Inspiring presence: Meeting the grandfather of VR in the metaverse

[This is a wonderful, sweet and wise blog entry from the Ericsson Blog that captures some of the inspiring potential of the presence experiences virtual reality and other technologies can provide. If you visit the original version of the post you can listen to the first author tell the story. –Matthew]

Meeting the grandfather of VR in the metaverse

“With my Oculus headset still warm, I sat and googled him,” says Ericsson’s Zeljka Sotra. “I couldn’t believe it. I just had a virtual experience with Tom Furness, the grandfather of VR technology. In this other space – a space I think much of the world will inhabit soon – it was a defining moment for me and reignited my passion to bring Web3.0 and the metaverse to life!”

By Zeljka Sotra and Tom Furness
May 12, 2022

I remember the day when the Internet went mobile. Do I dare to admit that even I was a bit skeptical? It was so complicated to get things to work and configure everything that needed to be configured. The arrival opened all kinds of new opportunities. From my perspective at least, there was one opportunity that stood out the most: I could check my bus timetable. That was then.

And now it is 5G! Voice calls and packet data from the Internet are replaced with immersive 3D objects that have properties, functions, behaviors and intelligence. Extended reality is making illusions real, tangible and visible.

A chance encounter

I bought my first VR headset in May 2020, an Oculus. I was so eager to try it. I booked myself into a VR event; it turned out to be a HR summit in AltSpace. I joined but I realized that I was late. I missed the whole event. While I was trying to understand how I move in the AltSpace, an avatar approached me.

Mystery voice – “Hello…”

Zeljka: “Hello….”

Mystery voice: ” What brings you to this space?”

Zeljka: “Curiosity”

Mystery voice: “Oh, Great! How long have you been in the VR?”

Zeljka: “I just bought my headset and I am trying it out.”

Mystery voice: “Oh cool, what are you working with?”

Zeljka: “I am working at the system department developing 5G at Ericsson. How about you? How long have you been working with VR?”

Mystery voice: “54 years”

What! Could it be true? 54 years! I am in shock! I thought VR was a new technology! I smiled.

Zeljka: “Ah, perhaps then you could help me with my challenge?”

Mystery voice: “Sure, just google me! I am glad to help!”

The event ended.

The friendly and warm avatar left me a message on the chat:

Mystery voice: “Find me! Tom Furness!”

I take off my headset and I go and google the name, Tom Furness.

Google’s response: “Thomas A. Furness III is an American inventor, professor, and virtual reality pioneer based in Seattle, Washington. He is a Professor in the University of Washington Department of Industrial

& Systems Engineering, and the founder of the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington and its sister labs at the University of Canterbury and University of Tasmania.”

Probing the possibilities of VR

Surreal! I simply cannot believe that my first meeting in VR was with the grandfather of this technology. What are the odds?! I find Tom on LinkedIn and I write him a letter. While writing my mind goes to the movie “Her” from 2013, a romantic drama where Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) develops a relationship with Samantha, an AI virtual assistant. Theodore falls in love and surrenders himself to the feeling completely.

His heart breaks once he understands that Samantha is having a relationship with thousands of people, and that she has fallen in love with hundreds of them. So I think, it must simply be that Tom Furness was a bot approaching every single participant. I contact Tom via LinkedIn. He answers. I am surprised! We followed up via a Zoom call. A real connection got established. Even though Tom was a fantastic real man, thoughts that he was a bot were still intriguing me!

Imagine if he was one out of many instances! Imagine if there was 10,000 Toms! I was imagining if I could instantiate myself in many functions and there can be one of me to finish all that laundry, clean the house, make food, read all the books that have paled beside my bed, spend time with friends, make love. Hmm, Ctrl+Alt+Del.

Reset your thinking, Zeljka! Back to Reality! It is hard! I stay with my thinking for a while and I wonder what is the world we are creating? What are the human skills that will be needed in Web3.0?

