009 – Dr. Ramses Alcaide

Dr. Ramses Alcaide is the CEO and Founder of Neurable, a Loup Ventures portfolio company focused on non-invasive BCI. Ramses earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan.

Top 3 Takeaways.

  1. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) allow for human intent to act as an new input to computers. With knowledge of intent, information is only given to a user when it is wanted and actions of a computer only happen when desired.
  2. Hardware for non-invasive BCI will continue to have better performance and decrease in physical size, improving BCI experiences in the future.
  3. Applying the technology to non-invasive BCI solutions is arguably harder than invasive solutions given challenges around processing noisy, limited signal, but the opportunity to impact live sooner is worth the challenge.

Show Notes.

  • [1:08] Ramses shares his background and how he became interested in Neurotech.
  • [2:46] Ramses talks about Neurable’s early prototype and where the product is today.
  • [3:33] Neurable (and Loup Ventures) sees augmented and virtual reality as the next frontier for human interaction.
  • [4:12] Ramses shares the long-term picture for Neurable and the importance for natural interfaces on tomorrow’s devices.
  • [5:34] Human intent as an input.
  • [6:10] Ramses walks through the differences he sees in input technologies for BCI.
  • [7:50] How BCI hardware will change over the next few years.
  • [8:53] The future of BCI in consumer hardware and where the next major growth opportunities are.
  • [10:07] Pathway for hardware integration for current device manufacturers.
  • [11:11] Invasive vs non-invasive BCI systems.
  • [15:36] Data privacy and it’s relationship with BCI.
  • [17:23] Ramses’ favorite book – Pattern Master by Octavia Butler.

Selected Links.

Related Podcasts.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Feedback Loup: Oculus Go’s Baby Steps for VR

Source: cnet.com

  • Facebook announced the release of their Oculus Go standalone VR headset at the F8 developer conference on May 1st, and gave every attendee at the conference a free device.
  • The Go is an easy access point for getting into VR with its $199 price tag and built-in software eliminating the need for wires or other devices to power the device.
  • Though not a breakthrough, it is a step toward the mass adoption of VR. Still, we believe the much more important test comes with Oculus’s Santa Cruz project.

A proof-of-concept product. Facebook’s F8 giveaway reinforces the objective of the Oculus Go: to make VR more accessible and get the technology in the hands of more users. Unlike the Gear VR or Google Daydream, the headset doesn’t require a compatible smartphone to work, opening the door for other Android and iPhone users to get into VR at an accessible price point. The reason it must be “other Android and iPhone users” and not “anyone and everyone” is that a smartphone app is required to get the Go up and running. Fortunately, once the registration is done the app is unnecessary. The visuals and overall experience are pretty much the same as the Go’s smartphone-based cousins, but, while this means no new fancy bells and whistles, it also means that the quality of the experience is preserved in the leap from mobile to standalone VR. The controller, being one-handed with limited functionality, hinders the Go’s gaming capabilities, making video and other interactive experiences the most compelling apps available. As time goes on we believe developers will begin to get the hang of creating for this new platform and the experiences will improve. Nonetheless, the novelty of standalone VR is well-demonstrated with the Go – pull the headset over your eyes, and you’re in VR. No need to fumble with your smartphone or the outright daunting hardware of PC-based VR that makes the technology inaccessible. The Oculus Go is a great entry-point into virtual reality, and will hopefully expose many more people to the technology. Despite this fact, the Oculus Go comes up short in producing true ‘wow’ moments that can sway VR skeptics’ minds.

A promotional image for the Oculus Santa Cruz.

