Entertainment

Epic built a stunningly realistic Matrix demo to show the promise of the metaverse

The interactive demo is the first of its kind for Epic’s new game engine, which promises to revolutionize virtual world-building.

Screenshot from Matrix game

The demo doubles as an advertisement for the movie “The Matrix Resurrections" and Epic’s upcoming Unreal Engine 5.

Image: Epic Games

Epic Games wants to convince the gaming and entertainment industries that we’re on the precipice of a paradigm shift in the world of 3D graphics, and its tool for doing so is “The Matrix.”

The new game demo is called The Matrix Awakens and was made in collaboration with “Matrix” co-creator Lana Wachowski for the upcoming fourth film in the series. It launched on Thursday for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S during the annual Game Awards. It features among the most photorealistic graphics and sophisticated in-engine effects and physics simulations the game industry has ever seen. It comes equipped with an interactive portion for people to experience firsthand as if they were playing a small slice of a cutting-edge, next-generation video game.

The demo doubles as both an advertisement for the movie “The Matrix Resurrections,” releasing Dec. 22, and Epic’s upcoming Unreal Engine 5. The company’s game engine is both a set of powerful tools and a creation platform for developing virtual worlds and assets used primarily for video game development, but also increasingly by Hollywood movie studios, automobile manufacturers and architecture firms. The new engine is releasing next year, and before this, the most high-profile display of its capabilities was a non-interactive demo, The Valley of the Ancients, demoed on the PS5 in May of last year.

For Epic, UE5 and its collaboration with Hollywood, as well as the transmedia success of its hit game Fortnite, are part of a multiyear effort to expand its business well beyond games. Epic wants its tools to be used by all sorts of industries that rely on 3D graphics and real-time rendering to market products, create new media and build the foundational layers of what will become the sought-after metaverse. This virtual universe, proponents like Epic say, will blend social media, work, play and the internet as we know it into an all-encompassing 3D world that will blur the lines of reality.

Epic thinks UE5 is a major step in helping us get there by creating simulations of unprecedented fidelity and lifelike realism. And the company is choosing “The Matrix” as a strategic effort to hammer home the point that this won’t be restricted to just the world of video games.

Epic Chief Technical Officer Kim Libreri, who is friends with the Wachowskis and worked as a visual-effects supervisor on the original “Matrix” trilogy, said that tools like UE5 are going to help create the bridge between the real world and the eventual metaverse. “We’re on the cusp of really not being able to tell the difference between reality and the virtual world,” Libreri told Protocol in an interview this week. “As we head into the metaverse, think of the possibility of games, experiences, stories that are generated in real time.”

The Matrix Awakens demo does a good job of underlining that point. It features de-aged versions of actors Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, created using Epic’s sophisticated facial-animation platform it calls MetaHuman Creator and by pulling photography from the original film trilogy two decades ago. At certain points in the demo, which is all rendered inside the engine in real time with no post-processing or pre-rendered cutscenes, it can be near-impossible to discern the difference between a virtual shot and one spliced from the original films.

This applies not just to people, but entire swaths of virtual assets, too. Epic created a replica of a major American city (think a small slice of Manhattan) that you can fully explore with a new character, IO, crafted from scratch using MetaHuman Creator especially for the demo. Epic plans to release the assets as part of the UE5 launch next year so other developers can make use of them to create mini-games or inform their own projects.

Inside the city, which was procedurally generated and filled with 35,000 pedestrians and close to 10 million total assets, you can drive most of the 45,000 parked cars, change the weather and lighting with the push of a button and even toggle on filters showing you the various layers the Unreal Engine uses to compose environments out of code. Libreri said the toggle is designed as a clever reference to how Reeves’ Neo gains the ability to perceive the underlying programming of the simulated world they fight in.

To create some of the interactive portions of the demo featuring car chases and explosions, Epic even had members of the team take control of virtual automobiles, like video game stuntmen, and drive them while a separate crew used virtual cameras to capture the desired cinematography.

Libreri says pulling in such assets from the real world and manipulating them will become easier as time goes on and advancements in photography and filmography, 3D-mapping and augmented reality make it trivial to take something concrete from our world, be it an object on your desk or even your own physical appearance, and transfer it to a digital one.

“As we head toward the metaverse, people will start to think of assets as usable objects just as they are in the real world,” Libreri said. “We’re going to see a big transformation of how people think of digital content going forward.”

Policy

The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

At the heart of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in West Virginia v. EPA was a codification of the “major questions doctrine,” which, he wrote, requires “clear congressional authorization” when agencies want to regulate on areas of great “economic and political significance.”

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Climate

How I decided to shape Microsoft’s climate agenda

Lucas Joppa went from studying ecology to shaping one of the tech industry’s most robust climate plans. Here’s why — and why CEOs should consider hiring more people like him.

Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer of Microsoft, told Protocol about the company's plans.

Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Microsoft has set a number of lofty climate and environmental goals. Forget net zero: It wants to be carbon negative by 2030. Ditto for water.

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Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Fintech

There’s a secret hub for fintech talent: Look south

Far from Silicon Valley and Wall Street, Atlanta has long been a hub for payments technology.

Atlanta hasn’t gotten its share of the fintech buzz, perhaps because its founders are less prone to tweetstorming.

Illustration: iStock/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

San Francisco has Square, Stripe and Plaid. But Atlanta has CoreCard, Kabbage and CheckFree. It also lays claim to pioneering charge cards, electronic payments and ATMs. Many of the everyday innovations in fintech we’ve come to rely on have the Atlanta metropolitan area to thank.

Yet Atlanta hasn’t gotten its share of the fintech buzz, perhaps because its founders are less prone to tweetstorming and its products don’t have developers rhapsodizing about APIs. Atlanta’s fintech scene has developed around a stabler, more cautious ethos: less move fast and break things, more stay safe and build things. At a time when fintech valuations have fallen sharply from their lofty peaks and regulators are circling, that may make Atlanta a more favorable place to place fintech bets, whether that means founding a company, investing or hiring local talent.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

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