Last year, I started writing stories about the uncanny melding of science fiction, real-world technology, and games in mainstream entertainment such as HBO’s Westworld. The sci-fi in games and other entertainment used to be really out there, divorced from real-life technology and the near future.
But then came lightning fast advances in artificial intelligence for voice services and self-driving cars, and that blurred the line between sci-fi and Silicon Valley. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Japan’s SoftBank conglomerate, bought ARM for $32 billion. Why? He wanted to build the Singularity, or the day when A.I. becomes smarter than the collective intelligence of humans. When I heard Son say that he was preparing to invest for the Singularity, I was astounded by his ambition.
But he’s not alone. This movement prompted Eliot Peper, an author that I’ll talk more about below, to ask the question, “Are we living in science fiction?” And it moved Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, to say, “I don’t really have to watch science fiction because I’m in science fiction today.” Novels such as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash inspired Silicon Valley’s virtual worlds, like Second Life. Blade Runner, The Matrix, Inception, Black Mirror, Ex Machina, The Terminator, and HBO’s new remake of Westworld have also inspired new visions for technology companies and new plots for video game stories. Sci-fi and video games are a mirror for our own times.
This is a longhand way of saying that changes are coming really fast, and real life is surpassing what was once science fiction, and that the feedback cycle for inspiration and creativity in games, sci-fi, and tech is accelerating. That’s why I chose this as the theme for GamesBeat Summit, our conference coming on May 1-2 in Berkeley. I’m going to try to explain why I truly believe that you have to be there. I feel that I was in a good spot to see the connections, as I have covered games for 20 years and written about technology for more than 25 years.
Months ago, this idea of cross fertilization between different creative industries was just a vision. But I’m happy to say we’re living up to that vision with our event. Tim Sweeney, who recently waxed poetically about how building the Metaverse from Snow Crash is now possible, will lead off our event.
One of our key speakers is John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries. Back in 2002, Underkoffler was the science adviser for the landmark sci-fi film Minority Report. In 2006, Underkoffler started Oblong Industries to take the ideas from Minority Report and build the next generation of computing interfaces. In 2012, the company began selling commercial versions of that interface, the Mezzanine platform for immersive visual collaboration.
He’s going to give a talk at GamesBeat Summit about how games are the vanguard of the user interface, the value of working at visual scale, and advanced user interfaces as “empathy machines.” His talk is going to go above my head, and I’m going to like that. We’re also going to pair Underkoffler on stage with some very interesting people that we’ll announce soon.
Underkoffler is one of many people who will speak to our theme. What I have found interesting about the process of organizing this conference is that we’re exposing connections that already existed between science fiction, technology, and games. Jamil Moledina of Google Play will be our emcee, and he’s tight with Gary Whitta, the screenwriter for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. They’ll be doing a fireside chat.
Intel’s Kim Pallister, a virtual reality expert, will get on stage with one of his favorite novelists, Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible, YOU: a novel, and Crooked. Tim Chang, managing director of Mayfield Fund and an investor in Playdom and Ngmoco, will moderate a fireside chat with his friend Eliot Peper, author of Cumulus, Neon Fever Dream, and the Uncommon Series. Peper has also worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm and has helped build various technology businesses.
We’ve also got a pair of friends talking about real-world starts, the brain, and sci-fi: Rob Reid, founder of Listen.com and a sci-fi author of Year Zero and the upcoming After On. He’ll be moderated by Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at UCSF and visionary about the connection between games and the brain.
We’ve got some surprising pairings, like Rod Chong of Slightly Mad Studios, maker of the video game Project Cars. He’s going on stage with Laszlo Kishonti, CEO of AImotive, a self-driving car software company that tested its technology using the video game.
Tech journalist Violet Blue and Ubisoft game developer Thomas Geffroyd will speak about the appeal and challenges of creating realistic fiction in Watch Dogs 2, a game about a “hacktivist” cyber gang set in the hacker culture of San Francisco. Both Blue and Geffroyd helped unearth the real stories and culture that Ubisoft imported into the game.
We also have speakers who are not focused on the science fiction and tech theme. But they related to it in a different way. Akshay Khanna, an executive at the Philadelphia 76ers, will talk with Greg Richardson, chairman of Team Dignitas, an esports team acquired by the 76ers. This talk is about the seams between physical sports and esports.
And since we are not divorced from the real world, we’ll talk about the issues of leadership that have arisen since the election of Donald Trump. Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games, will talk about leadership with Mike Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association. We’ve got a panel, dubbed Bucking the Status Quo, that will also take on leadership issues.
And on a completely different subject, we have Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, founders of Sledgehammer Games. They’re next in line to make the new Call of Duty game this year, and they’ll talk about what it takes to inspire creativity in teams that have to make a Call of Duty game feel like new. Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon, will also riff on inspiring creativity.
We’ll explore some relevant topics like the rise of China in the global game industry, and we’ll close with a fireside chat between Rich Hilleman of Amazon Game Studios and Chris Roberts, CEO of Roberts Space Industries. They will talk about using infinite computing power to create a universe of endless possibilities. I can’t wait for that.
I expect that we’re going to go on quite a journey and learn so much at this unique event. I hope you’ll join us. Lastly, I’d like to point out that it wouldn’t be possible without our sponsors: Samsung, Intel, Gazillion, Vungle, the Canadian consolate, Concept Art House, Wargaming America, MindMaze, and Blackstorm.