Transcript – Part One: Artificial Intelligence & The Metaverse with Jon Radoff
Magen Mintchev 00:10
Veritone presents adventures in AI the podcast that dives into the many ways artificial intelligence is shaping our future for the better. I'm your host Magen Mintchev. And I am really excited about this episode because it's kicking off a series where we focus on all things metaverse. The series will span the next few months with other topics in between. And for this episode, part one of the metaverse series with veritone I'm speaking with one of the top 30 influential people in the metaverse space. He's an author, entrepreneur, game tech expert, and the CEO of bimodal, which is a creator centric platform for building live games. His name is Jon Radoff and John built one of the first commercial games on the internet, took a web content management company public grew a game advertising network and launched mobile games played by millions of people including Game of Thrones, ascent, and Star Trek Timelines. Whoo, that was a lot. John, it is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you. Welcome to Adventures in AI podcast. And thank you for kicking off this Metaverse series with me.
Jon Radoff 01:26
Thanks for having me here, Magen.
Magen Mintchev 01:29
The metaverse has been around for quite some time. A lot of people may or may not know that. But the hype surrounding it seems to have really exploded within the past year, especially when a big, certain big company changed its name to reflect the direction that it's headed. So what does the word Metaverse even mean? And why should people even care about this conversation? So the word
Jon Radoff 01:53
is become really hyped or even overhyped. And but I think that people should probably be less concerned about the word and how it applies to particular companies, and instead think of it in a couple of different ways. So number one, I just think of it as the next generation of the internet. It's a trend towards a set of features that has existed for as long as there's been an internet though, right? The other is that people tend to think of the metaverse in purely technological terms. And it's more than that it's really about the culture and social trends that are being manifested on the internet today. So the the thing that I really look to is what are people doing online? How has that changed over time? And what does that mean for the future? So first of all, our digital identities that we bring with us into online spaces, these identities have become just as important if not even more important, some cases than our physical identity. And it's especially accelerated over the last couple of years. So whether we're projecting ourselves into virtual space through zoom, or video teleconferencing, or even if it's completely non visual, like the social audio spaces that have become popular on like Twitter spaces or clubhouse over the last year, or whether it's an online game, like these are all different versions of taking our ego, essentially into a virtual realm are into the online realm. And that's what's getting more and more important. So I like to first and foremost, think about the metaverse is a space where we're doing that, and we're doing it increasingly frequently. And then what does that mean? Well, it means that as humans in this space, we're going to do the things that humans really care about. And one of those fundamental things is socialization. Another one is creativity. So I actually go back to the origin of the metaverse is actually Dungeons and Dragons. And that's, that's kind of the metaphor that I use sometimes, because that's a place where we're telling each other stories, we're creating worlds. We're socializing with each other. So it had all of these different properties. Now, what we've been doing ever since then, is digitizing it. So the first wave of that were these online games called muds. And online stands for multi user dungeon. So we had versions of that very early on, and these things have gotten more and more sophisticated over time and you had games like World of Warcraft, then you had the emergence of platforms like Roblox, where they made it a lot easier to create content and share it with your friends and take your social group from one experience to another. Some of the things in there are games, some of them are like games, some of them are not games at all, and they're purely social experiences. And this trend is just continuing towards our identities being taken into these worlds, and also the internet becoming a platform for creativity around virtual worlds and virtual spaces. So to me that's what the map versus all about and it's really changing the way we're going to interact with each other. So yes, why should people care about it? Well, I would say look to kids first look at what they're doing in Roblox, Roblox has 250 million people a month playing in it, there's like seven or 8 million people a month making stuff in it. So huge in terms of interactivity, socialization, but also creativity. Remember that as well. It's a creative platform, where people are expressing one of the most fundamental things that it means to be human, which is making stuff and sharing it and stories.
Magen Mintchev 05:34
Very interesting. I have a five year old and I feel like he's already in that space a little bit. I don't know, if Minecraft is considered to be a little bit of that. But he's definitely yeah, he's definitely been picking that up line. He's always like, Mommy, can you help me with this? I'm like, Dude, I have no idea what this even is. So just don't even ask, figure it out, you've got it. Alright, so let's take a look at the culture change and what that trajectory means as we project into the future, and what type of technology that will continue to support that.
