Since joining the industry in 2013, Christoph Fleischmann has made a tremendous impact in the world of AR, VR and ML. In 2011, he co-founded a machine learning startup and later went on to be an early leader at two VR companies, Inflight VR and Megaparticle, the company behind PokerVR. In 2016, Fleischmann founded Arthur Technologies, a VR-based dynamic collaboration meeting solution. Since its inception, Fleishmann has scaled Arthur up to 50 employees internationally and has seen the platform adopted by renowned organizations around the world, such as the United Nations and Societe Generale.
You’ve heard of VR and the metaverse. But what is it actually like? And will we use it in the future of work? Frank Cottle tried it out for himself with Arthur, a virtual world, before chatting with its creator Christoph Fleischmann. In this episode, Christoph reveals his vision of a “mixed reality” world that enables people to connect, collaborate, and work more closely together – wherever they are in the world.
Frank Cottle [00:00:17] Welcome to the Future of Work podcast. Today, my guest, Christoph Fleischmann of Arthur Technologies, has joined the Virtual Reality World in 2013. But even before that, he co-founded in 2011 a machine learning startup that went on to become an early leader with two virtual reality companies’ Inflight VR and Mega Particle. That’s the company behind Poker VR for you poker players out there. In 2016, Fleischmann founded Arthur Technologies. Arthur is a VR based, dynamic collaboration meeting solution. Since its inception, Fleischmann has scaled Arthur up to 50 employees internationally. Has seen the platform adopted by renowned organizations around the world, such as the United Nations, Society Générale and many other corporate users, I understand today. So welcome, Chris.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:01:16] Thanks for having me, Frank.
Frank Cottle [00:01:18] You know, it’s funny. I’ll start off just by saying I’ve had the opportunity to don a headset and live inside of Arthur for a couple of days. And I found it fascinating. It was exactly what I had hoped as a work experience. I was able to move around your office building, complex interface with other individuals as if I was there or attend lectures in a theater, an auditorium, everything I could do if I actually went to a live convention. So, I know that we are 100% yet. There’s still a lot of work to go. But still it was completely immersive. And so, you know, I kind of start off and ask you, how do you define the metaverse and virtual reality’s role within it as compared to augmented reality as a as an example? And how do you see things blending together as we adopt to more and more hybrid work and remote work formats? Big question. Sorry. For the first of all, it was not.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:02:33] I think it’s good to get definitions right. I’m not sure whether we in 2022 can truly define the metaverse. I think we have an idea where this virtual world is going to go, and we have these indications what components will be there. But I’m pretty sure that if you ask me, my definition of what I consider a metaverse is the metaverse is might be different from some other folks in the industry. For me, the metaverse is the logical evolution of everything we have done until now in the digital space. I do believe the three-dimensional component is important in its definition, meaning it’s a three-dimensional digital world that I can visit. And I think in order for it to constitute the metaverse, I want to be able to retain my identity throughout different experiences. And these experiences might be something very consumer oriented, like a game or a social experience or a concert, more very business oriented, like a training simulation or a convention or a business meeting in my company. And it’s, I think, the definition of where I will really call it the metaverse is if I take my identity from let’s say you can already do this right now on a VR headset, you can play a round of golf. You know, you and I could golf on the golf course. And I actually highly recommend trying this off because it’s a ton of fun.
Frank Cottle [00:04:22] To dance and play golf. You might not want to recommend that.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:04:26] Well, I can assure you, I have ways to go to be a decent player, so it’s just fun. And for me, if you and I could go from this virtual golf course where we just have like a fun round of nine holes and then go directly towards the meeting space and work out on something or work on something business related. That would, for me constitute the metaverse, like this moment where I think the finish, I chose is it should consist of both the professional world, the business world, but also the kind of consumer casual social world within the metaverse, which is this three-dimensional space. The way I would say we will mostly use it is through what is now predominantly called mixed reality headsets. And mixed reality is a term that encompasses both virtual reality as well as different derivations of virtual reality where we blend the real world and the virtual world together. So, to make it a little bit more simple, virtual reality is what the majority of people try out when they put on a real VR headset. I put on this headset and I’m in a fully digital world. I have nothing of my real world anymore any more around, and that is VR for me personally. However, I think it’s this is only one part of the whole equation because most of our day we will probably not want to spend 100% in this world. We will probably still want to see our desk, maybe our coffee cup or something. If we’re talking about a work scenario. And this is where mixed reality comes in, where I can easily choose between seeing some parts of the real world and some parts of the digital world. So, it’s not as invasive to my real to my real life as full virtual reality. And for me personally, the metaverse actually also includes these mixed reality experiences. So, I think I’m also if I want to work in the metaverse, I can pick the type of experiences where I’m still a partner in the real world and partly in this digital world, that that would be for me, the, the whole spectrum.
