This week on The Tech Cat Show…Charlie Fink
Lori Schwartz: Hi everybody, and welcome back to the Tech Cat Show. This week, we are jumping into a month-long series talking about augmented reality, which is a really big technology trend. I know we’ve talked all year long about what’s happening in virtual reality, so I’m bringing on the show a number of experts who have all sorts of insights and exciting things to share on the subject of augmented reality. To kick off the very first interview is Mr. Charlie Fink, who is a former Disney executive, he’s been at AOL and AG, and he writes about VR and AR and other new media for Forbes. Let’s have a big Tech Cat hand for Charlie Fink, ladies and gentlemen. The crowd goes wild for you, Charlie.
Charlie Fink: Thank you for having me.
Lori Schwartz: It is such a pleasure. Give us a little bit of your background, because I met you through your Forbes writing world, but tell us what you’ve been up to.
Charlie Fink: Don’t you remember, we were standing in line for the Microsoft exhibit at [last year?
Lori Schwartz: Yes, that’s right, and we kind of bonded.
Charlie Fink: Yeah, we chatted it up, we figured it out that we were both writing about new technology, and in particular, augmented reality, so we stayed in touch. Of course we’re both active on social media, I’m @charliefinkand I post probably 10 times a day, so it’s hard to get me if you connect with me.
Lori Schwartz: That’s right. Well, and you actually are one of the people that keeps me up to date on a lot of things that we’re talking about on the show. You started as an executive on the entertainment side of the world.
Charlie Fink: Yeah, I’ll give you my whole bio, although it’s going to be like Charlie rambles for five minutes, because I started my career in the early 80s, which is probably around the time that most of the people listening to this started being born, so I’m in the third act of my career, if you will. I did start out in the movie business, and I went to graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago. Like all good New Yorkers, I kept moving west, and I got a job as a junior executive at Disney in the animation division at the end of 1985, when they were trying to convert themselves from this sleepy little backwater, and reclaim the previous glory that the animation brand had and the value that it created for the company.
I was there for over six years, it was great, I developed all the big movies that you associate with the 2D animation renaissance, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin, Little Mermaid.
Lori Schwartz: How fun.
Charlie Fink: A lot of other projects, stuff at Disney Land, Cranium Command, if anybody remembers that, just amazing 3D work using the technology we had at the time.
Lori Schwartz: Awesome.
Charlie Fink: It was a lot of fun. I went from there to running, together with Tim Disney, a company which created location-based VR centers called virtual worlds, some of the centers were called battle tech centers. They featured, it was basically, I describe it as “vehicle-based VR”. You get in a little pod, and the pod can be a hovercraft on Mars, or it could be a mech, a robot on another planet, jousting, so to speak, with the other players in the simulation. They were real time multiplayer simulations, but you were in pods, and there was motion and radio and all sorts of fake augmented reality targeting systems and whatnot in your field of view. It was sort of like the advanced PC games are today. We ended up building 23 of these, about 13 in the US and 10 overseas, including Japan, the UK, Australia and Canada.
Lori Schwartz: Wow.
Charlie Fink: I got to segue, because we’re still talking very early, people at this time didn’t even have personal computers in their homes.
Lori Schwartz: Wow, that is really really early.
Charlie Fink: Yeah, so we won cool site of the year in 1994, virtual world did. You know why? Because there weren’t any other cool sites. From there, I went to America Online, a sleepy little company that had just gone public, and it was based in Vienna, Virginia, where I still spend a lot of my time, because we dug in here with our kids. I was at AOL, I was senior vice president and chief creative officer of AOL Studios, so I was in charge of building really big things that AOL would own, and eventually AOL would sell, including Love at AOL, which was sold to match.com. As we all know, online dating is possibly one of the killer apps of the internet, depending on how old you are.
Lori Schwartz: Right, right.
Charlie Fink: Or frankly, it isn’t age limited, and I think that’s the way people meet each other today, because you want those tools. I think it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t used it, so I define that as a killer app, but and we can talk about killer apps, an interesting topic in AR especially.
Lori Schwartz: For sure.
Charlie Fink: I went from AOL to doing startups. My first startup was an information aggregator, it was sent to you by email called E-Agents, it was like having your Yahoo homepage emailed to you every morning, because this was a very new idea in 1999. When I left AOL, I built a company around this idea, but I wasn’t able to persuade anybody at AOL it was a good idea. I raised, I don’t know, $6 million of venture capital, and you know we were off to the races. Yahoo invested and Draper invested and Lazar invested, and American Readings bought, you know we had six million users inside of a year, and American Greetings bought us, and I became president of their dot com subsidiary.