Jon Radoff 06:10
So look at any kind of creativity that has existed and look to the way technology has improved to equip people to be creative. So you can go back to publishing, for example. So before, you know, the advent of desktop publishing, if you wanted to do digital publishing, that was pretty technical, didn't really allow a lot of people to get involved in it. But then all the technology changed around a couple of really important areas. One was the tools just became a lot easier to use. But also the distribution became a lot easier because he had the internet where essentially, the marginal cost of the next copy became zero, or also close to zero, it didn't matter anymore. So distribution became essentially free. And the tools to create became widely available. And then within the internet, you saw the emergence of new crater economies over time. So take electronic commerce, for example. So the early days of E commerce was all about Amazon, who of course, continues to be super important today. But you know, you had to be an Amazon who could build all the stuff and create the storefronts early on. Now, in more recent years, you've had things like Shopify that have again put those tools for creativity, the creativity of a small business and E commerce in the hands of anybody. So they kind of democratize to to everyone. So where I think the metaverse goes from here, is already present in some of these platforms that actually started long ago, we talked about Roblox but you could see it in, you know, Second Life, which is a platform some people talk about sometimes you can even go before Second Life. There were other platforms before that, that tried to do it. Second Life started to do in a bigger way. But all of these things or have tried to put the ability to craft virtual world experiences, the experience of being in a space with other people in the hands of more people, and then create economies around it for avatars and items and land and worlds and all of that stuff. So I'm thinking back to the comment you said about your son a moment ago, you know, playing Minecraft, which of course is another version of that Minecraft is very much like that. So if he asked me like, What is the metaverse I'd be like, well, you know all this stuff that you do in Minecraft or maybe Roblox you've tried that. That's part of the metaverse for sure the creative aspect, especially as part of the metaverse. But imagine a future in which these virtual worlds that you imagine in your head, it's a lot easier to go right from imagination onto the screen. That's really a big part of what the Creator economy is going to look like for the metaverse. It's putting the tools just like desktop publishing or Shopify did for E commerce, putting everything in the hands of every person in the world who wants to express themselves creatively through virtual space.
Magen Mintchev 09:11
Can you paint the picture of what the artificial intelligence landscape looks like with respect to the metaverse starting at the experiential level?
Jon Radoff 09:19
Yes. So artificial intelligence is going to be one of the things that really affects everything about the metaverse. So again, let's take a step back. The Metaverse is just the next generation of the internet. And it's going to become more oriented around virtual spaces, real time activity, using creative tools to then populate these virtual spaces with whatever we imagine. So part of what we're imagining involves characters being in these worlds, the shape of the worlds themselves. So one application of artificial intelligence is to actually allow characters to be populated into these worlds what they call You know, non player characters in the worlds of games, but it's really about virtual beings. It's about having characters that you can interact with. And they'll do everything from the characters within games, maybe even characters that have a life of their own beyond a particular game, maybe characters and sidekicks you take with you that learn from your experience. There's also a lot of application of AI towards crafting the worlds as well. So right now, when you build a virtual world space, if it's going to be a very detailed world, it's a pretty painstaking process, like a game creator has to sit down and build what they call levels, they make the objects, they put the objects, they assemble it all together. But there's already these platforms starting to emerge where you can explain to an AI process, what kind of world you want, and it'll take that input and create the world for you. And then if you want to change it, you're now more of a editor or curator have the experience you want to have there. But the technological backdrop behind this, I think the big sea change moment for the metaverse was kind of around GPT. Three. So there's been such a huge increase in the number of deep learning transformers that have been in these AI platforms over the last few years, like over 1,000,000% increase in just three, five years, in terms of how many transformers parameters you can have within these things. So what that's done is, it's taken things like natural language processing, for example. And it's turned it from very clunky to it's still kind of clunky, and I'll around the edges, but you can start to really see, you know, the potential behind it. One really super interesting game