Frank Cottle [00:06:56] I would have to agree with that for two reasons. First, when I was in the Arthur experience, totally immersed in the virtual reality with the headset on, I actually lost my orientation to my desk, knocked my cup of coffee over.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:07:17] That happens!
Frank Cottle [00:07:18] I would have liked to have been able to see my coffee. But the other thing too is, is I think that the human mind is an interesting and unlimited capacity. It’s the most amazing computer we’ll ever, ever have. And we can deal with multiple I don’t want to say realities, but with multiple types of media simultaneously very easily. And I think holographic projection is a good example of that. We can just as easily, you and I, today. We could just as easily have set this meeting up. I don’t know how Daniel would have recorded it, but we could have set it up with the HoloLens, set up easy enough, and could have sat in my office, or I could have sat in yours and conducted the same conversation. That’s another layer of reality in three dimensions compared to what we’re doing today, which is what people are used to. So, we’re using a medium today that people are comfortable with because they understand it, where tomorrow we’ll be using something entirely different. And I guess when we talk about our primary focus, which is the future of work. How do you see? Adjustments being made in the workplace. Do you see that will go into an office? Dial up our favorite background on our headset. That will become our visual physical office around us, even though we might be in a small cube and not the best part of town. Because we don’t have to be in the best part of town anymore because we can be anywhere, we want. So, what can go down? How do you see all of that relating to remote work in particular and what we’ve experienced with COVID 19, which kind of forced us into a whole new paradigm?
Christoph Fleischmann [00:09:25] If we zoom out a little bit and look at this two-year long experiment where we were forced to immediately adopt a radically hybrid work model or even a fully remote work model, I think there is this. A critical mass of people. And if you look at studies from BCG or GWC, like the overwhelming majority of people saying. Why on earth should we go back five days a week, five days a week to the office like we’re just standing in traffic jams in our cars, burning gas?
Frank Cottle [00:10:27] Sure. If you give me a call directly before you made that decision.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:10:33] Yeah, I can. Can you imagine that? And so, if you put these two things together, you’re at least I think to myself, okay, clearly people want this. And clearly this experiment was incredibly successful and on many, many levels, because we weren’t successful at continuing with, you know, delivering services that welcomed stop when we went when we stopped going to the office. The people, especially management, top management, want people back. And this is because we’re missing two things. If we’re working through two dimensional screens with each other, we’re missing a deeper level of connection to our team, which is the social dimension, and we’re missing the ability to actually go deeper on productivity and collaboration, to actually have more complex discussions.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:11:24] So these are two elements where no matter the tool you use, you feel, especially if you have a group of five or six people, plus you feel like you’re stuck in second gear or you’re not actually translating all the potential of the people you have in this virtual meeting into output. And neither are you creating these serendipitous connections, this team spirit that you’re used to in a physical workplace. So, for me, we’ve seen this incredible preview, but we’ve also had a realization that there are still things missing to actually make remote and hybrid work. And. It follows, I think quite logically that we are just limited by what current technology can do. If I look through this window to you, it’s great to record this session. It’s great to have this conversation. But we could if we were actually in 3D together, we could probably go even further in terms of how you how we work together. And this is just because this medium, VR and mixed reality is so much more intense. It’s, you know, what is more intense than actually having the display directly in front of your eyes and you being part of this digital world. And so, what we actually explore with clients is how do VR and AMR virtual reality, mixed reality, solve this hybrid work conundrum where everybody, everybody actually wants to pull it off. But we’re just limited by the current tools and especially on these two dimensions, the social connectivity and deeper collaboration.