A promotional image for the Oculus Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz in sight. Successfully replicating the Gear VR/Daydream experience on a standalone device bodes well for Oculus’s more ambitious standalone VR project, the Santa Cruz. Announced in 2016, the Santa Cruz is the standalone version of Oculus’s high-end Rift VR system, just as the Go is the standalone version of Gear VR (and Daydream). The Santa Cruz headset will have six-degrees-of-freedom through inside-out tracking and two full controllers for a much more robust experience. It is a logical progression to make the less intensive smartphone-quality VR content work on a standalone device before trying to replicate what high-end PCs are capable of. Providing a PC-quality (or better) VR experience anywhere will be far more effective than the Oculus Go in convincing people that VR is for real and here to stay. While this first generation of standalone headsets isn’t exactly a watershed moment, it is a positive and important step in VR innovation.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

All Technology is Good and Evil

Ready Player One showcased both the promise and the pitfalls of our technological future. A virtual world that enables your wildest dreams, on demand, on top of a real world that rots in decay because the virtual one is so much better. All great sci-fi achieves this balance — a healthy observation about what can go right and how right can evolve to wrong.

The core insight of science fiction is that all technologies live on a spectrum of good and evil, useful and harmful, and our perception of their place on that spectrum vacillates over time. It’s a truth that we’ve long known innately but are now being forcefully reminded of in our real world. In just the past couple months, we’ve dealt with major Facebook data privacy issues, multiple self-driving car accidents, and increasing discussion about smartphone addiction. These technologies that were largely accepted, if not embraced, have turned on us. Perhaps it’s more correct to say we turned on them.

All technologies live on a spectrum of good and evil, useful and harmful.

So, what is it that turns technology from good to evil in our eyes? It seems to happen for one of two reasons.

First, in the early adoption phases of any technology, the majority tends to have a healthy skepticism laced with fear. It’s the reason why most people don’t adopt new technology, only innovators. When a new technology has early failings, the skeptical, fearful majority find reason to double down. They feel validation and their skepticism grows, allowing them to make a case for why some new technology is more evil than good; why it should never exist. This creates an even higher hurdle for a new technology to move into the early adoption phase. Autonomous vehicles seem to be living through a mild version of this scenario now. In fact, the discussion about the perils of AI in general also fits here.

Second, in the later stages of adoption when a majority of people use a given technology, consumers tend to view the technology with a dose of fear laced with resignation that can easily flip to anger. When people believe that too much power is consolidated in any endeavor, technology included, there lurks a possibility of revolt. That possibility turns to reality when power is perceived to be abused and anger takes over. Evil is perceived to outweigh good, and people question whether they want to continue to engage in using the technology. Facebook is living through anger-driven revolt now. You could argue that the firearm debate also fits in this category.

If a technology avoids the anger phase for a long enough period, it can move into a stable acceptance of the good and the bad. An example might be the car, which enables large scale movement of humanity and suburbanization, even though over a million people die every year in car accidents and gasoline-powered cars pollute the environment. The Internet fits here too, even if the smartphone as an extension of the Internet does not yet. Apple is doing all it can to demonstrate its respect of the power it wields in bringing highly addictive Internet services to everyone, all the time.

Just as Viktor Frankl observed that, “No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people,” no technology is purely decent or indecent; none is purely good or bad, which are human judgements anyway. The lesson from Ready Player One as well as our situation today is that we should always be willing to accept good with evil as it comes to technology. We should think about what all technologies will mean to humans first, not how exciting the technology is or how much money it could make or some other measure about what the technology could do. Our guiding light should be to ask, “How sure can we be that this technology will improve human life?” If we can’t get comfortable with that answer, we should be prepared to revolt. If we can get comfortable with it, we should be prepared to accept.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

