Ping Fu: Bridging the Real and the Virtual
Ping Fu, innovator, entrepreneur, and artist, joins Patrick Cozzi (Cesium) and Marc Petit (Epic Games) to describe her journey from China to Co-founding a leading 3D software company, the boards of LiveNation, Burning Man and others, and discuss how the metaverse will bridge the real and virtual worlds.
Announcer: Today on Building the Open Metaverse.
Ping Fu: How do you combine them? That just fascinates me. How do you express science and engineering in a way that touches people's hearts? We know that people don't remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. How can we make something technical, feelable?
Announcer: Welcome to Building the Open Metaverse, where technology experts discuss how the community is building the open metaverse together, hosted by Patrick Cozzi from Cesium and Marc Petit from Epic Games.
Marc Petit: Hello everybody and welcome to our show Building the Open Metaverse, a podcast where technologists share their insight on how the community is building the open metaverse together. Hello, I'm Marc Petit from Epic Games and my co-host is Patrick Cozzi from Cesium. Hi Patrick, how are you today?
Patrick Cozzi: Hey Marc. I'm doing great. I was in San Francisco last week. I was at the Masters of Scale Summit, so I was telling lots of people I met about our podcast and I did tell one person, I go, "But I don't think I'm a very good podcast host personality," and they made me feel better. They said, "Well, it takes about five years to become a good host." So I felt better about that, but enough about me. We have a really incredible guest today.
Marc Petit: Yes. We're super excited to welcome to our show someone who's an innovator, an entrepreneur and an artist, and that person is Ping Fu. Ping, you are a veteran of the tech and art community. Welcome to the show.
Ping Fu: Well, thank you Marc. Good meeting you, Patrick.
Marc Petit: So you are the CEO and co-founder of Geomagic, which was acquired by 3D Systems, and you are currently on the board of a number of interesting projects, Live Nation, Burning Man. You've been a very, very long time contributor to the 3D graphics community. We're super happy to have you with us today.
Ping Fu: Yeah, I feel quite old.
Marc Petit: That was not the intent.
Patrick Cozzi: So Ping, we love to start off the podcast and ask our guests about their journey to the Metaverse. I mean for you, you grew up in the cultural revolution in China that helped you become a maker and then you came to the US and you studied computer science. Tell us about your journey.
Ping Fu: Yeah, so I didn't have the normal education when I was in China because the cultural revolution is 10 years, which is, for me, from eight to 18. I basically missed out on the K-to-12 normal academic education. I learned from doing, so if people say "street smart" and that's who I am. Mao sent us out to learn from the workers, farmers, and soldiers, so I worked in the factory, I worked in the countryside and I was being trained by the military for marching and shooting. So, that's my background. Then I studied Chinese literature when I was in China because I didn't really have a choice of what major that I could study. I wanted to be an astronaut because my father was a professor at Aeronautic Aerospace Engineering University. There's two of them in China.
I was sent to study literature and somewhat got in trouble during that time, and that's what prepared me to come to the United States. When I came to the United States, I originally wanted to study literature but my English was so poor so I couldn't study literature. So I asked around, "What can I study?"and someone, I don't even remember who it is, had said, "You should try computer science." That was in 1984 and computer science was at its very beginning. I said, "What is that?" and they said, "Well, instead of writing essays for people to read, you are writing code for people to use." I thought, great, I'm going to study man-made language so I'm going to be on the same platform as everybody else, not have to worry about my English. I'm a maker by my upbringing, so this seemed like a good choice. That's how I got into computer science.
Marc Petit: That's fascinating.
Patrick Cozzi: Yeah, very impressive.
Marc Petit: Yeah. So you said you mentioned 1984 and you studied as a program manager and became Director of Visualization at the NCSA where you were working with Marc Andreessen on Mosaic. At the time, did you have the sense of how important and impactful web browsing would become?
Ping Fu: No, because I was, at the time, managing the visualization software development. I had an NSF grant and then Marc Andreessen came as a sophomore undergraduate student. Actually, in my group there were all European PhDs and he was just at IBM and doing graphical user interface. At the time, that's really new. When he came in he said, "I don't really want to work on all these super deep mathematical projects, can I work on different projects?". I said, "What do you want to do?". He said, "I want to do something with a graphical user interface." That's how, really, Mosaic came about because I was managing all of the public domain software, the beginning of open source. I was really tired of typing the domain, typing the FTP number. Remember back then you did 126.96.36.199.62.61 all the time. Then it's also like you always have to explain what they download.
Writing a browser such that we can leverage the FTP, the domain name, which also just came out the same and his graphical user interface was a perfect combination. That was the project he took, but he took it much further than I saw. He and Eric Bina and a few other students just got really excited about graphical using interfaces, and that's the beginning of browsers.
Marc did invent the inline imaging, because back then we were not the first browser, but most of them were just text-based. I suggested the view source. If you remember in the early days there was a view source button so people could look at the samples and just put their tags in and so those two were really what made the browser popular.
Marc Petit: Absolutely. When Mosaic was first released, HTML was not a standard technically. Was that an easy decision to go for HTML? Were there alternatives?
Ping Fu: Yeah, we actually originally approached Gopher, but Gopher was not open source and they refused to give us a source code. Then the university also wanted to charge us a fee. So HTML was the alternative, which is open source, free and also very simple. When we looked at it, back then when Tim Berners-Lee had it, it's 5,000 lines of code. It was super easy for us to adopt and that was the reason we chose it. It's easy, it's open and it's free.
Marc Petit: Well, the reason why I ask is to some extent where with the metaverse we're back in a pretty similar situation. We have independent proprietary platforms like Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Meta Horizon, Decentraland and everybody's like, "Well, geez, wouldn't it be easier to access each and every one of them by browsing from one to the next?". So, how would you start if you were to build a new generation of browser for real-time 3D worlds? In hindsight, what would be your words of wisdom for us?
Ping Fu: Well, I would say a standard is a very difficult and tedious work that's often behind the scenes that people don't appreciate, and 3D is adding the next level of complications. Even if we look at the 2D in the beginning, remember the days that we had all of this 2D-imaging format and you convert TIFF to target to raw BitMap. Even to this day I still sometimes convert them but there's software to convert them. With the metaverse, I think it's 80/20 rule. The standard may cover 80% of what people want and 20% is always going to be outliers, just because the complication of 3D is so much higher than 2D.
The way I think of standard is, even the word is interesting, because the minute you put a standard as a word out there people start to think about average. I think software people are just like artists. They don't want it to be average. So as a result, they typically don't look for standards or respect standards or comply to standards even though everybody knows interoperability is very important, standard creates efficiency, yada yada, right?
So one of the ways I like to think about it is to think about it as a principle rather than standards. I remember Brian at Autodesk when he was giving a talk. He said two set changes, mindset changes behavior, behavior changes society. I think this principle is what changes mindset and standard feels more like rules. People want to break rules. I think language matters.
Back then when we did the internet, the first version of the internet, we chose the world wide web because it sounds good. Then, if you look back, there was an online service. The Web1 Online service was very important for consumers to get online. Remember America Online? It was so simple for normal people to understand that. They were sort of dropping napkins with America Online. I remember my brother-in-law was super conservative, and his older generation, he would get so excited he would go like, "America Online, I'm getting online." So I think language is important in the sense of how do you get people to adopt to something that is seemingly aligned to their values? That's why principle sometimes works better than rules. In this situation, that's very complex.
Patrick Cozzi: Yeah, it's an interesting terminology perspective. So Ping, I want to thank you on behalf of probably tens of millions of developers for view source. It's been very, very handy and very cool to hear the history there of doing inline images and going from text only to images, because one way we look at the metaverse is now that next media type, right? Immersive, immersive 3D.
So our podcast here, Marc and I actually started it as a SIGGRAPH Birds of a Feather session about a year and a half ago with the same name, Building Open Metaverse. We invited lots of technology leaders to come speak. What we saw was everyone was talking about the need for interoperability, call it standards or principles, but just the underlying concept to allow many different participants to build together in the metaverse. Then as last year at SIGGRAPH, we did a full-day course on this, and one thing that we saw a lot of was the talk about USD, universal scene description, which was originally from Pixar, and now Nvidia is doing a lot of work on this 3D format that could become the 3D open standard for the metaverse. So now the Metaverse Standards Forum has been stood up. It's about 1700 companies at this point to enable stakeholders to engage, to share requirements and discussion around open standards. We are curious if you had any advice for us or for the group as a whole, the forum as a whole.
Ping Fu: I wouldn't say I have great advice, because I have not really worked on the standards. The thing that I have done in the past more is on the open source software. When Mosaic became a runaway success, became Netscape, some of the developers in our group left which left the HTTP server in a bad situation. That's when a couple of developers got together and took over the HTTPd, the service side of the software, and then started Apache Software.
Initially, Apache was just a group of people who really wanted to continue the internet decentralization and maintain the openness. It was very similar to today's metaverse and the Web3 rhetoric. It's the same alignment of the value, and they started to do the Apache and I actually got IBM to be the early sponsor of Apache because I was managing the FTP at the public domain software, so I was very interested in that. I also worked at Bell Labs before I went to NCSA, where I saw how AT&T tried to control the digital format and scrambled half the bid for the TV, and then ISDN, and then ended up failing because the whole world was not connected.
From that failure, I really felt the consistency of open source is very important. I think the metaverse, and same as with cryptos, can learn a lot from the open source community, because they have been there for a very long time. Open source started before even Mosaic or HTTP were there. In the eighties, they were there.
The original internet was intended to be decentralized, so when a bomb destroys one, we would still have connectivity from the others. From that comes standards, interoperability, persistency. A lot of those concepts that we are talking about in metaverse and in Web3 have come from the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties developments. We're standing on the shoulders of giants.
I feel like the metaverse actually has a bit more coherence, more people getting to your standard. With crypto, I feel they're even more insulated and I don't see those two communities working very closely with the open source community. I think that cross-learning can be very beneficial.
Marc Petit: Yeah, that's a very good point on open source. We see a lot of open source in the visual effects industry and I think it has created a trust amongst a certain number of people. Now what I feel we need to see is an expanded circle of trust, reaching out to a new generation of people that come from more the Web3 side of the world and create those human relationships.
Ping Fu: Yeah.
Marc Petit: I think it's a bit of open source people trust each other and I think that's important for-
Ping Fu: It's the transparency and trust and intention. This is also one of the reasons I think the principle is, in some ways, better than rules, because open we can learn something from open source of the principle, not necessarily our commercial company will be open sourced, but there are certain principle that works like what you said: human connections, trust, transparency.
Marc Petit: Yeah, thank you. I think it's spot on.
So I have to ask about Terminator 2, because it was such an important and pioneering movie for visual effects. Can you tell us how you got involved in this project?
Ping Fu: Yeah, I was really lucky actually. When I came to NCSA, it was at the very beginning of... Jim Clark started Renaissance Experimental Lab, and so we had actually not only a supercomputer, but we also had the largest number of the most powerful Silicon Graphics machines in the Beckman Institute. Then we also had a software group that was doing interoperability, making Silicon Graphics, Unix, Mac, PC, all work together. There's a project called Collage that people didn't know that was before Mosaic, which is all about interoperability of different machines, and that worked with computers. So when they were doing Terminator 2, they were pushing the envelope of everything in computer graphics. Back then if you tried to render something in that quality, you needed to use a supercomputer. You can't just use a desktop or one desktop computer. We were the only ones having networked Silicon Graphics machines and supercomputers to do that.
So I was involved in two aspects. One was to take the scan data. They scanned the head of T-1000 and also Arnold, and they needed to make it very realistic-looking. I had the software at NCSA at that time already, it's called alphaShape, which takes a point cloud and turns it into shapes. AlphaShape was the beginning of Geomagic actually. So, at NCSA I was doing that and my ex-husband, Herbert Edelsbrunner, was a very well-known geometer. He does computational geometry. I learned much of math from listening to him and his colleagues and so that's how I got into trying to solve some difficult problems. Scanning back then was state-of-art. The second one that I got involved was the piece where the T-1000 melts down into a puddle. That's quite a long sequence. Some of our people with the Industrial Light & Magic people were using wavefront and pulling control points and, no matter what they did, it didn't look like metal. It just kept sticking out.
By the time that it wasn't approved by Jim Cameron, we were kind of late. We were working day and night and one day Herbert asked me, "What are you worried about? What's going on? Why are you not coming home?". I told him the problem. He said, "Oh, I can write you a morphing algorithm," because he's a mathematician. I said, "Morphing, what's that?". He said, "If I take a fourth-dimensional object, every cross-section should be a legal three-dimensional object. So you can take the person and end up a puddle. Then you create this fourth-dimensional object and then your timeline is the cross-section and every cross-section is a 3D object." I don't really understand it. I can only visualize it.
He writes the formula and we go write the software. Then we did the plugging into it. So then that started to work quite well. We actually filed a morphing pattern but we were doing the 4D-to-3D morphing. At the end, that algorithm, using the supercomputer and Silicon Graphics rendering was saving the movie because that was the key piece in that movie to make a breakthrough.
Marc Petit: I remember seeing that movie. It was a shock.
Ping Fu: That was so much work. Also, so much of just fixing, a lot of Photoshop, anytime you saw something not working and then also a mixture of the real special effect with the CG. That was really a breakthrough even though it felt very experimental and, at that time, Industrial Light & Magic was very small, like eight people. Then the mainstream adoption came five years later when Jurassic Park was using a lot of CG but that's actually the beginning of the CG that everybody remembers.
Patrick Cozzi: Yeah, it's so cool to hear that story. The CG in Terminator 2, it was the talk of my neighborhood. I mean, we'd be at the basketball court and we'd be talking about that exact morphing scene.
But you also mentioned Geomagic, so I wanted to go back and maybe talk a little bit more about that. So, you started it in '97. I believe the inspiration came when you bumped into Chuck Hall, co-founder of 3D Systems, which later acquired Geomagic, and you saw him with an SLA machine. It was part of this work. I mean, you created the first bidirectional bridge between the real and virtual world using 3D scanning and 3D printing, really an early version of digital twins today. So we'd love to hear more about the story and the vision for Geomagic.
Ping Fu: Yeah, that was interesting because after Netscape went public, the university went crazy going, "What's the next killer app?". They were like, "Ping, everything you touch seems to turn into gold." I'm like, "No."
At that time, the market was so crazy. Everybody's calling themself a dot-com company, if you remember some. We had a dot-com and GE goes, "Destroy yourself, dot-com," right? Everything was dot-com. I thought just because something got invented on the internet and got widely adopted, it doesn't mean everybody's a dot-com company. It makes no sense. I didn't want to start a dot-com company at the time. I'm a person who doesn't quite follow the trends.
Then I met Chuck Hall and I was really surprised that you could actually print something from a machine, given my upbringing that I worked in the factory a lot. I ran milling machines by hand. I asked him, I said, "What is your biggest challenge?". He says, "Software." The fact that he could actually print the parts out of that machine without software was amazing, because back then the CAD software existed but CAD software like AutoCAD was sketching or early some CAD software was plyometric, whereas the 3D printing is all discrete, it's points-to-points. So with things I was working on scanning and points as a shape, it was very natural for me to think, "Oh, I can create a software for 3D printing."
Then I looked at the CAD software. I couldn't connect with the CAD software because CAD software was algebraic geometry and I was doing discrete geometry. So I looked out, I saw what else is out there and then I saw all the 3D cameras. They captured the data that had no place to go. They got a whole bunch of points. I said, "Oh, I can connect those two," just like Adobe connected optical recognition over to digital desktop publishing. So I'm naively, I think, doing a dimension higher. I didn't anticipate how hard that was. That was the beginning.
Actually, when I started a company, I went to raise money and I was imagining a microwave oven. My presentation was, "Imagine that you can walk into Nike Town and you put your feet on the 3D scanner and you dial a number and it goes to the manufacturing site and they dial the number and then they'll print the part out. It's like a 3D fax machine."
Patrick Cozzi: That's like the most successful fundraising story I've ever heard. So Ping, if you look back 20, 25 years later on your ambition for helping folks create personal factories, are you happy with the progress?
Ping Fu: It's always slower than I thought, because I'm always on the bleeding edge of technology. I work until I become cutting edge, then I lose interest, and then I go to the bleeding edge again.
What helped me was when I was advising Obama on innovation. I asked to see some macro data innovation and the average company that takes invention, not innovation... Innovation you can take other inventions and, put together, come up with a new way. But from an invention to adoption, the beginning of adoption of a mass market on average is 28 years. That made me feel...we hear all these social media, all these companies becoming a billion dollar company in five years, whatever, whatever. Many of those companies are not really innovators. They're putting something that's already there and it's more business model, more other things. But if you talk about fundamental technology to market adoption, it's about 28 years on average. So, from that perspective, I'm not totally not happy with the progress.
Patrick Cozzi: Got you. Yeah, an interesting stat. So, what about if you look at different segments? For example, the consumer side with things like fashion or art. How do you feel the adoption has been for those?
Ping Fu: Well, the fashion industry is probably one of the most difficult industries. Very few companies can make it. People don't know that Italian fashion is so successful because they were a community and from very early on they got together to do advertisements together. They found the area where they don't compete and then they do it together. That's why all the fashion magazines, you see all different brands in there, but they all pool their money together so they can spend less money and have more impact. Because it was deemed too utilitarian to have patent or intellectual property protections, you can copy anybody's work. It drives innovation. You have to innovate, otherwise you can't succeed. Or you can copy but, even if you copy, you have to make something on your own. I find them adopting technology rather early. Like 3D scanning was very early on, adopted by the fashion industry. 3D printing, same thing. You can go there and test out all kinds of technology and they will do the most crazy thing. That's why I like to use them as a test.
The other thing I wanted to differentiate is the style in the fashion. An artist or a designer, they all have their style. When you talk about style, it's an individual contribution. It's his imagination, his taste, his design, his or hers. When you become “in fashion”, it means a community who adapts to a concept that's been created. If you write a book and you don't care about anybody who reads it, why write a book? Just write a diary. If you care about who reads it, you care about your community. Fashion is an industry where they have to care about the consumer because it's not about the style, it's about the community adopting that style. It's also about recognizing that talent. So, in some ways, it's similar to music. You have to recognize the talent but in some ways you also don't really know what people like. It's a really good testing ground.
Patrick Cozzi: Yeah, I really like that community perspective. With fashion, you mentioned 3D printing and that's a perfect segue because I did have a question I wanted to ask you. Are there some innovations around 3D printing and fashion that you're hoping to see come into the metaverse?
Ping Fu: Yeah, that's a very interesting question. So when I was doing technology and fashion, my interest was more of testing the technology and helping the artist to achieve something that they could never do before. For example, Iris van Herpen's design, which is very out there but it's not really wearable.
Another project that I did was with Issey Miyake's origami folding. What's interesting there is you have to mathematically compute the folding patterns. Then they do the fashion and you come back, readjust based on the design–and it still needs to be origami foldable. So that iteration to me was quite interesting. Then you can use a 3D printer to actually create a high-temperature crease, just for testing. In the real world, you don't use a 3D printer to do that. By 3D printer, you can do it right away and then you can test it to see if it works.
That type of innovation is really interesting. I really love the origami fashion service because it's so easy to travel. It does not wrinkle, it’s packed flat, it lifts up, it's got sculpture and you can wear it anywhere. You can just put it on outside of your T-shirt and jeans and suddenly you can go to your dinner. The functionality and the beauty and then also the pack ability. I love that.
Now, when you ask for the metaverse, a lot of people think you can sell fashion in the metaverse. I'm more thinking of the fashion in the metaverse, like digital fashion. Could that be the key to help us to reduce fast fashion?
Fast fashion is an environmental polluter. Of course, you will still have really good fashion and very good craftsmanship you want to keep forever. But fast fashion, if people just want to express themselves, why not go to the metaverse and put your digital fashion on you? You can do all kinds of variety. You can do it way better than some of the cheap clothes fast fashion tries to sell to you. You can create your own, it's not as expensive and there’s no waste. I think that would be a very interesting area in terms of fashion. It's really about self-expression but it can be a great environmental contribution.
Marc Petit: Very interesting, I think. I do believe that the metaverse will become primarily self-expression and hopefully it gets better results than current social media. I think it's looking at it as having an implication in real life and, for fast fashion, it's very, very interesting.
You've said that what really interests you, you're both an artist and a scientist. You said that what interests you is the space between art and science, and in particular, taking the artifacts of art history and moving them to the future. Can you talk a bit about that?
Ping Fu: Yeah, so I'm kind of an in-between person. I grew up in China and I came to the United States, two big countries that from an ideology point of view could not be more different. I benefit from learning from two extremes and then operating in the middle. The art and science sides have a similar feeling.
In everything that I or the team are trying to create, I'm always thinking about how can we differentiate measurable from immeasurable, right? The art is the immeasurable, the science is the measurable. If you cannot falsify something, then it's not the science but with art you cannot falsify almost anything. You can also think of science as more the brain and art as more the heart.
How do you combine them? That just fascinates me. How do you express science and engineering in a way that touches people's hearts? We know that people don't remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. How can we make something technical, feelable?
From that sense, I like art. I don't like art just for the sake of art. I like how art expands our senses beyond language, beyond formulas. I like science in its rigorousness. There is something about when you can really put it into a formula, which you can repeat or if you can prove something is true or false. There's something really grounding for me there, but it didn't feel like enough. The art gives me all these other wings to take the science to other places.
Marc Petit: Interesting. So you are on the Board of Burning Man and I think I've heard you describe Burning Man as an experimental city where you can reimagine and recreate civilization. So how important are virtual and digital experiences for Burning Man? Because you'd think that the virtual would be a great space to reimagine civilization.
Ping Fu: So that's a good question. We actually created a virtual Burning Man during COVID because we couldn't have Burning Man.
So Burning Man is interesting because somebody said Burning Man to entrepreneurs is like a golf course to the bankers. If you go to Burning Man, you find all the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs all there. Of course there's many others, the makers, the artists, the photographers, you name it, the performers, they're all there. But all the entrepreneurs are also there, which means that when we wanted to create a virtual Burning Man there's all the volunteers and we got all the talents there.
So we had the BRCvr. We had several [signed up] for virtual Burning Man. The attendees to just BRCvr itself had three times more people show up to the virtual space compared to the actual event, which is 70,000 people max. We had 200,000 people coming into the virtual space.
That shows that it didn't matter if it's a virtual or physical, of course they're different. What is important is the connection that people feel in there. The creativity, the self-expression. There's a lot of things missing in the actual Burning Man that we can’t feel or connect with but there's also a lot of things that we could do in the virtual space that we cannot do in the physical space. They're not the same but they're equally important.
I've been working in this digital-to-physical, physical-to-digital forever but I think when the metaverse really is there is the day that we no longer differentiate the digital and physical. Today, we don't talk about desktop publishing anymore. When we publish, whether or not we publish onto a digital format or we publish into a print format, they both are publishing. We no longer say we are publishing in digital or we publishing in print. We don't say that anymore, we just publish.
I think a metaverse, of course, is harder. It would take longer for us to get there. It would be that some areas would come earlier. I mean, the gamers have been there for a long, long time. I've been doing 3D scanning, 3D printing for a long time. We aren't really talking about how everyone can experience it. If I were to look at Web1, that's all about sharing information. If I look at Web2, it's all about sharing resources. That's where the Ubers, Airbnbs and social media comes in. When I look at Web3 and the metaverse, it's all about sharing experience.
Our life is experience. Experience creates memories. It's really not about whether or not it's going to happen, it's when it's going to happen. It's already happening.
The metaverse is a living, breathing world that we live in and expands our human capacity. Humanity has been so good in always creating tools that expand our physical limitations. If we can't fly, we build airplanes. If our hand is not strong enough, we build tools. For millennia, we built tools. Now it's the only time this century, our lifetime, is the beginning of our expanding our mental self. Suddenly, we're not just expanding our physical self. The metaverse is where we can expand our mental self. That's super exciting.
Marc Petit: Absolutely and, actually, you are part of another adventure. Live Nation is the leading live entertainment company in the US if not in the world. How do you see as a director, of course we want scoops if you have scoops, but otherwise directionally how does a company like Live Nation seize the future of entertainment online and in the metaverse?
Ping Fu: Well, the metaverse will be very important to Live Nation for the future. During COVID we already did some limited experiments on that. If you think about sports, people go to big arenas to watch sports. Then, generally, people will come to somebody's home or go to the bar. They're watching sports together. It's a social event. This all happens in the physical space. In the future, if my favorite artist is playing in Spain, I can get there in the metaverse. I can get a frontline seat at my house watching the show at the same time. Live Nation is not going to be the recording, that replay kind of company. It's always going to be the live entertainment company but that live entertainment company does not have to be limited to the location and number of people or that arena. The Metaverse would be the extension to that.
That's like quantum space. We can be there and here at the same time. Here is everywhere and that's what metaverse can offer. I think it would be a huge breakthrough, because human breakthroughs always come from technology that alters our perception of space and time. The metaverse would completely alter that immediacy of space and time and enable us to be quantum, which most people still say, "How can you be here and there at the same time?". If you're in the metaverse, you can be there and here at the same time.
If you look at the physics, when physics had a huge breakthrough was when a time domain and space domain can interchange freely. Before that happened, it was very, very isolated in different domains. Once that happens, electronics..so much imagining happens. I think the metaverse is that time and space no longer have a distance.
Marc Petit: Yeah, very well put.
Patrick Cozzi: Ping, you have a very inspiring view on the metaverse. I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk a bit about leadership and diversity. So you're actively promoting entrepreneurship and women in mathematics and sciences. You're on numerous foundations, the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, National Council on Women in Technology. This is really important work. Could you tell us more about it?
Ping Fu: Yeah, actually this started with a story when my daughter was 13 and she came home and she said, "Mom, I don't really want to be that good with math." I said, "Why?". She's really good with math. I said, "Why?". She said, "It's not cool if you're good with math, it's not cool." I was thinking, okay, she's a girl and it's middle school. Being smart is not cool. I said, "Can I come to your school and give a talk?". She looked at me and she said, "Mom, if they don't want to be you, it doesn't really matter what you say." I said, "Oh, but I'm taken. They can't be me, they have to be themselves." Then I started to think about promoting women in science and technology.
It's not just about positioning. It's about the being, it's about the person. Warren Bennis has a book called On Becoming a Leader. In there he said, "Leadership is a being." Being, the person, not the position. So promoting women in science and technology and in leadership, to me, is to build that wholesome person. That 360 person. I think a woman has a lot to offer, just like a man has a lot to offer. We all work together. I think younger generations started to have non-binary, no genders and very fluid. Fine, doesn't really matter. At the end it's the being, it's who you are. I always tell women, "Hey, at home you are the boss. Your husband, your children, they all listen to you. You are already the leader because you cannot be a leader if no one follows you. You're a manager, you can demand.”
I think in the 21st century, we have increased so much of consciousness and there's more gender equality. I'm not thinking of equality in terms of 50/50. I come from Asia, it's like all yin and yang. Be a woman, whoever you want to be, and you can be a leader.
So I'm more coming from educating women from the soft side because I think the skillset they already have. Most girls are better in math in high school than the boys. I don't need to teach them to be better in math. I need to teach them relevancy and I need to teach them to love themselves, build curiosity, build confidence. That's where I get very active. It's a half the population.
Marc Petit: So when you joined 3D Systems after the acquisition, your title was Chief Entrepreneur Officer.
Ping Fu: Yeah.
Marc Petit: Did you come up with that title?
Ping Fu: No, I started as a chief strategy officer when I first joined the company. Then Avi started buying a lot of companies and he wanted me to incorporate into the company, into 3D Systems. Then he basically said, "I'm the father, you're the mother, and let's do this together."
He actually came up with that title. He called me Chief Entrepreneur Officer so that I could go work with all the entrepreneur companies that he acquired but it's such a long name, so people keep calling me CEO. No, I'm not the CEO. Avi is the CEO. He may have done that on purpose. I don't know, but he came up with that title.
Marc Petit: Cultivating entrepreneurial spirit I think is very important. I was glad to see this calling it out as a title.
Finally, you wrote a book, Bend, Not Break, which I actually recommend, where you chronicle your upbringing in China in the cultural revolution. You faced a lot of difficulties and you succeeded in a lot of ways. So as a closing thought, what's are some of the lessons that resonate for you now more than ever?
Ping Fu: Yeah, so the book is about resilience. I think resilience is something that, in this time, especially where so many things go wrong in the world, I think it becomes an ever-increasing important concept for humanity.
Resilience is also a really great concept for engineering and design because resilience design versus robust design is a new concept. Resilience design knows things will not last forever but it builds failure into the design. As such, it fails the way you want it to fail so the repair would be much easier. Then you can continue the Bay Bridge new design as a resilience design and all the bridges are using those resilience designs. So I think that concept applies to humanity and applies to design. That's one that I find very relevant today.
There's some life lessons too. One of the chapter titles is called Life is a Mountain Range. When I talk to young people, they always think about progressing their career or their personal development. They always think about moving up. In America, the peak is kind of the mental metaphor that we give to people. As such, when they go look for another job they're not willing to take a job that's lower than the job before. I like to change that mental metaphor to a mountain range because if you only go up, you go to one peak. You would see one view. You won't experience life fully. If you want to go to another peak, you have to go down. You can't go up without going down and going down is not a bad thing. So I think with that mental image, it would help a lot of people to think about their life and their career that way.
Marc Petit: Thank you.
Patrick Cozzi: Yeah, I really like that mountain range analogy. So Ping, we covered so many topics today. We talked about Mosaic, Geomagic, Terminator 2 visual effects, fashion, Burning Man, diversity. We'd love to round out the episode. If there's a shout-out you'd like to give to a person or an organization?
Ping Fu: The ending, the ending wise word... What would I say in a shout-out?
Patrick Cozzi: You could also give a shout-out to more than one person or organization if you'd like.
Marc Petit: Yeah.
Ping Fu: Yeah. So my shout-out is think about going from doing to being. Because in an organization or in our daily life, we have to-do list. We have our calendar. We're doing, doing, doing. Busy is a choice. I hear a lot of people say, "I'm too busy, I don't have a choice." Busy is a choice but when you think about being, of course doing is part of being, it expands your horizon. We are part of nature, we are part of each other. We're not just what we do. All we do is not the only part of us. So try to accompany people. Think about that.
Marc Petit: Busy is a choice. I like it. I'll try to remember it.
So Ping Fu, you are an innovator, an entrepreneur and an artist. You've offered us some real fascinating insight today on your career and on the metaverse. I want to thank you on behalf of everybody and our audience for being with us today. Thank you very much, Ping Fu.
Ping Fu: Well thank you, Marc. Thank you, Patrick.
Marc Petit: And a big thank you to our audiences as well. Hit us up on social, Let us know what you want to hear about. Let us know what you think. Patrick, thank you very much and thank you very much everybody. We'll see you for the next show.
Ping Fu: Yeah.
Patrick Cozzi: Thanks everybody.
Ping Fu: Have a good day. Bye.