Legendary programmer and Oculus CTO John Carmack today announced he’ll be moving to a “consulting CTO” role in order to reduce his time spent at the company to a “modest slice.” This, he says, will make way for him to pursue new ventures outside of VR.

Carmack announced his move from Oculus full-time CTO to much-less-than-full-time CTO in a Facebook post today:

Starting this week, I’m moving to a “Consulting CTO” position with Oculus.

I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time.

As for what I am going to be doing with the rest of my time: When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague “line of sight” to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven. I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old.

I’m going to work on artificial general intelligence (AGI).

I think it is possible, enormously valuable, and that I have a non-negligible chance of making a difference there, so by a Pascal’s Mugging sort of logic, I should be working on it.

For the time being at least, I am going to be going about it “Victorian Gentleman Scientist” style, pursuing my inquiries from home, and drafting my son into the work.

Runner up for next project was cost effective nuclear fission reactors, which wouldn’t have been as suitable for that style of work. 😊

Carmack was a key player in the Oculus Rift genesis story and is a widely known and respected software engineer. Prior to Oculus, Carmack was a co-founder & Technical Director of the famous id Software and he also founded Armadillo Aerospace, a private aerospace company.

He joined Oculus as its CTO in 2013. At the time the company was a small but rising startup which got bought by Facebook for $2 billion less than a year later. Carmack has worked primarily on Oculus’ mobile products, and been a visible (if deeply technical) spokesperson for the company. Even under the Facebook mothership he’s maintained a refreshing off-script ‘call it like I see it’ sensibility that’s earned him as many fans as his deep technical credibility.

While Carmack wasn’t a founder of Oculus, he’s been a key figure both before and after the Facebook acquisition (including getting wrapped up in a court case with his prior employer over the matter). His new position, which will have him acting more as an outsider to the company, follows the departure of Nate Mitchell, the last Oculus founder to leave the company in August.

SEE ALSO
Nate Mitchell is the Final Oculus Co-founder to Leave Facebook
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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Leon Jimenez

    He will be spending his days on the roof with Bighead.

  • mellott124

    That can’t be good for Oculus.

  • Jimmy Ray

    That sucks I guess we want be getting wireless Quest to PC anytime soon

  • Trenix

    Ahahaha!

  • Oh, God that was unexpected

    • dk

      kind of makes sense after listening to the Joe Rogan episode with Carmak …he has a lot of interests he is interested in pursuing

  • dota

    Thank you Carmack , VR has come a long way.
    However I only wish Spiderman like glasses to be developed & made available easily for VR/AR.
    Regarding AGI remember u cannot fully replace the human consciousness because it is divine. The life ‘force’ exists , it can be realised but u need to learn meditation & then u’d realize that human body is only like a VR headset. And for a clue know that the ‘force’ resides within ur brain & spine.

    • aasdfa

      ….maybe leave the philosophical neurological education to carmak lol. I meditate to calm my body and mind and even im on huffed up on believing in sacred “forces” and crap about your soul, even though there may be things we dont know yet./ Johns work is how were going to learn some of that stuff.

      lets not mix religion or “Divinity” with cognitive brain functions here because then youll just be another jesusSavesSoul preacher

    • MosBen

      Everything that we are is in our brain. Consciousness is what a functioning human brain does. If the brain is damaged in certain ways, the person loses consciousness. There’s no evidence for any other explanation.

  • VR4EVER

    Wow! That is a major bummer.

  • AlanWake

    Wow, I don’t know what to say…
    facebook gets rid of everyone who stood at the origins of the OculusVR…
    This is very sad news.

  • Sebastian Kurz

    For me this is not sad news but totally understandable. After spending so much effort in a thing it is quite fair to see a change for him. All the best. And Oculus will make its way either way.

  • Mike Porter

    This isn’t good for Oculus. But it’s great for Valve and Sony and the whole gaming industry.

    Palmer said that Facebook buying Oculus was the best thing that had happened to VR. I’m going to assume he honestly believed that and completely disagree with him. By his own admission he was basically just fixing iphones to make a living before Oculus and got lucky being connected with some great people in the industry. What I’m saying is he’s not some genius who can comment on these stuff and have his opinions accepted as facts.

    There are two issues with his reasoning:

    1) Project Morpheus had been in development since 2011. Around the same time Valve also had a 1080p screen prototype HMD being developed. Sensics also made some single-screen HMDs during this period. Palmer was not the first person who realized mobile screen tech could be used for VR and that’s a naive assumption.
    So the assumption that nobody would be as interested or work on VR without Oculus or the Facebook purchase of Oculus is just wrong.

