The Singularity was in Budapest, Hungary

I attended the Singularity University Summit in Budapest, Hungary. It was like two days of total immersion in discussions about the concept of exponential growth, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, bio-hacking, medical breakthroughs and organisational change. I tried to bring some elements together in a wiki mindmap, people have added links and stuff:

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

I also talked to CEO Rob Nail of the Singularity University:

How to replicate online the hands on experience of the SU and the intense social experience? Well, maybe by using a virtual environment? It seems the SU is exploring that possibility, but it’s too soon to tell. Which reminds me that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, is one of those who inspires the SU people (just to be clear: he was not at the Summit). He’s working on a high fidelity virtual world, in which avatars would reflect the expressions of their real life typists:

Wouldn’t it be nice to replicate the Singularity University campus experience in a high fidelity virtual environment? It would be a welcome variation on Massive Open Online Course environments of Coursera, Udacity or edX…

More videos and links can be found in my coverage for my newspaper De Tijd (in Dutch).

When people make rather than just buy goods

I went to the Lift innovation conference in Geneva, Switzerland, last week – and I’ll reflect on my experiences in the next few days.

Here is a short interview I did with co-founder Massimo Banzi of Arduino, the open source hardware and software technology project:

Here is his full presentation:

As I’m fascinated by the Maker movement, I also interviewed Caroline Drucker, country manager for Germany at Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods:

And the full presentation:

Massimo announced a European-wide Maker Faire in Rome, October 3 to 6, 2013. I will go there.

A virtual worlds community going beyond virtual worlds?

Fleep Tuque, a major virtual worlds community expert, said on her Google+ page that AvaCon, the organizers of the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) plans to include the open-source version of Second Life, OpenSim, and other platforms, in the upcoming gatherings (which will get another name). On the AvaCon website it seems they’re looking for volunteers.

In a famous blogpost Tuque previously explained that people who care about the future of the Metaverse need to move beyond Second Life. There was no edition 2012 of the SLCC as there was disagreement between Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and AvaCon.

All of which is very interesting as the community conventions were highly creative gatherings, with keynotes from visionaries such as Philip Rosedale and Ray Kurzweil. Most of all, these conventions inspired people who are actually building new layers on top of our reality and who are part of a digital culture avant-garde.

This is how AvaCon defines its mission:

Our mission is to promote the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

But what is the Metaverse exactly? This is what Wikipedia says:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

So we talk here about the sum of all virtual worlds but also about augmented reality and even ‘the internet’, which seems to be quite a broad definition. Maybe that’s normal as the mobile revolution, ubiquitous computing, the internet of things are integrating ‘the internet’ with the ‘physical space’.

I do hope AvaCon will embrace this broad definition. (Some) people in virtual worlds not only want to export their creations into other virtual places, they also want to turn bits into atoms through 3D-printing (read about Second Life artisan Maxi Gossamer in the New World Notes).

It also makes sense to go beyond virtual worlds (which does not mean abandoning them) as we know them and not just beyond Second Life. In essence these virtual worlds create the illusion of 3D on a flat screen. But what about this? Thesis Prize Winner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design 2011 Greg Tran:

Greg believes that ”People assume we have digital 3D already but this is a fallacy. When you rotate your model on ascreen or watch a Pixar animation is actually just a digital 2d REPRESENTATION of material 3d.What people are calling 3DTV and 3D movies are just a form of shallow depth or Bas Relief, not true digital 3D. The critical/operative imperative of the digital 3D is that there is a subject moving through space. The digital 3D is in its beginning stages, but will evolve in a similar way to the digital 2D. The digital 2D began as a specialized, singular medium which was largely used for documentation purposes, but has evolved towards personalization, interactivity, fluency and distribution.”

Or what about telepresence through iPads mounted on light structures? Or about avatars combined with robotics?

One of the lessons of the latest MetaMeets conference was that it’s very worthwhile to gather people who are interested in augmented reality, mobile applications, Kinect and Kinect-style sensors, and virtual worlds (plural). I hope AvaCon will succeed in doing this on an even bigger scale and that they will embed their virtual worlds focus into a larger vision.

