Welcome back to Spatial Beats. This week, we dive into the top-ten tech stories of 2020. The first five are general tech & culture while the last five are XR-specific. Let’s dive in…

Overall Tech & Culture 

1. The pandemic. Obviously. The rapid development of the vaccine is a biotech miracle. Science.

2. Space! Outer Space. Space X is lacing thousands of Starlink satellites above the earth to provide always-on Internet network to people in remote places. Space X’s reusable Dragon Capsule brought crew to the ISS. Founder Elon Musk, who also founded Tesla, Paypal, The Boring Company, and Hyperloop, just surpassed Jeff Bezos as the richest man in the world.

3. AI.  This story is not going well. Will recommendation engines kill us by giving us exactly what we want? Social media giants have a lot to answer for.

4. Streaming. The end of the movie theater? Have the streaming services won? Yes. They have. Now what’s going to happen to the malls Amazon doesn’t want as warehouses?

5. The hack of the century. Russian government hackers piggybacked on cybersecurity software (!!!!) to penetrate deep into hundreds of government and corporate systems. No one knows how deeply they went or how long they were there or if they created back doors for further intrusions. I’m honestly scared. If you took down the electrical grid, none of our tech would work.

XR-Specific Stories

1. The successful launch of the Quest 2 by Facebook. The pandemic has been good to tech and tech stocks are partying like it’s 1999.

2. Magic Leap’s pivot to enterprise. Charismatic founder and CEO Rony Abovitz raised $3.4 B from Google, Disney, AT&T, Alibaba Group, JP Morgan, Kleiner Perkins, Qualcomm, and other brand name investors to make see-through AR glasses, and the content, optics, chips, and AI that go in them. The first developer version was released in late 2018 to mixed reviews. A year later Magic Leap ran out of cash and laid off half the company. $350 million came in at the last minute to allow a new CEO, Peggy Johnson, from Microsoft, to focus on enterprise business.

3. The US Army’s XR IVAS. Integrated Visual Augmentation System is using the Microsoft HoloLens to give soldiers an augmented view of the battlefield.

4. Unity’s IPO. Now valued at $40 B. And Sony’s investment in Epic Games values the maker of Fortnite at $17 B (China’s Tencent invested in 2012 and owns 50% of the company). Epic’s value on the public market could be as high as $60 B. The games industry made over $120 B last year, bigger than movies, music, and streaming combined.

5. Mirror worlds and digital twins. The long-awaited “AR Cloud.” Niantic acquired 6D.ai and is mapping the world by piggybacking on Pokemon Go.

Honorable Mention: LiDAR. I’d put Apple in the top ten also for its introduction of lidar (3D depth scans) on the new iPad. This is very compelling. And connected to mirrorworlds and the AR Cloud.

Looking Forward

On the “This Week in XR” podcast (below), Ted Schilowitz, the Futurist at Paramount Pictures, picked Tesla (their stock is up 800% this year), self-driving cars, Project ARia from Facebook, and the AR glasses from Apple as his 2020 tech stories. He also chose space. We need something to look forward to.

2020 showed us a future still arriving, and unevenly distributed. The unintended consequences of the tech boom, great disparities of wealth, and massive job losses due to automation, further expose technology’s uneven benefits. After all, who is going to ride in that flying autonomous taxi? And who is responsible for the displaced drivers it puts out of business?

This Week in XR is now a podcast hosted by Paramount’s Futurist Ted Schilowitz and Charlie Fink, the author of this weekly column. You can find it on podcasting platforms Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube. Watch the latest episode below.

Charlie Fink is an author and futurist focused on spatial computing. See his books here. Spatial Beats contains insights and inputs from Fink’s collaborators including Paramount Pictures futurist Ted Shilowitz.

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