We acquired, while I was there, our two biggest competitors, E-Readings and Blue Mountain Arts, and consolidated the category so that we could go from free to fee.
Lori Schwartz: Got it, so looking at business models.
Charlie Fink: Sorry, go ahead.
Lori Schwartz: I was saying, you were looking at business models.
Charlie Fink: Well yeah, we were hemorrhaging money when we were the biggest website in the world. It was better to be a much more normal website and have your audience consist of people who pay you.
Lori Schwartz: Right, right, right.
Charlie Fink: Of course you can focus on the people who really care, and not try to cater to the entire world. When I left American Greetings in 2005, the dot com division through ad sales and subscriptions was its most profitable business, and it still is to this day, I embarked on a career after leaving American Greetings that had two tracks, a dual career, if you will. One was producing Broadway theater, and the other was doing startups. I worked on several startups while I was producing shows, and only one of those startups had a happy ending, but I learned a lot along the way, I produced some great art that I am very proud of.
Sometime I guess around the middle of 2015 or so, I started to feel like it was time for me to pivot again and do something different. I started writing about a lot of topics, I started writing a memoir about Disney, which Disney declined to cooperate with, and I was very discouraged. A friend of mine came to me and said, who was involved in VR actually, he works with Honda on their VR and AR, and he said to me, “Come on, man, you were Mister VR back in the 90s, get with it, it’s happening again. You’re somebody, your experience matters.” I was a little discouraged, but I started researching it, as I had learned to do, as I relearned how to write and how to blog.
I found it was interesting to me, and I got a really good response to it. I started spamming every real writer and editor I knew from back in the day, and of course I got nothing but crickets. Three months later, the phone rings at like five in the afternoon, I think I was in the giant, and it was [Lewis Devorkin 00:09:35], who was the editor in chief of Forbes. I hadn’t talked to Lewis in 20 years, and we had a conversation which was consistent with that. It went something like, “No one covers AR but a bunch of gamers,” and you know within an hour, I was talking to the tech editor, and they hired me. It’s terrific to be a contributor there, because of course I get the benefit of the Forbes brand, which opens a lot of doors and everybody wants you to write about them.
I also learned how to ask people about them, so that’s kind of the irony of being on this show with you, you’re doing the asking and I’m doing all the talking. Because one thing I’ve learned is that you want to ask people about them, because they tell you things.
Lori Schwartz: Yes.
Charlie Fink: You know, you’re sitting there as a writer and you’re writing down what they say like it’s really important, and you don’t know at the time how important it is or it isn’t, you’re just thinking, “I’ve got to remember what this guy is saying,” and people are tremendously flattered by it. It’s been terrific and I’ve enjoyed my association with Forbes, although I won’t comment on the pay, other than to say other people who are bloggers and writers for big branded online publications know what I’m talking about, but I don’t do it because I view my writing on Forbes as a profit setter per se, but it was the source of everything that is in the book, which I don’t think I’m going to make a million dollars writing a book about VR and AR, but it is a profit setter for me, and I’m hoping people love it, and so far the response has been really gratifying.
I’ve made so many good relationships and so many great friends in the past 18 months, and you know as Brian said, it did matter. People even remembered me, so it’s been awesome.
Lori Schwartz: Charlie, the book that you’re referring to, because we have to take a break, but I want to jump right into the book when we get back, is Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, which is an AR-enabled guide to VR and AR. We’re going to dive really deeply into the book itself, but my favorite thing about the book is that you actually have a little Charlie as an AR-enabled guide to the book. You download an app, and it’s called the Fink Metaverse, right, Fink Metaverse app?
Charlie Fink: Yep.
Lori Schwartz: It’s pointing it at the book in different places in the book, and there you are, talking to us on the book, guiding us through the content, and it’s just an amazing way to introduce content about AR and VR, to actually use AR. I think it’s brilliant, and the little Charlie is also just adorable.
Charlie Fink: I love cartoons.
Lori Schwartz: Well, we’re going to come back in a moment and dig more into Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, and really get into some of the exciting things that are happening in augmented reality. We’re going to be back in a moment with Charlie Fink on the Tech Cat Show.
Lori Schwartz: Hi everybody, and we are back with the fabulous Charlie Fink, who is a contributor to Forbes really focusing on VR, AR, and new media. He just gave us a fabulous overview of how all the different things that Charlie’s been doing in entertainment and technology have sort of led him here, to really become in the last year and a half, an expert and a resource for VR and AR. I just got a couple weeks ago, Charlie’s book, called Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, which is an AR-enabled guide to VR and AR. What inspired you to write the book? Because first of all, I love the form factor of it, because it’s a little larger than your normal industry book about something technology-wise, but it’s also soft, you know it’s magazine-y like, and then each of the chapters is very digestible, it’s not overwhelming when you sit down to read a book sometimes, some of these industry book, and you’re like, “It’s like a textbook,” this is really more, you know like snackable, which I love about it. What inspired you?
