“Nothing delivers a feeling of immersion better than VR. VR has been a dream of many gamers since the computer was invented. Many of us at PlayStation have dreamed of VR and what it could mean to the gaming community.”
The virtual reality set was announced at the Game Developers Conference in an event that featured a genius by the name of Richard Marks, who developed EyeToy and PS Move. Marks said he had been working on a project with NASA to create a virtual reality Mars—I’m not joking—and told the audience,
“VR is going to be pervasive, and what I mean by that is it’s going to be used for all sorts of things you might not think it would be used for.”
Clark Kokich has built a career helping brands master digital technology. So it’s only fitting that Kokich, the chief strategy officer at Marchex, former Razorfish CEO, and author of Do or Die, has created 20/20, the world’s first narrative live-action short film shot with Google Glass. The five-minute movie, which follows a day in the life of a young man through his Google Glass, makes a powerful statement about personal privacy and the power that technology assumes in our everyday lives. For as long as I’ve known him, Clark Kokich has always been fascinated with the way that digital technology can both disrupt and shape the way we live and do business.
20/20: romance competes with technology. Which will win?
In the following interview, he discusses the themes of 20/20 (a product of his film company, Perché No?) what it was like to make a movie with Google Glass, and his views on technology and privacy (including his opinion of Edward Snowden). Check out what’s on his mind — but more importantly, take five minutes to watch the provocative 20/20. This movie will make you think.
What inspired you to make this movie?
Last spring I was having coffee with Margaret Czeisler, global vice president of the Razorfish xLab. She pulled out a Google Glass for me to try. It was the first time I fully understood the power of the technology. Then, as I was driving home, the idea for the film just popped into my head. I more or less wrote it in my mind in the car and typed it up when I got home.
In the movie, Google Glass is omnipresent, and not always for the best. Where do you think Google Glass is headed in the next few years?
It’s hard to say. I used to work at Code-A-Phone, a company that made telephone answering machines. Remember those? Our biggest issue was confronting the backlash from people who became pissed off when they had to leave a recorded message.
In the 1990s, I worked for Cellular One. At that time, cell phones were regarded as a smug status symbol. “What kind of an asshole takes a call in their car?” We’re seeing that kind of backlash right now with Google Glass. And I suppose this film doesn’t help, does it? But who knows what will happen.
In the end, if the technology solves a real problem, people will get over it. Right now, I don’t think Google Glass solves an obvious problem in the same way answering machines and cell phones did.
The movie’s subtext about spying is obviously quite timely, with Edward Snowden recently speaking at the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival. What’s your view of Snowden? Hero or a traitor?
I do think he broke the law, and there should be consequences for that. But I don’t consider him a traitor. If I had to guess, 50 years from now he’ll be regarded as an important historical figure; someone who took a huge risk – and sacrificed everything – so that the rest of us could know what the hell is really going on.
I could relate to the scene where the protagonist is multi-tasking too much with technology at the expense of the people in the room with them. How do you avoid that happening in your own life?
I’m actually pretty good about that. I’ve never used technology just because it’s new and cool. I can admire it, and want to learn more, but I’m not an automatic adopter. I also think it’s important to be doing the things that are important to you, not that are important to others. For instance, if I’m on the road, I don’t answer emails on my phone just because they came in. My fingers are too big for that kind of nonsense. If something’s critically important, maybe. But for the most part, I decide what’s important to get done right now, and I only concentrate on that. Just ignore everything else.
What was it like shooting a movie in Google Glass? What did the experience teach you?
It was a pain in the ass. We tried to monitor the shooting in real time through an iPhone, but doing so was too clumsy. So we ended up shooting a scene with no idea what we were really getting. Then we had to wait to download the file and check it on the computer. If there was a problem, you had to start over. It took forever.
What’s next for your filmmaking?
We’re going to shoot another short this summer. This one is more serious. No more Google Glass fun and games.
You know why people still listen to the radio? Some of them enjoy a steady diet of de-virginized Disney stars, but most just want to listen to music without the hassle of actively DJing. And that's the basic idea behind the Aether Cone wireless speaker. Twist the bezel around the speaker's front edge and the Cone starts playing...well, something. No need to sync up your phone, launch an app, or agonize over which of your 214 playlists to fire up. Cone just plays. And learns.
Tucked inside the Cone is an eight-hour battery, Wi-Fi, and a brain. Turn on the Cone, and it’ll play a podcast, an Internet radio station, maybe music from your streaming service of choice (Aether hasn't specified yet, but think Spotify, Rdio, etc.). Don't like what you hear? Twist the bezel a little, and the Cone skips to something new but similar (say, from Kanye to Chance the Rapper); spin the bezel like a roulette wheel and it'll play something radically different (goodbye Kanye, hello This American Life). The Cone remembers what you listen to, and what you skip. It supposedly learns when and even whereyou listen—that you like news podcasts in the morning in the kitchen and Stevie Wonder on Sunday afternoons in the living room. In other words, the Cone is essentially something you’ve probably never heard: a radio that actually plays what you like.
Pre-order the Aether Cone (due out later this summer) for $399 at aether.com.
“It’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out.”
So goes Ben Horowitz’s theory of music and, judging by the tone of his (very) recent book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” his theory on much more than just music. The co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which has become one of the most successful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley since its founding in 2009 managing $2.5 billion in investments from Rap Genius to Twitter, Horowitz has been on a whirlwind promotional tour, from New York to Arizona to Austin, Texas in the span of a week.
Fresh off a chat with Nas (yes, Nas) given to the Austin Convention Center’s largest room, we caught up with the fascinating, frank mogul while en route to one of many industry events he had planned for his time in Austin.
Billboard: The biggest question I have, is the problems in the music tech space, in terms of drawing investors or innovations.
