This is going to piss people off. I took a road trip a few weeks ago to New York and listened to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg where he discussed the Metaverse and Meta’s plans for it. The whole time I was thinking… this is complete bullshit. I feel that in the tech world there is so much bullshit out there, that I really needed to write a post about it and share my views on the subject.
My criteria for bullshit tech are:
- Over hyped in relationship to actual usefulness
- Over hyped in terms of current state of technology and unlikely to realize the vision in a reasonable amount of time.
- Unlikely to provide any real value in the near term
- A gigantic waste of time and money
These are listed in no particular order…
Ok… where to start with this one? Last year, I kept hearing all about how people were spending serious money to buy real estate in the metaverse and I was wondering what is this thing? It seemed like bullshit then and I’m still convinced that it’s bullshit. So let’s start with the obvious… WTF is the metaverse?
As I understood it, the metaverse is a virtual environment which you access via VR. In the interview I heard with Mr. Zuckerberg, he was suggesting that people could use this for work, and have meetings in VR and use the headset as an ideal working environment. The point would be that people would feel as if they are all in the same place, even though they may not physically be in the same place.
I’ve always thought that VR was really neat, and I still do. A few birthdays ago, my dad bought me an Oculus so I got to experience this myself. The thing is, I couldn’t really get into it. I played with it for a while, but after a while, I thought it was really neat technology but that was pretty much the end of it. I pick it up from time to time, but I don’t really spend much time with it. What’s interesting to me is that nearly everyone I’ve ever known who has a VR headset has the same experience. They get it, think it is neat, play with it for a little while and move on.
Let’s also talk physical limitations. Personally, I don’t think I could wear a VR headset for any length of time. They do give me headaches after a while. Secondly, I don’t like the idea of being somewhere working and being shut out of the real world.
With that said, I do think Zuckerberg’s idea, while interesting is a gross misreading of people’s desires post-pandemic. When the pandemic started, many of us were suddenly able to work remotely. If you an office worker, the huge benefit was that you didn’t have to commute hours every day just to sit at a desk and work on a computer. But with this came isolation, zoom fatigue, depression and other associated maladies. From my perspective, I really like working from home when I need to get shit done. But I still like going to an office occasionally to meet with people in person. I think there is real value in that which cannot be replicated virtually. The bottom line is that after all this, I don’t think people really are saying “Gee… I want to spend MORE time on video conferencing services”.
That’s from the business side, but then you might also ask about recreation. Wouldn’t it be cool to go to a virtual conference and have a happy hour with people? Or go to a virtual bar? I’m going to go with a hell no on that one. The point of going to social events is to… socialize. How do you go to a virtual happy hour with no drinks? Personally, I’m not really interested in sitting in my office, by myself with a beer… That’s weird and creepy.
Now one thing that could make the metaverse take off is something that is more asinine than TikTok. I’m not sure what that might be, but if there was some addictive social application that sucks your soul and lowers your IQ more effectively than TikTok, metaverse may have a chance.
With all that said, I’m calling bullshit on the metaverse.
Imagine a currency which is based on nothing, that is not backed by anything, the values are incredibly volatile, that you can’t really use anywhere, that takes between 1-1.5 hours to process a transaction, and that uses an insane amount of electrical energy. Well… I just described Bitcoin. Let’s start with the last part, according to the White House, it is estimated that Bitcoin mining uses , “between 120 and 240 billion kilowatt-hours per year, a range that exceeds the total annual electricity usage of many individual countries, such as Argentina or Australia.” For all those who claim to care about climate change, getting rid of crypto bullshit would arguably be more effective than many of the measures currently being discussed.
I am well aware that some people have made a ton of money on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. I’ll make the unfortunate prediction that many people will likely (and I’m sure already have) lose a ton of money on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. I started writing this before the FTX implosion, however this largely reinforces my belief. FTX isn’t the first major cryptocurrency service to collapse in spectacular fashion, causing billions of dollars in real losses. It likely won’t be the last.
I’ll also paraphrase Warren Buffet when he said that Bitcoin is not a productive asset and that its only value comes from trying to sell it to the next guy for more than you paid for it, and this is the core of my problem with cryptocurrency. Unless you are dealing drugs or other conducting illicit activity, there is very little reason for anyone to use cryptocurrency or any benefit that it offers that would make it more useful than a debit card. I’m of the opinion that cryptocurrencies are basically gambling.
For these reasons, I think cryptocurrency, yes all cryptocurrency, is complete bullshit.
When I saw that someone spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a JPEG, my immediate thought was, “A fool and his money will soon part. ” This really is sad because I don’t think the concept itself is necessarily bullshit. There are actually many potentially useful uses for NFTs however, all the hype and associated noise of celebrities spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this bilge for bragging rights.