that you can play is called AI dungeon, for example, where you actually have adventures and play a character. And it's all generated by an AI who's reacting to the real language that you put in. So you can think in terms of applying that towards these virtual beings, these virtual characters, using natural language processing to help you craft worlds. So there's, of course, a huge number of other areas of AI that I think are really interesting as well, like the way algorithms are going to continue to be built and evolve is going to be structured around AI. But the next stage we go to with AI is really at least in terms of the progression, starting with the deep learning transformers with GPT. Three thing the future is going to be the intersection between language and visual space. Right. So the metaverse, while it doesn't, in my definition, require that it be visual at all, it's any real time space could be audio only, for example, that said, a lot of the information that we deal with in our lives is visual, a lot of the spaces people are going to enter into our virtual world spaces that are very visual. And even without that visual character, you still need the ability for the computational process the AI to actually understand these geo spatial relationships between things. So a big part of what we're going to see in the relatively near future is language and spatial understanding actually coming together, which is going to really take the ability for natural language systems up to a whole new level, because what they'll be able to interpret and what they'll be able to feed back to you as the human user of this process. It's going to be pretty amazing. So given that the metaverse is going to be about real time, interactivity, communication, empathy with each other, the crafting of visual spaces, the crafting of worlds and stories, like AI is going to play a really central role in that both as our characters that we interact with, but also assistants. And that's just sort of one other thing I want to mention about creativity, there might be some far far off future post singularity, as some people like to talk about where like the AI will do everything. It'll be poets, it'll be artists, it'll do all the stuff. We're far away from that. Well, before we get to that, I think AI actually amplifies the creativity of us humans. Because as we create stuff, the AI's ability to give us scaffoldings and suggestions and help us ideate and iterate through a creative process. That's really interesting. So I expect a huge exponential leap and creative output from humans because of all of our AI systems
Magen Mintchev 14:31
in I mean, this is all great news for Varitone because we are an artificial intelligence company. So alright, let's let's get to it. That's amazing. Thank you for sharing all that. How do you think the metaverse will affect the future of work, how we collaborate, how we're going to work together? What does that gonna look like?
Jon Radoff 14:51
Well, it already is. So the metaverse if we think of it as a place where we project our identities In real time into virtual spaces, big zoom, obviously took off during the pandemic, for example. So it's transforming the way we were working with each other. And a lot of the a lot of companies have discovered that they could conduct work on remote in a way that they either hadn't really tried or when they did, it was kind of half hearted, or the telecommuter was the exception rather than the rule. But I think that we have made incredibly fast progress in the last couple of years now about how to make these systems work. And now many companies are committed to it. So my own company teamable, like, we were created in the pandemic, and we had to actually build an organization from the co founders, the three of us to 45 people that we've got today completely virtual. And there's huge advantages to it. So you ask like, what's the future of work, it's not just how we're working with each other. But the ability to bring talent into your organization is completely changing. I have people in Poland and Croatia and Romania, in India, in Brazil, and you know, several other countries that we're working with, and of course, all parts of the US as well. So we're able to tap into global talent in a way that we really wouldn't have done before, if we weren't a quote, unquote, virtual company. Now, in the future, I think we'll go from the concept of like the virtual company to, it'll be like the metaverse company. So it'll be that plus, we start to actually use virtual spaces to interact with each other to add more bandwidth to our communication. So as good as video is, versus just having audio only video is great, because we actually convey additional information, whether it's walking through a slide deck in real time, or just looking at each other's faces and getting that kind of information from the conversation. It's still an incomplete set of information relative to what we evolved to do. We evolved to be organically present with each other. There's a huge amount of all kinds of biological information, body language, just the way we even position ourselves relative to each other in a space includes a tremendous amount of information in it. So part of the potential for the metaverse is to bring us more and more into these virtual spaces where we can replicate that. I think