Geeks have been waiting with bated breath to hear what legendary programmer, Doom-guy, and all-around technological enthusiast John Carmack has to say about the recent acquisition of Oculus by Facebook — that little $2 billion (£1.2 billion) affair that went down this past Tuesday, surprising pundits and Oculus fans alike.
Apparently, it surprised Carmack, too.
"I wasn't personally involved in any of the negotiations - I spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg, and the next week I find out that he bought Oculus," Carmack wrote in a response to a Wednesday blog post by Peter Berkman, of the chiptune band Anamanaguchi.
Berkman argues within his post that critics of the Facebook-Oculus acquisition have spent too much time focusing on the obvious critiques: That Facebook will slap ads into the virtual reality experience (he says they're smarter than that), that developers will abandon the platform and/or not release any "good games" (they will, save for Mojang/Minecraft), and that Facebook will rebrand Oculus to something more Facebook-appropriate (they won't; they don't do that with acquired companies).
Instead, Berkman says, the key issues to worry about are all somewhat related. He sees a future where one's interest in items, goods, or services is tracked to a much more specific degree — "It is infinitely easier to mine data in a completely simulated reality - Facebook will know where you're looking, what you're doing, and how long you do it," he wrote.
In doing so, Facebook will begin to develop a "monopoly" on user information, cross-referenced against all the other information Facebook can already pull up about one's social relationships and activity. Finally, he comments that the state of technological innovation today seems to be run under the following mantra: "companies exist and operate only to get acquired."
On that last point, Carmack seems to agree:
"I share some of your misgivings about companies 'existing and operating only to be acquired'. I am a true believer in market economies, and the magic of trade being a positive sum game is most obvious with repeated transactions at a consumer level. Company acquisitions, while still (usually) being a trade between willing parties that in theory leaves both better off, have much more of an element of speculation rather than objective assessment of value, and it definitely feels different."
"There is a case to be made for being like Valve, and trying to build a new VR ecosystem like Steam from the ground up. This is probably what most of the passionate fans wanted to see. The difference is that, for years, the industry thought Valve was nuts, and they had the field to themselves. Valve deserves all their success for having the vision and perseverance to see it through to the current state."
"VR won't be like that. The experience is too obviously powerful, and it makes converts on contact. The fairly rapid involvement of the Titans is inevitable, and the real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who," Carmack wrote.
Where the Oculus CTO begins to disagree is in the issue of data mining. Specifically, he doesn't see companies having access to key facets of users' lives, such that they can improve the relationship with said users in the same style as, say, receiving a new movie recommendation from a website based on past purchases.
"I'm not a 'privacy is gone, get over it' sort of person, and I fully support people that want remain unobserved, but that means disengaging from many opportunities. The idea that companies are supposed to interact with you and not pay attention has never seemed sane to me," Carmack wrote.
"Being data driven is a GOOD thing for most companies to be. Everyone cheers the novel creative insight and bold leadership that leads to some successes, and tut tuts about companies ending up poorly by blindly following data, but cold analysis of the data is incredibly important, and I tend to think the world will be improved with more and better data analysis."