The idea behind NFTs (at least as I understand it) is that they allow you to claim ownership of digital art. Guess what else does that? Copyright laws. Copyright laws also don’t use the energy equivalent of a small village simply to transfer ownership from one person to another.
Bottom line, generated JPEG drawings of monkeys aren’t worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you want one, PM me and I’ll draw you one for a mere $1000. So you guessed it, I’m calling bullshit on NFTs.
Self Driving Cars
Ok, I don’t think self driving cars are entirely bullshit. The concept is great. Imagine getting in a car, telling the car where to go, falling asleep and waking up at your destination. That would be truly awesome. The problem is that the technology is nowhere near there yet, and here’s the key part, it won’t be there anytime soon.
Like many things, the devil is in the details. The closest thing that exists today to self driving cars are automated subway and tram systems. These systems work really well because they are in a very controlled environment. Trains don’t have to worry about steering, weather, unexpected construction, road hazards and all kinds of other, non-trivial problems that each will likely take years to solve.
In addition to the technological issues, self-driving cars also pose some social and legal issues which have yet to be resolved. For instance, who is legally responsible if a true self-driving car gets in an accident? The occupant or owner could argue that they had no input in the operation of the vehicle and thus are not responsible. How can an owner of a car be responsible for a bug in the software. Indeed, some of the future self driving cars may not even have operator controls at all.
Personally, if I was developing a self-driving car that could actually go to market, I’d start with something that is more predictable, like an airport shuttle or college campus bus. Something where there are fewer unknowns, dedicated lanes and so forth. Once that has been mastered, then iterate from there.
The idea, of getting into a car without any user accessible controls also just doesn’t seem like a very good idea. So, with all that said, I don’t think we’ll see full self-driving cars anytime soon and I’m calling bullshit on them.
The idea of a flying car is really cool. You can go wherever you want, no traffic etc. But then reality and physics must have a say in this conversation.
As a pilot myself, I can tell you that aviation is exponentially harder than driving a car. Whenever you get into a plane, you have to be 100% certain that the aircraft is airworthy. You have to perform an inspection of all major systems, and their backups. If you don’t believe me, next time you are at the airport, take a look at one of the planes being prepped for departure, and you will see one of the pilots walking around the aircraft, inspecting everything. This is crucial because if you don’t do this, unlike a car, you can’t just “pull over to the side of the road and call AAA.” With this in mind, take a brief walk around a typical parking lot and have a look at the state of repair of a lot of cars, or have a look at YouTube videos for “Customer States”. If you were to operate aircraft in this manner, you would not only endanger your own life but the lives of those around you.
Also, a significant part of pilot training is knowing what to do if something does go wrong. You have to be able to land the aircraft in various failure states, such as engine out, no flaps, no landing gear etc. These things can and do happen, even with all the redundancy built into aircraft. I speak from some personal experience here. On my first solo cross-country flight, I got up to about 8k feet, and my GPS died. I had to navigate the old fashioned way… with a bloody map! I’ve also had the door open during one of my flights, and instrument lights fail on a night flight.
There was a quote I saw somewhere that said something like an “F-16 is easier to fly than a Cessna” due to all the computer automation, fly by wire etc. However, even with all those technologies, you still have to have a highly trained human pilot ready to take over in an instant if things go awry. Even autopilot in airlines, all these really do is keep the plane pointed in the right direction and altitude. Again… next time you are driving around town, take a look at the person next to you who is yelling at their kids whilst posting on TikTok or whatever and ask yourself if this person should be operating an aircraft in a safe manner?
There are some interesting technologies out there that can make aviation much safer for the general public such as more advanced stabilization and aircraft parachutes, but even so, I’m calling bullshit on this one. I don’t think we’ll see flying cars in anyone’s driveways anytime soon.
I don’t think blockchain is complete bullshit, but I am including it as an honorable mention. I’m not really sold on the idea of blockchain, for the basic reason that most use cases don’t really need a decentralized ledger. Also analyzing data in a blockchain is quite complex and often requires copying the chain into a database. Once you’ve done that, it kind of begs the question why you can’t just use a database in the first place.
The reason I’m including it here is that I see a lot of instances where people will randomly throw in blockchain into an otherwise sound idea. I do think the hype to reality ratio with respect to blockchain is heavily skewed towards hype.
If you read definitions of web 3.0, you start seeing “blockchain”, “token based”, etc with no clear way of expressing how these technologies actually are doing anything other than buzzword bullshit. I think the jury is still out on this one, but looking like bovine excrement to me.