we'll see it as the technology really improves, though, like right now, like the current generation of virtual reality, like virtual reality exists. But why are we still doing this? You know, in a zoom chat right now is how we're talking with each other, we're on a screen. Well, because it's kind of clunky. And I'll say this as a, as a nerd myself. So it's totally said with love. But like wearing a VR headset, it's pretty nerdy. First of all, it looks really goofy. It's heavy, the battery life doesn't last that long. So the ergonomics of that technology still have a long way to go before we really can incorporate it into our daily lives. The way a phone is, my personal view on it is when it's in the form factor of like sunglasses, then we get there, right? So you can already see that with Facebook, and the wayfarer glasses they made with Ray Ban those those are not an augmented reality device, really. But it shows you, you know what something should kind of look like feel like way like that's, that's getting us a lot closer to it. Snap with the spectacles has an AR device that actually is an AR device, it just doesn't have a very long battery life. So you can't really rely on it as a tool through your daily life. But as a lot of the underlying infrastructure, network speeds, Edge compute battery life, battery size, compute power, like all of that stuff is continuing to improve. And eventually we're going to get to a form factor where we can incorporate into anything. And then what does that do for us? Well, we're going to start to have meetings and conversations where we have the additional information that we would normally be able to convey in a physical space. But it's going to actually give us more capabilities than we have in a physical space. So it isn't just about replicating and D materializing space, even though that's really interesting. Go back to what I was talking about earlier about, what does it mean for expression and creativity? So let's use a use case like education and training. Think of all the education and training examples that if I was to project it visually into a space, like imagine the teacher in the future, who's teaching a classroom of virtual students about the solar system, and the teacher can point at a planet, the moons of the planet and actually allow interactivity and invite students who are participating to interact with it. That's sort of a very relatable example but you cannot apply that to all kinds of learning experiences, as well as in the work environment. All the training and stuff like training, how to repair something training, how to use a piece of equipment. Like, you know, the mind, sir is boggles at the number of applications of that. But that's what we'll be able to add. And when you make the ability to create this immersive content projected into space, I think we kiss PowerPoint slides. Goodbye, right? Won't won't need that anymore. Well, yeah. Yeah, exactly. What's a PowerPoint deck I'm waiting to, I still have to make them. We all do, right. But imagine a future in which it's become the norm to be in virtual spaces for a conversation or meeting instead of a meeting room where we're projecting on a surface, then you start to think in terms of actually having digital holograms in front of you. And we're all crafters of digital holograms that convey far more information and interactivity that I can share with the people that I'm meeting with. So I think that's a big part of what the metaverse quote unquote, does for the future of work.
Magen Mintchev 21:10
Wow. My mind is like, right now. And actually, it's funny because you're when you were talking about getting, you know, the Oculus, the headset, the the big clunky thing I was always I was thinking back, way back many years ago, my mom had a phone, a car phone that was in a leather case, and it was this big, clunky phone. So I'm imagining something like that, like, here we are now fast forward, however many years, and we've got this big, clunky, Oculus looking thing on our on our heads, but then maybe like 1020 years from now, it's going to be in the form of like contacts, or, like you said, just simpler glasses or something.
Jon Radoff 21:49
100%, like in your example, that you could even go further back. Like, I'm always reminded of this movie Wall Street. It's like an 80s movie, had this character named Gordon Gekkos. Famous for this line. Greed is good. In the movie, he walks around with this tremendous brick phone. Yeah, I guess it's the literally the size of a brick. Yeah, I don't know what the battery life was probably 20 minutes or something ridiculous. But it sort of has all the problems that like VR does today. It's big, it's clunky, doesn't last as long, and is only used by a small niche group of people. So in the future, it's going to get a lot more compact. I talked about classes, you talked about contact, it could be that the contacts actually is just more of a receiving device, or we just beam information, right. So I think a lot of these devices will evolve also as peripherals, not necessarily as having to load all of the computation right into that object.
Magen Mintchev 22:44
Let's talk about challenges, pain points. What do you think people or organizations might run into with all these things that we're talking about? When it comes to the metaverse and working and collaborating?
