10 Questions with Sky Zhou

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Sky Zhou is a HoloLens developer who has spent the past year exploring some of the most difficult MR development problems such as storing and retrieving spatial maps and the ins-and-outs of the locatable camera coordinate system. He recently tested out his Room Scanner with help from members of the HoloDevelopers slack group. You can signup to try the public beta now.

If his name sounds familiar, you may be remembering his earlier work on a Pokemon fighting app for the HoloLens.

 

What movie has left the most lasting impression on you?
I have two, The Matrix and Inception; both pose philosophical questions about the nature of existence and reality.

In addition, I like The Matrix for its vision of the future, in terms of the possibility of simulating a world with computer programs and its depiction of the power and danger of AI. I like Inception for its crafty metaphoric story about story telling itself as an art form. HoloLens brought us a giant step closer to the visions of simulated 3D world and alternate realities like dreams. Mixed reality will be a great art form for storytelling.

What is the earliest video game you remember playing?
I didn’t have much play time on video games when I was little. I can remember glympses of super mario, street fighters, and ninja turtles. However, I remember very well the first computer game I played. It was an RPG based on the Romance of Three Kingdoms. I enjoyed the game and the story so much. I wish I can build something like that in mixed reality with HoloLens.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?
Laozi, an ancient Chinese philosopher from 600 BC. It’s hard to explain all his deep thinking here and my interpretation might be flawed. However, if I have to narrow down the idea: things are observed and defined by us, and they can be observed and defined in many other ways. Therefore, nothing has to be absolute and we need not attach ourselves to extremes defined by us. Once you see that, you can always reach a balance, a compromise, or a feasible solution.  It really helps me keep an open mind to this world. The concept of mixed reality could help us understand this fine point. Many different observations and representations can be made in the same physical space, depending on what apps you are running and seeing through the HoloLens, so we can all agree that we don’t always get the same perspective and the same information, and therefore we end up forming different conclusions and decisions.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
In general, I change my mind based on additional information and evidence. For example, I used to think Microsoft was a lazy non-innovative company that puts no effort into making another great product and is just milking profit from its Windows and Office software. However, the first public demo of HoloLens in January 2015 blew my mind and completely changed how I see Microsoft.

What’s a programming skill people assume you have but that you are terrible at?
People assume I have some fixed programming skills in some languages, but what I really have is the ability to solve problems, by doing research and experimenting. In this regard, I owe many thanks to the awesome developer community around HoloLens and windows mixed reality.

What inspires you to learn?
1. Problems! I love to apply knowledge to solve problems. It pushes me to learn new things and often lead to even more new knowledge. For example, the frame rate was poor on my first demo of photo-textured room scanning on HoloLens. In order to improve performance on this app, I learned how to use compute shaders.

2. Community. With a great community around HoloLens, you feel you are not alone in this crazy endeavor, and there are people who value what you do. Other developers’ awesome demos also inspire me to do more myself. The feedback I get is the most valuable for alerting me to problems and pushing me to make my apps better. For example, when I saw 3 comments about poor frame rate on my Youtube channel, I knew I had to figure out a way to address it.

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?
There is another problem to solve and a new thing to learn! Plus my HoloLens is still working!

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?
I hold a view that Microsoft got it right this time, with their innovative approach to mixed reality. I can see consumer and business adoption at a massive scale because this technology truly brings amazing utility never seen before, once certain limitations are worked out (such as price, field of view, weight, full gesture recognition, etc.). Windows Mixed Reality is like an extension of Windows with all the familiarities from the existing flat desktop, but in 3D space. This familiarity in non-gaming uses of PCs makes it much more attractive to consumers and businesses.

What will the future killer Mixed Reality app do?
It depends on what pain it kills. Different people experience different pains. For example, a common pain is a long commute time. One possible solution is that company offices can be significantly reduced in size and most people work from home or anywhere they choose. Many large companies are currently heading in this direction already. Besides using mixed reality tools for creative 3D art work, an immersive virtual home office could improve focus, and shared experiences with the holo-presence of colleagues could improve teamwork and collaborations. Thus, the effectiveness and efficiency of working from home can be improved.

The ultimate dream of mixed reality is that you have 3D digital information and holograms overlay on top of a real physical environment no matter where you go and users can interact with them in shared experiences. Think of Pokémon Go plus Google street view, but with useful and relevant information wherever and whenever you need them. This requires much finer mapping—finer than Google street view currently provides—to your desk, your fridge, your car, and even yourself. This idea is not original to me: Ori Inbar wrote a great article recently about it and termed it “the AR Cloud.” When that happens, in essence we will have also created a massive interactive virtual world like the Matrix.

What book have you recommended the most?
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.

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