Good Friday Morning! And a special shoutout this week to a YouTube channel I’ve been binge-watching: Expedition Bible. It’s the channel of archeologist Joel Kramer, who travels around Israel and the surrounding countries to cover sites significant in the Bible. He covers all the latest archeological finds and walks through the various fights within the archeological profession over what we can glean from the historical record.
Some of my favorites so far: 1) The Exodus Pharaoh (I never thought I’d be able to see the mummy of the guy responsible), 2) The Tower of Babel, and 3) Babylon and the prophecies against her. But as I said, I’ve been binging everything on that channel, and I highly recommend it.
Finally, I must express my deepest condolences to Pat Robertson’s family on his passing this week. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Timothy Keller’s impact on my life. But equally true is the impact Pat Robertson had on it, as I am one of 35,000 alumni of Regent University, the law school in my case. Regent and CBN had touching tributes to Pat, and I echo all the positive things they say. My time at Regent University was truly a blessing, and I look at it with deep fondness and thanks. Still, I wouldn’t have had that without Pat Robertson following God’s voice and leading. Pat Robertson ran a better race than most, and I’ll always be indebted to him. My Friday CI column, linked below, covers Robertson and my time at Regent.
This week, I’ll be writing about the latest on virtual reality / augmented reality with the release of Apple’s new device – links to follow.
- The big news Thursday evening is that Donald Trump is getting indicted over the records found during the search at Mar-a-Lago last year. Trump released a four-minute video denying everything and vowing to fight the charges. The NYT says there are seven counts, “including willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and an obstruction of justice conspiracy.” This all goes back to the search of Mar-a-Lago that AG Merrick Garland famously said he personally signed off on. Last August, I said everything about the raid was bizarre and opened Pandora’s Box in ways that would have ripple effects for years. I stand by that because the facts here, while not great for Trump, also remind you of several other situations. For instance, the DOJ took no action on Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden, or Mike Pence for similar violations (there are also the Hunter Biden investigations). Also, there’s no ignoring the simple fact that Donald Trump, who currently leads primary polling, is being indicted by Joe Biden in what is right now a re-match of 2020. When people like David French claim nothing is wrong here because “Trump will get trial,” they’re whistling by the graveyard. If two opposing politicians are accused of the same conduct, but only one gets indicted, that will factor into the analysis. These things matter, whether French and his “norms” cohorts what to admit that or not.
- Robert Costa at CBS had a solid thread on internal Trump camp dynamics and how the GOP primary field reads the situation. Of the early takes, I think Erick Erickson gets it right on the political landscape: “Only a matter of time before GOP contenders start messaging that this is all awful, but Trump will be so bogged down in Court that the GOP will need someone who can get vengeance for him. The Georgia indictment is coming too after all.” That pivot will happen later, once the “Rally around Trump” effect fades.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis: “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation. Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.”
- Sen. Chuck Grassley: DOJ indicts former President/candidate Trump [the] SAME DAY DOJ/FBI restricts access to unnecessarily redacted Biden allegations. And they wonder why [people] think there [are] two standards for justice.
- The WSJ had a bombshell report that China cut a deal to use Cuba as a base to spy on the US. The WSJ said, “China and Cuba have reached a secret agreement for China to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility on the island.” Interestingly, the Biden White House denies this report in its entirety. Whether or not China is getting a spy base in Cuba, they do use Cuba to spy on the US. China built most of the telecommunications infrastructure on the island and has used that to help keep the Castros in power. Similarly, the Chinese have used Caribbean phone networks to spy on Americans. We also know China has active espionage efforts in the United States. Last year the FBI said it “opens a new China-related counterintelligence investigation every 12 hours on average, and it now has over 2,000 such cases.” China’s Confucius Institutes at US Universities (my alma mater MTSU shut theirs down in 2020) have been a significant issue, too. China brashly opening a spy facility in Cuba may be saber rattling, but it ignores the broader spying efforts by the Chinese. The Biden WH denial here is weak, not strong. And I’m not convinced the Biden WH’s denials are true.
- GM is joining Ford in cutting a deal with Elon Musk’s Tesla to use Tesla’s charging station. Elon Musk is going to own the electric vehicle future. If all the major brands cut this deal with him, he’ll effectively hold a monopoly over the best EV charging tech in the industry, as well as the best network for that tech. The federal government is pushing car companies into making electric vehicles with hard deadlines, pushing them into Musk’s arms. If this transpires, Twitter will be a rounding error to Musk’s fortune (and I’m growing increasingly convinced he will make Twitter profitable). Not joking when I say Musk’s worth could double or triple.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter.
[06/05/2023] Growing Democratic Distress Over Biden’s Age – Conservative Institute
[06/09/2023] Carrying on the legacy of Pat Robertson (1930 – 2023) – Conservative Institute
Apple brings AR and VR closer to the mainstream.
In terms of market capitalization, Apple is the largest company in the world. With an estimated market cap of around $2.84 trillion, they dwarf the size of some countries. The maker of iPhones has recently jumped deeper into financial services with savings accounts offering returns of 4.15%, and it was only a matter of time before they jumped into the tech race over virtual reality and augmented reality.