Charlie Fink: Here’s the whole story of how the book came to be. One of the first people I became friends with as I started to write about AR and VR on Medium was Bob Fine, who’s a publisher, he was my publisher, and he runs an organization called VR Voice, and they’re a consultancy, and he puts on small conferences and symposiums here on the east coast. He’s doing, with Walter Greenleaf, who is a very notable scientist and VR guy in medical, he’s putting on a health conference at Harvard in two weeks, and so he was republishing some of my work, and we’re friends. Bob said, “You know, you’ve been so prolific, I was just looking at the number of Forbes columns you’ve written, let’s aggregate those and put them out in a book. You know, I published a book two years ago on social media, colleges are still buying it, I sell 400 a year at $40 each, it’s a business, let’s do it.”
He said, “Come on, I’ll pay for the printing, come on, let’s do it. I’m a publisher, I’ve done this.” I said, “Okay, I mean it …” He said, “Look, we’ll get other people to contribute chapters, so you don’t have to write the whole book. You just have to put your articles in context.” This sounds like a great idea to me, because I’ve never done it before, but everything he said is not true.
Lori Schwartz: Which part, how easy it would be?
Charlie Fink: It’s very difficult. Well, what you really do, I didn’t make a list of my articles. Instead, we did an outline of what would be a comprehensive book. It isn’t about games, I should say that right now, there are no game reviews in it, it’s very high level. For people who are gamers who are coming at it thinking that there will be insights about where the game business is going, I don’t really treat that. [Stephanie Lamas 00:16:56] talks about it in her chapter on monetization, so we’re looking at games essentially as part of monetization, and about whether or not it’s a killer app as a category.
You have to be looking at the book as a sort of 40,000-foot flyover of the United States that takes a few hours, and every chapter is, I think, a separate idea.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, that’s what I like about it, yeah.
Charlie Fink: Some chapters have multiple sections, for example, enterprise and AR has a lot of sections, because frankly, that’s what’s happening. That’s where the action is, that’s where all the great science is being tested. We’re so far away from having those kind of tools as consumers, but this is where it starts, this is where personal computers start, this is where cell phones start. It’s great to be in at the beginning and to see it happening, and the developments are so rapid, that’s why it says, I think on the third page of the book, there’s a two-page spread that says, “Warning: This book is out of date.”
Lori Schwartz: Right right right right, that’s so clever.
Charlie Fink: We are going to put updates on the Think Metaverse website, but probably honestly that’ll happen if we don’t have a second edition coming next year, and just depends on, I mean the current picture is really optimistic, so maybe I won’t put up updates, maybe there’ll just be a second edition.
Lori Schwartz: Right, it feels like it’s a living book. Okay, so you’re writing about VR and AR and it’s a collection of articles and other experts, and so it’s really easy to read and fun to read. What made you build your little AR-enabled guide?
Charlie Fink: Right, let’s talk about that, okay because-
Lori Schwartz: Because he’s so cute.
Charlie Fink: Okay, everything was supposed to be very inexpensive, and I wanted to have an appendix in the back that featured a lithograph of the artist, [Zenka 00:19:05]. Zenka has made a series of lithographs and has built an app, and you hold the app over the lithograph and Viewphoria used the lithograph as a marker, and places virtual objects on top of it.
Lori Schwartz: Euphoria is an app right now or an API, in a way?
Charlie Fink: It’s a computer vision app.
Lori Schwartz: Okay, gotcha.
Charlie Fink: That is built into many many apps, and if you’re an artist like Zenka, it’s free, it was free for me, so you know she’s got the Viewphoria watermark on it. She had somebody help her build this app, and it wasn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. I mean, doing the animation and having the idea, no one else could do, but the rest of it, she found a developer to help her, so that was the appendix in the back of the book. Then I sat down with Zenka and we talked, and we talked and we talked and we talked, and we really had a mind meld, and she gave me more ideas about this book in two hours than I had had in six months. One of the ideas that she had was, because I was going to put markers in there for videos and pictures, so I was thinking I was going to do one of those boring business books, and there would just be a few markers in there and no pictures, and we’d do it on cheap paper and it would be like a Kindle book.