    2) Secondly, while it is true that Facebook invested the most in VR, Facebook didn’t invest 2 billion+ for gaming VR. Zuckerberg knows jack about gaming. They haven’t prioritized features that make gaming in VR more immersive or better. They want to make VR more “social friendly”. This is why they try to make it more portable, don’t want to keep it in the same form factor to be able to improve FOV and keep trying to lower production cost in cost of quality which isn’t there yet. And sadly the rest of the industry follows them.
    Basically, amount of money spent doesn’t matter, how it is spent is what matters.

    Facebook (along with Magic Leap, Apple, Google and few startups) keep hoarding patents by patenting the most mudane shit they often never end up implementing and basically blocking some features for 20 whole years for the actual gaming-oriented companies.

    On top of that, the longer it takes for their, likely impossible goal of “slim portable HMDs for 1 billion people” wish to happen, the more investors and the public get tired of VR.

    This is not the best thing that has happened to VR, maybe it’s actually the worst thing that could happen to VR.

    The sooner the unrealistic Facebook/Apple/Google “socal VR/AR platform” ambitions crash and burn the sooner actual gaming companies such as Sony, Valve and (as always late to the game) Nintendo in the future will be able to direct the development of VR in a more sane direction and at least not be *as* hindered by hoarded patents.

    • kontis

      Your post has some factually incorrect information and I disagree with some of your opinions.

      I don’t see Carmack’s departure as great for anyone in VR. Having a great researcher in the field can improve the numbers of the entire industry. And this one really needs it.
      Samsung wouldn’t be selling so many phones without iPhone and Android – products from different corporations. Their mobile profits in pre-iphone world were a joke compared to what they have now.

      Palmer wasn’t just lucky. Luck (including the fact he lives in the US – his story would be very different even in Germany or France) was an important factor, but that was only 50% of what made him rich. The other 50% was his tinkering, research and ACTUALLY DOING things others didn’t see as worthwhile. When he dabbled in VR he didn’t think it could make him rich as there was no real VR industry back then. He just wanted to create something valuable (super fun toy) for himself and other VR freaks. The actual value is the crucial part here. Plenty of super smart, business oriented people who don’t even try to create something new and truly valuable and instead only look at business plans – let’s make a new stupid mobile app!

      Palmer also proved he wasn’t just lucky by creating another billion+ worth company and inventing another device (low cost night vision camera – again cutting the costs by order of magnitude – he literally did it now twice). This is a very Elon-Musk-like kind of approach to innovation.

      What he meant and still means by FB being good for VR is just money. VR is now at the stage that requires billions of dollars in investment. It cannot use off the shelf parts anymore. A pure enthusiasm of true believers won’t help with this problem.

      1) this is a very common but unwise way of thinking. None of that matters – execution is everything. There were tests with landing rockets decades ago. But only now SpaceX is actually doing it properly and saving money.
      There are no “first time” achievement trophies in real life. The bragging rights are useless. Ideas are mostly worthless. The world is full of idea people. The arguments like “the first one who thought about it was xxx” are extremely silly, because there is almost no value here, so there is nothing to brag or discuss. Look at the history of technology. It’s not about eureka moments. Is about the whole pursuit, thousands of iterations and hard work.

      Project Morpheus in 2011 was not using single screen and was still based on the failed old approach with micro-displays that Sony was pursuing for 2 decades. They trashed it when Carmack showed better and cheaper Palmer’s prototype in 2012. Sony wanted to hire Palmer (because of Carmack’s recommendation). Yoshida literally thanked Oculus and Valve for their shared open research that helped with Morpheus. PSVR is basically a Rift clone.

      Sensics also made the single screen HMD after the Rift prototypes.

      2) some good points and mostly agree with that

    • 100% Agree with you @disqus_KWwbzxPKvj:disqus

    • Alan Harrington

      Except that most gamers couldn’t give a shit about VR. Zuckerberg’s dream for social VR, no matter how right or misjudged it may be, is the only thing driving VR at the current rate for us VR gaming enthusiasts.
      I love gaming, you love gaming, I love VR, you love VR. But, being honest, how many of your gaming friends and relatives could give a shit about VR?

      • Mike Porter

        Most gamers couldn’t give a shit about VR? Says who? Quite a way to start a conversation.