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:13:06] VR can deliver massively for organization. So, it’s a. And if we extrapolate this, it’s you will have freedom. It’s not going to be everyone in the office with VR headsets. It’s not going to necessarily be everyone remote. It’s just going to not matter where you are. Geography just becomes no longer a dominating factor in your life when it comes to productivity just becomes something you are aware of. You might choose to go to an office if you want to have a cup of coffee with your colleagues. But the way it’s going to feel like is and at least that’s our vision, that no matter where I am in the world, I have the ability to put on an advanced, mixed reality headset and feel like I’m in our office. I have all of the positive emotions of being there with my coworkers. I have all of the capabilities and the attention of people that I enjoy when I’m actually in a workshop physically with them. But I can choose to do it from wherever I am if I happen to be in the office. Maybe you and I are in a conference room, and we dial in, quote unquote, three of our colleagues who are not. It will just seamlessly work. They will just visit our physical meeting space and they will appear as holograms to us. Or we say we all of five of us, fully commit to the virtual world and not our physical meeting space ceases to matter. We might actually flip a switch where the desk in front of us disappear. Disappear. As the floor disappears, our walls disappear. And we are fully in a virtual campus. And this is really the vision we are we’re looking at. And I think a lot of companies are searching for that. Is. Truly but overcoming any sort of limitation that is caused by geography.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:15:10] Technology can deliver it. It’s this set of technologies.
Frank Cottle [00:15:14] I know in our own company we operate globally, as you know, and we’ve always taken the view that geography is not important. We want this person with our most intelligent, highest capabilities to work with us, and we don’t require that they relocate. No, we never have. We don’t think that disrupting of families, adding costs to the corporate side or the individual side, any of that provides benefit to anybody. If we’re Italian and you love living in Rome, what’s it going to cost me to move you to Texas? A lot and you’re not going be happy here. You’re always saying, well, when I retire, I’m going back to Rome, so you should just stay in Rome, and we can all work together. I think time zones have an impact on that to a degree. I know you’re in Vienna and I’m in Fort Worth, Texas. And so, we’ve got a seven-hour time difference between us right now. So, it’s evening for you and early afternoon for me. You get used to that, but that also impacts your work life balance when you’re working across to broader time zones. And that’s kind of disruptive that that’s not a good thing overall. But as the technology of virtual reality is moving along at a pretty rapid pace, not as rapid as some people would like to see it, as you’ve seen by recent announcements by various companies. But is it moving along very rapidly? And we’ll be embracing it fully within the next couple of years. But as we embrace it, do you see? The individual gamers would start at the bottom of that, that community embracing it and bringing it to the workplace. Or do you see. You mentioned Elon Musk. Do you see someone like Elon Musk embracing it and forcing the workforce to utilize it? Because it’s going to take some pressures to evolve this to where somebody says, oh, by the way, if you want to work here, this is the way we do it. And certain people go, oh, cool, I got to do that. And other people are going, Whoa! I’m not sure about that. And in a world where there is a battle for talent. How is that going to play out in your view and what the heck are government going to do about it?
Christoph Fleischmann [00:17:59] Yeah, a couple questions here. I think in there that are super interesting to the question of whether it’s going to be gamers introducing this to the professional world. I don’t think so. I think we are seeing a strong bifurcation in this early version of the metaverse that we are observing that is unfolding right now, where you have this gaming social world that is completely isolated from the enterprise adoption. So, you have I’m.
Frank Cottle [00:18:31] I’m going to interrupt.
Frank Cottle [00:18:32] I’m going to interrupt on that for a second.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:18:37] Yeah sure.
