Niantic’s CEO believes the metaverse could be a ‘dystopian nightmare’

Niantic's CEO john nianticsullivan according to John Hanke

The so-called metaverse may be the greatest invention of humans—or their biggest nightmare, interview Niantic’s CEO john nianticsullivan according to John Hanke, the executive chairman of the game business that developed “Pokémon Go.”

The idea of the metaverse, Niantic’s CEO a different, shared digital universe that has its roots in science fiction, has emerged in tech discussion in the latter stages of the epidemic. It’s a notion that several Big Tech and gaming firms are working to make a reality, most notably Facebook, Roblox, and Epic Games.

Niantic’s CEO Augmented reality, which blends digital content with the actual environment via a smartphone screen today and AR glasses in the future, is one of the technologies that could be utilised to engage with a future metaverse. Niantic’s CEO Since Niantic developed the game that helped many people become familiar with augmented reality, Pokémon Go, the corporation has a vested interest in its own take on virtual reality. Niantic announced on Tuesday that it has purchased the Scaniverse 3D scanning app, which it will use to crowdsource images from players’ smartphone cameras. These pictures will come together to create a map that Niantic can use to connect virtual things to actual locations.

Many commentators have noted that the early descriptions of the metaverse in books by Ernest Cline Niantic’s CEO (Ready Player One), William Gibson (Neuromancer), and Neil Stephenson (Snow Crash) were dystopian. John Hanke, the Niantic’s CEO, thinks it could happen quite quickly. The technology utilised to experience the metaverse and the business goals of the organisations that construct it are very important.

I talked to Hanke a Niantic’s CEO about the potential for the metaverse to devolve into a “dystopian horror” in his words.

For length and clarity, the following interview has been condensed.

Quick Company: It’s strange how quickly the term “metaverse” has spread throughout popular culture. I wonder what people think about when they hear that phrase.

Mr. Hanke Niantic’s CEO I believe there is a significant turning point between technology moving in the direction of wearables and things that support us while we’re out in the world as human beings, and the metaverse as an ultra-VR escapism alternative to reality. It’s a significant issue, in my opinion.

We firmly believe that technology should become less noticeable and more pervasive. It just exists to support, serve, and assist us. But it’s not what’s monopolising our interactions.

Although the idea of ubiquitous computing, which dates back to the 1980s at Xerox PARC, has been around for a while, the trajectory that was envisioned saw computing just blending into the surroundings.

We’d have everything we required. It’s unlikely that we would return to going to the airport on foot and purchasing paper tickets. However, everything would just work as it should. We could be able to log in, see a route that directs us where to walk, and electronically obtain our boarding information, but everything would just happen and be finished. I believe there are countless ways in which technology may improve our lives.

As a corporation, we believe that gaming will be one of the cutting-edge technologies. We have this idea of reality channels—this idea of video games that, almost passively, alter the environment around you in ways that just improve it and make it more interesting, enjoyable, and adventurous.

Essentially, it’s an always-on Instagram filter with embedded gameplay similar to Pokémon Go. That is how we envision one of the interim applications as we move closer to the concept of a real-world metaverse.

There is also a different interpretation of the metaverse in which you can supposedly vanish into a different reality as a form of escape. And it diverges significantly from the way you describe using AR.

Yes, and that, in my opinion, is the philosophical gap. I read Stephenson, Gibson, and Cline when they first came out since I’m a lover of cyberpunk.

In the 1990s, when the concept of an accessible online world was initially introduced, I also contributed to the development of one of the earliest 3D MMO games. At the time, everything seemed quite thrilling. However, I believe that we have now witnessed the more sinister side of technology when it replaces the activities that we engage in as humans, interferes with our relationships and all of our information, and supplants the town square, our neighbours, or a stroll in the park.

Looking back on the pandemic, there was undoubtedly a lot of Netflix and Amazon purchasing, as well as delivery food, but there was also a tonne of walking, as people reconnected tremendous their neighbourhoods. I believe it was both extremes.

