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Virtualization: From Avatar to the Mirrorworlds (Part Two)

Soldier on omni-directional treadmill. Photo provided and approved by ARL HRED

Hihi, Valkyrie Ice here again. In my last article, I discussed how the technology had arrived for making the very basic Audio/Visual immersive VR rig was available. Since then I came across a nifty omnidirectional treadmill, for allowing walking in place... which means that most basic elements are now covered. There are quite a few haptic systems in development, but for the VR revolution to start, sight and sound are two of the biggest hurdles that have now been overcome. And it doesn’t look like I’m the only one to think so. A few recent stories I’ve read give me the impression that both Microsoft and Google are angling to have an edge in the emerging VR market.

Microsoft seems to be making a push towards 360 Avatars to use them in games, both through releasing their own “Game Room” arcade for avatars and through releasing a set of design rules for use of Avatars in 3rd party games. The gist of it is: “Do nothing to break the Avatar/Player surrogate bond.” Added to their ever expanding list of customizations in clothing, pets, and body forms, it speaks heavily of their thoughts for the future of an avatar centered web. Perhaps the next version of Windows will be WinAV.

Google seems firmly set to make sure the mobile web gets built by any means necessary. Between their forays into mobile advertising, mobile webtops, mobile smartphones, and the mobile OSes of Chrome and Android, it would seem Google has its eyes firmly on a future in which the web is available to everyone everywhere, and where your mobile device is your all in one game/communications/web device. But there is another thing that leads me to suspect Google plans to be a leader into the world of VR that I’ll go into later. Then there’s this little item I just read here. Also, corporations are already experimenting with VR worlds for training and some conferencing, and it seems likely that as Avatars become more common, and virtual employees more frequent, the need for highly realistic virtual clones will become a factor pushing for universal, highly customizable, personal avatars.

Xbox Game Room. Photo: what? So we’ll make custom versions of ourselves to use online, what’s the big deal? By itself, nothing. It would just be more internet weirdness. It’s only when you start looking at a bigger picture that you begin to really see exactly what VR will mean.

In my last article, I talked about how videophones would likely only become common when combination with Avatars. I hope you didn’t just think of landlines when you read it. Because once video glasses become common in the home, they are going to be attached to smartphones. It’s inevitable. And it’s that combination with smartphones that makes VR a technology to change the world. Because it’s mobile. You’re going to have VR available everywhere.

But universal VR by itself is only one single part of a larger puzzle. Augmented reality, mirrorworlds and lifeblogging are the other four parts that make it a monster.

So imagine — if you will — a set of glasses attached to a smartphone circa 2015-2020. Transparent wraparound OLED displays, with CCD cameras mounted strategically, and a Natal-style lidar capable of motion tracking the world around you, tied into a network of smartphones and public surveillance cameras that more or less enables your phone to accurately place where your body is to within millimeters of precision. No matter where you are, your surroundings and your body are mapped into a virtual mirrorworld that exactly duplicates the real world you are in, but which allows you to interact with the virtual world, the real world, and the mirrorworld all at the same time.

You would look at the world through these lenses, but it might not be a world you would recognize today. Because in that world, you may not see exactly the same thing you would see without the lenses. That checkout girl at the grocery store might be a nightelf. The person you pass on the street might be an alien, a game character, or a Hollywood icon.

You might see a totally mapped mirror world, one in which Virtual, Real, and Augmented are all mixed to makes such a world possible. And smartphones and VR will make this possible. We don’t need robots to make Surrogates a reality. Indeed, the limits of robots don’t apply to VR, which makes it even easier for people to customize — and indentify with– their avatars. And just like the examples above, a lot of people might just stop appearing as anything but their Avatars, as in Surrogates. So it might not just be the net that’s filled with aliens and anime cat girls. Our entire world might look like this coke commercial.