Frank Cottle [00:18:37] Tesla employees, I don’t know how many people let’s just say 100,000 people worldwide. Okay. Name the top three. And that’s a community. Okay. Name the top three games. And each one of them has multiple millions of people interacting individually and as teams simultaneously. Overall, on a global basis. So, any of the larger games has. 10 to 100 times. The members that a company like Tesla or Cisco or IBM, Google or any of the company has, and they’re interacting as individuals, following the rules, and working as teams in a competitive environment. So. I’m challenging the thought process there that there’s not going to be an evolutionary structure. Where some of the gaming technologies that are used and some of the theories around community development that are used and applied to the corporate world.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:19:55] I think if we talk about knowledge transfer, I 100% agree with you. I mean, technically, Arthur is a video game. So, we’re basically selling a video game to Fortune 500 companies every day. And we’re actually selling not only a video game, but we’re also even telling them to use VR headsets that right now in 2022 are built, predetermined predominantly on the paradigm of video game consoles. Correct. But this is changing in in a way that could be ah is going through almost a renaissance kind of era in this year where it is actually when there is still a ton of knowledge sharing between this and between the gaming world and what is being innovative thinking about there is this evolution that the virtual reality is going through, which is adding mixed reality, which is adding, for example, the ability to have your keyboard visible in VR where it is becoming a computing device. And if we look at the actual users, the people using this, I think we really have two very, very distinct user groups that are that are driving this adoption rapidly forward like from two. And they’re coming one is if you want to call it the consumer bottom-up gaming and social push. One is the very, very top end, you know, highly innovative enterprises that want to solve collaboration, creativity, talent, retention from the top. And if you look at the actual users and the applications, I do think you see a strong bifurcation in how they use it, what matters to them more in terms of functionality and so on. But there is a ton of cross communication happening there.
Frank Cottle [00:21:48] I think your comment about mixed realities is very important here because if you look at the devices that are being created right now, it seems that they’re evolving away from the video, totally immersive video game headset environment where you’re totally immersed. You can’t look out of it outside and you have to live inside of it. And it seems like some people are going minimalist, but that takes me, and nobody is succeeding at that, yet it appears, you know, everybody’s trying to get there, but not quite there yet. Everybody’s putting off their big announcements right now. They’ll get there. They will get there. But that takes me to the next question of augmented intelligence. Let’s go back to Elon Musk and let’s put a few extra wires, connect them to your brain and see what we can do. So, do you see virtual reality or mixed reality? Being an augmentation that includes embedded. Devices inside of our brain or inside attached to our eyes are attached in some ways to us physically, to where we become not just a hybrid worker, but a worker who is, in fact, a hybrid.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:23:19] Yeah. So, I think right now we are already seeing augmented intelligence in at least the use cases we’re seeing. What we’re essentially doing is a lot of our work is recreating physical meetings, but obviously we don’t.
Frank Cottle [00:23:40] My laptop is augmented intelligence, if you will. I’m smarter when I’m with laptop than. Then when I don’t.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:23:47] 100%. It’s these superpowers we can add on to these physical meetings. So, it looks and feels a lot like a physical meeting. But you have superpowers both, you know, physically in this virtual world, but also in terms of information, the ability to look up information or calculate or stuff like this. So definitely we’re seeing this. I do think that brain computer interfaces will probably eventually go so far that they might replace the hardware we use to access the metaverse is probably even smarter than going through our visual sensors is to I mean, I’m sure it sounds very crazy right now, but it might not in ten or 20 years is to directly interface with your brain. And so, I definitely think it’s a logical evolution from VR and mixed reality towards some sort of human computer interface that directly connects with your brain. Whether this is then something where you have contact lenses and something that connects with your brain with maybe a noninvasive surgery or something that where you can control the virtual world. I think there’s some quite exciting R&D topics around that, whether it’s a wristband that can take up micro impulses from your muscles and your brain and that might already constitute this or a full-on surgery that I’m not sure what we will find will appropriate.
Frank Cottle [00:25:33] For people that have problems with the loss of limbs and things of that. We’re seeing interfaces there that that are pretty effective. And yeah, I know in Sweden and in Norway now I believe too we’re doing implants that give us the ability to just a chip implant, kind of like you do with a dog for I.D., but it’s a B chip implant for the ability to ride train busses, buy things from vending machines, etc. I used to go swipe all new word for definite. So, we are seeing things like that even today on an integer basis. But so, it it’ll be interesting to see how far we go, and it’ll be interesting to calculate the moral factor involved in that. We’re getting a little off the future of work here and so.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:26:33] That’s part of it, right?
