Web Summit is usually a guaranteed team outing for us, whether it's in Dublin or Lisbon. This year, what with our big, fancy Wareable Tech Awards last week, we've had to remain content with keeping an eye on the conference – known for its high profile speakers and trendy future-gazing tendencies – from afar. First world problems, we know.
Aside from Uber's flying cars and Al Gore's plea for tech to fight climate change, VR and AR chat dominated the connected tech sessions in 2017 – here are our picks of the most newsworthy notes out of Web Summit.
Google's ARCore ambitions
Apple's ARKit platform for iPhones is hogging a lot of attention, what with augmented reality Ikea apps and Take On Me homages, so Google's VP for VR business and operations took the opportunity to talk up Google's rival ARCore for Android.
Speaking to BuzzFeed's Mat Honan on stage at Web Summit, he said, "There will be hundreds of millions of phones that will be AR ready." Singh has already hyped that we will see 100 million AR ready Android phones by the end of this year – his hundreds of millions figure refers to the end of 2018.
If you can't afford a Pixel or a Galaxy S8, more good news – Singh said AR apps will become a "core feature" to "most of Android over the next few years."
Zero to VR porn hero
Elsewhere, BaDoink's VR studio director and producer Dinorah Hernandez was talking up next-gen VR porn. Hernandez pointed to more romantic storylines in which viewers can "be the hero" of a 180-degree scene. Essentially, she means more talking. Hernandez also noted that extra senses, like smell and taste, could enhance the overall illusion – something we're also seeing in gaming and cinematic experiences.
Still, this kind of direction brings up some disturbing possibilities. Reacting to what BaDoink is proposing, Newcastle University's Dr Madeline Balaam told The Independent that VR porn could escalate the drive towards "perfect" sex robots and virtual companions that simply don't exist in real life: "Our research highlighted not only a drive for perfection, but also a crossover between reality and fantasy. Some of our findings highlighted the potential for creating 3D models of real life people, raising questions over what consent means in VR experiences."
WWE could be getting into VR
Paul "Triple H" Levesque, now executive VP of talent, live events and creative at WWE, was at Web Summit where he said that virtual reality is "custom made" for the Wrestlemania event.
"In some ways, it is kind of custom-made for what we do," he said, "and I think as the technology improves it will get better and better. Everybody wants to be there live and in person and if it's Wrestlemania and you can put a headset on, or whatever that device is at the time, and you can actually put yourself on that front row sitting there experiencing it… that's a whole different point of view."
The WWE has already dipped a toe in with a couple of WWE 360 videos for Samsung Gear VR. Sounds like he's a fan of VR headsets, and whatever comes next.
Memory hacking implants
Getting a bit Eternal Sunshine on us, neuroscience startup Kernel's CEO Bryan Johnson took to the stage to get us stoked about inserting chips into our brains to modify them.
Johnson's brave new world includes achieving perfect memory – which sounds frankly terrifying – deleting memories, brain to brain communication and expanding our learning capacities to match computers. All this is apparently just 15 to 20 years away so, you know, middle age sounds a hell of a lot less depressing than I was expecting.
He also posited a VR-like experience platform whereby we could commission an experience, eg a cowboy in the 1800s, then someone would build this world for our connected implant for us to live. File this one in freaky but yes, please.
Language learning in VR and AR
Web Summit is a pretty handy spot for hunting down new European startups. Showing off its language learning apps for Google Daydream and now AR too was Romanian startup Mondly.
Tapping into the idea that we can create memories – and therefore learn – in VR, the mobile app lets you choose virtual environments to interact with characters in 30 languages, and Mondly has already proven its worth with its conversational chatbot app for Facebook. Mondly's marketing team tells us that the guys at Apple are impressed with the new AR app so that's something. We'll be checking it out for ourselves soon to see if this is more than just another Google Goggles.
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