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The VictoryXR Show: Dr. Freedom Cheteni, Nelson Mandela’s Grandson, Joins Steve Grubbs to Discuss VR in Education

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the latest episode of the VictoryXR Show. I am your host, Steve Grubb. And today we have an extremely fascinating guest.

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Last name, Cheteni. In fact, I’m Cheteni Mandela. My family is from the house of Mandela. My mother is actually the first daughter of Mandela, Dr. Maki Mandela. 

Steve Grubbs: Was which daughter? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: The first daughter. 

Steve Grubbs: First daughter. So, would that make him your grandfather?

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yes. Makaziwe Mandela, that’s my mother. 

Steve Grubbs: Wow. And am I correct that you met him at one point? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: That’s my grandfather. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, I know, but he was in jail for such a long period of time. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: I did. I was eleven years old. I was eleven years old when he got out. That was 1994. And I remember we are matching with Grandma Winnie in Johannesburg. It’s just out of Robin Island at the time, and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on? He was mythical in the beginning. We’ll get letters. Once in a while, we’ll hear his voice. 

But once he was out, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with him, and that influenced who I became in terms of my focus on education, in terms of leadership. He would always say that education really was the passport to leadership. And without education, there’s no peace in the world. 

And if I look at what I’m doing right now—I’m right now at the Stanford campus getting ready for some of our students at the VR school who are on site once in a while. I just couldn’t be more thankful for the work that VictoryXR is doing in terms of advancing, not just the future of education, but the future for world. 

Steve Grubbs: Thank you. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: If you look at even where our government—I’m a dual citizen of the United States and Africa, and I’ve spent most of my life here than anywhere else in the world. And this is my country, these are my people. And there is a requirement of US leadership when it comes to innovation and leadership and technology. There is a requirement that we show the world what’s possible and US prides itself. That’s who we are as a people. That’s who we are as a people. 

And I know that for the first time ever since the pandemic, we had federal funding, for example, available to every student in the country. It didn’t matter if it was a public school or a private school or a non-public school, whatever it was. But that pandemic changed the structure of how education runs. 

And our congress and our federal and state senators found it not just needed, but necessary and critical for them to participate and contribute into the advancement of our country. 

Steve Grubbs: Yes. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: And so that changes the laws. Up until four years ago, there was no federal funding available, for example, for private schools. There was no right to fate. So now we have unique situation where through, let’s say, the Emergency Assistance through Public Schools, a program through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, there is a change in the laws in terms of what does it look like to be an American, what does it look like to be a student in the United States? And there’s no longer a distinction between our constitutional rights in private and public schools collectively, and what is the role of government?

Steve Grubbs: So, Dr. Cheteni, we’re just going to keep rolling from here. Let me introduce you to those who are listening and watching or reading. This is Dr. Freedom Cheteni. And Dr. Cheteni is the head of the VR School, working at Stanford on this project. He also, as you may have just heard, happens to be the grandson of President Nelson Mandela, certainly one of the great world leaders for freedom and liberty of the age. 

And so we’re going to discuss some really interesting topics today, but we’re going to start with a federal issue that Dr. Cheteni has involved himself in, which has to do with the use of federal dollars as it relates to students attending virtual reality schools. And so, Dr. Cheteni, I know there’s a legal issue that’s going on here that you’re out in front on, because we only have 30 minutes, give us the short version of what that legal issue is, and let’s discuss where we hope it goes. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Okay, so let’s start off with where we are right now. As of yesterday, the VR School received an order from the United States Department of Education, Office of Hearings and Appeals, in which it was an order basically suggesting that you have brought a critical issue in terms of non-public schools in this country. And this is a question that needs to go back to the secretary of the United States and the US Congress. 

And so the case was actually transferred directly to the secretary, the Honorable Cardona Miguel, whom we’ll be hearing from in the next 15 days. 

Steve Grubbs: Great. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yeah. And the order talks about one. And thank you to VictoryXR, for your amicus. The order does reference that amicus, that it is an American right, it is part of the American future to have XR and AI in our educational systems. But the federal appeals process didn’t have jurisdiction. This was something that required the secretary himself and Congress to look at. And that’s where we are right now. 

