Hi, my name is Sky Nite and I’m the head of education at UploadVR. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned over the past two years, and hopefully inspire you to save the world.
Just so you know where I’m coming from, I started my VR career after unofficially graduating from college and publishing a book called Virtual Reality Insider. I then dove into building a VR content company, focusing on an initial game where you used psychic powers to fight the International Security Agency.The very first thing I did was spend a month teaching myself the basics of C#, Unity, and 3D modeling so that I’d understand VR dev tools. I spent 7 months after that building a narrative framework, prototyping DK2 experiences with the help of developers, and learning from the VR community in the Bay Area. I then dove into Unity development full-time, becoming confident enough after 3 months to start working on a 10-minute release pilot.
Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my game and gearing up for a Kickstarter, I became aware of UploadVR’s education interests, and saw it as an opportunity more directly aligned with my purpose. That purpose is what this presentation is all about, democratizing and accelerating knowledge.
Why Democratize and Accelerate VR?
So why these two words? Why should we care about Democratizing and Accelerating VR knowledge? Well, VR and AR will power our entire computing experience in about 10 years. It’s a platform that will impact billions of people for hours of their life every day. So, to make sure the average life is better because of it, we need to be thinking about how knowledge is created and spread.
Previously, mass knowledge was disseminated only via those with the capital to do so. It was top down media. Now tools exist where anyone can share their views on something like Youtube and be heard by millions of people, bypassing the old system of network-controlled programming.
The same thing is beginning to happen with 3D content. But we’re just at the cusp. Media should be a reflection of the society at large, not just the power brokers. Everyone has a voice, and we should do what we can to allow others to hear it.
Acceleration is important in two different frames. In one frame, we live in a society of technological acceleration, which means that to keep up with the forefront of knowledge, we have to accelerate the rate at which we learn. Think about how many people in the world currently have no idea about VR. You could unveil a Star Trek-level holodeck room this year for the same price and there would still be a gradual period of ramp-up to using the tech as an integral part of society. The gap in capabilities between the people who quickly learned to use the device and those who were slow to the party would be HUGE!
The other frame is that of actually increasing the rate of innovation. I don’t know about you, but I’d personally love to see food insecurity ended in my lifetime. Heck, while we’re at it why not become the first extra-solar colonization? The only barriers to these things is the rate of human innovation, which is why accelerating that rate of innovation is so important.
Luckily, there is already a strong force at work democratizing and accelerating VR.
Modern game engines have dramatically democratized 3D development! Now small studios, sometimes even individual creators, can make something distributed to millions of people. Additionally, game engines have accelerated the rate at which development can be done, as well as the rate at which people can learn to develop.
Modern engines have laid the foundation of democratization and acceleration, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to build systems on top of them.
What we need are well constructed systems, that zoom out and look at the big picture. All too often we get caught up in branches of a problem, without looking at the problem’s root. I was lucky because I went to a high school that taught system thinking, and continued to pursue it in college and my professional studies. But system thinking should be a core part of everyone’s education, since it would save us a massive amount of time identifying and fixing problems.
From my own research, I’ve identified three pressure points that can help democratize and accelerate knowledge. Collaboration, Empowerment, and Learning.
Lets start with Collaboration. We’ve been doing the mechanical style in the image on the right for a couple hundred years, but it turns out it’s not a very good structure for knowledge workers. And since we’re moving more and more toward a knowledge economy, sticking to this old structure is costing us a massive amount of innovation. Remember, innovation is the ultimate currency, since it directly pays down all of society’s problems.
Luckily, a newer, more fluid style of management has emerged. Different forms of self-management have been employed by a number of companies, and to great success. One example from the VR industry is Valve, which has a flat structure and allows employees to fully choose what projects they work on.
How we empower people is also important. People can’t create awesome new things if they can’t eat. Having a larger number of smaller investments seems like a good approach to helping democratize what VR content gets produced. Rapidly prototyping, then spending a few months on pilot release content could be a useful structure for identifying what’s good at a low cost. Google has been doing this with Daydream Labs, where they have a 2-person team make a prototype every week, with very-compelling results turned into larger scale projects.
We need to be thinking like Google about how to maximize innovation for every dollar spent, but across the entire industry and company ecosystem.
Learning is the area I’ve recently been applying my full focus to, as better learning systems will enable us to improve all areas more quickly. There are not nearly enough people yet with the skills needed to develop VR content. The tech for VR as a platform is already convincing, but we’re only starting to tap the surface on content.
To start tackling this problem, I’m working with Upload and Make School to create VR developer training programs. This weekend I’ll be teaching a 3-day intro to VR development, where you’ll leave knowing the basics of how to make a VR game in Unity. I’m also building and teaching a two-month intensive summer course where students with programming experience will be prepared to start immediately working as a Unity developer in the VR industry.
Although these starter projects provide accelerated learning, their cost is prohibitive to widespread democratization. We’ll need to use the data we glean from these early courses to build a variety of learning resources at every price point. As I mentioned in an article about the VR developer shortage, we need a ton more programs to adequately prepare people for VR careers. And the quicker we can teach people to develop VR, the faster our industry will grow.
Hopefully I’ve left you with more questions than answers. There’s a lot of work and experimentation to be done, but by focusing on root systems we can all build a better world powered by VR.