John Carmack – The Joe Rogan Experience

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual reality (VR) will serve as a replacement for anything we do on screens
    • “Everybody thought VR was going to be all about these amazing gaming experiences, but some of the most popular experiences are doing reasonably conventional things like watching Netflix, watching YouTube, using Amazon… stuff like that”‘
  • Augmented reality (AR) has to feel totally natural and seamless before it catches on
  • Artificial general intelligence (AGI) isn’t as far off as you might think
    • “I think we’ll have clear signs of AGI as soon as a decade from now”
  • An easy way to lengthen the number of hours you can put in deep/focused work:
    • Have multiple tasks you can switch between (rather than beating your head against one specific topic for hours on end)
  • “The promise of VR is to make the world as you want it”
    • VR will let people do things that may not be otherwise possible or economically viable
  • All activities that do not require an actual physical thing can eventually be subsumed in VR
    • One example John brings up – Going to the museum (without the lines, crowd, or even having to travel to get there)

Products Mentioned


  • John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) is the CTO of Oculus
    • He’s also the co-founder of id Software and lead programmer of its video games Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Rage, and their sequels
  • Joe calls him “one of the godfathers of video games

Virtual Reality (VR)

  • Check out the latest from Oculus – the Oculus Quest All-in-one VR Gaming Headset
    • In regards to battery life:
      • If you play hardcore games, it might only last ~2 hours
      • If you’re watching Netflix, it might last >3 hours
        • Many people used the Oculus Go to watch Netflix as well, the Quest’s predecessor
  • “Everybody thought VR was going to be all about these amazing gaming experiences, but some of the most popular experiences are doing reasonably conventional things like watching Netflix, watching YouTube, using Amazon… stuff like that”
  • “In the end, VR should be a replacement for anything you do on screens today”
    • Think – Phones, laptops, PC, TV, etc.
  • Joe says the Disney World ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, is amazing
    • “The VR experience is second-to-none”
  • “The promise of VR: the world as you want it… not having to go someplace to do something magical… If you can get to 90% of that experience staying in your own room, that’s great!”

Invading Your Dreams

  • John brings up the observation that when you’re obsessive about something, it tends to invade your dreams
    • “There have been multiple times in my career when I’m learning something new, when I’m just immersed, whether it’s a new programming paradigm or a new piece of tech, and I’m working 13 something hours a day. I have dreams about what I’m working on. That’s when I know I’m really deep in the groove of soaking in this new information. The dreaming is my mind helping to synthesize things into a useful form so I can apply them in the future.”
      • “These are the times I look back on quite fondly when I’ve been that obsessive about something that it’s been soaked into my dreams”
    • Joe used to have this happen in his martial arts days – he’d throw kicks in the middle of the night and wake up thinking he was in the middle of a fight

Health & Safety | Is Johnconcerned about people getting sick or injured when using the Oculus?

  • Sure – specifically around people banging into walls or falling down a flight of stairs
    • One way they prevent this – before using the device, it’s required that the user trace out what’s identified as a “safe area” (it’s called setting up “guardian boundaries”)
      • If you start to approach a wall, a pop-up will alert you
    • Things get pretty complex:
      • Based on the velocity at which you’re moving/swinging your hand, the speed at which the boundary alert shows up will increase
  • Facebook Reality Labs has done a ton of work examining how to utilize the sensors on VR devices to build the most accurate representation of the world
    • “It’s pretty damn good. They’re to the point where you can take a cluttered room like this, scan it, and make real 3D representations so you can go ahead and pick up individual objects. But it’s pretty expensive to do. You need slightly different sensors, you have to project more structured light out into the world, and it takes a lot more calculation. It’s too much for this generation of product, but it’s something we’re looking at for the future. Eventually, you want to not have that one step of drawing out the guardian boundaries. You just want the VR device to be sensible enough to tell what’s going on in the environment and smart enough to tell what’s a hazard. You want that magic of: you put it on, it does everything, and it just works. We’re not there yet, but it’s on the road map.”

Augmented Reality (AR)

  • Today, there are a ton of AR apps you can download on your phone
    • “But I haven’t found anything all that compelling. They’re interesting technologies, but I’m betting more on the more immersive experience [VR]. This idea of bringing part of it into the real world I’m a bit skeptical on. I don’t know how AR will play out.”
  • “That’s the state we’re at with AR today. Some devices are providing legitimate value but they’re like socket wrenches. They’re a tool you get when you want to do a specific job. The world we want to be in is one where you put something on and it essentially becomes part of you. I want something where I roll out of bed, I grab my AR glasses, and then they do something useful for me for 16 hours.”
    • Many of the AR devices today, like the Microsoft HoloLens are very expensive and are used for various aspects of job-based training (it’s quite common with jet engine mechanics)
  • Imagine being able to access information on some sort of heads-up display (like a pair of AR glasses) just by thinking about it
    • Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) will allow for this
    • Speaking on Elon Musk’s BCI company, Neuralink – “It’s EXCITING stuff. It’s visionary… The potential upside of this, being able to make the whole electronic world directly accessible in both input and output to your brain, is remarkable.”
  • The main point – AR has to be natural and seamless
    • Imagine performing some action (like tapping your teeth/wrist etc.) which then indicates for your AR glasses to zoom in on an object and present you with more information

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • “I am a believer in artificial general intelligence (AGI). I think it’s probably not as far off as many people believe.”
    • Just how far? – “I think we’ll have clear signs of AGI as soon as a decade from now”
      • But many disagree with this
      • “Our minds are just our bodies in action. There’s no reason we can’t wind up simulating that in some way.”
      • The brain has 85 billion neurons (making it very hard to simulate!)
        • “But most of those probably aren’t completely necessary”