And so what happened in Covid is we discovered, including our institution here, Stanford right here, that the current state of education was not enough, was not equitable. If you think about the nature of the university itself, it was designed to solve the most critical issues in our country. And when we had the emergency order on March 13, 2020, to shut down the country on global lockdown, it was our most revered institutes of education that shut down first, meaning that everything we knew about the way we’re teaching and the way we’re learning was, in fact, challenged in that point. It became evident that there had to be a way to learn differently. 

And so the federal government did something very, very interesting in Congress enacted the CARES act, or the American Rescue Plan act, in which it made it the responsibility of each state education agency to administer federal funding for private schools or non-public schools, like VR school. And to do that, they would get devices like VR, like our school, for example, allocated closer to $600,000 for services towards VictoryXR. And this would include getting hardware. It included creating a curriculum in that hardware and dispersing those resources to our students who were all over. 

And it came down to a situation where the state of California had no idea, like, how do people learn in VR? VR is a legitimate way to learn. 

Steve Grubbs: Absolutely. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: In fact, it addresses the colocation. The fact that right now, Stanford doesn’t even know how to manage this campus without having the students being co-located—everybody go to your homes, wherever you are. If Stanford discovered the true power of VR, the way VictoryXR has, the issue of co-location and learning and having a digital campus, a twin, digital twin, we wouldn’t have the mental health issues we have today and all the other culminating issues that came out of the pandemic. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s exactly right. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: And we have to challenge the idea, I mean, the fact that the fund itself was focused on low-income students. VR School has over 500 students, and 402 of those would fall under like they would qualify for something that public schools use. They would be under this low-income bracket. And so we got funding for that. 

But it wasn’t funding per se that we got. It was services. The school could only request services. And so we requested all services that we needed, and we got over almost $2 million in services. And at some point, we put up our service request to say, at this point, the grant, the Emergency Assistance grant requires not just hardware, because if the kids have no headsets and there’s no connectivity, it’s difficult. So we want a headset for every kid, and we also want them to be connected, and nobody is better situated to do this today than Victory XR. And that was our request. 

Steve Grubbs: Wonderful.

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: And so the state has questions, as in, like, can you provide us with any sort of personal, identifiable information of the students? And so we gave them that. And then they wanted more like, well, in VR, they have an email, they get to log in, and there’s all these things. But most of this is still being set up, and we will work with our experts, and Victory XR, nobody is more qualified in the world right now than Victory XR to launch that. They’ve been doing that for higher education institutions. And I’m very familiar, I’ve worked with the organization. 

And so because of that, the state said, okay, we’re going to hold. We will not take new services. We’ll continue with the old services we have, I’m like, “No, you can’t do that. The funds are emergency.” And taking away services is like taking away oxygen. If somebody needs oxygen right now, you don’t get the luxury of going through administrative procedures or whether they have insurance or not. The word emergency is already in the grant. 

Steve Grubbs: You know, Dr. Cheteni, I look at the decisions that were made during the pandemic, and it just seems like not every state, not every school district, a lot of them did pretty well, but certain school districts and states, they just made bad decision. And then afterwards, they made another bad decision.

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yep.

Steve Grubbs: And now we have a whole generation of kids that it’s going to take a lot to bring them back. In South Carolina, we have a virtual reality tutoring program going on for kids with learning loss, trying to get them caught up. So all of that is ongoing, and we’ll see how well it works. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Steve, the only way we can address learning loss today, timely, is VR. We know research has been very clear. You retain 10% of what you get from a lecture. 20%, it is a lecture, perhaps, and some examples, and then at least 80% if you demonstrate it. With VR, it’s demonstration, plus more. So if we’re to truly close the learning gap, every kid in this country must have access to experiential learning that VR offers. 

I mean, you are able to get into a cell, you are able to travel in historical places and go back in time and go back into the future and create and invent anything. We have to really think the way America is supposed to think, the way our founding fathers put this together. Our country is not doing what’s supposed to be doing right now. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, we need people who think in an entrepreneurial way to solve these stubborn problems. And so people like you and I think our team is doing a nice job of that. Just so we keep moving here, because there are a couple of things I want to make sure we get to. So, wrapping up the situation with the Federal Department of Education, where do you expect that to land? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: I expect that the United States Department of Education and Congress will have a law that makes it a right for every student in this country to have access to a quality education, a future ready education, whether or not they’re in public or in non-public school.

