Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is working on creating a real-life metaverse. If everything goes as planned, the future would see everyone interacting through a mixed-reality internet instead of as nature intended. To Niantic Founder John Hanke, this is a nightmare come true.
Niantic is beloved for games like Pokemon Go, titles designed to connect people using a mix of analogue and digital. Facebook's proposed metaverse is on the opposite side of that coin, pushing everything natural through the lens of computers. For Hanke, this is the dystopian nightmare fiction warns about.
The metaverse is not a goal
In a blog post on the Niantic website, Hanke says fans should count him out on engaging with the future “metaverse”. Hanke explains the works of Neil Stephenson and William Gibson, Cyberpunk tales crafted to be “cautionary tales”. While stories like Ready Player One somehow cemented the idea that a virtual reality where everyone lives, breathes and literally wear the skins of corporate-owned IPs is cool and exciting, it's not.
“A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming. But in fact these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong.... As a society, we can hope that the world doesn’t devolve into the kind of place that drives sci-fi heroes to escape into a virtual one — or we can work to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Hanke explains the purpose of technology is to enhance nature. “Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not to replace them," he says. Hanke doesn't believe in abandoning technology, but he says he shouldn't ruin the human experience.
How Niantic wants to make interaction better
As the creator of an Augmented Reality gaming company, Hanke is clear about wanting to use technology to improve human interaction. However, it's obvious that the Niantic Founder believes in the opposite approach of Zuckerberg's metaverse.
Hanke asks questions about how technology fuels us to engage with the outside. He asks;
“Could it nudge us get us off the couch and out for an evening stroll or a Saturday in the park? [Or] draw us into public space and into contact with neighbors we might never have met? Could it give us a reason to call a friend, make plans with our families, or even discover brand new friends? Collectively, could it help us discover the magic, history, and beauty hiding in plain sight?"
Hanke wants to evolve Niantic’s current augmented reality technology for the future without ruining the real reality. Powered by the company's Lightship platform, the Niantic Founder has some intriguing plans to improve.
Pokemon Go Reality Channels
In the blog post, Hanke describes an overhauled, futuristic version of Pokemon Go. The post explains that every Niantic AR game would use the same map. However, it's constantly updating to know exact buildings and when they’re added or removed. Additionally, anyone who makes a change to the digital world would make it change for everyone.
These worlds exist in a shared state, allowing “a future of worlds that can be overlaid on the real world.” Hanke pitches a pair of augmented reality glasses that would allow the user to see the world of Pokémon in the real world.
“Think of Pokémon GO, upgraded for smart glasses where the Pokémon wander through your local park, seeming to actually inhabit the world... Buildings might take on the pastel hues of the Pokémon universe; a 10-story Pokémon GO Gym might rise above your local shopping center. If you encounter another player on the street, they might even appear transformed into the guise of their in-game persona."
Hanke’s pitch isn't quite metaverse level in terms of impressive technology, but it's still impressive and immersive. Furthermore, it doesn't detach users from nature in a way that makes future generations dream of escape.
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