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John Carmack is stepping back from Oculus to work on artificial intelligence

(Image credit: Oculus VR)
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John Carmack, who was recently announced as the recipient of the first-ever Accenture VR Lifetime Achievement Award, has announced that he is stepping back from VR development. Carmack said in a Facebook post that, as of this week, he'll transition to "Consulting CTO" at Oculus VR—until now he was the regular, everyday CTO—which will enable him to have a voice in future development, while only taking up "a modest slice of my time."

Carmack said that his previous efforts in game development, aerospace engineering (on top of everything else, Carmack is literally a rocket scientist), and VR have always afforded him some degree of a "line of sight" to solutions. Now he wants to see what happens when he doesn't have that advantage.

"I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight," he wrote. "I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old."

Thus, Carmack has decided to wade into the waters of artificial general intelligence, a field he described as "enormously valuable" and one that he believes he has a chance of making a difference in. Based on that, he added in fine Carmack form, "By a Pascal's Mugging sort of logic, I should be working on it."

(To Wikipedia for that one: "Pascal's mugging is a thought-experiment demonstrating a problem in expected utility maximization. A rational agent should choose actions whose outcomes, when weighed by their probability, have higher utility. But some very unlikely outcomes may have very great utilities, and these utilities can grow faster than the probability diminishes. Hence the agent should focus more on vastly improbable cases with implausibly high rewards; this leads first to counter-intuitive choices, and then to incoherence as the utility of every choice becomes unbounded."

Or as Han Solo put it, "Never tell me the odds.")

Carmack says he's going to get started in this new field in "Victorian Gentleman Scientist" style, which is a fancy way of saying that he'll be working from home and using his son as a flunkie. He also said that his second choice was "cost effective nuclear fission reactors," but he ended up passing on that because it "wouldn't have been as suitable for that style of work." There's a smiley face at the end of that sentence, which I assume means that he's joking. I mean, really, whom amongst us couldn't improve nuclear fission reactors from the comfort of our home office?

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.