What I’m trying to get across is simple: when Apple moves, it matters. They have the size and market dominance to take action and force entire industries to spin at their will. That’s where the Vision Pro comes in, the first new product launched by Apple since 2014.
Like most products, Apple isn’t the first to enter this category. The most famous virtual reality machine is Oculus, which Meta purchased a few years ago. Other companies have variations on that theme as they figure out how to do it.
To set some expectations, I own Sony’s Playstation VR systems (versions 1 and 2) and have used the Oculus and smaller VR/AR systems that rely on a phone. I’m no expert, but I’m not new to the category either. I am very interested in seeing where this leads because, like AI, it will dominate a tech market obsessed with it.
If you’re new, two terms to know are Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Headsets are typically wired to do one or the other. Virtual Reality is when you put on a headset that supersedes all your sense and enters you into another reality. Augmented Reality (AR) is where the device you’re wearing overlays data or information over your eyesight so you never leave the area you’re in.
I’ve used VR the most, as it’s mainly used for gaming environments. For instance, one game I have allows you to play Quarterback for your chosen team, and it places you on the field, playing the position in NFL stadiums. The experience is far from perfect, but it’s a fantastic experience.
In another game, the developers recreated NASA’s moon landing with Neil Armstrong, complete with archival audio from the landing. You get placed in the lunar lander and get to help it land on the moon’s surface. You’re looking over at Neil Armstrong as the audio from the descent plays, and you can look out the window and watch the lunar surface get closer. They then have you do a brief moonwalk, where you can look up and see the earth. In terms of historical learning, it was terrific.
The primary case for Augmented Reality (AR) is slightly different. Think Tony Stark in the Marvel movies. Your display shows you a digital workspace like a hologram for your eyes. You can interact with it, manipulate it, and do other things. A car designer could walk around their car design without ever having to generate it physically.
Other uses include placing movie screens in front of you, showing calls and texts, or overlaying text translations if you’re in a foreign country and don’t understand the language. The goal is to give you readily available information about your environment.
Apple’s version of this is the Vision Pro, which introduces what they call “spatial computing.” That’s where the “virtual world” joins the real one. Like the Oculus, Vision Pro can toggle between VR and AR to perform different tasks. The price tag is the jaw-dropper: $3500 for a single headset. Other headsets, like the Oculus, run between $350 – $1,000 depending on make, model, and sales run. The Sony VR is $500, and similar headsets have price points in the same ballpark. Apple is entering at a premium compared to everyone else.
Notably, the battery pack on this only last two hours, so you won’t be able to do much without some consistent charging mechanism. Other devices are corded to avoid this trap or use larger batteries.
I described many of the positive use cases for AR/VR technology. What’s interesting is how hostile technology journalists sound about it. They see more dystopia than utopia.
For instance, WSJ’s journalist posted a quick video of her hands-on experience with the Vision Pro, and she called it “dystopian and isolating.” The Verge had a similar take, saying, “Apple’s view of the future is a lonely one. Vision Pro is all about the ‘experience’ as you watch videos, FaceTime family, and get work done. But that experience looks awfully isolating.”
Allison Johnson wrote that review, and I found her opening paragraphs especially evocative:
The year is 2025. I’m sitting on the couch next to my husband, who appears in my field of vision whenever we talk to each other. When we aren’t talking, he fades out of view so I can focus my attention on the screens in front of me. I’m editing a presentation for work, FaceTiming with my family across the country, learning Spanish, and watching cooking demos on YouTube at the same time.
I get a notification — it’s time for my daily meditation. The screens darken, and the room around me fades away completely so I can focus on a calming animation and count my breaths. When I’m done, the session is automatically logged in my journal, along with my daily mood: pleasant. Just like yesterday. The FaceTime call comes back into focus just as my family members’ photorealistic personas are laughing at something funny my mom said. I’m not sure what it was, but my avatar laughs along with theirs anyway.
This vision of the future might not be exactly the one that Apple is trying to sell us with its new headset, but I don’t think it’s far off. The Vision Pro is a $3,500 screen for one person: you and you only. Maybe it’s the future of the iPhone. Maybe it will usher in a blissful utopia where we are all tuned into our surroundings as much or as little as we would like to be. Maybe it’s a really expensive way to look dumb in the comfort of your own home. But I think there’s one thing that’s for sure: it looks lonely as hell.
What makes Johnson’s critique more compelling than other reviews is that she directly aims at Apple’s vision of the future. I think she’s pretty close on this vision if companies like Apple correctly design and convince people to use these products.
We joke about people being prisoners to the screen on their phones. That takes work to hold a phone with your hands and look down at it with your eyes. The Vision Pro and other devices like it jump to the next step by taking over all your senses.
Before going any further, I don’t believe any dystopian future with VR/AR is a close reality. The main problem with these machines is that everyone typically struggles with nausea after using them. Because these systems override your body’s senses, if the device’s tracking isn’t perfect, you’ll start feeling “off balance” just a bit, which triggers nausea. This impacts people differently.
