On Wednesday April 9th, the 2014 Virtual Worlds Best practices in Education conference opened with a keynote address by Philip Rosedale. In it, he covers a lot of the ground he laid-out at the SVVR meet-up at the end of March (which I’ve covered here) in terms of communications in virtual worlds, although things were at times couched in more general terms than being specifically framed by demonstrations of some of High Fidelity has been doing.
The following is the official video of the presentation, recorded by Mal Burns on behalf of VWBPE. Timestamps within the notes indicate the points at which Philip’s exactly comments can be heard.
After a brief introduction by Kevin Phelan (Phelan Corrimal in SL), Philip provides a short overview of Rosedale’s own attraction to virtual worlds – born out of a desire to “building crazy things” which extended into imagining what it would be like to build a virtual world able to mimic the richness of the real world. In this, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is mentioned, as is Second Life’s role as a pioneer and validation of what might be achieved if the right tools were in place that would enable a billion, rather than a million, people engage in virtual world spaces.
[12:30] He particularly sees the mouse and the keyboard as major barriers to entry, as they require complex manipulation (keystrokes and mouse movements) to achieve avatar movement, while limiting communications by disallowing facial expressions and / or natural gestures. In this he points to emerging hardware such as the Razer Hydra, Sixense Stem and 3D cameras as overcoming these limitations and opening the floodgates to virtual world adoption.
[23:55] Latency is also raised as a bugaboo issue as well. While I agree that reducing the level of latency is good for communications, I’m not convinced by all of the arguments put forward (for example, I doubt most people using a mobile ‘phone are even aware of the 500 millisecond delay, much less finding it a reason to loathe using their cellphone), which is not to say I think that latency isn’t an issue worthy of being addressed as far as might be possible.
[31:50] Identity disclosure, and our right to determine what is disclosed of our identity and how is very much a fundamental part of trusted use of any system, and as such, is key to the future of virtual worlds. This is something he has spoken about at SVVR and has blogged on the subject as well, indicating that the level of trust sought and identity given should, as with real life, be more fluid, depending upon what we’re doing and where we’re going. This spills over into areas of commerce and into the idea of having the freedom to move around between the kind of multiple worlds the metaverse is envisaged as being, and doing so with confidence and trust in the different environments and having control over what we are willing to reveal to those environments, rather than having them determine what they should take.
[35:07] For Virtual worlds to really grow, he believes they need to be more like the Internet, with people running their own servers and links between them operating much like the Web does today, allowing for complete continuous interconnectedness between servers and worlds, built upon open-source software (again: trust), and which can be properly scaled – such as through High Fidelity’s examination of distributed computing (again, as I point-out in covering the SVVR talk – think SETI@home).
The presentation is interesting, and couched in general terms rather than being specific to High Fidelity – which is not inappropriate for the venue. Little of it comes over as hype or a sales pitch. I found the comments on identity, together with the statements made at SVVR and in the High Fidelity blog post, to be very much on-message and highly relevant. The distributed computing approach is an interesting idea as well, and possibly one with a lot of potential if the right value proposition is offered to people – such as rewarding them with crypto-currency credits they can spend on goods and services (or even cash-out over time?).
Where I do perhaps have an issue with things is in the view that the only barrier to the mass adoption of VWs is primarily that of technology. The latter can certainly enhance our experiences once we’re in a virtual world, no doubt about that. There is also no denying that with something like SL, more needs to be done to reduce that initial learning curve for someone entering the environment.
However, like it or not, springboarding VWs into mainstream adoption isn’t purely a technical issue, there is a social element as well. There needs to be compelling reasons to encourage people to turn to VWs instead of other possible options. Facial recognition software and motion controllers may well be wonderful for translating your expressions and gestures to an avatar when communicating with someone on the other side of the world, but frankly, so is a webcam and monitor screen. As such, for many, the technology will not be the value proposition that will encourage them to be more involved in VWs. There needs to be something more.
The need for a real value proposition is perhaps most clearly exemplified by Pamela in the 8th segment of The Drax Files Radio Hour. She dismisses any involvement in a virtual world because she sees no advantage in it compared to what she can do now. hers is unlikely to be a minority attitude.
That Philip Rosedale dismisses this social element so readily in the Q&A session isn’t entirely surprising – he is a technologist, after all – but given his experience in the field, it is disappointing. Technology can and will make immersive VW environments a lot easier to use, for sure. But I suspect the company or group that really cracks the nut of presenting VWs in terms of compelling, mainstream activities people believe should see as a daily part of their lives is actually going to be more responsible for unlocking the door to mass adoption than the company or group that provides a technologically superior means of accessing a VW.