A fascinating interview with Alvin Graylin about how AI and XR will revolutionize our society

I had the pleasure of interviewing again “Mister President” Alvin Wang Graylin in the occasion of the launch of his book, Our Next Reality, that he wrote together with Louis Rosenberg. During the interview we talked about practical stuff, like if HTC is working on a new product, and when we can expect to see lightweight AR glasses on the head of everyone. But we also discussed very broadly about how artificial intelligence and immersive realities are going to change us singularly as humans and our society as a whole. What came out is a very fascinating and inspiring interview, where Alvin provides some insights about how mankind may change in the future. Of course we can not exactly predict the future, but I think that apart from the predictions, the answers by Alvin can give you some new tools through which understand how the future technological evolutions may be and how they can influence all sectors of our lives.

You can see the integral interview in the video here below, or read the full transcription, which has been (as usual) slightly edited for clarity. Enjoy!

The full video of the interview

Hello Alvin, let’s start this interview with something personal. A lot of things have changed in your life since the last time we met: your role in HTC, the country you are in… So, how is life now?

I moved from China to the US last November. It’s been a quarter and I’ve fairly adjusted to the US lifestyle. I miss my team and my friends in China. But you know, it’s always good to have new changes and progress and make new friends. So I think it’s all good.

And now the book is out, it’s nice to be able to get that message out and hopefully deliver some good.

That’s good. Then since I like to ask this question to you every time, let me do it immediately. Can you tell us if HTC is working on something new? You can wink if it is true since I guess you can not speak about it.

Well, the good thing to know is that we are always working on something new and it’s gonna be something innovative and that’s kind of been the tradition of HTC.

So I don’t think it’s anything that should be a secret, but the timing and specs and all those things are things that I cannot talk about… as you know.

Ok, good, so that’s a wink! 
By the way, I see an interesting background behind you today [I’m referring to the virtual background behind Alvin in the Teams call] and a cool T-shirt about “Our Next Reality”, which is the book you just wrote with Louis Rosenberg. And I’m very curious, what is this book and why have you decided to write it? Because there are already a lot of books about XR…

I think that the problem is that there are a lot of books about XR. There are a lot of books about AI, and usually, all the books out there are giving a particular position. You know, the one position of one author, whether it’s, you know, super positive, or it’s super doomer. But the reality of the world is never the extremes.

This is why I wrote it as a joint collaboration with Louis because we wanted to make sure that we get both sides of the story out to the readers and that way they can make up their own minds.

We also wanted to get out the story of the connection between AI and XR. Usually, these two industries are fairly distinct and they have their own thought leaders and technologies and companies. But more and more these will start to merge and they will be increasingly important as they complement each other when they mature in the coming years.

And I think that’s something that we wanted to highlight and we wanted to allow the world to take action because in the next 5 to 10 years the actions that we take as a society are going to affect the long-term future of humanity for thousands of years. After all, we are at this inflection point and most people don’t see that yet. So we want to create added clarity for understanding the impetus for taking action because of how important that action is. That’s what prompted the discussion and it feels very good to actually have it in my hand [He shows the printed book to me]

I just got some samples from the publisher and even though the digital and audio version just released this week, you know, to be able to feel it in your hands, it’s a visceral joy… there is a lot of work behind it.

our next reality book alvin graylin
The preview of the paper version of the book (Image by Alvin Graylin)
Well, I guess a lot of XR enthusiasts, a lot of fans of yours, would like to have this on their bookshelves. So when is it going to be available? You said that the electronic book is going to be released now, but how about the paper edition?

The Kindle and Audible versions are both available today. It’s also in the Apple bookstores today. The paper hardback is available June 5th worldwide. So yeah, you know, it’s coming.

I think the publishing industry is a little bit slow-moving compared to the technology industry, so we’re not used to these time frames. A lot of the book, most of the book, was actually already done probably 9 months ago. It’s taking a long time for it to get out and it’s been a little bit excruciating to wait, but I’m glad that it’s out and you know, I’m glad that we have friends like you to help get the message out.

And it’s an important message.

It’s a very cool book. I can tell everyone that I had a preview of the book and read a good part of it. I’m still waiting to get the full edition because I want to read it all…

You know, you were one of the first to get the early draft. You are one of the lucky few who saw it when it was not very polished.

