Thursday, November 11, was the final day of AWE 2021. The day saw more panel discussions, another day of expos, and the closing ceremonies.
Continuing the Conversation on Safety
The second day of AWE saw a lot of conversation about ethics, privacy, and safety in the metaverse, primarily through a dedicated session track. On day three, XR Safety Initiative founder Kavya Pearlman and Voices of VR host Kent Bye took that discussion to the main stage.
Metaverse Privacy, Security, and Safety
Early on day three, Pearlman led a panel discussion featuring NativeTrust Consulting, LLC Digital Policy Advisor Kristina Podnar, and Baltu Studios co-founder and CTO Dennis Bonilla. Pearlman kicked it off by asking if Web1 was made by idealists and Web2 was made by capitalists, who will make Web3? Bonilla went in the direction of data risks and concerns.
“Every movement that’s being remotely sensed is being sent to a log or database or something,” Bonilla said, specifically of “telemetry” – or remotely collected and interpreted data. “Twenty or thirty years ago, most of us were generating a lot less telemetric data.”
While people might understand when their computer, phone, or even watch or headset can collect certain data, they don’t often know what is being done with it or where it ends up. Some people don’t care, but other people just assume that laws are protecting them or their data, which isn’t necessarily the case.
“We can’t just be consumers of good governance and safety,” said Podnar. “The only way to do that is to grow up and own that space or we’ll never have the opportunity to be the kind of responsible consumers that we want to be.”
Opportunities to “grow up and own that space” are everywhere, for example, at the XR Safety Week happening virtually in December.
“We have to take this shot to protect the metaverse, and we’re probably three years ahead,” said Pearlman. “Which is good.”
Kent Bye on Ethics Frameworks
Following this panel, Kent Bye – who was introduced as “one of the first philosophers of XR” – took the stage to talk about ethics and ethical considerations in XR. Bye also touched on the idea of “being consumers of good governance and safety” that Podnar had introduced by talking about the ethical engagement showcased by companies like Meta.
“Most of the engagement that you see is either tokenism or manipulation,” said Bye. “Just because companies are ‘consulting’ with all of these different experts doesn’t mean that they’re actually listening to them.”
One of the many frameworks for incorporating ethics that Bye looked at was the “AREA” approach – an acronym for “anticipate, reflect, engage, act.” Bye specifically described the idea that ethics has to be incorporated and reincorporated throughout the course of a design process, rather than being a box that is checked once early on and forgotten about.
Finally, Bye agreed with Pearlman’s sentiment that we’re early – but that isn’t an excuse to be inactive.
“We’re just at the beginning of this journey and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Bye.
Social Experiences and Gaming
The day wasn’t all heavy. It also saw talks on social VR experiences and avatars, and a panel on XR gaming.
Social VR and Phygital Experiences With VRrOOm
Early in the day, VRrOOM CEO Louis Cacciuttolo gave a talk on “the phygital revolution” of virtual and hybrid experiences. His company produces events in social VR platforms like VRChat. Cacciuttolo started by addressing some of the concerns that came up around avatars and VR generally on day two and on the first day of AWE.
“The sociabilities of XR are XR’s killer app,” said Cacciuttollo. “It’s not about hiding behind the avatar, it’s about becoming the person that you want to be.”
The importance of the avatar comes largely from the social nature of the experiences, and the social nature of the experiences is what keeps people coming back. That’s true in in-person events, social VR events, and hybrid experiences like those created by VRrOOm.
“Phygital events that link the physical and the digital have to be social, and even more social in the digital world, or they will fail to attract an audience,” said Cacciuttollo.
Pinscreen’s Hao Li on the Future of Avatars
Later in the day, Pinscreen founder and CEO Hao Li presented on avatars of a different kind. Far from the fanciful avatars that people see on platforms like VRChat, Li’s company is working on AI-enabled photorealistic avatars like those that are often popular in enterprise applications.
“I believe that the future of communication has to be 3D not only because the world that we live in is 3D but because that is the most natural way to communicate,” said Li.
The kind of real-time volumetric representations that Hao has in mind do already exist, but they require studios. Pinscreen is working on creating volumetric reconstructions of users from a single 2D image.
“I believe that this type of technology is one of the core building blocks of the kind of vision that we see in things like science fiction movies,” Li said, specifically addressing the hologram of princess Leia in Star Wars Episode IV that seems to have been recorded from a single camera feed.
While currently working with photorealism, Li also said that an individual could use this base avatar but then edit it to make it more personalized, idealistic, fanciful, whatever. After the talk, I asked Li about his thoughts on this kind of power given the potential misuses like “deep fakes.”
“There is a concern when you allow people to create anything they want… one of the dangers is that you will allow people to create or modify content that can’t be verified,” said Li. “We’re working with DARPA on ways to prevent that kind of thing.”
The Frontier of XR Gaming
GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi moderated a panel discussion on XR games featuring Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm, Pantomime Corporation CEO and president David Levitt, gaming writer and community moderator Sonya Haskins, and Patrick Hackett of Skillman & Hackett.
“It’s interesting to see AR/VR come into fashion, go out of fashion, come into fashion again,” said Takahashi. “It’s an interesting cycle.”
It may be fewer cycles of fashion and more cycles of technology. New technology emerges and impresses people who become disenchanted or distracted. The current convergence of technologies around XR might arrest that.
“There are pieces that you can push forward and it gets really exciting and then you can push another piece forward and that gets really exciting,” said Hackett.
Haskins reiterated a recurring conference theme that the collaboration and shared enthusiasm in the XR space promotes innovations that benefit everyone.
“The opportunities in the industry are so vast, you can literally do pretty much anything,” said Haskins. “You have a fantastic group of people with all of these skills and they’re all so different but there’s so much collaboration.”
The distinction between AR and VR was a recurring theme. Haskins and Hackett agreed that it’s unimportant in their work, while Levitt described AR as “indigenous” experiences that work with the real environment and VR as “colonial” experiences that require the environment to be fit to the experience.
“When we started Resolution Games, we were very bullish on spatial computing in general… we said ‘AR is going to be amazing, but it’s not ready yet, let’s start on virtual reality,’” said Palm, who announced Tuesday that Resolution will start creating AR games. “I love to be a little early. As an engineer, it’s great to have an opportunity to figure things out before there’s a standard.”
Inbar’s Closing Address
Inbar opened AWE, Inbar closed AWE. The final event on the schedule was the closing remarks and the awarding of the last Auggie awards.
“Once again, I want to thank you all for making this great effort,” said Inbar. “After 893 days apart, the XR industry came together in full force. Now, we start counting to the next AWE.”
That’s right, AWE is already scheduled for 2022, from July 1 to July 3. Of course, after Inbar’s announcement on Tuesday, the wait won’t feel so long.
“We won’t have to wait until then because we can continue the fun of participating in events online through AWE.LIVE,” said Inbar. Inbar also commented on the AWE Academy that launched last year. “We’re especially excited about a new class we’re offering next year, a HoloLens and Mixed Reality Masterclass.”
See You at Next Year’s AWE
Inbar ended the Auggies on a similar note to his opening address: the state of the XR industry is strong.
“We all saw first hand this week that the state of the XR industry is strong,” said Inbar. “If you’re looking to grow, the answer is right here: thrive to the power of XR.”