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In the beginning, there were the big cats: Cheetah. Puma. Jaguar. Panther. Tiger. Snow Leopard. Lion. Mountain Lion.
And then there were mountain ranges: Mavericks. El Capitan. Sierra. High Sierra. Mojave.
Those are just some of the version names for MacOS over the years, and in 2019, MacOS is turning 18 years old. It can legally vote, drink (outside of the US!) and serve in the military. But it’s youthful days of excitement seem behind it. Can anyone remember the last macOS update they felt passionately about?
Another milestone: Windows turns 33 years old this year, fully adult and facing middle age. Since it turned 30 (with Windows 10 in 2015) Windows doesn’t annually celebrate its birthdays anymore — if friends ask Windows about doing a party for its new update, it tells them that from now on it will update “in the background.”
And iOS turns 12 this year. Puberty looms. New birthdays don’t seem like a moment to celebrate anymore — instead, it’s now a time to miss the simple joy that earlier years updates’ brought.
We have lived with these Operating Systems for, in some cases, our entire lives. I believe it is now time for us to turn the page and begin the quest for the next OS. And I want to present an argument for what the next OS might be — beyond the world of iPhone or Android and into the next immersive VR/AR-enabled phase of computing. I believe that that next OS will be…a character.
So who am I and why should entrepreneurs care about this? Both good questions.
Addressing the later, the most valuable companies today are the OS providers. If you want to bet on what the multi-trillion dollar companies of the future might be, you could do worse than betting on a company building the next OS. The business opportunity is very large, and it is open.
And as for me? My name is Edward Saatchi, and I am a VR/AR-oholic. I created Oculus Story Studio, Facebook’s VR storytelling studio. Our studio created the first VR movie, the first to win a prime-time Emmy and the first entirely made in VR. And I am the co-founder of Fable Studio, a virtual beings company. I have absolutely no credibility on the topic of operating systems whatsoever, but I do have an idea.
I believe that the next operating system will be created not by the Windows Vista engineers or the macOS engineers or iOS designers of the past; it will be created by a completely new kind of team that has only become possible in the last few years, comprised of:
Immersive storytellers: VR/AR programmers, designers, storytellers
Machine learning engineers: computer vision engineers, recurrent neural network programmers, natural language processing experts
Designers: the Jony Ives of the future
Because if the OS of the future is a character — think Scarlett Johansson in the film Her or Joi in Blade Runner 2049 — then the OS of the future will be a work of art as much as a feat of engineering.
Would you trust the Windows Vista engineers to design a believable, fun AI character that lives in your home, is an ongoing part of your life, that you trust with your personal information and your family? No. I think this new design challenge will need a completely new kind of team — I call it a virtual beings team. To help companies who are looking to build virtual beings teams we are hosting a virtual beings conference this summer — please come!
I said above that we already are seeing the seeds of character as OS. And it’s true. Every day, most of us communicate with a digital character in our home, car, on the move — whether we call it Alexa or Siri or Cortana or Google Assistant. These characters are powered by natural language processing (NLP), a subset of machine learning.
I believe that as NLP (the tech that allows Alexa to talk to us) improves, it will become commoditized. And that if the next OS is a character (and, as of now, the fastest growing UI for a new OS is the character Alexa) then these large companies will need a competitive advantage to maintain loyalty to their Assistant/OS character. I believe they will compete on personality, on character, on the "soul" of their character. From their point of view (which I do not share) it is plausible that we could grow to "love" their OS character, and therefore will be more loyal to their OS.
So they will need to hire beyond the engineers and product designers of the past OS teams and pull together a new, unique team. A virtual beings team.
I believe that the team we are building at Fable Studio (and the teams that other startups like AI Foundation, Magic Leap and Brud are building) are bringing together machine learning engineers, immersive storytellers and designers who will one day create a character as OS that you could deeply care about.
Or maybe it will be someone reading this article, just out of university, who becomes an enterprising intern at one of the above virtual beings startups, and she will leave and found the next global OS company.
Because today, AI is in its pre-Palmer Luckey moment. Like VR before Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, AI is used for enterprise, military, healthcare — but it’s not something the mainstream can enjoy and get its head around.
Imagine if understanding the improvements in AI today was as simple as updating your virtual being OS version — with version 1.0 showing off the latest in computer vision (eyes), natural language processing (mouth and ears), reinforcement learning (the legs), etc.
When we upgraded our virtual being OS to 2.0, we would say “Huh, did you notice how the character speaks more clearly and understands us better? Notice how it remembers more of what we tell it?” Remember when OS updates were that exciting and unexpected?
In 2019, our OS’ (iOS, macOS, Windows) are, respectively, entering puberty, adulthood and middle age. But, after 33 years, it’s time to ask: When will the next OS be born?
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