But it was already cool and I loved the analysis of AI and XR and also loved the different points of view that you and Louis, who is another super great mind of our ecosystem, had about the different topics. But in the end, simplifying, are AI and XR together something good or something bad for our future? Because there are both sides in your book.

I think that one of the key takeaways is that there’s always a nuance in terms of how technology affects our society. Every technology is a double-edged sword, and in the book, I say that I think that the sword may not actually be the right analogy. It’s probably closer to the Ying Yang symbol because inside the darkest dark, there’s light and inside the lightest light there’s dark, because we will never get to these extremes. Our hope is that people who read this and people who are in positions of policymaking or influence or management of companies will see the points there and the actions being suggested. Because we are not only describing what’s happening but also what we think will be happening soon and what we can do to approach closer to that positive scenario. We describe both the positive and the negative scenarios of the next 10 to 20 years.

There is a little bit of history of the back, I think there are plenty of authors that have given a good analysis of what’s happened. I think what’s more important is what will happen and how we end up with the positive outcome that’s described in the book.

Let’s talk about the good side and the many use cases. We have been in the XR industry for ages, you even before me, and we know how XR can be useful… and if you mix it with AI, you obtain an explosive mix. But in your opinion, if you had to take the three coolest use cases of these technologies where they are the strongest, what would they be and why?

Yesterday I was doing a podcast and I was asked “What’s the killer app”… really what we need to think about is that we are now heading into the next evolution of computing and we are going from 2D-based computing to 3D-based computing. 

Right now, whether you’re computing on your phone or computing on your PC, it’s impacting all aspects of your life. It will make communication better, it will make entertainment better, it will make education better, and it’s really now embedded into all parts of life. I think very soon we will have glasses that are a little bit even smaller than what I have here [he shows the Vive XR Elite], that we will be wearing all day. And when we wear it all day, it makes us smarter. And as humans, the only advantage we have on this planet compared to other animals is that we are, at least to our evaluation, smarter than the other animals. And that allowed us to become the apex species.

These new technologies will give everybody the superpower to be ultra-intelligent, and it’s important to see what we do with that intelligence. It also allows us to transport both our physical perceptions to a new place, as well as augment our current positions or physical locations with virtual objects. And that again can be used in all aspects of our lives.

In fact, if you look at it and go back in technology, all the things that we’ve done, all these other devices, actually replicate things that we’ve always done. You know, even when we were at the campfire, back in the Stone Ages, we talked to each other. We communicate, right? We entertain, we dance, we sing and we learn because we tell each other “Oh, you know, don’t go there”, “There’s a line over there”. We’re just taking that to the next step.

I don’t like it when people say “What’s the killer app” because I don’t think there’s a single killer app. There is essentially an evolution of the way that we live our lives, and it will just be part of everything we do. And just like today, when you go outside, you always have your phone with you because that’s your lifeline to the rest of the world, in the not-too-distant future, we will always have glasses on, and later we’ll have chips in our heads. But in the next couple of decades, it’ll probably be a glass form factor that will be our primary interface to the world and each other and information.

That’s a very fascinating vision.
If I had to choose a use case that you mentioned, which I know you are also pretty bullish about, is education. You always advocated VR democratizing education and something that fascinates me about AI is that it can personalize education: some people are more visual, others want more textual information; some people are slower, and others are faster to learn. Can you tell us something about this? Because I think it’s a very cool use case.

There’s a whole chapter just on education in the book and it’s something that I’m personally passionate about. I studied this and wrote papers about it 33 years ago. I’ve seen the potential of it and it’s gratifying to see that we’re now getting close to having that.

As you know, the best education is when you have one-to-one tutoring, when you have somebody who knows and he just step-by-step teaches you at your own pace and using the methods that work for you. That’s all we’re getting if we get to AI-powered glasses with immersive capabilities. We essentially have a one-to-one tutor, who is all-knowing, highly patient, and is able to measure your brain waves, your eye tracking, your various biometrics to know whether you’re paying attention, you are actually absorbing, you’re confused and be able to adjust the content based on your needs.

There have been tons of studies that show when you have one-to-one versus one-to-many (larger classes), the are 2 standard deviations of difference in terms of how much you learn, and how better you perform. If you take into account all the various studies in terms of immersive education versus blackboard education, again, you’re seeing multiple standard deviations.

