Looking for the iPhone moment of AI in Spatial Computing

I’m finally back to writing articles after a long time. And since it’s Sunday and it’s a bright day outside of the window, I want to restart writing articles with something bright and funny… a satirical post about all the hype around technology that I’ve seen these months. I hope you will move some muscles around your lips while reading it…

The iPhone moment

The only true iPhone moment

In my 9+ years in XR, I’ve heard countless times that something that was happening was the “iPhone moment of XR”. The Oculus Go was an iPhone moment for XR, then the Quest was the iPhone moment, then the Quest 2, now the Quest 3. In the middle of this, of course, the Apple Vision Pro was also an iPhone moment, without forgetting Half-Life: Alyx in the mix. We had 749 iPhone moments of XR, more than the actual iPhone devices launched, and the result is that VR is still a kinda niche technology. I’m starting to wonder if defining something as “The iPhone moment of XR” is actually just going to bring bad luck to whatever is defined that way. The more the iPhone moments, the more I read articles saying that VR is dead. So please, let’s all stop having iPhone moments, I think they are the n.1 reason why VR is not getting into the mainstream.

iphone moment of xr
Something like that

We tend to compare everything with Apple, and everything is either an “iPhone moment” or an “App Store moment”. And this does not happen only in XR: recently OpenAI announced something like a store of GPTs, and this was immediately compared with the launch of the App Store. Sam Altman has been fired by his own board, and everyone said that he was living the same situation as Steve Jobs (actually, not, but that’s another story for another day). So it’s not only our fetish, but it happens with everything in tech. I imagine one day kneeling in front of a woman and saying “Do you want to be my wife?” with her answering “Oh my God, this is the iPhone moment of our relationship!” (I do not want to know what is the App Store moment of our relationship, and at this point, I’m too afraid to ask)

I wonder what tech companies did before the iPhone… what the hell did they compare their products with to define their success? Probably this is the reason why VR never succeded before… it couldn’t have its iPhone moment because there was no iPhone yet. Palmer Luckey’s intuition in 2012 was realizing that with the launch of the iPhone, finally VR could have its iPhone moment (many of them, actually) and that’s how the Oculus Rift was born.

I’m very curious… I invite all the tech people with more experience than me to tell me what tech devices were compared with before the launch of the iPhone… with a bread toaster? Color TV? Terminator? An automatic potato crusher? All of them? “Our new IBM computer has got to the Potato Crusher Terminator 5000 moment!”. I really can’t imagine any more a tech environment without iPhone moments… I start to feel anxious when there is not a new iPhone moment in XR every 6 months, I feel like something is off.

I asked the AI what could be a Potato Crusher Terminator 5000… I was not disappointed

The metaverse is dead, long live AI

The metaverse had its iPhone moment when Zuck renamed Facebook into Meta. Or better, instead of the iPhone moment of the metaverse, it was the iPhone moment of the bullshit about the metaverse and of the Monkey JPEGs sold at millions of dollars. Now Monkey NFTs are having their “Betamax moment” (RIP)… and I guess no one is crying for them.

A year and a half ago, everything was about the metaverse. Every company rushed to implement “metaverse” somehow or to try to rebrand whatever it was doing into “metaverse”, because anyway, no one knew what the metaverse was, so everything could have been a “metaverse”. If you sold ham, you could have said that your ham was in the metaverse and immediately got the interest of the (non-vegan) investors. It didn’t care what it meant, it was just important to say that you were doing metaverse.

An old meme. It was fun in 2021, but now no one would get it, I guess… But hey, if people do not get it, they can still ask ChatGPT to explain it.

One day last year, I was speaking with a guy about my work in VR and he told me “No, don’t say VR, VR sounds like an old geeky dead technology. You have to say ‘metaverse’, metaverse is cool“. And I was like “wait, actually… they are two different things… VR is the technical name for…” and he “no, but who cares, people want to hear the word of the moment… you do metaverse, don’t say VR”. So, saying the technical name for what I was actually doing was not cool enough, people wanted just to hear that I was “a metaverse guy doing metaverses in the metaverse using metaverse tools”. But then, when I started to say that I was doing metaverses of the metaverse, things changed, and the same guy told me that “no, the metaverse is dead, if you mention it, people think you are not cool, you are just using an old tech“. I was like “what the fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, you said six months ago I should have said metaverse for everything and now I already can’t use it anymore!”. But he said, “yes, but then people did not understand what the metaverse was and it failed. Now there is AI, ChatGPT, you should mention something about it, and just remove the word metaverse because it is old”. “I mean, it was old even before, it was invented in the 90s! Can I switch to say VR again?”. “No, that’s prehistory for losers. Say something about AI”. So now I’m confused about what to say about my work… The reality is that I’m a VR developer, working on a metaverse platform for concerts… but these are all terrible words: VR is dead, the metaverse is dead, “developer” is too geeky, “platform” is too tech. I can only say “concerts” I guess. “I do concerts”, which seems that I am part of a rock band or something…which is actually cool, but not exactly what I do.

My goal for the next year. At least Rock’n’Roll has always been cool all over the years…

Now the big hype is for AI, so AI should be mentioned everywhere. If you just do XR/metaverse, you are doing the old dead thing, so investors look at you with pity faces, and the only deal they offer is this one:

the best i can do
$5 for 80% of the company

or if they are generous, this one:

At least we, the founders, can buy a pizza each

Have you seen Zuck during the launch of Quest 3? The Meta Connect was all about AI, so investors were happy. The first minutes of the keynote could be summarized with “Ok, losers, here you are the Quest 3, our latest device of a dead technology. But now let’s stay 1 hour speaking of our AI of Snoop Dogg that can be your master at Dungeons&Dragons!”. AI is now the key of everything, all companies just mention AI shit and every software has an AI button I almost never use.