It would be like [Skoble and Israel’s 00:20:32] book, Fourth Transformation, that book was not expensive to publish, the paper book, was very inexpensive, it’s not expensive paper. You see it right there, you see the muse, they’re cheap, they did not spend a lot of money on printing because I think they expected most people were going to be reading it on the Kindle, which I think was a good assumption, and they probably sold a lot of books that way. I hope they did, it’s a terrific book by the way, which really inspired me in many ways, because one of the first things I had to ask myself is, “Can I write a book that even could be on a shelf with theirs?”, because I kind of surprised myself that way.
Lori Schwartz: Right, that inspired you.
Charlie Fink: It did, I mean it made me think it could be done in a way that was useful and would help me personally. One of the things I learned at Disney making animated movies is that you have to make things for yourself. The minute somebody said, “Oh, kids will love this,” that is the kiss of death. The things we made, how do you make Beauty and the Beast? You make it for you.
Lori Schwartz: Right, so you made the little Charlie for you because, you know you thought it would be interesting or fun?
Charlie Fink: I digress, so it was Zenka’s idea, have the Charlie pop up. There was going to be the Zenka animation in the back of the book, and the Charlie was going to pop up, and Zenka found a company, Living Pop-Ups, which is run by Jamie Dixon and Cheryl Bear, and Cheryl is well-known as a woman in new media, so I’d be surprised if you hadn’t run into her. They were doing the cover, and it was great, and in the middle of it in the background, they’re running their animation and AR development company, and they had a client that dropped out of a big deal. They came back and said, “Why don’t we do it all over the book? Because once we built the models, it won’t be that hard. Let’s figure out some scripts and put it all over the book.” There are 23 different animations that they made that are in the book.
Lori Schwartz: Wow.
Charlie Fink: Which is just mind-blowing, so they made a huge investment in this book, but they had the capacity because of the client that canceled, and I’m sure they wouldn’t like me to say who that client was, but it was a big client that had a lot of capacity all at once, at exactly the right moment. Once we had the animation, then you go back to the book design, you have to work backwards now. These things happened very opportunistically 90 days before we released the book, you know and at the same time all of this is happening, I’m corralling my contributors, I’m trying, you know I wrote 65% of the book myself, so that turned out to be harder than I thought.
It’s not as disposable as online writing, you have to think about it a little differently. People say, “Well, how do you write a book?” You sit down for 12 weeks and you don’t get up, you literally write all day, and you stop for meals for like 15 minutes, and then you fall asleep, and you wake up six hours later and you start writing, and maybe you change your clothes and take a shower, and you do that for 12 weeks, and that’s how you write a book.
Lori Schwartz: It is comforting to know that you did shower, but let me ask you this, because one of my favorite chapters in the book is when you talk about the AR cloud, which I’ve never heard before. Can you just define that really quickly for us?
Charlie Fink: Sure. Well, do you want me to start my 10-minute thing?
Lori Schwartz: Well, we’re going to take a break in like four minutes, so just give us a [crosstalk 00:24:18]-
Charlie Fink: Okay, so let me just say what the 10-minute thing is.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, tease us.
Charlie Fink: The book is painted with an invisible layer of data, if you will, and increasingly more and more objects in our world are. Toys are painted with data, and kids seem to know the ones that are, you know that Hot Wheels now has got an AR layer, as does Lego and new offerings from Mattel, and you often see these things start to percolate as toys a little bit. There were portable, cheap, disposable games in the 70s, they were the beginning of handheld computers and handheld computing being really really cheap, so this is the beginning of things being painted with data, and soon buildings are going to be painted with data, and cars are going to be painted with data, but how will we know?
How will we know which objects are painted with data, and how will we look at them? That is really part of the question, and then the AR cloud is where all that data would reside. Part of it will reside of course on the app itself, but a lot of the data is going to have to be accessed in real time.
Lori Schwartz: Right, so basically the book and all these things are painted with data, and then using, say, an AR app triggers that data, which gets pulled from this cloud.
Charlie Fink: Yes.
Lori Schwartz: It’s fascinating, so then really when I’m holding the book, it’s not just the book, but it’s all this other information that we’re going to be able to trigger.
Charlie Fink: Yes.
Lori Schwartz: You know, which is fascinating, because then it almost seems like, you know just calling it a book is an insult, because it’s so much more.
Charlie Fink: Well, it gives you a reason to own a paper book, doesn’t it?
Lori Schwartz: Yeah. Can you server side update it, so that you could change what the different triggers are, like you have the triggers already [crosstalk 00:26:13]-
Charlie Fink: Yeah, of course.
Lori Schwartz: You can bring up different data, so you can [crosstalk 00:26:17]-
Charlie Fink: Those triggers are just sort of, if you will, a door that opens in Unity.