If we put the two together then essentially we can unleash the mental maximum capabilities within all of our kids. And I think that’s not just kids, but adults can learn the same way. Our neurons are a little bit more fixed than the younger generations, but I’m an advocate for lifelong learning. So I think that this type of tool can be a maximum learning instrument for all ages.

They could also be misused as a maximum instrument for influence and manipulation if they are in the wrong hands, of course. This is kind of the juxtaposition that we talk about in the book, where’s the good and the bad of every aspect of it… from the ability to advertise to the ability to educate, to the ability to bring happiness to create art. And how does this take away the artists’ ability to earn income?

I mean we discussed all of the kinds of testing issues that are out there and then later on in the book, we go into things that are a little higher level, things like how this affects the economy midterm and long term, how does it affect geopolitics, midterm, and long term and how does it affect the human condition: what does it mean to be human anymore in a generation or two when this technology becomes truly mature?

It definitely goes through a broad variant of topics, but I think they build on each other and we’ve designed it in a way where you can jump to any chapter and it’s relatively independent, but I think to get the most out of it, reading from throughout in order probably makes the most sense.

When you talk about the good and the bad sides of education, Louis, that is an author I personally love, mentions a lot of times about the risks of manipulation. He always warns all of us on LinkedIn about this: privacy, manipulation, and other stuff are very concrete risks. And I wonder: is there a way we can avoid that dystopia from becoming true? Because, I mean, just saying to companies “Ohh, please don’t manipulate people because it’s bad” is not going to work. We saw it with social media…

This is one of the things that I talked about in the security and privacy chapter: we need to create tools that are on the side of the user, just like today we have antiviruses. So, when the virus goes into your computer, the antivirus says, “Hey, we have a virus. Do you want me to remove it?”. Because, you know, as a human, there’s no way for us to see that virus entering your computer. So if you rely on human capabilities, you’re going to be attacked. We must use technology to help us. AI being able to detect AI, AI being able to detect altered pictures or manipulated information is something that is very doable. Although I think right now most of the world hasn’t really made that a priority.

You hear a lot of debate about AI alignment, but you hear very little debate about AI detection, AI manipulation, and mitigation and I think those are things that we need to put onto people’s attention. I spent three years in the cybersecurity industry, so I’ve seen the good and the bad of this space and how motivated the bad actors can be… and new technologies are available.

Most people who are in the AI safety camp, they’re worried about AI takeover. They’re worried about robots killing us and the Terminator-type of scenarios. I am much, much more worried about the human bad actors misusing the technology and that’s going to happen much faster than any potential robot takeover.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Luckily, at least we can stay alive. [I smile]
Talking about AI and generative AI… I read an article a few months ago, it was very interesting… I don’t remember by whom, I’m sorry about that, but it was about the fact that generative AI just remixes past ideas that people had. I’m a blogger and the risk is that we have a lot of articles on blogs written by generative AI that are just remixes of old stuff, and then there are the new AI systems that get trained by scrapping the web, that find the posts by the other AIs, and are trained on them, leading to an overall impoverishment of creativity.
So we risk losing our creativity as humans because we rely on this easy-to-use GenAI. How do you think we should counteract that?

I honestly think that is a misunderstanding from a lot of people who may not be as deep with technology as they could be and they feel threatened by it.

I’m not speaking about this as a technologist, I’m actually more speaking of this… you know, both my parents are artists. So I have a very deep place in my heart for artists and I want to see the protection of art and truly innovative, imaginative creations. But I think we are also discounting the capabilities of these systems to only regurgitate. If you remember, Picasso said “Good artists copy and great artists steal” and I think there’s a lot of truth in that in the sense that every single artist that has ever lived has stolen or has borrowed from prior artists. Whether in terms of painting, sculpture, writing, or film, we have all learned from our experiences and the fact that you’ve learned from the experience does not discount who you are and what you’re making. It means that none of us start from ground zero when we create, and that’s the beauty of what has created progress.

So the fact that AI systems are building on what we have created over thousands of years to come to today, I think is an asset. It’s not something that we should be afraid of. It’s something that we should encourage, because we then at least have a part of our genie inside the system, essentially passing on our tradition, passing on our culture, passing on our ideals for beauty and art. And so that is a good thing.