With the Sony VR, nausea was a big deal for me. I couldn’t use it for more than 15-30 minutes at a shot. With this second version, the tech has improved, and 30-45 minutes is more manageable. But I’ve yet to experience an hour or more without feeling it with any system. Several reviewers mentioned this with Apple, so they haven’t solved this problem either.
But Johnson’s point on isolation is both interesting and intriguing. It’s commonplace for people to use their phones to avoid human interaction when they don’t want it. Just look down and stare at the screen. That’ll be easier than ever if you can just take that and strap it to your face.
Interestingly, because you’re wearing the headset, there isn’t a way to show your direct fact on something like Facetime/video calls. Apple does a “digital recreation” of your face to display to the other person. Wired’s review put it like this:
FaceTime would be, in theory, an opportunity to create an extremely human experience in mixed-reality headsets. In my demo, it didn’t achieve this. The internal cameras within the headset are capable of capturing and regurgitating your face in digital form, a hyperrealistic digital twin that appears before the person you’re chatting with. In my FaceTime demo I chatted with the digital twin of an Apple employee who cheerfully talked me through some of these features. But she seemed disembodied. She was real, but she was also not. I’m afraid I don’t even recall her name.
Several other reviewers made a similar point. For a FaceTime call, these AI-created versions of you felt more like staring at the uncanny valley. It’s a very similar technology to what I saw spreading on Instagram before leaving it. I’ve since seen versions of it on Facebook and other sites.
The Wired review pointed out that this is “obtrusive tech.”
But the Vision Pro is also unlike almost every other modern Apple product in one crucial way: It doesn’t disappear. In fact, it does the opposite. It rests on your face and shields your eyes, sensory organs that are a crucial part of the lived human experience. The same is true of every other heads-up display in the world, whether it’s a pair of AR glasses, an industrial-focused headset, or fully immersive VR goggles. The experience can be remarkable and surreal, for sure; but it requires a suspension of disbelief and a sacrifice of autonomy. Even Apple can’t out-design its way out of what is fundamentally an obtrusive technology.
Every successful Apple product of the past two decades has disappeared into our lives in some way—the iPhone into our pockets, the iPad into our purses, the Apple Watch living on our wrists, and the AirPods resting in our ears. Wearing the Vision Pro for hours on end will call into question what it means to compute, but also, what it means to live in the real world. My forehead felt cool when I took the Vision Pro off after around 30 minutes, a testament to Apple’s considerate design. But my face also breathed with relief, the way it has after using other heads-up displays. The air feels more real out here.
Much like AI, I don’t believe there’s any way to stop the adoption of this technology. We’re only at the infancy stage, and it will undoubtedly get better.
But much like the artificial intelligence used to replicate human interaction, VR and AR attempt to provide a better version of the human experience. On some level, this will eventually succeed because in AR, but especially VR, you can effectively avoid all the pain and suffering of the human experience. You can replace it with whatever you want – if this all works out, which I suspect it will.
In some way, it’s like Wall-E has become more of a documentary than a kid’s film. Humans in that film become physically useless because they’ve allowed AI and machines to run everything for them.
The problem, as with the other technological advancements I’ve talked about in previous weeks, is simple: none of it is real. In this version of Apple’s future, while you can interact with other people, a machine still covers your face. You’re using that manic to interact with or ignore other people.
Apple and other companies pitch these as products to improve our lives, but the opposite is true. AR/VR is the ultimate expression of this opposite. It’s the ultimate isolation because you’ve locked yourself into your own created world. Everything else gets closed out.
The Fermi Paradox states with will all the billions and trillions of stars and galaxies, the earth should have seen alien life by now if the universe creates it so easily. Because we haven’t, and there’s no sound evidence alien life has ever been here, that suggests it doesn’t exist at all.
One possible answer to the Fermi paradox is that any sufficiently advanced alien race can also create its own virtual or augmented realities. Star Trek explored this a few times with one crew member that was addicted to the holodeck and the experiences it offered. Star Trek Deep Space Nine suggested more was possible with planets or bars with specialty suites focused on pleasure.
The only ironic thing about all this is that only one person in Star Trek was addicted to the holodeck. Why go anywhere else if you could create anything you wanted on demand? Reality existed, sure. But the virtual world was infinitely better, shaped to whatever you wanted.
These are the questions we’ll start wrestling with more as this tech advances. Again, we’re at the early stages, and I don’t think we’ll see society collapse because of it any time soon. But the seeds are there, which is why it’s worth monitoring.
Links of the week
Our Part-Time President – Jim Geraghty, National Review
U.S. drug shortages highlight dependence on China, gray supply chains: Democrats and Republicans both talk about punishing imports of Chinese ingredients and improving America’s ability to make key drugs at home. But right now, Americans need China for their meds. – Eduardo Jaramillo, The China Project
Women Are Shutting Down Debate On Trans Athletes And It Must Stop – Mary Katharine Ham, Outkick
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Diversity Win: Love Island To Feature First ‘Aesthetically Challenged’ Contestant – Waterford Whispers News
Thanks for reading!