The VR Timeline

  • About a decade ago, things really started taking off 
    • “I think we can date it all to the demo I gave at E3″
  • Now – we have VR down to a single unit you can wear on your head with no cables or computer necessary
  • But there’s still a long way to go – high-end gaming PCs are 50x more powerful than smartphones (which is what these stand-alone VR systems run off of)
    • “I make the point to people that we’re so used to computers getting faster and faster and they have been for decades now… but we’re approaching the end of that… It’s very likely, baring some magical new technology, that you’ll probably never get cell phone technology to the point of a modern gaming PC.”
      • Because of this, developers have to be more conscientious and pay more attention to aspects of performance which could be glossed over when dealing with a PC 

Cell Phone Addiction and Connecting the World

  • “I’m concerned. I see this future where you’ll go to a place and observe 80% of people looking at their phones and not interacting with one another” – Joe
  • John thinks about things a bit differently:
    • “I get inspiration out of Twitter. When I’m going through my feed I see brilliant scientists, new research developments, new art… I look at it as this amazing set of human beings building the future and I have this window into their minds. It winds up being a very positive thing for me.”
      • But people like John are probably in the minority
  • It comes down to the fact that people are choosing “virtual worlds” over the real world, the simple reason being that the virtual world is superior
    • “For so many people, the people on the other side of the phone they’re interacting with… that’s where they’d rather be. The fact that people can find their tribe out of the billions of people in the world, even if they live in some random town in the Midwest, I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
  • “While there are downsides, I think this connection of everyone is largely a good thing”

Code Mode

  • John likes to go full hermit-mode when he begins diving deep on a new project
    • That being said – “My productivity falls off a cliff after I’ve been working 13 hours. That’s about the longest I can do any sort of effective computer work.”
      • One key to being able to do effective work for 13 hours – have multiple tasks you can switch between (rather than beating your head against one specific topic for hours on end)
  • John estimates he works ~60 hours a week
    • “If I don’t hit 50 hours of work in a week, I feel I’m being a slacker”
    • “But I like building things. I like creating things and making forward progress… In a sense, in some small way, I’m helping to build the future. I’m proud of the work I do.”
  • John estimates he only spends ~half his time programming 
    • The rest of his time is spent in meetings centered around strategy/management
      • However, John wants to limit the time he spends in meetings/managing people – “I dearly love building the things myself. I don’t want to step away from that, even if it would be more effective to be managing others and their work.”
        • This is quite different from how many top programmers progress in their careers – at some point, it becomes more effective for them to switch things up and do less programming themselves and instead manage a large team of coders
  • Very often, John will take “retreat weeks” where he’ll spend a week by himself doing nothing but programming
    • He used to fly to another state and hole himself up at a hotel, but lately finds himself doing these weeks locally

Turbocharging Ferraris

  • John turbocharged his Ferrari (a big no-no in the Ferrari world)
    • (On a whim, as a 20-year old in the days of working on Wolfenstein 3D, John bought a Ferrari 328 after walking into a dealership in Dallas)
    • For reference, a 328 has around 300 horsepower
      • With the turbocharger, John got it up to 1,000+ 
    • “It wouldn’t do a really fast 0-60 MPH, but if you were on the highway and could just downshift to 4th gear, you could go from 50-150 MPH faster than anyone’s business”
  • But now, John is all about his Tesla
    • “I have a [Model S] P100D and I think it’s the best car I’ve owned by far”
      • Joe also has one – “It’s the fastest car I’ve driven in my life”
      • The acceleration of a Tesla from stop to start is unreal – “It’s this happiness machine. It just brings a smile to your face.”
    • John used to own a Tesla Roadster
      • He’s on the list to receive the next model (with the rocket boost add-on), due out in 2020

John’s Long-Term VR Vision

  • “The promise of VR is to make the world as you want it”
    • Not everyone can have Richard Branson’s private island, or a mansion, or a home theater – these are things we CAN simulate to some degree in VR
  • The Quest is $400… but it WILL get cheaper
    • “These follow the cell phone price curves in many ways. We have $25 cell phones in India now.”
  • When it comes down to it, VR will let people do things that may not otherwise be possible or economically viable
    • “We’re at the very early stages with the experiences we have, the things you can do, and how long you want to keep the device on… but there is a path to this comfortable device you can wear for hours at a time. Maybe you even spend your entire workday in it.”
  • Right now, you can watch TV with someone in VR
    • “All activities that do not require an actual physical thing can eventually be subsumed in this”
    • Imagine – a museum experience without the crowds, lines, or travel involved to get there
  • “It’s all about user value. As an engineer, the whole point is to bring value to the world. I think that VR can bring a lot of value.”

Wrapping Up

  • “The possibilities are unlimited. Technology will save us. We can get there. It’s a matter of engineering. We can build what we want. We’ve never been in a better position before. There are smarter people in the world today than there ever have been.”

Additional Notes

  • The professional gaming industry has really taken off 
    • The top pros are making a killing – check out the top earners this year
  • The code for Doom and Quake is now open source
  • “You should always get enough sleep”
    • “But there are a LOT of hours left in the week after you get those 8 hours”
  • John has recently taken up Judo
    • For Christmas one year, his wife got him a year of private lessons with Carlos Machado
  • Games cost hundreds of millions to make now
    • Because of this, they must have a bit of mass appeal
  • “Engineering is figuring out how to do what you want with what you’ve actually got”
  • “Making games is really, really hard”
  • “I think it’s great when people throw themselves at their work beyond the point of what other people think is reasonable”
  • John plays Beat Saber pretty regularly
    • “I wind up drenched in sweat after a long session. It’s legitimate exercise.”
  • One possibility of VR/AR – being able to train people at martial arts
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Notes By MMiller

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