NAVTEQ Lidar Scans. Photo: gizmodo.comGoogle is already well on it’s way to creating that world with Google Earth and Street View. Navteq is now planning to map the world in 3d with lasers and there’s even research underway to use existing surveillance cams to enable such augmented reality abilities as seeing through walls. With other Google software being used to create 3d models of buildings such as Sketchup and Building Maker, the public is already collaborating in the construction of the mirror world. Other approaches — such as using thousands of photos from the internet to create 3d models of entire cities — are also underway.

The mirrorworld is in the making, and right now, Google Earth appears to be the center of it. With Google’s push into mobile web technology, it seems almost assured that — as smartphones begin interacting with the mirrorworld and augmented reality lenses get added to them — Google’s mirrorworld and AR, as well as VR are all going to collide… and create a digital wonderland. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s probably going to happen far quicker than you might expect. And that is going to lead to some rather revolutionary changes in our world. It’s not just that we may end up with a world that has some resemblance to a sci-fi convention overlaid onto a mundane reality, a world where Avatars walk down the street and we can meet up with our buddies at the giant pin sticking out of the bar. It’s not even that we could play the same avatar in real life, or in any virtual game. It’s not even that this mix will enable us to do all kinds of wild and wacky wonders like teleport from one city to another virtually. The real head banger is what all this virtuality is going to inspire. You see, humanity is not a species known just for having a vivid imagination. It’s known for making that imagination real. Just like we demanded Star Trek Communicators and got cellphones, once we get our perfect avatar bodies and get to play with them in the streets, go shopping with them, and hang out in bars with them, we’re going to want them in real life.

And that’s the biggest game changer. We’re not a species that is happy with just the seeming of a thing. Once it’s in our face, we’re going to have to make it a reality. We’re going to want those pointed ears, and angel wings. We’re going to demand our neko-mimi and anime eyes. And we’ll push research that will make it happen, because we will have created a demand so massive that no profit-minded business will be able to ignore it. VR will open the door through which Biotech, Nanotech, and Robotics will emerge, and drag them kicking and screaming into reality.


  1. Do you have a more specific estimate? “We” is pretty vague. How far do you think “we” will take it?

  2. Thats primarily going to be discussed in part three, but in brief, “We” is defined as the human race.

    How far we take it will be something defined both by cultural mores and personal choice. I imagine that various countries will embrace certain advances more than others. For example, here in America, we’re likely to embrace body perfection, an idealization of physical form ala hollywood, to a greater degree than we would, say, furries, goths, demons, anime, game characters, etc, whereas Japan may embrace more anime and samurai themes. Each country is going to explore their own options, and each person will as well. Our history has been shaped by a hundred thousand stories and I expect every single one will be explored.

    But VR offer’s more than just such things as body choice. it is a testbed for most of the rest of the technologies Kurzweil emphasizes. Body choice of course comes under both Genetics and Nanotech. The ability to create virtual objects could come under both nanotech (ease of creation) and Robotics (items programmed to do specific tasks). Automated sales bots for virtual shops already exist in SL. VR would allow the creation of AGI agents running virtual bodies prior to the existence of robotic ones of sufficient complexity.

    but as I said, I will discuss this more fully in Part Three.

  3. I agree that this is coming, and that portable AR is going to become the status quo, the way the personal computer and then the Internet did. I think it is insanely exciting. I am interested in it mainly for the gaming possibilities. And yes, people curious about how this new world will behave, or how people will behave in it, should take a look at Second Life.

    … I cringe to think what the greifers will do to us in the mirrorworld, but, worst case scenario, we can just take off our glasses and look at the real world for while.

  4. Hi val I like your posts, and agree with allmost all of your points, as people will explore many deviations when in entertainment VR environments ( where is my tribble avatar :) . And yes google seems to be leading a few fields right now, 1 being google earth app. which is a variant of augmented reality and could even be plugged into some game engines for a VR world. As is I was looking to hook part of it into a game for mapping of VR earth environments, and a neat augmentation to the game. The way I see things going to, is a toolset for users to create avatars and home VR plots ( updated version of home page like, or a virtual home ), where people will be able to create starter surroundings that plug into games and social networks and such. People don’t just want a avatar but personal spaces in VR environments too, just look at the MMO’s and you see the infancy of that there. Also hopefully soon we will see OS’s see the implementations of rudimentary A.I. that customize themselves to each person and first try to help in low level ways, then help us with more important stuff like mental or physical disabilities and such. We need more people used to A.I. and tinkering with the deviations of such systems. I also agree that it will drag industries down paths faster than they might want at first, till they see the money and progress. Some of the generational seeding has taken root and spread more seeds for the future. I love seeing how some of the futurist get things right and how some is missed the perceived marks. I look forward to your next article. just 2 for the kettle

  5. and to update:

    Last week, in the early hours of the morning, a crew methodically swept over New York City in a laser-equipped Shrike Commander aircraft. They were busy creating the most accurate, detailed 3D map of the city to date.

    The plane scanned the city—its buildings and streets, parks and early-morning pedestrians—with Lidar technology (presumably no traffic tickets were written.) The map, which will cost the city some $450,000 to make, will be used to pinpoint areas prone to flooding and to determine if the city’s rooftops are suitable for the installation of solar panels.

    The New York Times mentions that city officials are considering it a 21st Century upgrade of The Panorama, the massive architectural model of the city that Robert Moses created in 1964.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Think about that. New York City, now available in Virtual Space. Sure, it’s just the outsides but imagine how it will progress. Throw in the Architectural blueprints to each building and viola, you have a virtual interior as well.

    Now imagine a game like Fallen Earth, which uses actual topographical data for it’s post apocalyptic world, using the accurate virtual model of New York as a game setting.

    It’s not going to be long…

  6. Loving these articles! Totally blown away by the progress that is being made.

    One point I’d like to make though is about the last bit. Will people really start pushing for RealLife to match VR? They may do a little, but I think that VR will be so much better than RL, with so much more functionality (especially with AR) so people will probably stop caring about real life, making this unnecessary.

    You’re right that it will make people push for better stuff in reality, but I think these will be concepts, such as abilities, rather than physical attributes, given that most people will be seeing the world through their VR goggles anyway.

    Looking forward to article 3!

  7. Yes, I do think it will drive IRL towards having those same abilities. In the four years I have spent in SL I have discussed this repeatedly, and the one common phrase I hear over and over is “God I wish I could do this in real life!”

    The VR that we will be getting in the near future is not the full immersion VR of the Matrix, but the Audio/Visual immersion of “good enough VR”. We might get some haptic systems, but full sensorium VR will remain elusive for some time. However, even with full Matrix level VR, it seems unlikely that we will have a significant portion of the total population content to simply stay comatose in a box for their entire existence. Those who endorse the idea have been few in number compared to the majority.

    To give you the gist of the arguments I’ve heard over the years against “brain in a box” I’ll refer you to a line in Star Trek: Generations. When Kirk jumps over a big ditch on his horse, and tells picard, “That always scared me, but it didn’t just then, because I know its not real.”

    There will certainly be those who will lose themselves for years or decades in VR worlds, but I think that, “It’s not real” will drive the majority to exist in the fringe zone between virtual and real, with the real world growing ever more like VR through technological innovation. We’re going to want to explore “reality” ever more throughly to make ever more “real” VR worlds.

    Even if we do reach a stage where we can all exist in a computer without the need for a physical body, that computer will need the ability to interact with the real world in many ways, simply to ensure it’s own repair, and to ensure the continued existence of the intelligences within it.

    So to simplify, without full sensorium VR we will push research towards making VR a “reality” through such technologies as human enhancement, body reshaping, and other innovations. Once full sensorium VR is possible, some percentage of the human race may opt for full time VR immersion, but I believe based on current data that they will be much fewer than those who will opt to remain in RL while seeking to give RL all the “options” of VR. This is primarily due to the historical evidence that humans rapidly become dissatisfied with lack of challenge, and even artificially creating challenge in a VR world might not be sufficient for those who know that it’s “not real”

    *giggle* you might even sum it up with a quote from Death in “Hogfather” “In a universe of wonders, humans somehow have managed to invent boredom.”

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