Steve Grubbs: Great. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: I think that what makes America great is the fact that we have choice. I can choose to go to Stanford, I can choose to go to North Carolina. I can choose to go to private school. I can choose to go to a public school or anything in between. But there is something too. The federal government has been funding physical spaces. Let’s put some barricades so that the social distancing. They fund for the construction of infrastructure. Virtual reality is construction. 

Steve Grubbs: It is. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: You are building a campus. So it’s about redefining what a campus is, redefining what construction is. So when Congress enacts laws and funding laws on, okay, we are giving Stanford University, the VR School, a grant to construct a campus. That campus should not be confined to the brick and mortar. We have seen our malls closing and shutting down left and right. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s right. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Let’s redefine statutorily what construction is. 

Steve Grubbs: People can’t get away from that atom-based model into a digital bit-based model. It’s just hard for their minds to move. But you’re right, commerce has moved to a bit-based model. Entertainment. Did you ever think that you’d be able to watch—I mean, I guess when I watched the Jetsons on tv as a kid, I always hoped that I’d be like Elroy and be able to lift my watch and watch a movie, and now I can. I just never believed it could be possible. It’s happening. But humans, people struggle to change the way they think and to embrace these new ways of doing things, even though people who might not really understand it, it’s clearly a 10x improvement over the status quo. 

I want to get to AI because I know that Andrew Yang had some strong positions on AI, and I also know that you liked a lot of what he said on that. But I also know that you’re a supporter of AI and education. So help me understand your view on how we should approach artificial intelligence when it relates to learning and education in students. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Steve, nobody’s more ready for AI than VictoryXR. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s true. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: If you think about AI, AI has always been there. It’s only that right now, it’s now part of our daily lingo and language. Right now, we have things like Chat GPT, OpenAI, and you name it over there. But with VR, freedom can now be immortal. I can actually now use these language models to create an algorithm that thinks like me, that works like me. In VR, it’s possible now not just to have the physical embodiment of the teacher, if I already have the knowledge, the basic foundational knowledge. Anybody can learn anything, any word, anytime and in real time, and asking real questions in real time. 

Think about a chatbot right now as an avatar. I log into my VictoryXR classroom. My teacher shows up. I am conversing with that AI agent. So this year is about AI agents. People no longer question the idea of AI. AI is here, and it’s going to stay. This year is about AI agents. An agent that is generative, that you can talk to, that you can converse with, that can do things, that can work with you, that can help you think about it. 

So it’s possible that with XR, I could simply say, “Hey, VictoryXR, take me into this historical thing about this campus,” and I could use VR or AR or anything in between. A virtual teacher appears, tells me about where I am right now from an academic angle. I can have it from an entertainment angle. Tell me some fun facts about this place, what has happened. 

And if everybody who has interacted with this space has some data embedded somewhere, it means that even if my physical body dies, the world can continue to experience how I think and I continue to evolve to eternity, as opposed to me just flipping a book, right? I get to continue to be a contribution to humankind. And I think that the intersection of XR and AI, that is where the future is. That is the future of education, the future of work, and the future of money. That is where the future of the global economy is. 

Steve Grubbs: But Dr. Cheteni, what are the risks that you’re concerned about, that Andrew Yang was concerned about? What is it that we need to—as Victory XR builds our conversational AI into our experiences, what landmines do we need to avoid? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Well, I think that the idea of not taking a risk is a terrible idea. The risk that is not worth taking is not taking a risk at all. 

Steve Grubbs: Yes. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Some people tell you that it’s a terrible idea to be at Stanford right now. Some people tell you it’s a terrible idea to be at Harvard. Some people tell….It doesn’t matter. People are always going to have opinions, and that’s what makes this country great. 

Steve Grubbs: Agree. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: I believe that when you see…Think about the Wright Brothers, people thought it was a terrible idea that you could have a vehicle floating in the air to transport us. And today, you don’t think about being in an airplane crash. There are more car crashes than an airplane crash, but it did anyhow. 

So, the risks that are involved, we have learned about them already. So we have to think about our cyber structures, cybersecurity, identity, and these are things that exist even outside the AI world. 

Steve Grubbs: Yes. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Each time I take up a credit card and I go to the Stanford credit bank over there, there’s a risk someone is looking at me. There’s a risk there might be a software thing. So, I think that instead of being afraid of risks, do it and fail fast and correct it. We can predict what we don’t know. What I love about VictoryXR is you just took it. And now we have major universities like Morehouse, like even the one here, Notre Dame, right here in Silicon Valley, that they now all have digital twin campuses without any knowledge. But because VictoryXR has become a trusted brand in the metaversity and in the future of education. 

