Niantic CEO John Hanke is against the metaverse, wants to continue pushing AR development as a way to connect people

Niantic's goal is to overlay virtual and physical elements, which could lead to Pokémon walking among us.

Image via Niantic

It appears that Niantic is opting out of the “metaverse” conversation for the time being with founder and CEO John Hanke penning a blog talking about the company’s place in pushing technology forward. 

Instead of pursuing a world where people explore, socialize, and exist in a digital universe, Hanke wants Niantic to motivate everyone to “stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world.”

These posts from Hanke are becoming more common as Niantic continues to grow and develop new augmented reality technology. He previously talked about how the company was going to reimagine some of the models within its products and new additions to try and promote safe ways to “bring people together again in the real world” following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Moving forward, Hanke views Niantic as a vehicle to better the human experience using technology rather than trying to replace elements of it with a virtual equivalent, citing novels like Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

“A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming,” Hanke said. “But in fact these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong. As a society, we can hope that the world doesn’t devolve into the kind of place that drives sci-fi heroes to escape into a virtual one—or we can work to make sure that doesn’t happen. At Niantic, we choose the latter.”

In his post, Hanke said that the opposite is also true and that abandoning the idea of advancing technology won’t serve people well either. 

Niantic’s goal in creating new technology, implementing it in various ways, and providing it to different creators through things like its Lightship platform is to create a real-world experience that’s enhanced by data, information, and interactive tech. Hanke considers this a “real world metaverse” that lies at an intersection between technical undertakings that will allow users to create, change, and interact with digital objects in the physical world. 

In terms of implementation, Hanke has confirmed that, along with the Lightship platform and work being done inside of it to advance tech and map the world in AR, Niantic is working on outdoor-capable AR glasses. These glasses would be able to use Niantic’s map and render information and virtual worlds on top of the physical world. 

A physical model is being tested internally, but work has just started and will continue to evolve over many years. The company hopes, however, that these glasses, along with other advancements, can eventually help AR and data services evolve and even let Pokémon actually walk around us in a more literal sense for Pokémon Go

Hanke went into detail, noting that he envisions a world where a virtual world can be overlaid directly with the real world, enhancing elements of both. This includes the vision of Pokémon wandering around, a 10-story gym rising above real-world infrastructure, and in-game personas being used in real life. 

Other properties like Marvel, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Bladerunner, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, and other elements like education were also mentioned as being adventures that can act as a “catalyst for spending time together and deepening social relationships.”

Niantic is heavily weighing the various safety measures needed to make such ideas feasible, along with infrastructure within its own games, applications, and initiatives.

“We have a responsibility to do all this in a way that respects the people using our services, as well as people who don’t,” Hanke said. “User privacy, responsible use, inclusive development processes and recognizing and mitigating the potential impacts of AR technology on societies all need to be considered now, not after the fact.”

You can read the full blog post with Hanke’s comments and some insight into Niantic’s upcoming projects, like expansions to the Lightship program and AR tech, on the official Niantic Labs website.