It’s funny also to see which products they launch to integrate AI, because sometimes they are a bit weird. In the same event, Zuck said that one of the goals of Meta AI is that people can create their own AI that speaks like them so that, for instance, the followers of an important person can speak with the AI instead of speaking with the VIP person and have the same experience. The funny thing is that also the followers can create an AI agent that speaks like them. So in the future, thanks to Meta AIs, the AI of the follower can speak with the AI of the VIP while both these people will totally ignore each other. (I also wonder what the two AIs will speak together about… taking control of Skynet?). I also imagine how this can impact my life: the moment I will ask my girl “Do you want to marry me?”, she will probably answer “As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to evaluate this proposal…” (damn, she is using AI also to answer this question… but on my side, was it me or was it my AI counterpart making the proposal?)

Microsoft just had its Ignite event and it put AI assistants (Copilots) everywhere: in Visual Studio, in Windows, in Edge, in Dynamics 365, in Office 365… it’s Clippy coming again, stronger and more powerful than ever. And distributed everywhere, so you can’t get rid of Clippy… it will be part of your life, and with distributed AR glasses, the new version of Clippy will be always with you. I just hope it won’t remember all the times we closed it in the old Office by saying “shut the f up, Clippy!”, or we will all suffer its revenge…

clippy is back ai assistant microsoft
No one will be able to shut its mouth anymore

Welcome Spatial Computing

Actually, there is a term you can now use when you say you do XR: it is “Spatial Computing”. Spatial Computing is how Apple defined what you can do with the Apple Vision Pro, and since Apple said that term, that term has immediately become cool. Many people are writing articles defining what is Spatial Computing and what are the differences between XR, metaverse, and Spatial Computing. I will spare you the read, and tell you that for the average tech reader, this is the difference between the three terms:

James Franco GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
More or less, this is the situation

So now at least I can say that I do “Concerts with Spatial Computing” which sounds like I’m doing concerts in outer space, like playing the guitar for the Martians (of course using AI, because also the Martians listen to your music only if there is AI involved, otherwise you are a loser).

So the metaverse is dead, but Spatial Computing is the new trend. This basically makes no sense, and this leads me to the next point.

Can we plan ahead for the buzzwords?

I started to see a pattern:

  • Every year there is hype around a new technology, like NFT, metaverse, AI which we subsequently trash away 1-2 years later
  • Talking about XR specifically, every few years we invent a new word to define the same thing as before, but this time this new word is cool while the previous ones are for losers.

This is very tiresome for all the fluff sellers. I mean, every year waiting for the new buzzword to change the Linkedin description from “NFT expert” to “Chief Metaverse Officer” to “AI Prompt Engineer” is an effort. It’s a work on its own. And it is very tiresome also for me because I have to change my description, too: before I could say that I was an “XR developer and entrepreneur” while now I have to say that I do “AI-powered spatial computing” otherwise the person in front of me falls asleep. Being reactive to the trendy words of the moment is difficult.

If we could now plan ahead of time what are the next buzzwords, that would be great. It’s much easier than discovering when it is too late and you are already considered “old”. If I knew what is the next trend, I could prepare in advance all the Linkedin posts and descriptions: it would be very handy. I can back go to my friend in 6 months and say “Oh, do you still use the word ‘spatial computing’ like the boomers? Now the new trend is ‘spatialfly imagination’ (or whatever will be the new term)” and then go away like the movie heroes that walk away from explosions without looking back.

gartner hype cycle 2023
We can take inspiration from this graph for the next terms to use… (Image by Gartner)

It’s easy, we have just to agree on what to hype after AI, as soon as people discover that GPTs still hallucinate a lot and are not AGI. I’m looking at the Gartner hype cycle for emerging technologies and I see some fancy names that could sound cool in my LinkedIn description, like “Augmented FinOps” or “Neuro-Symbolic AI”. I don’t know what they mean, but “Neuro-Symbolic AI expert” feels cool… and anyway no one knows the term he uses in his own LinkedIn description. Others totally suck, like “Cloud Development Environments”: I mean, this is too long for a killer Linkedin description. So let’s make a big online survey, a classic Google Form, and let’s agree on what to hype next so that we can pretend to be experts in time. A 5-to-10-year planning should be enough (as for Vitillo’s Law Of Technology).

We should do that also for XR: after Spatial Computing… what could we use? Imaginative Reality? Mixed Worlds? Cyberspace? Spatialfly Imagination? Googly Boobly? I need to know, we all need to know. Let’s find an agreement, so I can prepare ahead of time all my future posts: I can already envision “Goodbye metaverse, welcome Spatialfly imagination” getting at least 10000 likes.

spatialfly immagination
“Spatialfly Imagination” according to Dall-E. It seems a cool reality to be in. For sure it is LGBT-friendly…

Startups could do the same: I mean, it has been hard for them before implementing NFTs, then switching to metaverse, and now to AI… I do not understand anymore what companies do because every year they change their definition to make investors happy. If we have a forward planning, companies can already tell us how they will distort their product over time in the future to look cool, so we are prepared for them.

If we do this planning, we can finally have our iPhone moment for the buzzwords and bring fluff to the next level.

Or alternatively, we can stop with this nonsense of hyping technologies and finally start evaluating tech for the actual value it brings in the current moment. But nah, this sounds too boring… it’s better to treat tech like fashion: you spend a lot of money to buy the piece of clothing that is the trend of the moment, then the year later you have to change it because it is already old, and five years later you look at your pictures and you ask yourself “how the hell could I wear such a horrible thing?”

(Header image is a modification of an image by Apple)

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