Lori Schwartz: Right, so and Unity is the software that you built this app in, it’s a very popular software right now for building VR/AR and different gaming engines.
Charlie Fink: Yes, and Unity is free to makers.
Lori Schwartz: Free to makers, right.
Charlie Fink: [crosstalk 00:26:38] products.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, it’s probably like the number one tool being used right now in this space, but the idea that everything around us, because you’re right, we have a ton of games right now with my eight-year-old that are painted with data, and I didn’t even think about it. We have Ozmo, which is an iPad app, but it has a little mirror that you put on the camera of the iPad, and then it’s able to interact with different pieces and different game pieces that allow the app to have some AR to it, and then create a sort of physical/digital experience. All right, we have to take a break now.
When we come back, we’re going to dig deeper into this concept of the AR cloud with the fabulous Charlie Fink, a contributor at Forbes, who just published this painted with data book, Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, and it’s just a fantastic overview of what’s happening in VR and AR. We’ll be back in a moment on the Tech Cat Show.
Lori Schwartz: Hi everybody, and we’re back. We’ve been talking to Charlie Fink, a Forbes contributor who is really an expert, even though he doesn’t realize it, on VR/AR and new media, having just published a great book on AR and VR. We were talking about this idea of the AR cloud, and how objects, games, books now are painted with data, and you can pull it from the cloud. I know you had a lot more to share about that, which is fascinating.
Charlie Fink: Yes. Simple things like books and complicated things like cars and buildings will be painted with data. That data, especially in the case of something like a building, will reside someplace that everyone can access, let’s say it’s the building’s directory. You want to hold your visual browser up to the building, have it recognize the building either visually using data from something like Google Maps, or because of hyper-location, it would geographically place the building there, and you would access that data.
There are a couple questions that come from that. You’re not going to download an app for every object you see, that’s silly, but you are going to want to know what things in the world are painted with data, and after awhile, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea. There’s a crude version of it that amazon.com does, where you can hold your phone over let’s say a picture of a refrigerator, and the Amazon price comes up.
Lori Schwartz: Right, or it guesses what object you want, and it’s not always right, that’s what I find amusing.
Charlie Fink: [crosstalk 00:30:37] go down the [blipper 00:30:39], because it’s not easy. It sometimes is amazing, and oftentimes hilariously wrong.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, exactly.
Charlie Fink: It’s not quite as good as Siri, but it’s a fabulous idea and it’s an illustration of a universal visual browser.
Lori Schwartz: Universal visual browser, and that’s what you mean, anything you can pick up and look at through your phone, and it’ll trigger something?
Charlie Fink: Yes, and of course you can do that now, because for example, the QR reader that SnapChat uses is already built into everybody’s phone, so you don’t have to open a QR reader app the way you did in the olden days, that’s been an update in the iPhone for quite awhile, and it’s been, as you know, very popular on SnapChat, they create those QR codes for SnapChat AR on the fly.
Lori Schwartz: Right right right.
Charlie Fink: Once the world is painted with data like that, we’ll need a universal browser, but then a number of things flow from that. Let’s start with the cloud. Who owns the cloud? Who provides the cloud, who pays for it? How is my data going to get painted on my building, if I desire that? I’ve got a restaurant on the first floor, there’s so many people with visual browsers today, I want to wave my hand at them. These are all the things that are going to follow, and there may be way too many objects waving at you. If you have a truly good universal visual browser, you’re going to want to stop, like, “Please do not have packaged goods wave at me.”
Lori Schwartz: Unless it’s something yummy, like chocolate or something.
Charlie Fink: Yeah, exactly, but that would be, I think probably more valuable than Google.
Lori Schwartz: Right, right.
Charlie Fink: When people say, “Can Google be beaten?”, yes, Google can be beaten, maybe by Google, but maybe by a startup we’ve never heard of.
Lori Schwartz: Who’s going to manage and build and monetize this AR cloud?
Charlie Fink: Yes.
Lori Schwartz: Wow, that’s so cool. Yeah, go ahead.
Charlie Fink: Go ahead, no, sorry.
Lori Schwartz: I was just going to mention, you know when we were offline, you were mentioning Magic Leap, and I know Magic Leap has been chatted about and blogged about for so long, and now it’s finally launching, is that true?
Charlie Fink: No.
Lori Schwartz: Because there were some articles about them teaming with the National Football League and things like that.
Charlie Fink: You know what I think?
Lori Schwartz: Tell me, tell us. Tell us, Charlie.
Charlie Fink: [crosstalk 00:33:19], but I think the NBA paid them.
