E47 - Leading-Edge Virtual Experiences with Benjamin Desai

This is the transcript of the podcast:

Host (Bernhard Neumann): Welcome everyone, this is the Bernhard Neumann podcast and in this podcast we interview leaders, experts in the field of web3, AI and all the interesting stuff. Today, I have a very special guest here; it's my good friend, Ben Desai. Ben is an extremely creative person. I got to work with him for many years and you have one of the most beautiful minds that I know. I remember a time when we just like exchanged ideas and got excited every day.

"What do you think, what can we just come up with?" we would ask each other. We have so many unused business ideas or content ideas and you've been on that path for a long time. Back then when I worked with you, you were an innovation manager and so I'm really excited to hear your journey to the way you now call yourself an XR content creator. You have many businesses that are innovative. Of course, that's just the term so we want to know what that actually means. So, without further ado, welcome Ben Desai!

Guest (Benjamin Desai): Thank you, thank you Bernie for having me today, very excited.

Host (Bernhard Neumann): Very cool! So first of all maybe, to clear things up, who are you and what do you do? What's an XR content creator?

Guest (Benjamin Desai): Okay, well, I'm Ben and I'm an XR content creator. That is an umbrella term, XR, for using all these technologies; AR, VR, and mixed reality. I spend a lot of time in virtual reality and I use that to both create content and also create 3D models. That's my favorite thing to do in VR, to sculpt and to model, and then I'll use those for things like my AR filters. So, I'll actually build the assets and then create AR experiences.

Host (Bernhard Neumann): Very cool, that's unexpected. I don't have this on my questions here but since you mentioned it, VR... you've been there all along basically. I remember this is seven, eight years ago, you built a VR experience for some big clients, for some banks. What's it been like? You've been there all the time, so what's the journey, where are we now? Is this happening soon? Are you just waiting for Apple to say, "Here it is!"?

Guest (Benjamin Desai): Partly right, there's so much anticipation. I'm curious when this podcast goes out because on June 5th is a big announcement. It's been quite secretive of course, many people are looking to that to be a game changer. In the past many times, including with AR technology, what Apple has done... When they've brought that into their ecosystem, they've not just done it in an easy to use way, in a way that works well with developers in order to make it able for mass adoption, but they've also often given people, other companies, and investors the confidence that "Okay, Apple's doing it, so now it's time for this to take off".

Sometimes it's been a surprise, sometimes it's been a technology that's been there and I think this is going to make a big difference. You have them coming at a really high price point, probably $3,000 per headset, and then you have just, I believe it was yesterday, the Oculus Quest 3 came out. That's going to be on the lower end, I think that's around $500. It's smaller, we're always talking about VR, for years it's always been like mass adoption is going

They have all this cool fashion. That's a good example and we were starting to create some of these things like, let's say, VR headsets, goggles, hats and we started making AR filters out of them. But of course, if it's a 2D asset, we don't have the 3D. I started, I brought that in as a reference. I had the actual NFT in there with me, or an image of the NFT I mean, and then I would build the hat, the glasses, I'd build those things in VR very quickly and then bring that asset that I now have as 3D and bring it into an AR program and create an AR filter out of it. That's one example of how I use, how I go from VR to AR. And so yeah, in general, you're making everything 3D because of the metaverse or because that's how we actually start to interact online and how you can better consume things online. For sure, in terms of AR filters, it's better to, you know, just get yourself into it, right? Like the whole face filter thing, that's how I'm part of it. So if, as a brand, you create an AR filter when that makes sense, it goes in many different directions, many different ways to do that. But now, your audience is spending time with your brand. They're electing to actually, in their maybe even their own home, on their own face, that that's of course a great relationship. And yeah, so that's part of it. That alone, and then of course with the metaverse, I mean we're getting to the point where there's so many digital experiences for brands, there's so many digital platforms. It also makes sense as a brand to have your assets in 3D so you can quickly bring them over. It's like before, we had a bunch of photos, we had Facebook, hey let's bring our photos, let's put them on Facebook, that works. Now we're saying, okay, there's so many places to bring in our 3D assets, do we have those? If you do, import them in, bring them in. Is that kind of a standard or something where it's kind of easy to bring them from one place to the other? Yes, in terms of if it's just a 3D object I'd say it works. If it's an animated thing, if it's a rigged avatar, there are standards for that as well, yes. But then it gets a little tricky. You're tweaking a lot to get it just right for every platform.

Bernhard Neumann: Yeah, so if we jump to AR for a second. So VR, virtual reality, now augmented reality. I think it's fair to say that you're one of the experts, kind of even out there in the entire world. You have so much experience when we worked together and everything. I guess I'm not the target group or anything, but what are those things being used for? Why is it exciting? And do you also have some examples of it working for companies that use it?

