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Jamais Cascio -- Singularity Summit Talk: Openness and the Metaverse Singularity

The following are excerpts from a presentation delivered by Jamais Cascio about the Metaverse Roadmap Overview, presented at the Singularity Summit 2007.

Earlier this year, I co-authored a document that I know some of you in the audience have seen: the Metaverse Roadmap Overview. In this work, along with my colleagues John Smart and Jerry Paffendorf, I sketch out four scenarios of how a combination of forces driving the development of immersive, richly connected information technologies may play out over the next decade. But what has struck me more recently about the Roadmap scenarios is that the four worlds could also represent four pathways to a Singularity. Not just in terms of the technologies, but -- more importantly -- in terms of the social and cultural choices we make while building those technologies.

To construct our scenario set we selected two themes likely to shape the ways in which the Metaverse unfolds: the spectrum of technologies and applications ranging from augmentation tools that add new capabilities to simulation systems that model new worlds; and the spectrum ranging from intimate technologies, those that focus on identity and the individual, to external technologies, those that provide information about and control over the world around you. These two spectra collide and contrast to produce four scenarios.

The first, Virtual Worlds, emerges from the combination of Simulation and Intimate technologies. These are immersive representations of an environment, one where the user has a presence within that reality, typically as an avatar of some sort. Today, this means World of Warcraft, Second Life, Sony Home and the like.

Over the course of the Virtual Worlds scenario, we'd see the continued growth and increased sophistication of immersive networked environments, allowing more and more people to spend substantial amounts of time engaged in meaningful ways online. The ultimate manifestation of this scenario would be a world in which the vast majority of people spend essentially all of their work and play time in virtual settings, whether because the digital worlds are supremely compelling and seductive, or because the real world has suffered widespread environmental and economic collapse.

The next scenario, Mirror Worlds, comes from the intersection of Simulation and Externally-focused technologies. These are information-enhanced virtual models or “reflections” of the physical world, usually embracing maps and geo-locative sensors. Google Earth is probably the canonical present-day version of an early Mirror World.

Thirdly, Augmented Reality looks at the collision of Augmentation and External technologies. Such tools would enhance the external physical world for the individual, through the use of location-aware systems and interfaces that process and layer networked information on top of our everyday perceptions.

Augmented Reality makes use of the same kinds of distributed information and sensory systems as Mirror Worlds, but does so in a much more granular, personal way. The AR world is much more interested in depth than in flows: the history of a given product on a store shelf; the name of the person waving at you down the street (along with her social network connections and reputation score); the comments and recommendations left by friends at a particular coffee shop, or bar, or bookstore. This world is almost vibrating with information, and is likely to spawn as many efforts to produce viable filtering tools as there are projects to assign and recognize new data sources.

Lastly, we have Lifelogging, which brings together Augmentation and Intimate technologies. Here, the systems record and report the states and life histories of objects and users, enhancing observation, recall, and communication. I've sometimes talked about one version of this as the "participatory panopticon."

Here, the observation tools of an Augmented Reality world get turned inward, serving as an adjunct memory. Lifelogging systems are less apt to be attuned to the digital comments left at a bar than to the spoken words of the person at the table next to you. These tools would be used to capture both the practical and the ephemeral, like where you left your car in the lot and what it was that made your spouse laugh so much. Such systems have obvious political implications, such as catching a candidate's gaffe or a bureaucrat's corruption. But they also have significant personal implications: what does the world look like when we know that everything we say or do is likely to be recorded?

The metaverse roadmap offers a glimpse of what the next decade might hold, but does so recognizing that the futures it describes are not end-points, but transitions. The choices we make today about commonplace tools and everyday technologies will shape what's possible, and what's imaginable, with the generations of technologies to come. If the singularity is in fact near, the fundamental tools of information, collaboration and access will be our best hope for making it happen in a way that spreads its benefits and minimizes its dangers -- in short, making it happen in a way that lets us be good ancestors.

If we're willing to try, we can create a future, a singularity, that's wise, democratic and sustainable -- a future that's open. Open as in transparent. Open as in participatory. Open as in available to all. Open as in filled with an abundance of options.

The shape of tomorrow remains in our grasp, and will be determined by the choices we make today. Choose wisely.

4 comments:

At September 11, 2007 at 1:06 PM Bert Chadick said...

Singularity exists within an event horizon, but things falling toward the event horizon never get there because as they approach c time stops (from our relative position). This reminds me of Microvision because the closer we get the longer it takes to get there.

 
At September 11, 2007 at 1:50 PM Anonymous said...

haha, it only FEELS longer...

Frank

 
At September 11, 2007 at 3:43 PM Anonymous said...

Get where? To the same old stuff?

 
At September 11, 2007 at 4:17 PM Len said...

"Get where? To the same old stuff?"



Do I detect sarcasm? This reminds me of taking my kids on vacation when they were five years old and I had to listen to, "ARE WE THERE YET"?

 

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