August 19, 2021
Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: The OASIS Consortium wants metaverse companies to embrace ethics from the get-go and filmmaker Neill Blomkamp talks volumetric video capture.
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Depending on who you ask, the metaverse is either the future of social or a dystopian nightmare. Tiffany Xingyu Wang, co-founder and president of the OASIS Consortium, believes it could turn into either of those two things — and she's been busy to make sure the industry gets it right.
Wang soft-launched OASIS in recent months with a podcast focused on safety for emerging social platforms. On Thursday, OASIS relaunched as an industry consortium that will promote ethical standards and practices for the metaverse. Wang spoke exclusively to Protocol Next Up about the need to build a safer and more inclusive metaverse, and the role her group wants to play promoting those efforts.
The metaverse is a chance for a do-over, Wang said. "Over 40% of U.S. internet users have experienced online harassment," she told me. A key reason for that has been that today's social platforms were built without safeguards, with companies only embracing moderation once things got ugly. "I hope we can learn from those mistakes," Wang said.
Making safety a priority will require dedicated personnel. Metaverse companies need to hire people dedicated to making it a safer place now, and not when problems start to pile up, Wang believes. "We need to build a workforce for trust and safety for the metaverse," she told me.
Having a diverse workforce is also key. "You can't imagine a policy to be inclusive if everyone on the product team is white and male," Wang said. Building a safe and inclusive metaverse will require diverse and inclusive companies, which again needs to extend to the C level. "[Diversity and inclusion] is a grassroot need, but needs to be a top-down effort," she said.
OASIS Consortium wants to promote a renewed focus on safety, privacy and inclusion for the metaverse with a panel of experts that includes executives from companies like Agora, dentsu, Fandom, Kuaishou Technologies, The Meet Group, Pandora, Riot Games, Roblox, Wildlife Studios and others. "I call them the philosophers for the metaverse," Wang said.
Such an ethics rulebook for building the metaverse couldn't come soon enough, Wang believes. "We need to think about it now," she told me. "We can't repeat history."
"Intel hasn't had much vision of any kind lately, so this isn't exactly a huge surprise." — Cloud specialist Corey Quinn's response to the news that Intel is killing its RealSense computer vision camera.
"Next time you hear a big company boast that they're going to take over podcasting, remember it's not that easy." — RSS pioneer Dave Winer's take on a report that Apple's new podcast subscription service is off to a rocky start.
The key to tackling ransomware is disrupting the ransomware supply chain — developers, affiliates, infrastructure services providers, launderers and cashout points — and the blockchain is the only data source that ties these actors together. So while it may seem counterintuitive at first, ransomware groups' use of cryptocurrency for ransom payments is actually beneficial to ransomware investigations.
Neill Blomkamp, best known for directing the dystopian sci-fi film "District 9," decided to make a low-budget horror movie when Canada's film industry shut down last year because of COVID. To produce "Demonic," which is being released in theaters Friday, Blomkamp had to improvise — which is how he came up with the idea to use volumetric capture for key parts of the movie.
Volumetric capture involves dozens of cameras to film an actor from all angles. The process is often used to create 3D assets for AR and VR content, but Blomkamp effectively used it as a replacement for traditional motion capture — the kind of filming that requires actors to wear black spandex suits full of white trackers, which then gets used as raw material for visual effects animation.
Those kinds of visual effects-heavy productions can get expensive quickly. "The process of volume capture is much more cost-effective than motion capture," Blomkamp told me during a recent interview. "This movie wouldn't have been makeable at the budget level that we were at [without] this technology."
"Demonic" turned out to be the perfect project for it. "You have a person who is in a virtual simulated environment because they're in a coma," Blomkamp said. Turning actors into 3D assets ended up being the perfect way to get the aesthetic just right. "I love the way it looks," Blomkamp said.
Blomkamp is no stranger to new technology: In 2017, he cooperated with Unity on the short film series "ADAM," which was produced entirely with the company's real-time engine. When COVID hit, Blomkamp reconnected with Unity to get some help with the production of "Demonic."
Recently, Blomkamp made headlines by joining Gunzilla Games as chief visionary officer. He told me that he sees a lot more progress in gaming than in Hollywood these days. "I don't see that much evolution on the film side of things," he said. "You're telling a story to a passive audience. On the game side, that's where all the evolution is going to happen."
Remember "Inception?" I'd like to imagine that a 2021 version of the movie would look a little bit like this AR/VR experiment — and personally can't wait until I have an AR mini-me on my desk. Either way, it's probably a good idea to start choosing your totem, just in case.
Thanks for reading — see you next week!