My experience so far taught me that meetings in VR are less judgmental. I mean, in front of me is an avatar, I cannot see the skin color, feel the bad breath nor see that spot on his nose that distract my listening. In VR, I do listen, I embrace the person inside. This is a meeting in the mind domain. Also, I noticed that even senior managers would go off guard, they would be more playful and more creative.

All classic status symbols in the VR space are gone. We are all same, however the true identity somehow still radiates as tone of voice; body language is present. I was charged by Tom. His gentleness and humanness were shining from his avatar. It is very hard to convey this connectedness, words are simply not enough. We will time travel a bit. Our grandchildren will be able to time travel a lot. They will be able to meet us long after we are gone. We will be synthesized by the digital traces we leave here in LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Work Spaces etc.

Am I happy with what they will find?

“Dear grandchildren, your grandmother is so much more than you can see in my digital traces. Do not trust that avatar of me that is approaching you. It is just a fake manifestation. On the surface based on those posts I share you might think that I was self-confident, bold… No dear grandchildren, I am filled with fears, doubts, insecurities but I am also filled with love, passion, kindness and gentleness. You have to promise me that you will see beyond the manifestations. And search inside yourself.”

Transcending to new realities

I wonder, what does Tom think about the world he devoted his life to! I poke him again via LinkedIn with this question. Here is his answer:

“Dear Zeljka,

Thank you for your question. I am glad to share my vision with you.

We now have a transportation system for our senses where we can go anywhere at the speed of light, we can shrink ourselves to one millimeter high to see small things in the world or make our interpupillary distance equivalent to 10,000 light years and see galaxies in three dimensions.

We can become a tree and spread our branches and leaves to collect sunlight while sinking our roots into virtual soil to suck up water and nutrients to grow in a forest; all the while our friends become birds or squirrels that live in our branches, or an earthworm to aerate the soil…this role playing gives us a way to understand how living creatures and nature work together to achieve an ecological balance.

And, we will never forget being that tree, bird, squirrel or earthworm. Or we can design a building and then go inside that building before it is built to see how the sun would shine through our kitchen window at 3:00pm on December 23, 2045. We can see the world through the eyes of others to begin to comprehend what it is like to be disabled, a refugee or a person of a different ethnicity. We can truly experience where adults become a child again!

All of this is a new reality, and an expansion of our ability to understand, empathize and appreciate our world and the incredible diversity of life. In the end, the metaverse through its virtual reality components can help us to become one.

To transcend beyond ourselves in the realization that we are all connected physically and spiritually to other humans and living things and the earth…and that to survive we need to work together to preserve our home in the universe. Virtual Reality helps us unlock innate intelligence and link minds and hearts to lift humanity to a better reality.

Although this technology is only a tool, it is an unprecedented tool in the history of mankind. It is a tool of empowerment and transcendence. It is the ultimate tool for growing our human superpowers of imagination, curiosity, creativity, empathy and love.


Wow, what an answer! I took some time to digest Tom´s perspectives. What I realized from our interaction is that we will soon be able to truly understand each other. Going beyond our illusions on how things are, exposing the complexity of being human. I go and visit Tom’s space at Virtual World Society and there I find a statement: “If we are going to make a leap in our civilization, we need to wake up and realize we are responsible for where our civilization goes.”

I imagine meeting Tom in real life. That would be nice, however this connection is already rich. Richer than many I have in real life. Soon, Web3.0, the metaverse and 5G will be good enough to convey facial expressions as well as full body language. The need for travelling will drastically decrease.

Does it mean that commuting time can be tree planting time? Does it mean that we can drastically cut travel emissions? Maybe, this could be a base for a more sustainable world after all.

I quote Tom again “We are responsible for where our civilization goes.”

I think I have to do my part! And you should do yours.

Explore more

Explore how Ericsson is creating the next era of immersive experiences.

Learn more about Ericsson’s vision to empower unlimited learning, from anywhere.

Find out why the metaverse needs 5G to succeed.

Learn how the Internet of senses could soon open a new world of immersive physical experiences.

This entry was posted in Presence in the News. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Find Researchers

    Use the links below to find researchers listed alphabetically by the first letter of their last name.

    A | B | C | D | E | F| G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z