Frank Cottle [00:26:35] I’ll try, and I’ll try and take us back to that. Artificial intelligence is a requirement in all of this, and I guess it was Google today started saying, oh, you know, our AI computers are starting to develop emotion. Okay, that was their announcement today. Now, what that means is, is my computer mad at me? Does my computer love me or, you know, how subtle or how overt or is that development? And is it, in fact, even real? How important is that to virtual reality? Should the reality itself have an artificial intelligence? Providing things to you that you might not be thinking of yet.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:27:22] Yeah. So, we have this thought experiment a lot. You know, that’s assuming two years have an advanced, mixed reality headset. I put it on no matter where I am in the world. I walk into the lobby of my office, I run into a colleague, but maybe I’m late for a meeting or something. And I actually go, you know, I just briefly say hi and I go to go to this meeting and maybe I have some sort of digital assistant for me. Let’s call it a brainstorming meeting. We want to come up with some cool product ideas, something like this. And while we are talking, you know, maybe about a new line of shoes, we want to create a new product line. The idea is feeding the room with additional data that might be useful for a meeting. I think this is a very simple example where you can with powerful property exists already today. You can augment your meeting experience and it’s I don’t think you need tension generally I for it to already play a very powerful role in the metaverse. I think regarding the Google announcement, if I’m not mistaken, it’s a little bit debated whether the statement was overplayed because it who really. But yeah, but I think it’s I think many people underestimate you know it’s similar to VR. I’d like it’s been around for a couple of years. Everybody was like in the first two years everybody expected was expecting it to happen next year. Always, you know that the matrix was there, and it just took some time because there were some really hard problems to solve. And it’s the same with the AI, but suddenly some of these hard problems get solved and you have this exponential growth and its potency. And I think you’re seeing this for both A.I. and VR right now. And that’s an interesting convergence or inflection point for both of these technologies, which arguably next to automation might have the strongest effect on will all work.
Frank Cottle [00:29:38] When you talk about exponential. Growth. You talk about an advantage. Okay. And right now, the world is very unsettled geopolitically. We’re dealing with a lot of problems. So, no matter which side of what issue, there’s problems. We have a lot of first world issues and a lot of third world issues. Do you see this in this kind of a wrap up question because we’re running along here? But do you see virtual reality as an advantage for those that literally can afford it because it’s not cheap? Neither is it cheap to deploy it. Change management. Getting everybody on a new format. It’s sort of like magically entire. Corporate population of one company or two. Companies will have this capacity and no one else will. Okay. So, do you see that or no one else will with the same critical mass? Okay. Do you see that as being elemental in certain companies taking massive advancement and therefore massive market share and economic advancement or countries doing the same thing and leading others behind? Or do you see it more holistically, which we’d all like to, but be real here? What’s really going to happen, in your view, to where it allows Third World environments to catch up and how will that happen? How could you deploy it in a country that doesn’t have? Water or telephone even in many parts. And we can think of different parts of the world like that. How could you deploy this type of technology that would allow them to catch up? By comparison to deploying it in the Silicon Valley and having Google dominate the world. Okay. I mean, these are we have to look at the future of work. We have to look at it, all aspects of it. It’s an important consideration.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:32:00] Absolutely. I think to the first part, there’s going to be companies. That will play this brilliantly. And they will have an unfair advantage for probably years to come. This is like being ahead of the curve with the Internet. But if you work like me in this space and you see what is being created in there. It’s not hard to imagine that this is actually ten or 100 times bigger than the Internet just because how pervasive it can be in our life and how much can be done. So, I think you’re going to see an insane amount of value creation that some companies will definitely capitalize on. I think that’s the supply side, the company and corporate side, where you will have some giants emerging on the general public, what it means for the world itself and its citizens. I have, however, a very, very positive view because I’m a firm believer that one of the greatest sources of misery on Earth is geography, is the geographical distance that you have that the average person has from industrial nations, safe nations, and rich nations. A world where we can have a technology where geography doesn’t matter is also a world where it doesn’t matter anymore. Where you’re born, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin. It doesn’t matter, you know, whether you will get a visa or not for a certain country as long as you we can somehow get them access to these devices and an Internet connection we can, ironically, for a three-dimensional world, make the world itself very flat and egalitarian. And I. I do believe you will have challenges, but. And of course, this is not going to be free, this technology, but it’s going to be infinitely less expensive than any flights or any visa or any other way of how you might want to break out of a chain of poverty. So, I do think that for the general public, while you will have probably some metaverse giants evolving, there is this potential. And I think states should realize this in the United Nations is thankfully, I think, realizing a lot of its potential. What this can do in terms of good for people around the world.