Lori Schwartz: Paid them to [crosstalk 00:33:24] … Okay, so you don’t think any of it’s true?
Charlie Fink: No, I think it’s aspirationally true.
Lori Schwartz: Right, but they’re not going to launch in [crosstalk 00:33:34]-
Charlie Fink: There is a sports killer app … Well, let’s take a step back and say, “What’s Magic Leap?” Because they’re trying to build from the ground up an ecosystem, including a visual browser, that does wearable contextual computing. They have their own operating system, and the glasses do amazing things. For example, they map the room, and it’s mapped permanently into the cloud that Magic Leap runs off of, so that the next person who comes into the room, if you left a virtual object there, they can see it.
Lori Schwartz: That’s cool.
Charlie Fink: For example, you could be watching a basketball game, I mean this would be amazingly cool, or a baseball game, I love baseball, I can have, the players on the field could be identified with their stats and probabilities in real time, I could have a sportscaster, I could be listening to the TV broadcast at the same time, or MLB could be feeding me other games at the same time. I can see that, I can see the value of that, if you had the glasses already, why not? There’s an NBA app and you’re going to the game, that’s a great, great app, so I can see that use case, but none of it has been built yet.
Magic Leap has been seen by a few people, and kudos to them, everyone is amazed. I mean, the first time you see wearable contextual computing with the real visual browser, that is going to be mind-blowing, I can’t wait, because the kind of AR I’m seeing today, which is kind of interesting, is iWatch on your face.
Lori Schwartz: Right right right right.
Charlie Fink: Some of it is really cool. It remains to be seen if people will buy it, I hope they buy it. If they bought it, that would be cool. I do think that they allow you to watch video, and I do think consuming video is going to be one of the killer apps of AR head-mounted displays.
Lori Schwartz: Right right right right. Is it similar to the experience of Holo-Lens, where you put it on your face, and then there are objects interacting with you, in front of you, or whatever?
Charlie Fink: Again, I’m going to do something that I hate, which is I’m reporting on reporting, here’s what I read.
Lori Schwartz: What did you read?
Charlie Fink: I read, Rolling Stone article, they let one reporter come down and try it, so he wrote about it. He’s not a tech writer, I don’t think, but he wrote a good article, and he said it was about the size of a credit card if you held it out into your field of view. Like the Holo-Lens, it’s going to require some awareness on behalf of the user to keep that field in view.
Lori Schwartz: Right right right, so there’s an area that is where all the activity is going to happen.
Charlie Fink: Yes.
Lori Schwartz: In that frame.
Charlie Fink: Moreover, let’s be clear, Magic Leap has not shipped a developer edition, not a single one, so no one is developing the NBA experience because no one has a developer edition. I would be shocked if Magic Leap was building the ultimate NBA AR experience for the developers who are going to get these things in the next 12 months.
Lori Schwartz: That’s really ultimately where this is going to grow too, right, is that Apple and Google released their AR kits, so that developers could build off of it, that’s what’s going to sort of light this all up?
Charlie Fink: Well, no, not really, and I think that was everybody’s shocking disappointment, was that what AR kit and AR core do is surface detection. They allow you to place and they allow you to in a really simple way to place a 3D object on that surface.
Lori Schwartz: Right right right.
Charlie Fink: It’s opened up all sorts of creative possibilities, but it’s not terribly smart. It can’t leave an object there for you, we can’t do it together at the same time, you know there are barriers. It’s not, a handheld computer or what we call a smartphone does not have spatial awareness nor access to a cloud that would allow it to be spatially aware or smarter as a device. Those things are all going to happen, you would need those things in addition to the Magic Leap hardware to make the kind of textural computing they’re talking about possible. It’ll happen, but unless they develop just an amazing amount of technology and capabilities that are beyond my realistic ability to estimate realistically, I think that they’re a lot further away, and that an announcement about a particular app that they’re making is so ridiculously out of context and premature that the only possible reason for it could be publicity and pumping the stock price.
Lori Schwartz: This is why we need to talk to you, so we get sort of ground set on what’s really going on here. Now, one of the chapters in your book, and also I hear about this all the time at any show about VR or AR, but it’s China and how fast China is growing in this space, especially with location-based entities, or places where the kids can go and watch VR, and is AR in there too, I don’t even know. Why is China the leader here?
Charlie Fink: Well, there are a few things. First, for LBVR, you need a dense population and lots of new foot traffic, and even small cities in China have that. The other reason is that China has been emphasizing science and technology education, and in fact last year, graduated four times as many science and technology graduates as the United States. Moreover, the Chinese government, because it’s not a capitalist country really, the Chinese government is the capitalist. They’ve fostered a lot of innovation, so they are going from people who are manufacturers to people who are consumers and people who are designers, and some very very big companies have arisen with the support of the government in China, including Alibaba and [Bidoo 00:40:19].
