Pokemon Go Creator Thinks Metaverse Should Keep It ‘Real’

Pokemon Go Creator Thinks Metaverse Should Keep It ‘Real’

Pokemon Go Creator Thinks Metaverse Should Keep It 'Real'

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Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke has been working on technology that helps people navigate and enjoy real-world places since he helped create Google Maps nearly 20 years ago. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s not a fan of the current hyperbole surrounding the idea that technology is about to hatch a “metaverse” – a three-dimensional simulation of the real world populated by digital avatars of reunited ourselves with friends, family and colleagues to play, work and experience other aspects of an artificial life so captivating it seems real.


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is such an ardent fan of a concept he hails as “the Internet incarnate” that he recently renamed his company Meta. Hanke, however, fears that Zuckerberg’s vision is becoming a “dystopian nightmare” again.

Instead, Hanke hopes to create technology that integrates with the physical world — an approach known as “augmented reality,” or AR. That’s what Niantic Labs has already done with Pokemon Go, a popular mobile phone game that deploys AR to allow people to hunt digital creatures while roaming neighborhoods, parks, and elsewhere. He recently discussed his hopes for what he calls a “real world” metaverse with The Associated Press.

Q: What bothers you most about Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to create a metaverse?

A: I feel like people are fooling themselves, thinking the future is people connecting to a 3D world and walking around as avatars. I don’t believe this is the future of technology and certainly not the future of humanity. I think it was a weird reaction to COVID in a way, with people sheltering at home, watching a lot of Netflix, getting a lot of delivery food, and kids living on Roblox a lot.

If you look at technology and where it was heading before the pandemic, it was about mobile apps that you could take with you wherever you were. You go out with your kids, you do things in the world, and it helps you get there with Google Maps, it helps you eat with Yelp, it helps you find the hotel you’re going to stay at. It was that kind of technology that helps you as a human to do human things better.

Q: So you think the metaverse should go more in that direction?

A: When we think of the real world metaverse, we think of reality channels. The real-world metaverse is rooted in what we do today, but it’s an evolutionary step toward some of the same ideas that some people talk about the metaverse. It’s some of those same ideas that play out in the real world. Rather than sitting at home and being plugged into your computer looking at charts, (it’s) being in the real world with a device that brings those things to you and makes that experience richer and more fun, more efficient .

Q: Where do you see augmented reality going?

A: When I say augmented reality, I literally mean augmented reality. And that could be anything your senses can perceive. If my augmentation is I made a tree whisper when you’re sitting near it, and that was just an audio form of augmented reality, that’s really a legit form of augmenting the world. If you were looking at a painting of cherry blossoms in the museum, if I could convey the smell of those blossoms to you, that would be a great use of augmented reality. Some of them may come from phones, some may come from other devices. But we are visual creatures and we love visual things. We respond to visual input before all others. The same goes for the fact that visual AR is very important, which brings you to glasses (connected to the Internet).

Q: Finally, what are your thoughts on current efforts to loosen controls and reduce fees in mobile app stores operated by Apple and Google?

A: It reminds me of London Bridge, the old toll bridges being left in the down position until the captain pays so he can bring his boat into the harbour. These things last as long as the toll keepers can hold them in place. It’s a lucrative business, but I think overall there’s no real technological reason why you can’t have many app stores and you can’t have a fair way to distribute apps.

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