things are changing, you can pursue the Shift Index (Deloitte) or Accenture's 2014 Technology Vision. These are kind of bland (in a rah-rah consulting-style manner) assessments but they have some interesting points. Accenture: Drones by 2015--driverless cars by 2020. Deloitte finds that a company's life on the S&P 500 went from 61 years in 1958 to 18 years now. The 'topple rate' (where a company loses its high command) has increased 40% since 1965. Corporate Travel volumes have increased 58% since 1990 (The Omnivore can attest to this).

How does something like a virtual world device play in this space? How much is it like those examples above

The Answer: So THAT'S Why Facebook Bought It

Here is a 1-question quiz:
Q: How do you know an enterprise is significantly disruptive?
A: They legislate against it.
So Uber, Napster, and Aereo are all for-real disruptive. Oculus? Not yet (but wait for the privacy lawsuit ...).

Facebook bought Oculus Rift because it's their window into a valuable world of personal information on you that they otherwise won't have. This window is:

  • Behavior in virtual environments
  • Pornography
We know that people's behavior in online virtual worlds provides a look into their psychology that you just don't get anywhere else.

Facebook is interested in profiling you well enough to make you part with your money at every opportunity--this means penetrating the veil of your public persona and getting to your real self underneath. In order to do this, they want to get access to things you won't intentionally share. A lot of people understood this concern when Facebook purchased them.

It's worth noting that the Oculus Rift isn't new--here are six existing glasses with integrated displays for sale right now. The difference is going to be cost and maturity (the Oculus Rift will be echelons more mature than most of those except maybe Google Glass which will be a different thing altogether).

Facebook explicitly wants the Rift as the gateway to a billion player MMO. They don't want that because they love gamers--they want that because they want to data-mine it. A lot of discussion is happening there. People are dating and having virtual sex. People are plotting Jihad (you know, maybe). Job interviews, in the future, rather than disqualifying you based on whether or not you play MMOs may hinge on how well you do. Behavior in MMOs has been used to study, for example, plauge responses--where they mimicked unexpected behavior (curiosity in the game--watching diseased characters die--was mimicked by reporters entering plague-zones and then rushing back out).

Facebook, of course, wants all of this.

And then there's porn. What better mechanism in the history of humanity has there been for watching pornography than a private screen attached to your face--and that's without the interactive element!

Will Rift Be The End Of Humanity As We Know It?

So how disruptive will Oculus be? Even Outside In finds things like Bitcoin more important (and, yeah, probably so). The Rift isn't quite interactive enough to be the Holodeck-End-Of-Humanity. On the other hand, if it's a far, far better experience for virtual worlds we should expect to find more of us spending more and more time there. That's an evolutionary enhancement, not a revolutionary one.

Oculus itself isn't likely to do much of anything. The big changers up there are not the single inventions--note that in the top-10 list just about all of them have a '+' sign. That's because the change comes not from the new innovation itself (streaming video!) but rather from that and an additional enabler that together creates a new capability (everyone now carries a portable video camera!).

We don't know what the second half of the Oculus equation will be--or even if there will be one. We can bet, though, that if it really does represent the high-maturity level necessary to reach mass markets and huge user-bases that people will be trying all kinds of new things.

The odds are one of them will hit something somewhere.

You want a prediction? In the past, The Omnivore worked on a telephony switch that would give everyone their own phone number (madness!!). In the future? Everyone will have their own app!

No comments:

Post a Comment