Ben Horowitz: Oh yeah, very problematic. There’s a couple problems. One is the history — you know, venture capitalists put in a lot of money, the labels sue the company and the company goes away. That’s pretty rough. And then the very tight, central control of the content makes it so the leverage is with the content owners, which makes it scary. Now, there are guys who have seemingly started to break through, and we have an investment in a company called Rap Genius that kind of starts with music and then expands beyond it, and by doing that it makes it much more investable.
You mean with their annotation technology?
Annotating everything. Because other areas are just easier to license, and music is notoriously difficult.
It’s pretty hermetically sealed on a vast scale.
A vast scale, and in a way that’s weirdly disconnected from the artists. If you talk to the Spotify guys, they’re like, ‘We’re delivering a lot of money.’ If you talk to the artists they’re like ‘We never get any money.’ So either somebody’s lying or somebody’s getting all the money in between the artist and the company.
Is this why you or Andreessen Horowitz haven’t invested in more music tech companies?
That’s basically what keeps us away. Just uncertainty with the music labels, for sure.
Do you think Bitcoin could play a part in reinvigorating that space?
There’s a real interesting technical possibility — well there’s a few: One is just more ability for an artist to go direct. A very difficult problem for an artist selling directly is taking credit cards. The biggest kind of fee is going to end up being the credit card and the largest number of people being turned away is going to be due to fraud risk. Bitcoin gets around those. And particularly internationally it has some interesting properties there. But more interestingly, Bitcoin is a way to transfer, not copy, but transfer, a piece of digital property from one owner to another. And that’s never been possible. So all the [past] DRM solutions, the issue was you could copy them but nobody ever knew where the copy came from . But at least it’s theoretically possible now to basically have serial numbers by track, and you would know who the owner of the track was. And if somebody who had it wasn’t the owner, they clearly would have stolen it. And that’s never been possible to detect in any meaningful way.
How do you think traditional music executive have handled the ‘hard things’ in the last 15 years?
I wrote a post called ‘Why We Prefer Founding CEOs‘ and that’s, I think, a huge problem with the music industry, is that the guys who started the businesses either sold out or died. And the new guys left. So when technology changed the new guys were like way, way, way reluctant to innovate against it. It’s really ironic in music because the whole industry was started with the invention of the vinyl record, and the length of songs changed when they improved the vinyl record technology and the whole business was re-birthed on the CD. So for them to get caught with their pants completely down around their ankles on the next technological shift — it’s kind of ironically tragic. And there were obviously many opportunities to handle it better than they did.
There was a moment, right before the labels decided they wanted to shut Napster down, where they were negotiating with Napster. And if you could rewind history and say ‘Ok, what if they had done that deal?’ It would have been very, very interesting in that everybody was on Napster. So it was the most convenient thing. The big thing that the labels did is that they tried to make all the convenient ways of getting music illegal, and the most inconvenient ways — like crack a CD open and pull it out and all that — legal. So it was more than just free or not-free, it was a product problem. And I think the product problem was way underestimated, bigger than the free or not-free thing. So if they had just made Napster for money, it probably would have been a 90-10 to the labels and not a 70-30 [Apple's iTunes store takes 30% off the top of most sales]. It would have just been a better outcome for sure than what they ended up doing. And in talking to the Napster people, it sure sounded like it broke down at least partially over Napster wanting to track what every artist had sold and report it, and the labels did not want them to do that.
It shocked the shit out of me when I heard it.
That’s a large part of what we do at Billboard.
So the question is, right — and you guys have to do it the hard way — but there it was, perfect record of every sale.
And you would think the companies would want that anyways.
Unless they’re stealing the money…
You think that’s true?
The more I talk to people in the music industry, the more that seems like it’s potentially, viably true. But I don’t know if that’s true.
What’s an upcoming, music-focused tech company or innovation you’re interested in?
This isn’t necessarily one that would be a venture-backed thing, but Ryan Lesliehas a kind of new theory on how to do music distribution. I was very impressed with his thinking. He’s an artist, a very well-respected musician and rapper, but hasn’t necessarily had a giant mega-platinum career, but he has a very good idea for a company.
Which is… like Soundcloud?
Not like Soundcloud, it’s much more like, ‘How does an individual artist make money in today’s world?’ So it’s kind of rethinking what a label would be if you invented it tomorrow.
And that’s on the immediate horizon?
Yes he’s working on it now.
Now an easy question: What’s been your favorite rap record over the last couple years? It’s been an interesting time in rap.
The last couple of years? I’d have to say “Yeezus,” if I”m being honest. I could make something up, but that was my actual favorite.
Forget about strapping chains to your wheels, buying snow tires, or filling the bed of your truck with sandbags — no, what you really need this winter is Track N Go. While most other track systems for your truck require expensive and time consuming installation, as well as pretty considerable alterations, with Track N Go, all you need to do is drive on top and attach. In as little as 15 minutes, you're ready to go, tackling the toughest winter conditions imaginable. Power comes directly from the wheels on your truck, easily driving the track system without impacting handling and turning.
Privacy may not be your chief concern when you're browsing the web — but it probably should be. Each time you venture out onto the web, you're vulnerable, because each site can access your IP address, giving them the ability to find your physical location. WithSafeplug, you can feel safe on the internet again, browsing anonymously and securely. It works using a service called Tor (already well-used by foreign journalists and privacy nuts alike), which routes your internet traffic through a series of random locations, making it impossible to determine where you are. All you need to do is plug it into your router, set it up, and in about a minute you'll be basking in anonymity.
“iOS in the Car” becomes a little more official,with the announcement of Carplay. This year Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Volvo will be the initial launch partners which will allow their infotainment systems to seamlessly integrate your iPhone and give you handsfree access to your maps, music, messages, phone calls, and more using Siri and your car’s controls.