‘AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen’

Facebook might aim to build an all-immersive digital matrix, but Niantic CEO John Hanke tells us that what he plans to do is take reality—and make it better.

WIRED: Why do you call the metaverse dystopian?

John Hanke: It takes us away from what fundamentally makes us happy as human beings. We’re biologically evolved to be present in our bodies and to be out in the world. The tech world that we’ve been living in, as exacerbated by Covid, is not healthy. We’ve picked up bad habits—kids spending all day playing Roblox or whatever. And we’re extrapolating that, saying, “Hey, this is great. Let’s do this times 10.” That scares the daylights out of me.

Whereas you want people to actually experience daylight, albeit with a phone in their hands.

I really got into this idea of using digital tech to reinvigorate the idea of a public square, to bring people off the couch and out into an environment they can enjoy. There’s a lot of research that supports the positive psychological impact of walking through a park, walking through a forest—just walking. But now we live in a world where we have all this anxiety, amplified by Covid. There’s a lot of unhappiness. There’s a lot of anger. Some of it comes from not doing what our bodies want us to do—to be active and mobile. In our early experiments, we got a lot of feedback from people who were kind of couch potatoes that the game was causing them to walk more. They were saying, “Wow, this is amazing, I feel so much better. I’m physically better, but mentally I’m way more better. I broke out of my depression or met new people in the community.” We said, “Wow, like, this is good we can do in the world.”

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