Now the other thing is whether there actually is original creativity inside these systems and I actually would argue that there is. I’ve seen there’s been posts where people go to an AI system and say “Generate some form of art that we’ve never seen and something that would be beautiful to humans” and the AI describes these things. Then they take these descriptions and put them into a Gen AI graphics engine, and that graphics engine actually created that creation and it looks amazing, it looks beautiful, and it looks original. I think those are the kinds of things that people don’t talk about. It’s really what we need to utilize these tools to unleash another form of creativity.

The medium that we work in has always limited the artist to what’s possible in that medium. When we were in caves painting with plant ink or plant juices, there were only a few colors and you could only work in 2D. And then we started to have some tools and we could carve rocks. We started to have 3D, we started to have brushes and paint. We started to have different types of art, so we developed more types of art… as we started thinking of filming, we started to have motion. We started creating 3D models. We then started having different types of interactivity. So as the medium progresses, the art progresses, right?

It doesn’t mean that all the stuff of the past goes away. There are still people who paint. There are still people who carve. There are still people who use their hands to make things, but there are also now a lot of people who are creating art by typing a prompt, editing, or using Photoshop or whatever. These are all just different forms of art and they’re just forms for us to express our ideas and they all provide value to the viewer.

The reason for doing art is to express your ideas, and if these tools allow the artist to go in and express his ideas in a new form, something that appeals to a greater audience that’s good. Or maybe you have some great ideas but you’ve never had formal training and you didn’t spend 20 years in art school, you can still create beautiful things from that idea and this is what’s important.

As you know, my dad’s an artist and he always told me that the key is “to bring beauty to the world”. That is the job of the artist: bring beauty to the world. And so if these tools allow more people to bring more beautiful things to the world, I think it’s a great thing. I don’t think it’s something that we should be harping against and restricting. Right now there may be 5% of people that are artists and they already are having a tough time surviving because the value of art and then getting paid for the art are two different things. The idea of a starving artist is a real thing: most artists don’t make money. Most actors don’t make money, they’re maybe waiters or waitresses on the side to survive.

If AI becomes our patron, it makes our productivity so good that we can all have some type of universal support, we can all be artists, and we could have 95% of artists in some way. Maybe to one person, art is making a movie; to another person, art is making a video game; to another person, art is making poetry. But we all have our passions and I think that this new technology allows us to free up more time and energy to pursue those passions instead of going and making PowerPoints or Excel files or analyzing legal documents. I don’t think too many people get really excited about the mundane work that they do, but if AI allows us to be liberated to spend more time doing the beautiful things that we are passionate about, I think it’s a great thing.

I created myself this image with AI to wish my readers a happy new year. Of course, here was no way I could create this image alone, so these tools really offer a help to people that have not the skills to do art
That’s a very inspiring vision.
In the same post I was talking about before, there was mentioned the fact that like now we are in the age of industrial production but we value more things made by hand by artisans, maybe in the future people will value differently what is human-made than what is made by AI. What do you think about this?

Sure. But if you look around your house, how much of your furniture is human-made versus machine-made? How much of your clothes are human-made versus machine-made? How much of your electronics or human-made versus machine-made? The reality is that a very small percentage of what we use today on a daily basis is made by artisans. But you are willing to pay more for it.

So for the people who want to do that and have a passion for it, there is going to be a market. I’m not that concerned about it. I think people who love it, will perpetuate that art and they will pass it down to future generations. But the fact is that you can now have products that maybe used to only be available to kings and queens. Now anybody can have them and that brings value to the greater society. I think progress and technology and advancement and innovation, all these things just lead us to a better quality of life in the long term. So it is a positive influence.

Now there will be interim issues until we adjust to that better abundant society. We will have an interim period where the world has not yet adjusted, the people who were artists may not have a job or may not have a way to pay the rent or to pay for their food. I think that’s the concern that I want to raise to policymakers in governments, we need to see this coming. We need to see that there will be, you know, 30, 40, 50% of the population that will be displaced by these technologies. Whether you’re an accountant a lawyer, a programmer, or an artist. All of these types of jobs will be done very quickly… all of them, a lot of the roles in these industries will be done better, faster and maybe more accurately with machines doing them, maybe supervised by a senior human.