Now, imagine that in the next year, it’s now possible for Congress to put billions of dollars under Title IV, that if you’re attending school through VR, the federal government funds you for that. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, I’m going to tell my US senator that and we’ll see what he says. But I hope he agrees with you and with me on that point. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Higher education, every school, every higher education institution can subscribe to Title IV to get the federal loans and all of that. And so if our senators vote and make it into law, all those digital campuses that we have under VictoryXR, everybody gets to have an education that works for them. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, that’s exactly right. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Funding to build and expand on the digital twin emphasis Victory XR has built. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s exactly. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: I think what the VR school has done is put on the forefront that VR—The fact that we are already talking to the federal government is sending a message. That VR is a legitimate way of learning. And yes, we will challenge laws that would limit us from that. After this year, nobody’s going to question that VR is a way to learn. XR is a way to learn. 

And I feel like that’s why I have taken an active approach to say, you know what, at a minimum, the highest level of our educational system in this country is talking about. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s right. And when Stanford speaks, people listen. I can say all I want, but your voice really resonates out there and it matters. I want to talk about just a couple more things that, first of all, I want the audience to better understand the VR school. What grades do you serve, and how do you serve up learning? How do you serve up the courses? 

So the VR school serves grades K to 12. And in fact, right now, we are now in the process of even offering higher education. So we’re creating a university beyond VR. Why did we do that? Because Victory XR has already built all these campuses. So if we can have a K12 infrastructure, of course, we should now have an infrastructure beyond that. 

Right now, our students, it’s first grade to 12th grade, and this year we will begin to have college level students. We don’t have the accreditation yet, but we’re working on that. And what I’m most excited about, Steve, is VictoryXR has a significant role. Think about this as like what you have done at VictoryXR. You are at a point in time where education truly evolved, from the time when we had a textbook 300 years ago, that was the last major innovation in education. VictoryXR is the next level. 

Steve Grubbs: Thank you. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: So from that time, the last 300 years old, nothing happened. Now we are on that precipice and there will be a network of metaversities. There has to be state and federal level administration of those metaversities in the future. It’s going to change the way that our laws work, the way we interact in the metaverse, all of that. 

I feel like the world only has the tip of the iceberg on where this is. But you laid the foundation. So, the VR school itself is committed in ensuring that all the students in the world have access to VR. Just like less than 20 years ago, I’m on an iPhone right now. The smartphone was not a thing, right? 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah. The fact that we’re able to talk to each other like this again, it’s a Jetsons thing. For anybody who doesn’t know the Jetsons reference, just go to YouTube. And they predicted all of this amazingly, within my lifetime. And it’s fun to watch it actually roll out. 

But, Dr. Cheteni, let’s go one last issue here. Let’s talk about hardware, because it’s been a big year for hardware, and this coming year has the potential to be ground-breaking. A couple of Silicon Valley companies, companies that are not very far from where you’re standing right now, are making big plays. Talk to us how you see the landscape in hardware, what you guys like to use, and what you think about Apple’s play that’s coming up

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: With hardware, 20 years ago, we didn’t think that the iPhone, that we would have a computer on our pocket, right? I was on my gaming computer, my audio wasn’t very good, and so I changed, and I went to my phone for this conversation. When people think of the metaverse, they think metaverse is limited to VR and XR. The metaverse is basically a way of computing, a way of learning. It’s a new computing infrastructure. You can learn anything, anywhere and from any device. 

And the VR and XR hardware is the future. In the next five years, the iPhone and every smartphone will be obsolete. Everything will be XR. Everything will be XR in the next five years. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s exactly right. And frankly, a lot of it will be through our glasses. I’m now making phone calls. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Through our glasses—and you are right on the money. 

Steve Grubbs: My Ray Ban meta glasses, I’ve done a post on it. But, you know, I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll say, “Hey, Meta, what’s the weather forecast tomorrow?” Or I’ll say, “Hey, Meta, place a call to my wife,” whatever the case might be, and I don’t have to lift up my hands. It’s all done while my glasses are on. Not these glasses, but my—they’re my sunglasses. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: That’s right. Hardware should become, and I urge our federal government—because the federal government has already declared that digital infrastructure is a critical infrastructure for education. So it’s a critical infrastructure, and Congress has declared that. And so not having every student have access to the hardware is a violation of constitutional rights as an American. 

