Crossing the Uncanny Valley into the Future
Just returning from the “Paradigm Shift” Agora Financial conference at the rad-retro TWA hotel at JFK airport, my head whirls with ideas and images for a Daily Prophecy.
My consciousness streaming, I bear my bags and electronic devices and proud memories of my Sunday age group triumph at the 15K Schenectady Stockade-athon.
I reflect on the breakthrough of my first video Daily Prophecy done in the afternoon at the hotel with my Agora publisher Doug Hill. I nod rhythmically to a great song by Maria Daines, “Your Time Will Come.” I collide, whop! Right into a glass door at the airport.
My eyebrow bleeds, my nose throbs, my brain splinters into smithereens of words and worlds: “iconic,” “WiFi6,” “retro,” “infinity bar and pool,” “5G,” “quantum supremacy,” “worthless.”
“Worthless,” that’s the word applied by allegedly dutiful Communist Ren Zhengfei, chief of Huawei, reacting to Chinese ruler Xi Jinping’s triumphalist speech last week on blockchain technology. China is aiming to be supreme in blockchain.
“Blockchain,” Ren said, “will be made worthless by quantum computing.” The idea is that quantum’s prime number factoring algorithm can break all the crypto codes that make blockchain secure.
I happen to think that Ren is one of the world’s most creative capitalists. But on quantum computing, he may be even more gullible than the folk at Google who described their 72-qubit (quantum bits) stunt machine as attaining “quantum supremacy.”
Xi Jinping is right on blockchain. Quantum is just the newest most fashionable form of retro computing. It’s the new analog. It pushes all the work of the computation into input-output functions: preparing the data, confecting the qubits. It is inexorably a special purpose.
But today is not the day for countering Ren’s dismissal of blockchain with my dismissal of quantum computing. Hey, I am so full of images, ideas, and verbiage that I scarcely know where to start my race.
Turning to Life After Google
As the founding financier of Otoy Corporation, I have been overlooking these over-the-top companies that stream video over the internet.
Under its 3D wizard CEO Jules Urbach, and its more remote shepherd Ari Emanuel of Endeavor, Otoy has focused on leaping over-the-top of the “uncanny valley” of game video.
In 3D video you have to cross that uncanny valley, and you got to cross it by yourself. You have to suspend your uneasy qualms, your doubt that the images you see are real.
What seems uncanny is the fact that the more accurate are the images the more uncomfortable you feel watching them until you cross that valley into true “forget-it’s-a-game” verisimilitude.
I experienced this sensation, triumphantly crossing the valley a quarter-century ago with Doug Trumbull’s Ride Film “Back to the Future: The Ride,” which was made in the riverside factory building in Housatonic, Massachusetts, where Gilder Publishing had its original offices. I invested with my friend Nick Kelley in a company to repeat its success, a venture that never found its market.
As I described it in the intro to Life After Google:
Trumbull underbid Hollywood’s Boss Films to make the four-minute, three-dimensional ride-film, which ended up costing some $40 million. It brought in a multiple of that in revenues over more than a decade and a half and saved the Universal theme park in Orlando from extinction at the hands of Disney World. It was first screened for three of my children and me in the building where we rented our offices. My youngest, Nannina, six at the time, was barred from the ride out of fear she would be unable to distinguish between the harrowing images and reality.
The fact was that none of us could. Belted into the seats of the DeLorean under the dome of an OmniMax screen, senses saturated, we quickly forgot that the car could move only three or four feet in any direction. That was enough to convey the illusion of full jet-propelled motion to our beleaguered brains. From the moment the lights dropped, we were transported. Chasing “Biff” through time, we zoomed out into the model of Hill Valley, shattering the red Texaco sign, zipping down the winding streets, crashing into the clock tower on the town hall and threw it into the Ice Age.
From an eerie frozen vista of convincing three-dimensional tundra, we tumbled down an active volcano and over a time cliff into the Cretaceous period. There we found ourselves attempting to evade the flashing teeth of the Tyrannosaurus rex. We failed, and the DeLorean plunged past the dinosaur’s teeth and into its gullet. Mercifully we were vomited out to pursue Biff, bumping into the back of his car at the resonant point of eighty-eight miles per hour, as we had been instructed to do by Doctor Brown. Shazaam, we plunged back into the present. Oh no! — are we going to crash through the panoramic glass window of the Orlando launch facility? Yessss! As thousands of shards fell to the floor, we landed back where we had started and stepped out of the DeLorean onto the dingy warehouse stage, no broken glass anywhere in sight.
The journey took only four minutes, but its virtual-reality intensity dilated time. Our eyes popping, our hearts racing, our lungs swollen, we felt as if we had been in the car for two hours. At least. We had actually undergone a form of time travel.
When Otoy delivers this kind of experience on every computer screen, we will finally cross the uncanny valley into the future. But first, we should recognize the incredible abundance of video today.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy