This is not going to be a post about trading per se but rather about human machine interaction, the ubiquity of the 21st century workplace, and what it all means for us traders. Of course anything speculated and prognosticated here applies to many other white collar activities as well but for one this is a trading blog and secondly I believe that in particular traders and financial professionals will be among the groups most affected by what is coming our way.
I have long been an avid fan of virtual reality. And when I say long then I mean having built myself my own rudimentary head mounted display all the way back in 1990 via a pair of experimental 4” Sony displays I somehow had conned my way into plus a set of Leep optics I spent all my savings on to be sent all the way to Germany. I also built my own ‘dataglove’ by attaching fiber optic cables to a neoprene diving glove and then measuring the light escaping through a fine slit near my knuckles. It worked just fine but putting it altogether was extremely challenging as the number crunching power simply wasn’t there yet plus I really sucked at coding back then.
A decade plus later I continued my obsession in all things VR and stereo-3d by building several stereoscopic display prototypes and actually wound up being credited with several pertinent U.S. patents. I also put together a few stereoscopic camera systems, some involving two electronically synchronized cameras, and some using a clever ‘TriDelta’ lens configuration which allowed me to record two horizontal images flipped 90 degrees with one single camera.
I’m not stating all this to brag but to make the point that I know the VR space well and to give you a general idea of where I am coming from. I am certainly no VR noob and doubt that I have been caught up in some fleeting hype. But as you can imagine I have been extremely excited about the recent developments in VR and in particular the exponential leaps made on the software and hardware side as well as the emergence of lightweight fresnel based VR optics. I could fill several posts just on that topic alone but let’s instead talk about the changes that will affect us the most: how and where we all will work and play in the not so distant future.
Although I’m a big VR/3d-stereo nut I have never been a huge gamer. Sure I can hold my own in a round of Half-Life and I will smash you in Call Of Duty. But these days I’m way to immersed in my work and in developing profitable trading systems than to spend my time sniping bad dudes in VR environments. But there is one class of VR applications that I simply cannot wait to get my hands on once technology has finally progressed beyond the early adopter phase:
The aptly named Virtual Desktop is an application developed by Steam for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that lets you use your computer in VR. You can browse the web, watch movies, Netflix or even play games on a giant virtual screen. Envelope VR is a similar app and the company just released its first closed beta for what is described as “an immersive computing platform that brings the best out of your PC while in Virtual Reality.” Emphasis by the way is on ‘PC’ as it seems that Apple under Tim Cook has completely dropped the ball on hopping on the VR bandwagon. Which I expect Apple will pay dearly for a few years down the line. Great job, Timmy!
Now you may be surprised to learn that despite all the recent excitement I do not own a single HMD right now. And it is for the sole reason that the display resolutions of most HMDs on the market today is still insufficient for the purposes I personally have in mind. Which of course is not gaming but trading and being able to take my virtual work environment with me wherever I choose to go.
But that is changing quickly as several companies are on the verge of releasing super high resolution displays specifically engineered for head mounted displays. Take for example Kopin which just announced a new 1” microdisplay called Lightning (shown above) with a resolution of 2048×2048 and a fast 120 Hz frame rate. That’s comparable to my old 2560×1600 32” Apple display which I still use eight years after I bought it. Just to be clear: we are talking almost the same amount of pixels here but shrunk into the space of a 1” square. Insane!
And I would certainly not mind paying top Dollar for a set of VR glasses or an HMD that features a 2048×2048 pixel microdisplay – per eye. And bear in mind that is just the visible resolution within your field of view (VOF). Imagine being able to pair your headset with several graphic cards and thus being able to simulate two or three monitors in your VR environment. Alternatively it would most likely be trivial to simply extend your active desktop inside your virtual space. And suddenly you are able to put windows and charts not just next to each other but above, below, and behind you.
All it takes to look at a different ‘screen’ is to simply turn your head or a hand gesture. The possibilities are limitless and rather mind boggling. Imagine yourself checking into a hotel in Puerto Vallarta and what you’ve got with you is a small laptop or a special mobile device as well as your head mounted display. You connect to the wireless Internet connection and then put on your HMD. And instantly you are in your virtual office, with all your trading apps, your charts, your browser, your email, everything. Instead of having to make due with a small laptop screen you are able to navigate a limitless VR environment with dozens and perhaps hundreds of windows and apps. William Gibson’s vision of Neuromancer is about to become reality. I just hope it will be a lot less dark and depressing.
VR Meet The Cloud
Computing power is of course an issue but even that limitation is already being addressed, perhaps even due to the fact that Apple has been completely snoozing on the VR end. GeForce Now is an attempt by Nvidia to bring high performance gaming to the Mac. But why stop there? Why not offer virtual office environments to companies and the self employed sometime further down the line? The growing adoption of high speed Internet access across the U.S. Europe, and Asia makes cloud based VR a very definite possibility some day in the not so distant future.
I for one am looking forward to the day where I can take a plane to Tokyo or NYC and not have to worry about how I will be able to put together a decent post or check all my charts by looking at a tiny laptop display. I’ll simply be able to put up my HMD, hook myself into the matrix, and be equally as productive as I am at home. One would hope at least although I can already hear my wife yelling to put that damn thing down and get my butt to the beach.
The Future Of Trading
Clearly the implications here for us are profound. Being a trader has always represented the lure of location independence and being able to live a life on your own terms. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color or gender, all that matters is the space between your ears and your ability to squeeze a consistent edge from the markets of your choice.
Having pursued exactly that path myself when moving to Spain I can assure you that the benefits have far outweighed the cost and occasional inconvenience. Sure I have to deal with the shifted trading hours but in my case that’s actually a benefit as I am able to put together a post and hunt for promising setups hours ahead most of you guys in the U.S. roll out of bed. The one dependency of course that continues to affect me is Internet access and that obviously will always be a factor. But almost none of the places on this planet I consider spending more than a week or two in lack the ability to find relatively high speed Internet access. So for me personally it’s a non issue. If I want to get away from it all then I obviously will seek out remote places which are not yet hooked into the matrix.
The Last Hurdle
The one remaining limitation however that has plagued me has been ergonomics. And more specifically screen estate as I’m very capable of typing without looking at a keyboard. Back in 2008 when I launched Evil Speculator I used to be surrounded by two 32” Apple displays and two additional smaller ones. These days here in Valencia I make due with one single Apple display but that’s fine as I use RDP and multiple desktops quite effectively. The next level up and the ultimate ticket to trading freedom will of course be virtual reality. I very much hope that high resolution VR headsets will be available late this year or the next so that I finally can claim that coveted complete location independence. Maybe I’ll spend a year on the road crossing the entire United States or perhaps I’ll decide to spend the year living in three or four places, following the best (i.e. warmest) weather I can find – Europe sucks in the winter, even in Spain. Now if there was just a way to get rid of those annoying time zones… alright, let me work on that.