Giant tech company Cisco always ends its huge annual customer conference by inviting a well-known personality associated with the tech industry but not in it (and often from the entertainment world), on stage for the final keynote speech.
This year that person was Kevin Spacey.
Spacey’s hit Netflix show “House of Cards” was the first original TV show created by Netflix and the first new TV show to release its entire season on Day 1. The success of “House of Cards” has perhaps done more for cord-cutting, streaming, and binge-watching than any other.
Spacey is a hilarious speaker who did his homework on Cisco, the world’s largest maker of computer network equipment.
He worked in more than a few jokes about networking, like the zingers he threw at presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
He joked that Cisco had originally invited Clinton to be the final keynote speaker. “She emailed right back,” he said in his Bill Clinton impersonation. “But then out of habit she immediately deleted it.”
He then joked that they invited Donald Trump. “But he doesn’t really understand what you guys do. When he hears the term broadband he thinks you’re talking about the Dixie Chicks. And if you mention firewall, Trump thinks that will be an even better way to keep the Mexicans out.”
The audience shrieked with laughter.
Technology to make us better people
But Spacey didn’t really do a stand-up. He talked about his career, the risks he took to achieve success and the people who helped him.
But he finished with an impassioned case for how the next big thing in entertainment technology, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will not just change the industry, but indeed make us better people.
AR is a technology that adds digital imagery on top of the real world. VR is the next step. It lets you completely step into a virtual world, as if you are stepping into a movie.
Spacey talked up all the usual bullish cases for AR/VR being used today: training medical students, letting engineers create products in 3D, and training football players, letting every player re-watch plays from the quarterback’s point of view.
He mentioned how this technology will one day let students study the ocean by virtually standing in the bottom of it, or to stand in the fields of Gettysburg escorted back through time.
But Spacey gave a bigger reason for why he’s excited for the technology: empathy.
“Chris Milk, who is one of today’s pioneers in VR/AR filmmaking, calls this technology ‘a powerful empathy machine’ And I think he’s right,” Spacey said. “Nothing will give a person more understanding than virtually living in a world that is not his/her own.”
Spacey is excited about how it will transform the entertainment, movie, and story-telling experience.
“If you can change someone’s behaviour, by what they see, by what they can experience as if they were actually there. If you can affect their feelings and thinking, if you can amplify their understanding, then just imagine harnessing that kind of of power in the service of a story,” he said.
But maybe it will be even more powerful than entertainment.
“We no longer live in a world that’s just OK and happy to stick with the status quo,” Spacey said.
Given the tragic and terrifying horrors that have happened in just the past few weeks when we think of each other as enemies, the idea that technology could soon make us all more human, more empathetic, more understanding seems like a comforting one.