        Most gamers don’t care about current VR headsets because of 1) lack of actual quality game library that is not mostly indie shorts and filler apps, 2) low resolution. Other than that VR headsets are like having a spherical monitor you can get inside of which is stereoscopic and also reacts to your head position.
        Saying gamers don’t give a shit about VR is like saying gamers don’t give a shit about better or larger monitors. If anything, they’re the only ones who do.

        “VR enthusiasts” isn’t a thing, nobody in the actual VR or gaming industry considers them as a group, there are at least 10x more alibino people in the world than people who refer to themselves as “VR enthusiasts” who aren’t gamers.
        I just explained why Zuckerberg’s VR features re useless for gamers and you completely ignored by arguments and made your own statements. It’s fine if you don’t want to address my points but I dont see why I should discuss yours then.

        • dfffffff

          VR enthusiasts is absolutely a thing. There are tons of communities with literal VR addicts who spend 100+ hours in VR every week. Find them in discord or youtube videos. Don’t deny your opposition by pretending they don’t exist. That is the real ignorance here.

          Sony sold the highest amount of VR headsets but still it’s freaking tiny as hell compared to any console sold ever. A mere 1 million units in the first 2 years is minuscule compared to 86 million PS4 units sold. For the record Sony does give about 1/86th of an effort.

      • namekuseijin

        Most gamers don’t give a shit to VR because the games they want are not in VR – rather, VR is full of short crappy minigames and they know that.

        Once VR comes out of this early prototype stage and has more to offer than just minigames and old games ported, you can bet gamers will want to check it out. I would be one of them, except I had the opportunity to get a psvr for cheap and thanks to that many misconceptions I had got positively corrected. Plus, I have respect for what’s on offer right now, most fashionable gamers don’t. That’ll change once more games make the jump…

        • NooYawker

          I love VR but yea, there’s not enough content right now. It’s been awhile since I put on my Vive. The last time I did was to watch 3D movie.

          • namekuseijin

            there’s plenty of good VR games. what there is not much is their favorite flat games

  • impurekind

    Nooo, this is real bad news. If Abrash basically leaves too then I fear for Oculus and all Facebook’s VR products because the last few people that really got why VR was worth giving a second change back at the start of Oculus, and that ones that were making all the right decisions, are basically gone at this point.

    • sfmike

      And all that are left are the bean counters that would have killed VR the way they did 3D TV because the profit margins aren’t up to their crazy high standards. Remember when a movie could have an opening weekend of under $100 million and be considered a success?

      • Jonathan Winters III

        Understandable fear, but no – it’s Zuck that makes those decisions and he has reiterated lately he is committed to Oculus/VR/AR even though it’s not a big money maker yet.

        • Lucidfeuer

          It’s a stock valuation money maker, not an actual product, and once the VR “fad” passes or at least is perceived as such for most/major stockholders, of course “he” will abandon Oculus/VR.

  • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

    I really don’t think that it’s a good idea for the guy that programmed DOOM, to be working on artificial intelligence!

    • Jonathan Winters III

      haha good one :0

  • I knew something was up when that award video came out the other day. dang it.

  • Behram Patel

    so,
    there’s just “one” more shoe left…to drop

    b

  • Sami Tito

    bad news for vr industry

  • MosBen

    I know that he wasn’t an original founder, but it’s hard not to wonder what he made from the Facebook purchase. I know that he was probably very comfortable already, but still, he’s probably set up to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life without having to worry about the need to push out commercial products on a fixed timeline, or worry about keeping investors or corporate bosses happy. Sounds pretty great.

    As for Oculus, they’re going to be fine. There are plenty of smart people working in VR, and at least in the short term the roadmap of increasing screen resolution, refresh rate, and FOV, decreasing weight, improving ergonomics, pushing down price, improving optics, and implementing things like eye tracking and foveated rendering are pretty clearly identified. At some point there will probably need to be a major paradigm shift in how VR is presented to the user, and that will take some radical rethinking by a very smart person, but though Carmack is very smart, someone else will do that work.

    • Bob

      There are a lot of bright people working at FRL right now and they’re all able to accomplish great things especially with the virtually unlimited resources provided to them by the company.

    • Lucidfeuer

      “As for Oculus, they’re going to be fine. There are plenty of smart people working in VR” you should really work as a PR or salesman.

      • MosBen

        It’s almost certainly true that there are plenty of smart people working at any number of companies that work in the VR industry. Carmack is a smart guy, but hardly anybody is indispensable.

        • Lucidfeuer

          That’s the problem: there should be people that are indispensable working at these companies, not just smart.

          • MosBen

            As I said, hardly anyone is indispensable, and even that’s generous. These things progress by smart people working collaboratively on a problem and iterating over years. The myth of the genius creator making something whole cloth in their garage is mostly a myth. Anyone can be replaced and the work will continue.

          • Lucidfeuer

            What you say about the collaborative sum of people is true, what is said about “genius creator” is true too except they’re not geniuses: they do specific task the way nobody can. Steve Jobs, John Carmack, Kojima, Matias Duarte, Palmer Luckey etc…they’re not this abstract notion of “genius”, but they do have an indispensable purpose of being able to define and conceive and concrete, working vision for different products, services or aspects of it. When you don’t have those people, who unfortunately are hardly dispensable, nobody is replacing them, companies are stalling even with the best marketers or engineers.

  • CURTROCK

    THANK YOU, JOHN CARMACK!!!

    No one individual has contributed more to the cause of consumer VR than John Carmack. I hope his change in status indicates that VR can now stand on it’s own, and John has solved most of the current hard problems. I LOVE my Oculus Quest, and without John, it might have taken a lot longer for magical tech like this to materialize.

    Much respect.

    • Jonathan Winters III

      Can you tell us what his contributions are, specifically?

      • namekuseijin

        besides gpus basically spawning to run Quake and Quest being possible on mobile hardware thanks to his optimizations?

        • Sven Viking

          Also introducing the Oculus Rift to the world at E3, since his reputation (and his Doom 3 VR demo) helped to ensure people paid attention and took it seriously.

          • Sven Viking

            Just adding that “others might have handled that if he didn’t” can be a craven way of minimising people’s achievements or contributions. Others could have done it, but they could have done it years earlier also. It doesn’t mean they would have done it — at least not within a predictable timeframe.

  • Ghosty

    If anybody can get us to the point where we can have meaningful conversations with our PC’s it’s John Carmack! I’m excited to see what advances he can bring to the AI race and if I were Elon Musk I’d be on the phone immediately seeking to hire him at any cost! I can imagine his phone will be blowing up with offers! JOHN CARMACK IS ON THE MARKET AND HE WANTS TO WORK ON AI!!! Imagine the mouths agape from people in the industry on this news and the realization that he’s WORKING FROM HOME!

    • aasdfa

      man if john and elon teamed up on this, wed have it by next year

  • WyrdestGeek

    Carmack makes lots of good choices. This seems like another one. He’s probably done about all he can meaningfully do there at Oculus– long gone are the days of working on the Netflix app by hand.

    And it’s tough to get passed the fact that Zuckerburg is basically horrible.

    So move on. I wish Carmack luck in developing our new AGI overlords.

    • Jonathan Winters III

      Zuck might be “horrible” in some ways, but he’s the one who put up the cash to buy and support Oculus even though their investment/profit ratio is only loss. Without Zuck, there would be no Quest, no Asgard’s Wrath, etc.and consumer VR would remain a very small, not-well supported niche.

  • sfmike

    If VR doesn’t make more profit fast the next thing Facebook will let go of is Oculus. THis is another bad sign for VR’s future.

  • The Bard

    The problem of VR is lack of high quality content. Facebook bought Oculus for 2b dollars. Where is the money? You could buy a country for that money.

    • Ugur Ister

      Maybe try some of the recently released VR games like Asgard’s Wrath, Pistol Whip, Stormland etc, there are quite high quality games coming out frequently meanwhile =)

  • sebrk

    Not surprising given Carmacks history. Dude got so much to give CS in general and to be fair spending time with ones son is never a bad thing. VR will continue as will AR. Anyone thinking otherwise is just plain stupid and has no insight in the industry. As for Oculus it’s obvious they are approaching VR from below trying to swoop up as many users as possible while Vavle et al are somewhere in the middle and then Vario et al going maximum quality on an enterprise level. Nevertheless it was obvious that he will not stay at Fecesbook from the get go.

    Best of luck to Carmack and thank you for everything you’ve done.

  • Pizzy

    He will be creating the AI VR avatar assistants of the future good news for everyone lol

  • Lulu Vi Britannia

    This is the worst case scenario…

  • Lucidfeuer

    hE sO WrOnG, vR iS eXpLoDiNg AnD iN a FeW yEaRs It WiLl Be HuGe BeCaUsE *drinks more koolaid*

  • NooYawker

    I’m sure Carmacks vision of the oculus does not align with the direction FB is taking it.