Jon Radoff 22:59
maybe return to my earlier statement about what the metaverse really is, okay. It's the future. It's the future of the internet. It's the next generation of the internet. But it's about culture and social trends leading ahead of the technological changes necessarily to support that. So I would just urge number one, everyone to try to look at it through that lens first. So what are some of the risks then that we think about? How about generational disconnect, really just not understanding what the next generation of your customer is really like? Recognize, I think it's important to recognize that for the last 10 ish years, and even a little bit beyond that, we have actually one or two generations now that have grown up largely in virtual spaces, and those people will be our customers in the future. And they'll also be people we work with in the future. So the way they're going to relate to technology, the way they relate to each other through technology and in virtual spaces, might be different than the way a lot of people have used the internet thus far. So I would really caution people to not bring their own assumptions about the way they use the internet and virtual spaces into the equation. Think in terms of what are the next generations and how are they using it in a way that's a little bit different than you yourself have said that, I'd say is the number one thing to be cautious about in terms of the technological challenges. You know, it really all comes down to ergonomics, I use that word very broadly in that it's just not just the heart the hardware based ergonomics which we were talking about with like VR headsets. Ergonomics is a problem across the board in all aspects of some of the key technologies that are going to bring us more and more into these virtual worlds so you can take stuff Like blockchain, for example, like blockchain technologies really tricky to use for the vast majority of people, you know, you have to sign up for these weird things. If you have a self custody wallet, you don't even know what that means, like, people are still trying to even figure out what cryptocurrencies mean. And cryptocurrencies, by the way, are not the only application of blockchain, there's a lot of a lot, a lot of really interesting commercial applications of it. But no one understands how to use this stuff outside of a fairly niche group. And that's largely because it's hard to use hard to understand the digital wallets and whatnot are not all that straightforward how you get dollars out of Fiat into the wallet complex process. So you can kind of look at that, like the hardware, it's hard to use blockchain, it's hard to use, how about all the Creator tools, the creator tools aren't there yet, when I talk about this future of going direct from imagination to the screen? Well, you can already go direct from imagination to the screen in, say, a word processor, maybe you don't have the AI assistant quite yet that writes parts of it, although I've seen some examples of it. But you can cut that there's a much shorter path to getting it in front of you to get a virtual world onto the screen to create a virtual experience or to create this, you know, digital hologram experience that we were talking about earlier in education and training, or in meeting content, that stuff where the tools are just not there yet. Now who's leading the way there, it's actually the technology companies that support game development, right. So for many, many years now, game companies have been creating the technology for crafting 3d objects for creating the world spaces. So you've got companies like epic with their Unreal Engine or unity that are creating the 3d graphics, the spatial computing infrastructure, as well as the design tools to make things in that space. And then there's companies like my own bimodal, which are trying to create the life services platform so that the world has a life beyond, you know, just looking at it the store data that you've got social relationships that persist beyond the one experience that you're having. So those are part of it. But the tools aren't there yet for the mass market, right. So like we target game developers, Unreal and Unity are focused on game developers and are starting to look at other highly technical audiences like automotive and architects that that would do stuff with CAD CAM, you've got companies like Nvidia, which are trying to really focus on that market with their Omniverse platform. But it's not at the tool level of Shopify yet, right like Shopify. If you want to start up an online store, just about anyone can click on the website, swipe your credit card to pay for their service, and you're in business, you're now running a store on the internet. So it's going to be a few years before the tools really get that easy. You know, in the places where we already have these walled gardens like Roblox, it's not easy. They're either like it they have a lot a lot of creators, I'd say it's a lot easier. You can really see why Roblox is so successful. It's because they've been able to figure out how to get seven, 8 million people a month trying to create stuff, which you don't actually see in the professional game development tools today. So if ease of use, ergonomics can be improved across the board, that's what's going to make all of the things we've been talking about far more accessible to everybody.
Magen Mintchev 28:27
How would people be able to learn more about all the things that we're talking about? And even beyond? Do you have? I'm at well, I shouldn't say do you have I know you have a lot of resources, maybe even some of your own your books. But how would people learn more about this?
Jon Radoff 28:45
Yeah, so you could go to my blog. It's building the metaverse is my blog, you can follow me on Twitter. Jay read off Jr. A dlss. That's what I talk about all the time. My company beatable if you're a game developer, or if you're, even if you're a hobbyist, you want to create a virtual world like that's what we're in the business to help you do. So there's a resource right there that you can use to start building something in the metaverse but if you're just curious and want to learn my blog talks about that.
Magen Mintchev 29:13
I feel like my five year old is gonna hop on the mobile at some point and like be creating all these world virtual worlds and everything I mean, essentially he's kind of doing it with with Minecraft. I'm John, it's been really awesome speaking with you about this topic that I really didn't know much about going into it. So now like I said, my brain needs to go and decompress and just process everything that we've talked about. So I really appreciate it. I would love to have you on again sometime to talk more Metaverse things so just know that that invitations out there to you.
Jon Radoff 29:51
Wonderful I'd be happy to do that. And by the way, just keep watching your son and everything he's doing in Minecraft. Minecraft is a wonderful platform a wonderful set of worlds where people make stuff. It's more than a game. It's it's creative expression. And that's what's exciting about the time we live in is extending that creative expression to people like your son and everybody who's gonna follow him. And as he grows up and eventually enters the workforce, that's that's the future of our society is people in these spaces,
Magen Mintchev 30:25
Thanks, Jon. Take care. Thanks.