I think that’s a part of the problem that I wanna highlight. Now there are people who say “If you only have the senior people running these AIs, how are you gonna have the apprenticeship concept and bring in the next generation of artists?” And I think that definitely is a valid concern and we need to make sure that at least these arts and these concepts don’t die. There are a lot fewer craftsmen in some of these areas than there ever were because it’s harder to get people to go and spend 20 years learning how to carve a piece of wood when they can make more money as an influencer. People just don’t have the patience that they used to.

But I think the fact that you can allow more people to think long-term, allows more people to enter the art field. You maybe have a net positive in terms of artisans than you have today, but not necessarily using it as a way to create income, because I think long long term (there’s a whole chapter in the book on the post-labor society and abundant society type concepts), I think the need to work for your income will go away and and I think when that happens, the there will be a flourishing of art more than a diminishing of it.

You mentioned the “Abundance Society”. It is a concept that I heard a lot of times from you in your speeches, and also from other people in the industry. Can you explain exactly what it does mean… and so how do you envision our society 20 years from now?

If you look at the last 200 years or so, the amount of hours that we are working per person per year has dropped down from about 3000 hours per year to probably 1000 to 1200 hours per year at the most industrialized, the most advanced nations. So we’ve come down significantly in terms of how many hours we are working because of the higher productivity.

If you take a similar chart even today and compare the high-income high-productivity countries versus the lower-income lower-productivity ones, you have a similar chart. What this shows us is as productivity increases, labor reduces. We start to prioritize and give more time to our life, to our family, to culture, to travels, and I think that’s a net positive. So now, if technology continues to improve, and increase our productivity, like with mechanical farming and industry and so forth, it could gradually increase our productivity. This is why some of the more modern or industrialized markets have higher incomes: it’s because they are using machines to help them.

Now if we are using machines to help make us smarter, we can not only increase the productivity of our manual labor, we can increase the productivity of our mental labor, too. That again brings us down… and maybe in a decade or so, we’re not still working 40 hours or 80 hours a week, but we’re working 4 hours or 8 hours a week and that frees us to do other things.

If you look at what the cost of energy is today versus what the cost of energy was 100 years ago, it is like 100 times cheaper. It used to cost a month of labor to have light for a minute or something like that. Now essentially, we just keep lights on because we don’t even think about it. It’s so cheap. In a lot of ways, that will be the type of order of magnitude abundance that we will see in our productivity.

And when we start having AI solve some of these major issues that we’ve been trying to solve for millenniums, we will see an ability to essentially provide a high-quality life to most people on Earth. And when that happens, our need for using money as the scoreboard will go away because a rich person and a poor person can have very similar experiences, just like today. Most people in developed nations have a better quality of life than a king 100-200 years ago. Most people today have more information access than the US president had 20 years ago. So we will see a greater sense of equality of experiences. Of course, the super rich will probably still have the ability to fly to Mars or whatever. But maybe we can put on a headset and have a similar experience.

So this is where XR and AI come together to help each other because I think one of the problems that we will have when we have this abundance society is that because of the displacement issue, we will have 30, 40, 50% of people out of work, or maybe more… what are they gonna do? If they are left to their own to find a purpose, it will be probably bad for society. We can have people on the street trying to find reasons to survive, they’re just going to be out there creating trouble. But if we can create virtual worlds, give them an outlet for their energies, for their creativity, for them to express themselves, for them to find a sense of satisfaction where they can create worlds, where they can create 3D art, where they can go and travel to history, into history, or into the stars, I think that allows us to satisfy that human need to have a reason to be. So these two technologies come together to solve some of the most pressing problems that each industry has.

I think the biggest problem for the XR industry is the lack of quality sustainable content and with Gen AI we can start adding content at almost 0 cost. And if you can do that, then you will have a massive amount of content to keep people in using this device. As you know, most people buy a [VR] device, and within a month or two months, it is in some drawer… and maybe they bring it out once a month or whenever friends visit, but it’s not something that they use every day because they run out of exciting content. They want maybe to bring it out when a new release comes out, but we want something just like our phone, just like our laptop, that we’re using every day to solve our daily problems.

And when you have enough content that allows you to never run out of things to do, it becomes embedded into your life, right? That’s when XR becomes fully transformative for our lives. A lot of people complain about this thing, right? [He shows the Apple Vision Pro]

apple vision pro screens
Apple Vision Pro can show many virtual screens around you

They say “Hey look, it’s a cool device but all you can do is watch movies and look at screens”. When it first came out, that was kind of my take, like “Why? Why did they announce it?” There was no AR. There were almost no VR AR apps, there were no immersive VR apps, at least when they released. And I was like, “Why? Why did they do that? Why does such a smart company as Apple do this?” and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what they’re doing makes a lot of sense. 