Ben Desai: Yeah, there's crazy statistics about that also. How it even supports sales when companies bring that into kind of that testing. I mean, online shopping, right? That's getting bigger, it's taking over, there's so much of that happening. And then you have that whole thing where one reason you don't want to do online shopping is wondering whether the item is exactly what you need. Am I going to like it or do I have to send it back? Because no one wants to send it back.

Bernhard Neumann: The big topic obviously of our time right now is AI and I would love to to understand how you approached it how you got into it you now use we've talked before you use AI a new workflow every day. How did you get started on a AI? What's your view on it um and and how to use it?

Benjamin Desai: I guess, okay, so you got started and were interested in it for a long time through the promise of it, even doing a lot of futuristic predictions of what was going to happen. You even told stories of like, "Oh, in 15 years, something like this is going to happen," and then, I think in the end, we're coming up on like five, six years because of how quickly, even just in the last year, AI has progressed and evolved exponentially.

Yes, OpenAI, I saw the year before Dolly 2 came out, I saw the Dolly one. The results of what people were typing something in and what came out of it, so Dali is the image generator, an image-text-image generator, sorry. And then what happened is, I looked at those and said, "Wow, this is pretty good. I bet in like five years, this will be nice." And then the next year, Dolly 2 came out. That's where everything changed. Everyone got very AI hyped, and I was so mesmerized and I just wanted access to it so badly. And you were on the waiting list like many people for so long.

And I started trying out other apps that did this very similar thing, and the quality wasn't as good right away. I started experimenting with it. I took images, like still images, and I had them altered by AI because you could do image plus text, get another AI image. I was creating little video snippets and even made an AR filter with that. So with my own, I put in a mask and I was having it be all cybernetically enhanced. It was creating kind of this moving video and I made an AR filter out of that. And then I used that to kind of contact someone from OpenAI and I said, "Hey, I'm already working with this AI technology with AR," and then I got access to it and that changed everything.

Bernhard Neumann: I can totally imagine your mind just exploding with possibilities. Is it really like where we are also right now that you always had those beautiful ideas in your head and you already found ways to get them into reality with VR 3D modeling and everything. How has AI enhanced that even for you?

Benjamin Desai: I think if you looked at my workflow of what it was like, having an idea, sketch that idea, now make the assets for the idea. And like, there were so many ideas, sometimes I wasn't even fast enough to take that idea where I wanted to because I was already working on another idea. But with AI, it just sped up that process. I was doing so much sketching on the iPad and I love art and I love drawing and I love sketching but it has been replaced.

Bernhard Neumann: So now you've become the creative director, and the AI is being used as the tool?

Benjamin Desai: Yes, exactly. Before, I had to fill all these roles and now it's more about generating ideas and letting the AI do the work. The way I talk about it, I can totally see that it makes me more creative.

Bernhard Neumann: And how do you think about the fear that AI makes you less creative?

Benjamin Desai: Well, it's like how we as humans make things so easy for ourselves sometimes that we then become lazy about it. But if you are passionate about the idea, it empowers you to do it was kind of always my thing. How can I even, before with video editing and using apps and finding plugins and this and that, how can I be faster, how can I be better? And that's why it was so natural to take these AI tools and just weave them into my workflow. Anyway, I was just doing that naturally, and now I'm at a point where, yeah, I'm very happy with the output. I love how you're phrasing it, you know? You see it as an opportunity to be more productive, to create more. Many people see it as a threat, so I wanted to ask you...

Bernhard Neumann: Also, for the people out there understanding, you're really deep into how graphic design is done at agencies, at companies. That's just your business, and so I'm asking you, how do you see AI replacing people there? Like, hey, we don't need the fifth graphical designer, or what's your view on that?

Benjamin Desai: Yeah, I've told people, graphic designers that I used to work with, on really the early side of this, even maybe when I just got my hands on Dolly two for the first moment, and I said, integrate this, be on top of this. This would either, I think you said it well, the company might look and say we might not need this extra asset. Instead, the assets that we have, these designers that we have, we pick ones that do use these tools. Therefore, they are more efficient, they're better, and they know this technical landscape better. And I essentially say, be one of those people.

Benjamin Desai: And that's especially because I have this one designer I was working with, quite young, like 22. I said, you have no excuse, you have to adopt this right now and be the best at utilizing these tools. And how do you get good at using, utilizing this? By using them, by testing. I mean, especially if you use graphic design, you're a graphic designer, you create your own assets, you modify assets, and you go to stock sites to get assets and implement them. Each thing I've just said, you can use one of these AI tools to do, and therefore you should experiment with doing that and understand how it can help you, how does it make you faster?