F8: Community & Privacy Tools, Putting the Hammer Down on VR & AR

Conclusion. This week we’re attending F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference. We have been down on the Facebook story given the negative effects it has on society (i.e. most people don’t feel better after being on Facebook) have recently outweighed the positive effects (groups and social change). It’s not just us who believes this, Facebook openly acknowledges both the positives and negatives of the platform. It’s important to note we believe there are three things humans fundamentally do better than machines: creativity, empathy, and community. Mark Zuckerberg’s comments today were largely about improving privacy and, more importantly, announcing tools to embrace one-to-one and community building. We see these moves as a measurable first step in evolving the platform to make the world a better place. We’re a long way away, but today’s updates are a start.
  • Three areas Facebook wants to build more meaningful communities around are live video and events (i.e. Watch Party), dating/relationships, and Groups. These all facilitate building community.
  • The company announced new measures in privacy and fake news centered around elections, fact-checking, and greater user control of privacy settings. These advancements are largely a result of the election-meddling and Cambridge Analytica scandals.
  • The company is staying committed to its role in advancing VR and AR. They announced the $199 Oculus Go headset will ship today. AR camera effects are being added to Instagram and Messenger, which is bad news for Snap.
Updates to community. Facebook showcased Watch Party, where friends can get together to watch a video and share comments and reactions. The goal is to connect people through video and make it possible to watch with friends and family even if they’re on the other side of the world. The company also announced a new dating feature housed entirely within the app. It will be an opt-in service, and nothing will be posted or shared anywhere else on Facebook. Finally, Facebook showcased a renewed emphasis on groups with a ‘Groups’ tab in the app, making it easier to join and connect with people who share your interests.
Updates to privacy. In compliance with the EU’s GDPR requirements, Facebook is rolling out privacy controls for users making it easier for them to control what data is and is not tracked by Facebook as well as which apps you’ve given access to and what information they’re using. They’re working on a “clear history” feature where users can clear the data Facebook has collected, much like how the feature works in internet browsers. Mark Zuckerberg was again taking the company’s issues head-on and addressed them in his opening remarks, discussing all the various measures they’re taking to ensure privacy and safety (beyond user controls and clearing history) while still building things that connect people.
VR and AR. Both Instagram and Messenger will be getting the augmented reality camera effects currently available on Facebook. Instagram will also get a platform for content creators to create their own AR effects. Separately, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Oculus Go, their new standalone headset, will begin shipping today (and that everyone at F8 would get one for free). A milestone in VR’s evolution is the introduction of an untethered headset (i.e. no phone or computer necessary) that still offers a quality experience, and Oculus Go purports to be the first device that can provide that. The company also demonstrated how they’re using computer vision to recreate locations from photos as 3-dimensional, immersive spaces that users can walk through in VR. We are excited to see the content and experiences that start to emerge surrounding the Oculus Go.
Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make. 

Ready Player One

We’ve been waiting two years for this. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, based on the 2011 Ernest Cline novel of the same name, was released Thursday to much anticipation in the VR community. The story’s conflict plays out in two worlds: a dystopian “real” world and a virtual one. The real world has deteriorated to a point where the world’s entire population spends the majority of their time plugged into the virtual one, a game called the OASIS, a place with countless possibilities where anyone can be anyone or anything they choose. The film impresses the extent to which people prefer their virtual lives over their real ones. Loup Ventures is asking ourselves, is this a glimpse of the future of humanity with virtual reality?

Is this a world we want to live in? We wouldn’t want to live in the world of Ready Player One but would welcome the ability to immerse ourselves in an OASIS-like virtual world. Taking a step back, the premise is that the “real world” has become so terrible that everyone escapes into the (aptly-named) OASIS. The concept of an OASIS-like virtual world is something we’re more excited about than afraid. VR has the potential unleash the human imagination. The infinite possibilities of this virtual world create the ultimate environment for creativity and community. Players are able to do anything they can imagine with anyone on earth, and connecting people with similar interests becomes infinitely easier.

Today’s VR winter. In 2016, there was hype and hope around the technology and its potential, but things slowed down in 2017, and we’re still waiting for that “killer app” or breakthrough that spurs mass adoption. We expect late in 2018 and 2019 optimism around VR will improve. Hardware is holding VR back, but that soon may start to change with two upcoming catalysts; the release of Oculus Go ($200) and Lenovo Mirage Solo ($400). These headsets are about a quarter of the price of today’s standards, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and easier to set up and use (wireless). These will make VR more accessible. They’re both rumored to be released sometime in May. Another factor in a compelling VR experience is the ability to move around freely, know as degrees of freedom. Six degrees (left, right, up, down, forward, back) is the highest level. We’ve tried Mirage and were impressed by the ability to move with six degrees of freedom inside VR, while not being tethered to a PC or console. Oculus Go offers four degrees at half the cost of Mirage. The bottom line is a lot more people need to get compelling VR in their hands to advance VR through the winter. We eagerly await the thaw.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.