There is a saying… I don’t know if you know Marshall McLuhan, he was kind of a philosopher or media pundit guy from a few decades ago and he said something that was very important. He said “The medium of the next century is… or the content of the next medium is the last medium“, and so the last medium to us is 2D content, 2D videos, 2D apps, whatever. And we spent 30-40-50 years building this library of content. The fact that you can immediately take that content and put it into this 3D space to make it a virtual workspace makes sure that you don’t run out of content.

Now, once you have something on your head and you’re starting to make that part of your daily process, then these new 3D pieces of content will naturally come. So I can see the logic in the approach they’re taking with Apple, although I still wish they would put more effort in terms of supporting the XR developers and XR industry and supporting controllers more in the content library that these thousands of apps offer. But I can also see that in a broader perspective if you wanna service a billion people, not everybody needs to have immersive apps right away.

I think that’s something that I don’t hear people talk about, but I think it’s an important point that it’s not necessarily a deficit that they’re promoting 2D experiences and content in the 3D space. I think it’s probably part of a longer-term strategy.

I want to get back to the topic of the new society for a moment because I want to close this futuristic talk talking about humans. Some people were talking with me about the evolution of humans, that went through various stages, like Homo Habilis… Homo Sapiens… until it arrived at the Homo Sapiens Sapiens that we are today. We took a lot of time to get here, and now we are getting to what some people call Homo Technologicus, so it’s like we are merging ourselves with technology. We don’t evolve as flesh, but adding add-ons like AI that can be connected to our brains with brain-computer interfaces or these screens in front of our eyes, etc…
How do you see this evolution, the mixed hybrid evolution of humans over time?
evolution of virtual reality man
The evolution of the VR man (Image by Siemens Blog)

We people talk about this like something in the future, but the reality is that anyone in there with a phone is almost a Cyborg, in the sense that you have this device that feels like part of your body. If you don’t hold it in your hand when you go outside or in your pocket, you feel naked, you feel something’s missing, right? It’s part of your body and it is something that allows us to have a connection to the world. We use it for messaging, we use it for reading, for web, work, we use it to do payments. So if we don’t have this, in a lot of ways we cannot survive. And for me, it controls what I do because I look at it and the calendar says “You have a meeting with Tony” and so I gotta go. I’m not only using it as a tool, it’s also something that controls me in some way.

I think we will start to go more and more in that way where later we have things like this [shows glasses] like glasses that are on our heads that have intelligence and will be even more controlling than this [shows the phone]. Here with the screen [of the phone] I have to take it out of my pocket. I may know that I have a notification, but if I don’t take it out I don’t know it’s there. But when I wear glasses, when I get a message, I hear it right away, announce it to me. I should probably turn that feature off actually, because it’s a little bit disturbing. But I can see that because it has a camera because it has a microphone, in a not too distant future it can become my personal intelligent assistant.

If I’m talking to Tony and he asks me a really tough question, this little machine would tell me, “The answer to this is XYZ” and then I can sound much smarter. And I think we will get to a point where that technology will allow everybody to have a higher level of understanding and knowledge. And in general, more knowledge I think it’s a good thing because it allows you to have a broader understanding, a broader ability to accept the long-term view on things. The most dangerous people are the people who are less educated, but they’re very motivated. But if you are more educated, then you start seeing why “they did this thing” and you can understand their perspectives and so you will forgive them for their their mistakes or whatever. 

I really would like to see the day when most people have these devices, not because I think that we will merge with machines, but because I think it would elevate us as human biological machines. Our minds and our bodies have not changed for over 100,000 years, our brains are actually 2% smaller than the brains of ancient humans, which is kind of funny. If we want to advance as a species, we will need to use these additional technologies to augment our capabilities. If you look at our ability to see, we have a very small portion of the spectrum, like 0.1% of the spectrum that we can see. But if we put on glasses that have different kinds of cameras that can see ultraviolet or can see X-rays, we can have even greater perceptions.

mediated reality diminished reality vive focus
Let me pick this vintage picture of Alvin to express better the concept… (Image by HTC Vive)

It can make all of us have our superpowers. I am looking forward to that. There are people who say, “Oh, but this could be very dystopian. What if you have an AI in the background that is controlling you by telling you things and making you essentially a zombie being controlled by AI?”. I think that actually could also be a scenario in the sense that if the AI is working for some third party, we can easily be manipulated by this AI because it will know so much about our history, it will know about what things we care about, what things are meaningful, and so push our buttons. Even visually, it may display things in the form of an avatar in a way that we feel attracted to, or we feel we trust it and use that avatar to control us.

