Inventing the Future

Because You Can

Ever since Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, the distinguishing characteristic of science fiction (as opposed to fantasy and other literature) has been the postulation that beings can change the circumstances of the world in which they live. We can alter the human condition, for better or worse. An idea of the last few decades has been that we can create an alternative reality for ourselves that is better than the one we inhabit in the flesh. For example, the movie “Avatar” has the characters access an improved natural world through a virtualized experience.

This terrific short blog applies this idea wonderfully to learning and collaboration. “The real power of a virtual immersive environment is the ability to transport the learner or collaborators into an environment that is ideally suited for the learning or collaborating that needs to take place and this usually requires an altering of the spaces.”

In principle, we can abstractly virtualize such an experience with 2D photographs, or even 1D text, but that doesn’t tend to cross the threshold of immersion that is necessary for deep learning and deep collaboration. As this commenter on the above puts it, “In most 2-D meeting tools, the data is the center of focus, not the human. Think about a Web meeting. The leader is simply showing participants slides. But the participants are not interacting with the information, nor one another.” Simply reading about nature or viewing it from a helicopter was not enough for the characters in Avatar, they had to “be” there and interact with it.

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Inventing the Future

3D vs 2D for Legacy Applications

When Alan Kay’s team at Xerox created the overlapping window user interface, they were working for a document company. Everything was organized around documents mimicking paper, sitting in folders except when being operated on by one application or another.

We don’t need the paper metaphor anymore, but we sure have a lot of 2D paper-oriented legacy stuff laying around. While 3D is pretty clearly winning for new applications in which people work together(*), it hasn’t yet demonstrated something so much better with which to replace all the existing 2D docs and their applications.

The state of user-interface design has provided two ways to deal with this: virtual computer displays embedded into the 3D world, and floating 2D windows. Both are pretty good and have their place.

Intensive Care Unit
One avatar is operating an in-world bio-signs display, which is also being shown in the lower left as a 2D panel floating over the view of the virtual room. The text chat is a 2D floating panel in the upper left, while the procedure timer and other applications are in-world.


(*)Without people, there is no realtime collaboration. 2D includes people only as second class abstractions rather than reifing them as first class objects in the communications model. For teaching, training, and working meetings (as opposed to mostly unidirectional sales presentation meeting and lectures), 3D has emerged as the most natural way to show individual presence, and the simplest way to provide enough immersion to give a sense of shared presence.

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Inventing the Future

Five for Talking

Travel for meetings is so last year. This management article in silicon.com describes five alternatives technologies to meetings: instant messaging, virtual worlds, telepresence, Wikis, and social networking. But do these really have to be separate? Let’s take a look at what each of these offers, and what it means for 3D virtual worlds to incorporate the other alternative meeting technologies.

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Inventing the Future

If 100 people watch a PowerPoint together on the Internet, is it still boring?

My last post referenced a movie of a “talk show” in Second Life, prompting John to ask about the relationship of avatar richness to the experience. I think there’s a simple trick that’s worth making explicit.

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