Frank Cottle [00:34:42] Well, I think one of the points that I would like to make that where we haven’t touched on, but I think is critical when we look at the future of work, we always are always looking forward. I would give it point in time. But if we look at the human spectrum on the same issue and say, let’s look at 25-year-olds, okay, and what does their future of work look like over their career path? Okay. We also when we look at the future of work, we also have and this deals with your third country issues, we also have to look at the future of education.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:35:23] Yep.
Frank Cottle [00:35:24] So if you can’t bring people into this metaverse into this. Virtual reality world unless they’re well educated. Therefore, the starting point on the path to virtual reality isn’t the team at Google that’s going to conquer the world. It’s really the educators that are going to teach children how to function in this world and how to speed up what they’re able to learn so that this is where you’re born, and the color of your skin really doesn’t matter. If you don’t take the future of work back to the future of education, then none of this is going to succeed, in my opinion.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:36:15] I tend to agree with you that it’s going to be critical. I do think we’re dealing with something with actually a much more accessible medium than many people think because.
Frank Cottle [00:36:29] I’ve lived in it for a couple of days.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:36:33] Quite hopeful that there will be. There’s a lot of research around how much more effective training is actually in the arts of training, anything. Also training you on the art itself is more effective in this medium. And I kind of I’m always amazed by how quickly any type, of course, actually tends to pick up how to how to grab something. And also, because, you know, in our application, you actually make up, I think it’s called Skeuomorphic design, right? Where we take principles from the real world, apply it to a digital world, even though. The rules are different in the digital world. We’re still bringing design principles into the virtual world to make it more accessible. And so, I think, you know, at the very least, it’s going to be like smartphones that I think are one of the biggest value creation drivers for the third world. And there’s going to be an amazing area of innovation to bring it to more people. And I fully support your statement that we do have to look at this, and countries and companies need to invest in that to make it as accessible as possible. Otherwise, we will create another, you know, society that lives and has access to this metaverse and can enjoy all of its beauty. And we lock some other people out that that would be very, very sad for a medium that is so by definition, so inclusive.
Frank Cottle [00:38:06] We’ll all go the other way and then we have to wrap up. I’m pushing 73 years old, and it took me 2 hours to get immersed into this system. And so, when we look back to young people in this situation, we always have to also have to look to older people and see how they can adapt to it. And I’m just here to tell your audience, not my audience, but your audience right now is that this is very adaptable, it’s very workable. And you don’t live in that environment, but you do use that environment as you immerse yourself in it. And the really good thing about meetings in that environment, nobody’s multitasking. Nobody’s doing the children are in the meeting. They’re in the meeting. And that is a huge benefit. What we talked about, what goes on in the classic Zoom environment, you have to have the people in a zoom environment are not in the Zoom meeting, they’re on the screen, but they’re doing their email, they’re doing five other things. And so that’s one of the reasons you don’t get the benefit from which part. Chris, I can’t thank you enough for spending time with me today.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:39:31] Likewise, Frank.
Frank Cottle [00:39:32] Looking forward to following your path, following, helping you guide us through the world of virtual reality not just today, but tomorrow and next year and the next year. Let’s stay totally connected on this because it is evolving quickly and most people just see the headlines, but they don’t understand of the possibilities. So, thank you.
Christoph Fleischmann [00:40:00] Thank you. Thank you for having me. And see you soon in the metaverse.