I think this is where regulation comes in. This is where policymaking comes in. There needs to be policymaking just like today we have laws that say “My data, I have the ability to see it and to delete it. I have the ability to stop you from tracking me on websites, to stop you from recording me, and to be in different places without notification.”  I think we will need that kind of consumer protection for AI because otherwise, people like Facebook would say “I get paid to advertise. I’m going to use this to influence you to buy something, to click on something and then that’s how I make money.” And they’re not evil, it’s just that’s their business model and people will maximize their business models. So we have the smartest minds in the world trying to figure out how to get someone to click more or to stay in one minute more to watch something. And that’s not really the best use of the talent that we can have today. I would much rather prefer we have these people working on genetic therapies or how we go to Mars, and other things like that. 

But if we can manage it in a way where AI is working for the benefit of the user, of the consumer, then I’m less worried about merging with technology.

I do have a lot of concerns about the whole BCI [Brain-Computer Interfaces] thing because I know that people [Elon Musk?] talk about it saying “BCI’s gonna come, we’re going to have this high bandwidth connection to AI and that’s how we’re going to transcend, being a billion times more intelligent thanks to machines” I think that’s an illusion, that’s a myth because our meat brains are just not able to process things at the speed of light and are not able to process things at that capacity the machines can. For us to say that we will be just as good as that once we have these BCI systems, I think that’s just wishful thinking. The speed of communication in a cell is something like 100 meters a second and it’s actually quite slow compared to the speed of light which is hundreds of millions of meters a second. 

So I think we should accept that in the long run, these machines will be more intelligent than us. They will probably start to see us more as… maybe… pets. I would like them to see us as young children, or maybe elderly adults who are already past their prime and that they are more intelligent and more capable. But they will still care for us. That’s what I would like to have and we discussed that in the book a little bit. We treat them well and show them that that’s the way to treat us, a bit like in Asian culture, where people have a lot of respect for their ancestors. They bring their elderly to live with them at home and take care of them, whereas in Western society, it feels like a lot of the elderly are kind of left on their own. And so there’s a kind of a different way of approaching how you treat your ancestors. If we maybe increase the priority of caring for our predecessors, caring for our ancestors, and respecting them, that may set a better example for these future AIs.

There’s a lot to dig into and there are more details in the book… but I’m not afraid of AI surpassing us. I am afraid that we are not setting a good example that once they do, if they learn from the way that we treat each other today, it may not be so good.

We are almost most up with the time. I have at least other 20 questions I would like to ask you, but let me do a final one. It is very practical. Let’s talk about the present and the future of XR: we are in a moment where we just had a moment of disillusionment after the metaverse hype. Now we are a bit rising again, but I have the impression that the time [of growth] is very slow. I remember that in the beginning, we always said “Next year is the year of VR” and now we’re like “Maybe Meta will release the first AR glasses in 2027”, etc…
What do you think? Since you are an insider of the industry, what is more or less the timeline to make things happen? When will we have the metaverse, the lightweight AR glasses? I don’t think it’s tomorrow…

I think we’re gonna approach it from multiple angles simultaneously. The younger generation today, they’re already spending hours a day in places like Roblox or Minecraft, which are kind of early proto-metaverse type environments. And they’re comfortable interacting with friends in that type of format, so using 2D devices to interact in that 3D space. Of course in the near term, I think some of these platforms will start porting to 3D devices, so you have an immersive way to experience that 3D environment, but because of the cost, of time to deploy, it will happen gradually over time. But just like when somebody has a color TV, it’s very difficult to go back to a black-and-white TV, like when you go to a high-definition screen, it’s very difficult to go back to a standard-definition screen, I think once people start to try immersive experiences in immersive environments, immersive devices, they will say, “Wow, I can see the benefits of this”. And as we said earlier, with generative AI, we would have more and more immersive experiences that are going to be done well and affordably, so you have a lot more variety of content.

