The concept of the metaverse has gained an army of supporters over the past year, ranging from Big Tech companies to fashion brands and even dating apps. However, one major tech heavyweight isn’t as convinced: PlayStation inventor Ken Kutaragi.
“You would rather be a polished avatar instead of your real self?” Kutaragi asked. “That’s essentially no different from anonymous messageboard sites.” Kutaragi isn’t a fan of virtual reality headsets either, despite reports that his former company is well on its way to developing a new high-performance gaming wearable. “Headsets would isolate you from the real world, and I can’t agree with that,” Kutaragi said. “Headsets are simply annoying.”
At the same time, Kutarag is actively working on a new company that’s approaching the concept of a metaverse, from a different more practical perspective. Kutaragi’s new company, Ascent Robotics, seeks to create systems that will help transform real-world objects into computer-readable data. In practice, that means building robots and applying software to make those automatons better equipped at performing simple tasks.
In a video for its “Ascent Pick,” product, the company shows off a robotic arm quickly and accurately grabbing components out of a tray. Through its use of particular AI applications, the company claims its systems can function without the need for human labelling of objects.
Ascent claims its tech can “lower costs” and lead to “a dramatic increase in the productivity of manufacturing lines.” According to Bloomberg, Ascent is currently aimed towards retail and logistics customers, with the ultimate goal of relieving humans from engaging in tedious manual labour. Think Elon Musk’s vision for the Tesla bot, but with less spandex and more real-world utility.
Looking to the future, Kutaragi said he envisions a reality where data can be produced in the real world through hologram-like images. One day, Kutarag believes shoppers could potentially see a hologram for an e-commerce company that passersby can interact with to shop. In a way, this sounds like its own type of metaverse, but rather than suck people into a virtual world through wearables, this experience would export the internet onto the physical world. Unfortunately, all the futures anyone can imagine seem to begin and end with advertising.
Kutaragi isn’t the only major player in the tech industry to call into question the supposed utopian allure of the metaverse. Last year, Niantic CEO John Hanke, whose company has created some of the most compelling modern-day augmented reality-based early metaverse, described some of the effort being imagined as a “dystopian nightmare.”
“As a society, we can hope that the world doesn’t devolve into the kind of place that drives sci-fi heroes to escape into a virtual one,” Hanke said in a statement. “Or we can work to make sure that doesn’t happen.”