Improbable progress in virtual reality

There is a great scene in the 2013 film “Her.” In it, the leading man plays in an interactive, completely immersive, mixed-reality video game. It’s set in an impossibly rich, virtual world.

Herman Narula wants to make such a game possible.

The 29-year-old Cambridge University graduate, has co-founded the British company called Improbable. The company makes distributed simulation software for video games.

Now the people at Improbable are working on a new operating system called Spatial OS. It would help developers build virtual worlds that billions of people can inhabit.

It’s a big concept, with bigger implications for investors.

What makes the “Her” scene so captivating is the idea that game players can interact with limitless virtual worlds.

In the scene, Theodore, the lead played by Joaquin Phoenix, is talking with his AI assistant, played by Scarlett Johansson. Suddenly a character in the game realizes that he doesn’t have Theodore’s full attention – and cops a cyber-attitude.

Right now, this level of interaction is impossible because the games run all of the simulations and complex geometries on a single, central computing system. Improbable wants to enable tens of thousands of computers to run those tasks simultaneously.

Its Spatial OS is a distributed, cloud-based platform. It bundles the computing resources of a vast number of servers. It integrates existing workflows, engines and tools, making them more robust.

In the movie “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely man who develops an emotional relationship with his artificially intelligent, personal cyber-assistant.

The result is massive simulations and enormous scale.

In a recent interview with “Bloomberg Asia,” Narula explained that Spatial OS allows developers to build new virtual worlds that are currently computationally impossible with single servers. These worlds have their own detailed physics. Players can build things. They can explore and interact.

Imagine the possibilities.

Improbable currently focuses on gaming because that is the first, best way to monetize Spatial OS. It’s how the company reached a $1 billion private market valuation. It’s how it attracted a massive investment from Japan’s Softbank.

The computer gaming industry is an underappreciated industry. In 2015, video gaming surged past movies and music, with $23.5 billion in U.S. sales. It was a 5% increase over 2014. More important, it was the shape of things to come.

Gaming is interactive. It allows people to drift away into other worlds where they have control to change outcomes. In an era of robotics, artificial intelligence and growing anxiety about the future of work, control over outcomes is a good thing.

It is no wonder the hardware businesses at Sony is humming. Software companies are winning, too. Game publishing is a big business, and its growth has no end in sight.

Improbable brings the possibility of even bigger, more immersive virtual worlds.

Its capabilities have already been noticed. The company is working with medicine, cybersecurity, telecommunication and defense companies to bring its skills to sector-specific problems.

Adding massive simulations to simple data sets breathes new life into problem solving. It helps engineers and analysts better understand how individual choices impact the overall project.

In 2016, Improbable began collaborating with Immense Simulations, a startup working to optimize autonomous vehicle fleets. It’s a natural fit because simulation allows engineers to see the likely outcomes where there is no conclusive data. After all, it’s hard to model for a city with only self-driving cars when none have ever existed.

For investors, the initial opportunity is gaming software.

I began pointing my members toward these types of stocks, such as Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and technology provider Nvidia (NVDA), several years ago.

Here’s an article I wrote in Forbes about gaming software in November 2015. These stocks have been big winners. But the industry is just barely out of its infancy. There’s a long way to go. Play on.

Best wishes,

Jon Markman


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One comment on “Improbable progress in virtual reality

  1. Richard Davis November 3, 2017

    Jon, how can I possibly care about up-and-coming companies and technologies, when a number of newsletters are forecasting a global economic disaster? If the whole world slips into a recession (or depression), who will be around to buy these new expensive products? Sorry, but I’m just not interested right now.