November 2008 Archives

moon landing

In the UK it was the Queen's Coronation in 1953 that drove TV's into the mass market, as people bought sets purely to witness the historic event. Perhaps virtual worlds will become de riguer when man returns to the moon, or first lands on Mars.

ln 1969 I was 8 years old. I remember sitting on the floor of our school corridor with the rest of my school watching the grainy black and white images of the first moon landing. At the time TV technology was over 50 years old.

In 10 years time humans might return to the Moon, and in 20 years we might land on Mars. Are we really going to experience this event primarily through a technology which by then will be 100 years old?

The most interesting alternative (well beyond the simple re-packaging of a headcam feed to a wrap-around headset display) are virtual worlds.

When that astronaut (or taikonaut) steps out onto the Moon I (and you) could already be standing on the surface waiting for them.

NASA are already out to tender for their own virtual world. But this won't just be one world, but also a virtual Moon, a virtual Mars. As we collect more and more data about these worlds their virtual analogs will become ever more accurate. Scientists will gather in them to plan missions, analyse data, and decide on the next move or dig of a robot explorer.

But when the landings come these worlds will be crowded. The mission specialists will have their private world, the rest of us will have our own public instances, as crowded or as private as we like. Some might immerse us, forcing us to wear spacesuits and move in reduced gravity, others let us party around the virtual BBQ.

Using video or other motion capture analysis the movement of the astronaut will drive the million copies of their avatar. We'll watch from wherever we want to stand, we'll hear the words as they are spoken, and watch their actions as they do them.

For some this may seem less real than video. But both are just streams of data - and digital video (particularly with emerging object based standards such as MPEG7) has no monopoly on, or even claim to, truth. And in the virtual world you will be immersed, not just viewing but part of the action, it becomes subjective not objective.

Of course Mars offers an additional challenge - lag. The Moon is only 1.2 light seconds away. Mars is 200 - 300 light seconds away. As a one way experience that will be fine, but it disrupts the two-way experience - particularly important for the astronauts, their controllers and scientists, and perhaps even their families. The solution to this may be the flip situation - we virtualise ourselves as an AI based personality construct and run ourselves in the virtual Mars on the astronauts servers on Mars.

So perhaps my grandchildren will remember the return to the Moon or the first Mars landing not as something they saw on a screen sat on a cold wood floor, but as something they experienced unfolding around them.

Real vs Virtual

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Jim Purbick of Linden Lab has a slide headed 'beware false dichotomies' when comparing Work and Fun. I'm thinking  that I should use the same slogan when people start comparing Real and Virtual. The true opposite of Virtual is not Real but Physical. We are back to the Nicholas Negroponte split between the world of Atoms and the world of Bits. Our experiences in the Virtual World can be just as real as in the Physical World. We work with real money, real people, real relationships, real emotions, real time, real brands, real reputations and real risks in both spaces. And the opposite of Real? Perhaps it's Imagined? Or Fictional? Or Unreal? Or perhaps, devoid of context, it has no opposite - everything is real in some way.

Neat cloud tool from any text

Thanks Roo

Social Media version of SIMILE?

Virtual Worlds timeline by Xantherus

Neat app, monitoring Twitter et al for "hot topics". Does it do this automatically or when people ask to search? Another neat feed for Halo to monitor.


Listening to Fish on Friday on Planet Rock, hosted by Fish of Marillion fame. Great programme, great music, and a presenter who's not afraid to play entire album sides.

India's first Moon probe has made it. Apparently it' sent back pictures but they haven't been released yet.

Interesting site using SMS and Google Maps to report civil rights incidents in Africa's hotspots. Be great to mash-up with our Virtual Briefing Hub

The new imagining of Survivors starts on the BBC this month. The old 70s series was stunning - even when we watched it again on video a couple of years ago. Let's hope they haven't ruined it.

Neat concept - one on one interview by webcam. This one is Jaron Lanier
Microsoft Corp., University of California-Berkeley, and Eliezer Yudkowsky
Singularity Institute, Overcoming Bias.

Thanks @mendicott for the heads-up

Interesting view of the Loebner/Turing from a judge this year. His approach is very much to find out if the bot is a human or not, rather than to see if he can have a "normal" conversation. Again this pushes me to the belief that we shoudl have a tiered approach to this:

- test where testers don't know there are any bots
- test where the testers know there are bots but have "normal" conversations
- full gloves-off test

His questions were very much reasoning tests of the third kind:

- if we shake hands, whose hand am I holding?
- I have a jewellery box in my hand, how many CDs can I store in it?
- he four capitals of the UK are three, Manchester and Liverpool. What's wrong with this sentence?

How many times do you ask those in normal conversation?

Mmm. This was hailed as being on a par with the Machine is Us video, and EPIC 2015 but its a bit more portmanteau than that. In this interesting but not earth shattering ramble he talks about Kurzweil's "Internet is as big as the brain" idea, Negroponte's Bit/Atom worlds, Internet 0 (the Internet of things), Berners-Lee's Semantic Web, Kevin Kelly is Exec Editor at Wired.
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