Monday, March 26, 2007

Second Life reaches 5 million residents

Second Life reaches 5 million residents and a $1.65 million per day economy but its growth rate has slowed from a doubling every two months in both residents and economic activity. The chart below shows the population and economic trends since January 2006.

What is so exciting about Second Life that has attracted 5 million residents? Other statistics not reflected here would probably show more interesting patterns about the medium's usage such as an increase in time spent in-world, a growth in community-specific groups and an increase in corporate presence as more entities set up virtual offices including Coldwell Banker.

Web 3.D is about Community, Community, Community.
The richness of a virtual world platform like Second Life suggests why it is so successful. The Internet was a tremendous step forward as people with shared interests were able to find each other via usenet and email lists, mainly having 1:many relationships. Web 3.D virtual worlds allow special interest interactions to be much deeper and more intimate in a robust audio-visual and 1:1 way instead of a 2D text-based 1:many way.

In addition to more intimate interaction, virtual worlds offer more agency. One example is that people can fully govern how their appearance is presented. Interestingly, so far, instead of exploring more aspects of identity and representation, the vast majority of avatars appear in a great homogeneity of youth and beauty, making explicit the strong force of perceived appearance ideals in the physical world culture and recreating this in virtual reality. Then as art imitates life imitates art, the avatorial aesthetic cycled back out of a Second Life gallery into the physical world in a “13 Most Beautiful Avatars” exhibit at New York’s Rhizome gallery.

The interesting focus for Second Life now is not how many residents are there but the large variety of inventive things that they may be doing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Chevron supports Global Warming

Some good progress was made this week as Al Gore implored Congress to freeze greenhouse gasses at a Capitol Hill hearing and 65+ institutional investors including CalPERS signed a pact encouraging Congress to enact green legislation. The Ceres pact is a follow-up to the 225+ institutional investor launch of the Carbon Disclosure Project in January, 2007 which centralizes emissions reporting from over 1,000 corporations including General Electric, DuPont and Caterpillar at one website.

On the other hand, not in the press and not getting the message at all is Big Oil company Chevron, boldly asking investors to vote against proposal #5 on its annual proxy to "Adopt Goals and Report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions." Not surprising given the entrenchment (some have been board members since 1982 and 1989) and lack of diversity (one female, added in 2006 and two people of color) on its board.

At least many corporations are taking action and even some Big Oil companies such as BP are part of the Carbon Disclosure Project. It will be nice to finally see some improvement in stock prices from companies like GE after their successful multi-year effort to reduce emissions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Postmodern Physics and Manifold Destiny

At present, humans remain baffled regarding the key aspects of physics that could if understood trigger a step function of manipulability of physical reality. In the Trouble with Physics, Lee Smolin notes a dearth of progress in physics over the last 30 years mainly due to an undiversified groupthink myopic focus on string theory which has yet to show any results or falsifiable constructs.

The physics progress juggernaut has triggered a surprising meta level of questioning including the invariability of the speed of light, quantum mechanics, general and special relativity and what is science. Smolin calls for a Leibnizian interpretation of time/space that is a dynamical network of shifting relationships rather than an assumed fixed background upon which most of physics reasoning has been done to date. If we were not relying on gravity and the speed of light, would it be easier to understand dark matter and dark energy?

We have no idea...

  • Why there are so many elementary particles with different sizes and masses
  • What and how the 96% of the universe that is dark matter and dark energy is and behaves
  • How to describe in words and math where large and small scales intersect like black holes and the big bang
  • How quantum mechanics really works
  • What really happens at very small scales such as the Planck length
Luckily, there are some experiments on the way, most importantly the GLAST NASA satellite due to launch in August 2007 which will probe the Planck scale; also gamma ray projects at the Auger Observatory in Argentina and at other facilities and the building of quantum computers. The big hope of the Large Hadron Collider, the detection of the Higgs boson, would help confirm some long-held theories but probably not shift thinking as much as the Planck scale research could.

What - No Singularity?
Interestingly, some scientists' models including Smolin's are suggesting that time goes backwards from the big bang and in black holes, essentially meaning that there is no Singularity. No Singularity?! Technological Singularity paradigmers might have to rethink their metaphor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Our avatars ourselves

As companies and other organizations take to immersive worlds, it may be that new employees are assigned an avatar and virtual office space along with their security card and computer. Blogging is now part of some job descriptions and soon employees may be encouraged to spend time in-world for both corporate socialization and professional collaboration purposes within and across corporate lines.

There is a lot of energy around synthetic environments including a full track of virtual world programming at this week's SXSW Interactive in Austin TX and at the upcoming Virtual Worlds 2007 conference in NY March 28-29. Second Life is sneaking up on 5m users and a $2m/day economy and There engine Forterra has its hands full with enterprise and government clients for custom enterprise applications as well as government and medical simulation and training exercises. If you are not in-world somewhere for your company, you can work as an extra in someone else's world. Sim exercises are populated by "external role players," a new and expanding job category which simultaneously underlines the marketability and necessity of tech-savviness and another step in the Yochai Benkler shift to an economy of distributed individual participants vs. industrialized entities.

Professional avatars will likely be influenced by corporate guidelines and norms regarding appearance and behavior, analogous to the physical world; at least virtual suits are more comfortable! One result of this could be an even more diffuse exploration of virtual identity as humans have a closet full of avatars for all of their different professional and personal virtual activities. Other new job categories are probably already proliferating: avatar imaging, avatar reputation management and consolidation...

Avatar and other content portability across the different emerging public and private virtual world environments is also a non-trivial matter. IEEE avatar translation protocols and standards as well as intra-world authentication services could help facilitate avatar portability. Poor portability could mean poor rendering which could result in miscommunication, prejudice and other dynamics which can be theoretically avoided with virtual worlds. An avatar discrimination lawsuit re: virtual world employment practices would not really be a hoped for milestone.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Relevancy for digital humans

So much of the structure of current human experience will be irrelevant in an upload world. The ultimate state will be one where identity, nationalism, community, belongingness, property rights, economy and resource requirements all go away. All that will be left is creativity, entertainment, actualization and intelligence's pure focus on problem-solving.

There may be an intermediary phase where digital humans attempt to translate and create a surrogate structure of their former world:

-Property rights no longer pertain to physical objects but control over one's source code and ideas

-Competition for scarce resources becomes over computing resources to run one's digital self rather than over money, foodstuffs and energy

-Competition for status, that great biological human pastime, becomes not material and money-based but idea-based

-Survival means not against the physical conditions of heat, cold, hunger, disease, etc. but rather regarding the backup, storage and access to digital human source files

-Reproduction becomes not about the spreading of genes biologically but about the legality and compute resources required for creating, merging and modifying additional instances

-Politics becomes not about large security-driven nation-states with special interests and contract awards but looser federations concerned with rights, freedoms, preferences and voluntary participations.