What Steve Wozniak and Palmer Luckey think about AR, robots may surprise you

Steve Wozniak and Palmer Luckey
Steve Wozniak and Palmer Luckey

"I'm old school. I like Superman. But there are new superheroes out there in the real world today, people like Palmer Luckey who are creating technology we never thought could exist."

That's a humbling remark regardless of whose mouth it comes from. When it's Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak saying it, however, it means just a little more.

Wozniak and Luckey met on stage at Silicon Valley Comic Con (SVCC) to talk about their childhood heroes, virtual and augmented reality, the newly minted Woz's Law of Robotics (more on that later), and current events.

The overall tone of the discussion was one of optimism as both the well-spoken 23-year-old entrepreneur and iconic tech figure believe that the future of technology is a bright one.

The future of virtual reality

Speaking to virtual reality (VR), Luckey and Wozniak discussed the current state of VR, as well as where they think it's headed.

"Even the content Hollywood is creating is built by game engines that have been built for virtual reality," Luckey said. "You're going to see people who work in the game industry start popping up in all new places like education, Hollywood and more."

He continued: "The idea I'm really excited about is telepresence. That's not something you can get from communication technology in its current form. Virtual reality is going to be better and more convenient than going to a real live meeting at some point."

Wozniak agreed to most of that. He said that video games are what will drive VR adoption, and that as long as there's content, he's a firm believer in the technology.

After all, Wozniak said, historically games are what drove PCs 30 years ago to become faster and more powerful.

As for the future, however, it's not room-scale VR that Luckey's concerned about. It's world scale he's after.

When asked by Kara Swisher, Executive Editor at Re/Code and moderator of Saturday's discussion, what exactly "world scale" means, Luckey replied that the next step for hardware and content creators will be a more immersive, untethered experience that not only matches the real world but in many ways improves upon it.

The problem, according to Luckey, is that the technology just isn't there yet: more powerful hardware than the current flagship cell phones offer.

Get it together, AR

The conversation then switched gears to augmented reality (AR), which neither of the two have worked on directly, but see potential in.

Wozniak's go-to AR device is Google Glass, he said, because he hopes that a future device might be able to recognize faces and spit out information like birthdays, school information or personal history, which would help him carry on more insightful conversations.

Luckey sees it differently.

"Google Glass isn't augmented reality," he said. "It doesn't know where it is in the world. Augmented reality is far behind virtual reality but, in the future, you'll have devices that do both VR and AR and people will become the new norm. However, as long as we're tied to other devices that are expensive, adoption is going to be limited."

Swisher's suggestion to get AR the ball rolling? Virtual or augmented reality porn.

"Porn users don't have powerful computers," Luckey said.

"Porn users, you need to upgrade," Swisher advised.

"You said it, not me," said Luckey.

Robots, Woz's Law and Apple vs the FBI

The trio talked about the next five years at length - the technology that will drive it forward, who'll be the one to do it (Elon Musk was mentioned a few times) and what the world will look like after it's all over.

Naturally, this led to a discussion of robots taking over the world.

"You have to look to science fiction about some ideas on technology, but most of the time it's more fiction," Luckey said. "In reality, the future of technology is a lot more boring. I think when we have perfect AI, it's going to be a lot more boring than people expect. Sci-fi writers are going to have to keep creating fantasies."

Surprisingly, Wozniak said he had a similar thought back when he was first starting Apple, but over the years concluded that perhaps PCs are getting smarter and could one day develop a culture of their own.

"Isaac Asimov introduced his Law of Robotics that said no robot can knowingly hurt a human," he said. "I've come up with Woz's Law: No human should ever hurt a machine that feels."

Hopefully the robot overlords remember that sentiment on Judgment Day.

The discussion ended with a reflection on recent events. Wozniak was asked to clarify where he stood on the FBI's request for a backdoor into an iPhone.

Woz came prepared. He said that most people feel they need to take a side on the debate, that they're either pro-government or pro-civil liberties. The answer, he noted, isn't so cut and dry.

"Cybersecurity is one of the greatest threats we face," he said.

Only by giving the government some control while keeping it out of businesses' private data can we be safe and free from privacy invasion, Woz concluded.

Luckey, while proclaiming his patriotism, took a firmer stance against the government.

"I love my country," he said. "I'm a proud, flag-waving nephew of my Uncle Sam, but I don't love everything my country does. I think they're wrong here. It's an extension of the civil liberties argument we've been having for years, and I think they made the wrong hill to make a stand on."

But the best answer might've come from Swisher herself: "If defeating ISIS comes down to unlocking an iPhone, we're f***ed."

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.