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, and they’re huge.
Charlie Fink: They’re huge, and I do write about that in the book, because I don’t think people realize how large these companies are. These companies are as large as American corporations, and in the past, that was a very rare thing.
Lori Schwartz: Is AR going to be, or is it already as big in China as VR has been?
Charlie Fink: Let me go back to LBVR in China.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, yeah.
Charlie Fink: You know, when we embrace technology, we do it because it takes what we’re already doing and makes it better, faster, and cheaper. Location-based entertainment, and just arcades … By the way, arcades in the east have been VR-cades for decades. People like Sega and Bandai and Namco have been carrying the torch for LBVR for 20 years, since Virtual World was shut down. Those are not games where you wear a helmet, but they meet every other definition of VR. Most of them are vehicle-based simulations, but they are VR by almost any definition. They put you in special themed rooms, they do everything they can with the money and the technology they can to create a fully immersive illusion, so does Disney Land, for that matter.
[crosstalk 00:41:40] have been there for a long time, so we in the United States are like, “Oh my God, now it’s VR,” but really they’re just moving to the cheaper, better platform. Yes, there has been crazy growth in VR, but there has been very slow growth in the US, it’s accelerating in the west now, but it’s really been happening there. They have more out of home entertainment options there, you know people, it’s a little bit like New York, you know if you meet your friends for dinner, it’s going to be at a restaurant, not in your apartment.
Lori Schwartz: Right, it’s going to be at a place. All right, well we have to take one more break.
Charlie Fink: [crosstalk 00:42:19] I would have to clean up my office.
Lori Schwartz: We have to take one more break, and we’ll be coming back with Charlie Fink, who has been dropping insights on AR and VR, and also a lot of the chatter in the news, and sort of straightening out some falsehoods that are being discussed online. We’re going to be back in a moment with Charlie Fink, the author of Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, an AR-enabled guide to VR and AR.
Lori Schwartz: Hi everybody, and we’re back with Charlie Fink, who has been an executive in entertainment and technology for many years, and is now covering VR/AR and new media for Forbes. We were talking about his book, Charlie Fink’s Metaverse. Charlie, what are some of the things that you learned from doing the book, some of the bigger conclusions?
Charlie Fink: Well, one of the things I learned from the book is that somebody my age should get up every hour and move around and stretch, so that’s the first thing. The second thing is, I did, now that you bring it up, I worked very hard on the conclusion and actually I wrote it twice.
Lori Schwartz: Okay, interesting.
Charlie Fink: Because, you know what is the conclusion to this book but for me and some marker on a journey? I’ve been on this journey of 35 years of experience as a producer and as an executive and an entrepreneur in new media, specifically including VR. At the same time, I’ve just sort of graduated from graduate school and 18 months of research and interviews and thinking and talking to people, and I put it all together, all this thinking, in a book. What does it all mean? It took a long time to put that correctly. The first time I wrote it, I came away with something very dark and pessimistic, because I think that’s the easy way out.
The easy way out is to say, “You know, in 50 years, it’s going to be Ready Player One, and everything will have gone to shit.” If you spend too much time on social media, and if you use social media in the wrong way, which is the way I think most people use it, you know it’s hard to put things in perspective. I could talk more about that, but I do want to get specific to the book. When you think about, you know there are a lot of thinkers who have, like Patty Maes, she’s a TED speaker and an MIT professor and just a brilliant, inspiring person, great to look her up on YouTube, Patty Maes, M-A-E-S, and her thesis is, “Yes, things are bad, and people spend way too much time on their phones and looking down at the ground and not interacting with reality, but they’re going to get a lot better. We are going to be better learners.” Imagine how augmented reality could make you a better learner of a foreign language.
Lori Schwartz: I would love that.
Charlie Fink: Right? I mean, it would label everything you see, it would translate in real time, you could walk around watching TV in another language, and just sort of soaking it in, I think it would revolutionize language learning, but probably many other things in education as well. Of course it’s going to be mobile, and of course it’s going to be wireless, and of course it’s going to be connected in some way, directly or indirectly, with the little computer we’re all carrying around, our Swiss army knife that takes pictures and sends messages and surfs the internet. I came at it from Patty’s point of view a little bit and said, “Yes, if we’re not careful, we will vaporize eight million jobs and have no ready replacements. If we are careful, we’ll be better men, we’ll be better learners, we’ll be better spouses.” Because right now, we’ve gone in the other direction, right now we are very available and not present at all.