Steve Grubbs: But Congress is going to say—this is what I hear. They’ll say, well, why should we invest in hardware when it’s going to be outdated in two years? What’s your response to that? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Because it’s critical infrastructure. It’s critical, it’s required. And so if it’s not upgraded, then the country is behind. So Congress puts in hundreds of billions of dollars in research through NSF and other departments for innovation. And so if it’s an innovation that moves America forward, that moves the world forward, then yes, there’s the new hardware. That’s the new software. 

Steve Grubbs: Yes. And here’s the other thing that people don’t realize, just because a new device may come out, our products, and I’m sure the products of other vendors, software providers, still works on the old stuff. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Exactly.

Steve Grubbs: So if you buy an Oculus 1, our content that works for the Oculus 1 still works today. Same with Oculus 2 and the Oculus 3. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: [inaudible 33:39] Victory XR because the content is interoperative, it works across devices, and if it needs to be tweaked, it will be tweaked as software. I’m a neuroscientist by training, the brain works that way. When you get new information, your new neurons connect, the brain folds a little bit differently. And my brain is not the same as when I was born. So, it’s possible that hardware go hand in hand together. 

Steve Grubbs: What hardware are you using at the VR school? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: At the VR school, we are using definitely the Oculus Quest. 

Steve Grubbs: Quest 2?

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yeah, the Quest 2. Through our federal grant, we requested Quest 3, as well as VictoryXR HTC. 

Steve Grubbs: The 5.

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yeah, the 5. So, when that is done in the next 20 days—so, VictoryXR us configure things, configure the devices and we are going to build the prototype, so to say, in terms of like, can you have 200 quality devices distributed among students all over the country? 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah. What about Apple? Talk to me about—I don’t know if you’ve had one on your head. I’ve not. But we are preparing for its arrival. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Apple’s device, you know, is…I think Apple is coming along. I look at the Vision Pro. I compared it to… it will take time for people to adopt it unless the iPhone itself becomes part of the Vision Pro. But the Vision Pro as a standalone is going to be so powerful. But it should be inaccessible to the regular school, the regular student, and without federal intervention in terms of grants, not everyone will have access to it. 

I happen to have it simply because Apple is literally two miles away from where I am and I’m right here in Silicon Valley. So my access is a little bit different because I have graphical advantage. But how about kids in Iowa? How about kids in New Mexico? How about kids that are not where the Apple campus is located and who don’t have VictoryXR to access? I feel like Apple is fundamentally a car company. 

Steve Grubbs: Interesting. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yeah, it’s not really a phone company, if people think about it. Apple is fundamentally a car company. It’s a vehicle to everything company. And so through the glasses, you’ll be able to unlock your electric car. Apple drives Tesla. Apple is the vehicle everything. That’s their game plan. It’s always been a car company. 

Steve Grubbs: I think you’re right about that. But I want to drill down just to touch more on the Apple Vision Pro. The Quest 3, as you and I both know, is an amazing device. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: Yes. I love the Quest 3. The Quest 3 changed the game. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, it’s a game changer. It wasn’t an iterative, small step forward, it was a major step forward and people recognized that. How will the Vision Pro compare to the Quest 3? Will it be just a small bit better, or do you think there’s something significant that we’re going to see? 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: It should be significantly better from the perspective of iPhone users, and most of the world are Android users. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, that’s true. I’m an iPhone user, so it’ll be interesting. What we find interesting about it is the immersive video. With an iPhone 15, we can shoot 3D video when you would sit in the movie theater and watch a 3D movie, but you don’t have to put the glasses on, you just put the headset on, and now you’re immersed in this 3D movie that’s been shot just on the iPhone 15. And we think that for education and workplace training, that has a tremendous amount of benefit. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: And that’s why I am confident that VictoryXR is the key. 

Steve Grubbs: Thank you. 

Dr. Freedom Cheteni: And to all the naysayers, and there always will be, I think they’re beginning to see—they’re beginning to see the wisdom of what VictoryXR is doing. 

Steve Grubbs: Well, I want to thank Dr. Cheteni for joining us today. It was a great conversation. We look forward to talking to you next week as we bring in another ground-breaking member of the XR community. So with that, thank you, and I will look forward to talking with you again.