Interview: Robert Scoble – Futurist at Rackspace – talks about VR, Uber, Twitter and the future of technology

  • Rose McClelland
  • November 4, 2015
  • Comments Off on Interview: Robert Scoble – Futurist at Rackspace – talks about VR, Uber, Twitter and the future of technology

While he was in Sydney for the Telstra Digital Summit last month, Rackspace Futurist Robert Scoble sat down with Larry Heath to talk about the future of technology – from VR to Uber, Twitter and everything in between.

To start off, tell us a little about where you work and what you do there…

I’m Robert Scoble, I’m a Futurist at Rackspace, a big cloud computing company. We now support 300,000 customers from Oakley to Ted, so if you watch a Ted video, you’re watching it off one of our servers that we maintain for them. I have a unique job. They ask me to go around and interview start-up executives, founders, go to R&D labs, talk to other big companies who are doing innovation and stuff like that – mostly start-ups because that’s usually who brings the coolest stuff.

What does working with Rackspace allow you do that perhaps you hadn’t been able to do in the past?

I worked at Fast Company Magazine, supposedly a magazine about people who move fast and need weird new things… but they told me not to do Twitter, and I’m was like, ‘twitter is your future!’ and they were like ‘no, no, no, we’re a magazine. We make paper. We put it in an envelope and send it to people. We do that a million times a month. That’s where our money comes from, we don’t need Twitter’ and now of course they’re all on twitter. Often I’m ahead in pushing where the future’s going to go.

Isn’t that why someone like you is hired in the first place?

Yeah, but The Innovators Dilemma is strong. When you read the book by Clayton Christensen, he explains why companies are there to serve their existing customer base and not the one that might exist. Rackspace, on the other hand, knows that if they don’t chase what’s coming tomorrow, they’re done. We hosted YouTube before Google bought them, but now Google owns YouTube so that’s not our business anymore. We’ll always be chasing what’s coming, not what happened. Our business is broad enough, everyone from tractor companies to shopping malls to Ted to Oakley – we care about where the future in business is going so we can prepare services for the future where your business needs it.

Your business probably isn’t thinking about Magic Leap right now, right? But Magic Leap got half a billion dollars from Google and is about to get another half a billion dollars and they haven’t even shipped the product yet. Everyone who’s seen it says it’s the most mind-blowing thing they’ve ever seen. So let’s say everyone starts buying Magic Leap, well then we’re going to be walking around looking at Magic Leap and if your business hasn’t planned for that then you’re not going to have the Magic Leap app or the bot to talk to, so all of a sudden I don’t have the kind of services I expect because the world is changing.

I talked about this company called Tapingo in the US that college kids are using to buy Starbucks or buy anything and they don’t have to wait in line. They don’t have to touch a credit card; they don’t have to talk to a cashier to get a latte. They’re on their mobile phone and it tells them their latte will be ready in 23 minutes, and you go in and pick it up. Now you can have your friend pick it up for you and deliver it to your class. And 70% of all transactions of Santa Clara are already going through this thing and nobody else knows about it, which is where disruption comes from. So if you’re not planning on that world, you’re going to get whacked by it. So that’s what Rackspace pays me to do. Find those kinds of kids that are doing something very disruptive that we aren’t going to hear about for 3 or 4 years and who are people to watch because they’re going to change what business needs to do.

You’re an avid user of Twitter – with your finger on the tech pulse, as it were, did you always forsee it as becoming as big as it has? Did it excite you from the beginning? And what excites you now?

I was very excited by Twitter in the early days! I had so many arguments. I had a blog back then, and so many of my readers said, ‘stop talking about twitter’ and I was saying ‘you need to get it! This is important!’ and they’d say, ‘nobody’s gonna use twitter because it’s stupid and for people to tell you what they had for lunch’. ‘Well it’s not going to be like that, it’s going to where you learn the news’ and people got tired of me because they weren’t ready to change, they resist change, they hate change.

Most people hate change. They don’t like the idea. ‘What do you mean I have to get an Uber app on my phone to get a ride?’ Once they do it, they turn into the other side as evangelists for Uber. The same thing is going to happen with virtual reality. Next year when virtual reality comes along, everybody’s going to watch the stories. There’s going to be everything from ‘this is the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever had on my face’ to ‘everybody who uses it looks like a dork’ because people don’t want to change, they don’t want to change, so they’ll deride what they don’t understand. They’ll see everyone sitting on the couch with this thing on their face and say ‘that is stupid’ but the people like me are going to be experiencing a new world and entertainment will have changed.