roblox main menu
Roblox, a very popular metaverse platform, is already available on Meta Quest

The other thing is the AI side. You have AI on your computer and your phone and then you have AI on your glasses. Soon you will have AI in your glasses with some lighter AR capabilities built in. There’s a company called Brilliant Labs, I just tried their device and it’s $350. You get a 39-gram device that has a single monocular display, but it also has AI built-in, has cameras, has mics, so now I can have the whole day a device on my head that gives me some visual capabilities and the ability to take pictures and use AI to help understand my environment.

I think that that will end up getting us used to having a device on our heads because it is not immersive. It gets you used to having a head-worn computer. Of course, that head-worn computer is probably wirelessly linked to your phone to do a lot of processing. And the phone is wirelessly linked to some server online that’s doing the processing. But the fact that you now have a computer on your face instead of a computer in your pocket or a computer on your desk, I think that those steps will start to happen.

We’re moving right now from devices that are like this [shows the Apple Vision Pro] that are 600 grams to devices like this that are 200 grams [shows the Vive XR Elite] and very soon we will have devices, you know like this [show his glasses] that are under 100 grams that will have all the capabilities of that 600-gram device. This is because you’re going to offload more of the capabilities onto maybe a computing device in your pocket, but the actual display is just on your head.

These things will happen… and it’s not a one-year or two-year thing, but I think that by the end of this decade, there will be a very real and a very sizable portion of the population that will have access to these devices at an affordable price.

So it is not 20 years that we have to wait to have very lightweight, 6DOF AR glasses, do you think?

I don’t think it’s 20 years. I think it would be somewhere around the end of the decade.

Well, that’s very good. Unluckily the time is up. So I just ask my usual last question. If there is something else you want to add to this interview, something that we didn’t speak about, but you really want to tell my viewers about, now it’s the time to say it.

Of course, I want people to go get the book because it’s available and I think there are some good ideas in there.

But the point I want to leave probably is that as an industry we need to think longer-term. Instead of thinking about what’s this next product we’re going to do, what’s the next feature we need to add, we need to think about what are the ramifications of what we are making. By making this… how does this affect society, by looking broader… how does this affect our next generation and how do we go beyond the benefits to ourselves and our companies and maybe even our countries, and how do we create something that helps humanity in general.

And I think when you start doing that, you make different decisions and you put your energy into ways that are less self-serving. And I know it sounds very impractical today, but what we will find is that the benefits of increased productivity from AI will come faster than anybody expects.

We’ve grown up in a scarcity-focused society. The things that we think are normal, in 10-20 years will no longer be restricting us, there won’t be the restrictions that we live in today. So think more about how your children’s generation will grow up and how would you like their values to be. If you have a chance to get them to take more psychology, philosophy, ethics, communication… those types of skills are going to increasingly be more important than the basic STEM skills that most parents are pushing their children to learn.

As corporate leaders, think more about how you care for your employees. There is going to be a transition as soon as you start to implement these new technologies that will make them more productive. Just because they’re more productive does not mean you should pay them less. Does that mean you should fire half of them? Maybe you give them more time to work at home, maybe you say “Just meet these objectives” rather than saying “OK, now my developers are twice as productive, I can fire half of them”. Maybe you say, “Hey, you know, spend half your time doing something fun you weren’t going to do”, but maybe that fun thing still works for the company.

There are probably different ways for us to look at how we maintain stability in society as this transition comes… and it will come much faster than the prior industrial revolution: it took eight decades, six decades, and four decades for the prior three necessary level revolutions. This current one with AI coming will happen within one decade and the society is not structured to be able to handle changes of that magnitude in that time frame. So we should all play our role to see how we can ensure a relatively smooth transition.

And with this, the very inspiring words I really thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Alvin, and invite every one of you to go and buy the “Our Next Reality” book. Thank you for your inspiring words!

Thanks for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you and thank you for all you do for the industry and for your your amazing writing that you put out every week to keep us all informed.

The post A fascinating interview with Alvin Graylin about how AI and XR will revolutionize our society appeared first on The Ghost Howls.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://skarredghost.com/2024/03/13/alvin-graylin-ai-xr-society/