If the Ready Player One novel’s depiction of the metaverse is any indication, I basically say count me out. I’m connected, I have unlimited Netflix, unlimited video games, and meals delivered right to my door.


You frequently discuss how your games inspire players to venture outside and explore their surroundings.

I’ve been quite well-versed in the science of walking and the brain throughout the past few years of working on AR at Niantic. Because of evolution, [walking] is deeply ingrained in our neural networks. When we’re out and moving through the world in a three-dimensional environment, our brain comes alive in a number of ways. That is true, and it goes beyond just visual perception. The question of whether your mind exists only in your brain or throughout your entire body is a contentious one. And there is a compelling case to be made that your entire body actually engages in neuronal sensing and cognition.

The idea that you can simply put on a headset and shoot some photons into your eyes and that will somehow replace the physical sensations you have in the world is untrue.

There is the idea that you are represented in a digital realm by an avatar or digital twin. What role does that play in the Niantic plan for the metaverse?

Since you physically stand in front of other players when you meet them in the game, it doesn’t play as much of a role. There is an avatar and you can see your own avatar in several of our games, including Pokémon Go. We don’t actually display other players’ avatars in the game until someone has seized control of a Pokémon Go gym and a standing version of that player’s avatar, such as Marcus Aurelius or the gym champion, is present. So through that, you would get to know folks a little better.

The same applies to chat. The majority of these [virtual] experiences revolve around chat, specifically online text chat. Since talking to your neighbor is so much simpler when everyone is playing together, it has never really played a significant role in our games. It has a greater bandwidth and is speedier.

The issue of replacement vs. enhancement enters the picture at this point. Simply improving or boosting the biological processes that occur naturally. I sincerely hope that we can have an impact on the industry and move it entirely in that direction. I believe it to be inevitable and that it is simply a better, more organic way to use technology.

How should various metaverses interact with one another? Or are we moving toward a time where there are just two or three major metaverses?

When you refer to the Snow Crash version, when it takes the place of reality, I believe the question changes since at that point it truly is your reality. And if you’re in one version and another group of people are in another, you might never run into each other.

In the case of augmented reality, let’s assume Niantic offers 100 different activities to try out in San Francisco. As a result, many people’s paths cross in Union Square or along the Embarcadero. They are each having a somewhat distinct thematic experience of the world, yet they will all ultimately be seated at the same taco stall in the farmer’s market. Therefore, there is that universal anchor of truth, which, in all honesty, I believe lessens some of the pain of it.

Our initial step is to create a mechanism that will allow people to cross paths and interact socially with one another independent of the experiences they are having. We are creating a universal social layer that can function as a standalone app in addition to appearing in all of our games.

This means that even if I’m playing Harry Potter while you’re playing Pokémon Go or engaging in one of our other activities, we can still communicate, exchange items, and share screenshots, highlights, and other content.

It’s fascinating to consider how the upcoming social networks might be constructed with cutting-edge innovations like augmented reality. Do you believe that, if implemented properly, an AR-based social network may address some of the significant issues with the current social networks?

When social media is used to bring people together, I believe it’s mostly beneficial. What we refer to as social today, however, is really less about social. It involves consuming the curated, recommended stream of content that is being given to us so that advertisements can be added to it, which is a far cry from the original purpose of those companies. That wasn’t the initial purpose of Facebook. That wasn’t the initial purpose of Twitter.

Therefore, considering how such apps have transformed into media distributors is perhaps a disservice to the term “social.” No longer primarily a social issue. I’m not sure how much of Facebook’s traffic is spent messaging friends as opposed to simply scrolling through their news feed. However, I believe there is a difference there.

Grandmas and their grandchildren who live far apart can connect through real social. We require that. The internet can help us with that, and that’s amazing. It’s unfortunate that the globe has now deal with viral misinformation and strange political material.

We don’t want to turn into that media driver, and it probably doesn’t even make sense in AR. We focus on interacting with others and establishing plans as a group.