Lori Schwartz: You mean though, so this data layer will let us be better humans?
Charlie Fink: Well sure, because the thesis of the book is that augmented reality is like a club, and it makes men better, it’s augmenting us, and reality is a condition of augmented reality.
Lori Schwartz: Oh my God, that’s kind of a mind blow.
Charlie Fink: Right, but that is true. Then if you look at virtual reality, virtual reality is coming from a different place. Virtual reality is cave paintings, virtual reality is Plato’s cane, virtual reality is the Basilica in Rome, virtual reality is dark rise, it’s Halloween, it’s spiritual. Its antecedent is movies and TV shows and theaters and Broadway theaters, and this is our desire to be somebody else and be someplace else. The holy grail of immersion is a photorealistic world that isn’t real, where we have total agency and freedom, and none of the consequences of you being human and corporeal. These things are possible, along with the apocalypse that accompanies them and all science really, and I do talk about Frankenstein and Facebook, because we thought our ability to personalize Facebook was the best thing about it, and willingly gave away our privacy to get it.
Little did we consider the opposite side of the coin and what the cost of that would be. Now we see that data and that information about us, which Facebook was selling, can be used by bad actors with sufficient financial backing to challenge American democracy, which is a very big thing to potentially lose. Along with these amazing gifts, we have tremendous risks, and one of the reasons that I think China is doing well is because they have fewer risks. Long range planning in the United States is done by localities and corporations, it’s not really done on the meta level the way it is in China. Unlike the parliamentary system, it is much more resistant to change. Now traditionally, that’s kept the country from doing stupid things, but cable television and other things have changed that.
Lori Schwartz: God, you just blew my mind multiple times, but you make it sound like so-
Charlie Fink: All that’s in the book, people just have to go to amazon.com, Think Metaverse, and buy the book. It is a paper book worth owning.
Lori Schwartz: I really am enjoying it, and I love picking it up, and it’s just got such a great form factor, and then you can download Fink’s Metaverse, which is the app to bring up the fabulous AR-enabled guide who talks to you, and is a really pretty good likeness I think, right?
Charlie Fink: They had their fun with me, I’m easy to caricature.
Lori Schwartz: Yeah, it’s really really interesting, because when you talk about painting with data, you know this book is a living embodiment of that. Charlie, where can people read what you’re writing and what you’re posting, where’s the best way to follow you?
Charlie Fink: Well, if you follow me on Twitter @charliefink, I am a relentless self promoter, and you will see not only my amusing, snarky ongoing commentary, but also useful links of my own work. I’m also on Medium you can find me on Virtual Reality Pop, I am on LinkedIn /charliefink, happy to connect with people on LinkedIn, which I think is a terrific platform. I would say this about Twitter: I have cut out of Twitter, my feed is the VR/AR feed, I’ve cut everything out. I’ve cut my relatives out, I’ve cut out regular news, I’ve cut out friends who post too much about politics, and I am much happier as a person. I check Facebook once a day, I don’t scroll through it and build outrage, I look at it once a day and see if anybody had tagged me or if my kids had put up pictures, that’s it.
Lori Schwartz: Right, so you’ve cleaned up your world, is what you’re saying.
Charlie Fink: I’m a lot happier, but LinkedIn and Twitter, and I’m not a Twitter hater, I actually am a Twitter lover, I think Twitter has been terribly misused. People can have whatever Twitter they have and whatever Twitter they complain about they created.
Lori Schwartz: Charlie, you are speaking a lot and taking the book with you, so you can catch Charlie at a variety of different conferences and trade shows all over the country.
Charlie Fink: Yes, I’ll be at South by Southwest.
Lori Schwartz: You’ll be there.
Charlie Fink: Yep, VRLA.
Lori Schwartz: Great.
Charlie Fink: VR Toronto and AWE, of course, which is the big one-
Lori Schwartz: That’s a good one, yeah, where we met, where we’ll have our anniversary. All right, well we have to sign off. We’ve been talking to Charlie Fink, who’s the author of Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, an AR-enabled guide to VR and AR, and one of the big experts now on VR and AR, publishing through Forbes, and as you just heard, other social media avenues. Charlie, it’s been such a great pleasure kicking off our month-long podcasting on AR, thank you so much, Mr. Charlie Fink.
Charlie Fink: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening to the Tech Cat Show, please join Lori H. Schwartz again for another great program next Wednesday at four p.m. eastern time, one p.m. Pacific time on the Voice America Business Channel, and syndicated to the Voice America Women’s Channel.