Benjamin Desai: I was using Dolly 2 to edit images because you can erase and do that. And now, when was this, one week ago, two weeks ago, Adobe's Photoshop integrated it and brought that into their workflow. And it's not necessarily super new, like this, we've seen in these other AI tools, but the fact that it's in Photoshop, it honestly is saving that step between kind of messing around with something. I was doing a lot of back and forth, right, for some projects that I was doing.

Benjamin Desai: I did this big project for OpenAI directly where we were working with various arts, the masters of art. We were working with the Mona Lisa, we were working with The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and we were expanding those paintings. Just for fun, like, what was behind them? What was to the left, right? Putting, making the whole scene. And I was working on the kind of production side of that project. We made a filter, and we're working with different artists, and it was a lot of back and forth.

Benjamin Desai: Right, it was like you're going between Dali 2 and the AI tool, then Photoshop, then kind of backLike that's on the, of course, like on the user interface side just makes things easier but I could imagine a lot of in that way can be brought into web 3 experiences.Yeah yeah, creating any digital assets and in those ways it'll just makes sense. But I don't know if it's like this explosion of like this will be brand new and we haven't seen it. No one thought of this before but I, I think it makes honestly, it makes sense to bring AI into almost everything for sure.

Bernhard Neumann: So yeah yeah, it makes sense. So like, I mean, I mean I think it's hard to argue. I mean there's some arguments that AI needs web free, and I'm not sure like this, maybe verifying messages I get it like verifying stuff that makes a lot of sense to me. But yeah, it's a really interesting perspective you showed how all of these things intersect. Like it's really interesting like it's all coming together. And I love how you just make it more like make it bigger like it's not like what I sent from you is just let's use it and make beautiful things with it, you know? Instead of worrying about what's it gonna do with jobs or anything like that's nothing you can control. It's gonna happen anyway.

Benjamin Desai: Yeah, every once in a while I'll think, oh like I, you know, I worry about that. I think like oh that's crazy or or the fact that all these, the predictions about how many jobs are going to be replaced by it or, um, the hiring stop of 8,000 people at IBM and those are all related and there's so many stories like that. And of course, I'm like, I would, you know, that's, that sucks but it's also, this is the new technology. Like this is happening and we need to adapt ourselves to work with AI first of all, like that's very important. And also, as a society then decide how we kind of regulate, how we control that, how we fix those parts that we don't like. But bringing AI into our lives can be an amazing positive thing.

Bernhard Neumann: So yeah, I gotta, I would love to talk so much more. We need to, okay, to to around us, we used to always look in the future. Yes, and we were actually pretty good at it, we were good at it. Honest to give ourselves a little pat on the yeah, here not too not too shabby. What do you see here, like just what comes to mind? We have, we have app opening out VR classes, maybe that's AR classes, who knows? Like what, what do you see in the next couple of years that excites you that you would love to see happening? In terms of those technologies we just talked about?

Benjamin Desai: That one's been the most toughest thing for me currently. Every once in a while I'll have like, oh this is, you know like this shoots off in that level but um, it's uh, it's almost as if I've been outpaced. Yeah, it's been demotivating for me to see ideas that I've thought like oh this will be here in five years and I've literally seen it around the corner. Yeah, it's been that crazy. But we've talked about this idea so I will say this one because it's not a hundred percent here yet. We have, we talked about this idea years ago where I said oh in the future through AI you're going to be able to have

Bernhard Neumann: That's the American in you, you know, because there are all those big billboards where this lawyer is to call me under eight zero zero and I'll, yeah, about how to get you money now.

Benjamin Desai: Yeah, exactly.

Bernhard Neumann: Cool, cool. Okay, so that's the perfect ending. When and why should people approach you? Who is the right person to approach you to work with you, and how do they do that?

Benjamin Desai: Online, a great way is LinkedIn, Benjamin Desai, connected to Bernhard Neumann, also in the show notes then.

Bernhard Neumann: Oh let's do it, let's do it.

Benjamin Desai: And the other would be Instagram, and that's where I show my personal projects, the new tests with technology. So definitely check me out on one of those platforms and reach out to me if you're interested in new technologies, bringing new technologies into your business, learning. I also do consulting and workshops so I can teach how to best use these new technologies and yeah, bring me into where you need help and technology can help you, I think that's...

Bernhard Neumann: Love it. Thank you for being on the show.

Benjamin Desai: Yeah, thank you.