People won’t need to watch TV anymore. If you’re an entertainment executive and you don’t understand that, you’re going to be devalued, you’ll be out of business. I’m not watching TV after it. Maybe once in a while at an airport bar, but at home? Why would I want to watch entertainment on a piece of glass on the wall, when I can be in the entertainment, on the front line of a basketball game, and look over and see Bill Gates sitting next to my camera and be able to look wherever I want like I’m in the front row? Why would I watch TV?

So that seems to be what you’re most excited about right now!

Yeah, VR is the story of next year. AR is going to come in. Magic Leap is cooking there but Magic Leap requires a lot of software that’s going to be very hard to write because you need to put a chessboard here on the table and when you look around, that chessboard has to stay there. That’s a lot of software, very difficult software. Not many people can write that kind of software. VR in a complete virtual world has an easier software problem to solve – it’s still pretty hard but it’s easier than the Magic Leap world where a chessboard will be on this table.

Sony was playing around with that with PlayStation with their camera. Now they’ve got the PlayStation VR about to come out.

Yeah, PlayStation VR is about to come out, Valve is coming out. Most of the insiders are saying it’s going to be a Valve versus Oculus world. Valve will have better video games; Oculus will have more social experiences to do. I think social wins but that’s hard to prove right now.

What’s porn going to use first because that’s probably what’s going to take off!

Social! The problem whether porn going to be allowed on Oculus or Valve and probably not… so that’s where you’ll find the mobile based virtual reality but I don’t know!

Google cardboard?

Yeah, Google cardboard sure is going to be attractive for a whole lot if things. If you’re just showing a video from a 360 camera, Google cardboard is just fine. There’s going to be things that behave like Google cardboard like Merge VR, IonVR, and Samsung Gear VR. They’re in the $120-200 range that use your mobile phone. You put your mobile phone in the cardboard and that’ll be very popular for a whole lot of things. But if I’m shooting you call of duty style in a VR world, I want an Oculus or a Valve! I want as many polygons being thrown at my eyes as possible, as fast as possible, so I need a big NVIDIA card and that requires Oculus or Valve or PlayStation VR.

I saw you posting on Twitter the other day about Facebook. There seemed to be a discussion about whether Facebook was breaking news or not and you seem to be of the opinion that it is much better than people give it credit for, can you tell me a bit about that?

First of all, there are lists now that you can follow of all the newspapers in the world, and it’s all real time, all in one stream. I have one that I built for tech news, so if I want to see what the tech news of the minute is, I can. I can see the world going by in real time. It’s the same as Twitter only it’s pretty; it has comments underneath, I can see how many shares or how many likes there are. Soon I’m going to have an emoji bar, reactions bar they’re calling it, where I can see 7 different emojis and see what kinds of choices people made. I’m going to have a lot more information on each item than twitter has. But your main feed is filtered. I have 5,000 friends, I’m following 5,000 other people, and I’m following 7,000 brands. So 17,000 things are aimed at my screen. It’s a mixture of personal and news and information and what you’re friends are liking.

I see the news faster than what I see on twitter. If the news is important, everybody starts sharing it. If there’s a big earthquake in the world that everybody cares about, they start sharing it and I see it because the filters go nuts. To me, it’s not about family anymore. Most people think of Facebook as just a place for baby photos or memes, I’ve trained my Facebook so that stuff is on a list if I want to look at it. It’s a competitive advantage now to have information quickly.

It’s not just Facebook; TripIt saved me on the runway in Chicago. It told me the flight was cancelled and I was on the runway. I was like ‘what do you mean my flights been cancelled?’ but Ive interviewed the CEO, I know how the system works, it’s more accurate than the pilot.

So you were actually already on the plane, and you found out that it had been cancelled while you were sitting on the plane.

Yeah, and I bought a seat on another flight and then 2 minutes later the pilot comes on and says, ‘we can’t get an engine started and we’re going back to the gate’. If you’re not using modern technology and you don’t understand it, then you’re at a disadvantage to people like me who understand it and who are using it. We are going to win over and over again.

You’ve come to Australia a couple times now for this event, is there anything that’s happening in Australia on the digital front that’s impressing you and exciting you?

Yeah im meeting with Atlassian tomorrow, that’s been a long-term good company. Last time I was here I saw Canva. Just two weeks ago they got 15 million dollars funding. They do a graphic design service which is really nice. I’m seeing a bunch of companies tomorrow so I’ll know more then but I’m always impressed by the start-ups I see here and good entrepreneurs and good thinking here. It’s a modern country, part of the modern world! There are some countries that are still struggling to become part of the modern will where they understand how to make companies that are for modern people with a modern smart phone.

Well thank you very much for your time, I enjoyed talking to you!

Thank you!

Enjoy the rest of your time here!

Follow Robert on his Twitter Account. For more details on the event, and to watch videos from the day, head to the official website for the 2015 Telstra Digital Summit.