Read also: The Metaverse is Dead (and the discussion following the post).

Hat tip to Daniel Voyager for posting about Fleep Tuque on Google+ (did I mention I’m kind of addicted to Google+?)

Become super-human or have a super-avatar, but can you afford it?

The US National Intelligence Council offers strategic analysis for the American intelligence community. This week they published the Global Trends 2030 report (pdf). They developed various scenarios, taking into account the emergence of a world where not one or two states dominate the world, but various states and non-state entities (a multipolar world). We risk scarcities of water, food and energy. The report also takes into consideration disruptive technological change such as robotics and 3D printing. There are some fascinating ideas about the augmented human – people who become super humans using prostheses, drugs and implants – possibly creating new dimensions of inequality and social tensions.

The report does not suggest one single scenario, but depicts four possible worlds – and the final outcome may very well be some combination of those worlds:
- Stalled engines: in the most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase. the Us draws inward and globalization stalls.
- Fusion: in the most plausible best-case outcome, China and the Us collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global cooperation.
- Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle: inequalities explode as some countries become big winners and others fail. inequalities within countries increase social tensions. Without completely disengaging, the Us is no longer the “global policeman.”
- Non-state world: driven by new technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.

Even though the report does not study the very long term, there is this interesting passage about avatars:

As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought. Neuro-pharmaceuticals will allow people to maintain concentration for longer periods of time or enhance their learning abilities. Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.

Some social and ethical considerations:

Owing to the high cost of human augmentation, it probably will be available in 15-20 years only to those who are able to pay for it. Such a situation
may lead to a two-tiered society of an enhanced and non-enhanced persons and may require regulation. In addition, the technology must be sufficiently
robust to prevent hacking and interference of human augmentation. Advances in synergistic and enabling technologies are necessary for improved practicality of human augmentation technologies. For example, improvements in battery life will dramatically improve the practicality of exoskeleton use. Progress in understanding human memory and brain functions will be critical to future brain-machine interfaces, while advances in flexible biocompatible electronics will enable better integration with the recipient of augmentations and recreate or enhance sensory experiences. Moral and ethical challenges to human augmentation are inevitable.

Read also: the official blog about the report.

Virtual communities on Google+

Getting tons of invites for communities on Google Plus. A limited selection: communities for Digital Culture (look for Ted Newcomb to get an invite), Second Life (288 members already), Second Life Arts (135 members), Opensim Virtual (‘First there was Second Life, then there was Freedom), MetaMeets (3D internet conference), Augmented Reality, 3D printing (1,307 members), Ingress (the Google alternate reality game) (7,193 members) and other Ingress-communities (for the resistance, the enlightened, for various countries…).

Google+ also offers a selection of interesting communities and of course allows you to search for specific interests: fond out more at Google+ communities.

There are discussions about whether the discussion threads should be indexed, tagged (of should we use hashtages), privacy, big corporates, but I definitely have the impression it increases the activity on Google+ and makes it far more valuable.

Changing the world while exiting the trough of disillusionment

I’m recovering from the second MetaMeets day, but here comes my report about the second part of this two-day conference in the beautiful ‘s Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands).

This day was hands-on: we had a workshop during which we learned to use sculptris to make a model, meshlab to clean it up, and then have it 3dprinted at fablab. My own creation was less than stellar (I even had no computer mouse so my equipment was to blame of course, not me!) but anyway, it was great fun. Chris Kautz facilitated the workshop, he has a great website packed with tutorials and resources: On YouTube he has a series as crocodileEddie.

Much of the conference was about escaping from the virtual or digital world into the real world via augmented reality or 3D-printing, but we also discussed how to get the physical into the virtual, using Microsoft’s motion sensing input device Kinect.

The chair organizer of MetaMeets Jolanda Mastenbroek was thrilled to try out the Kinect – by slowly moving her body, she brought avatars in Second Life to life – they were moving in sync with her movements in the physical world. This could also work for the open source-version of Second Life, OpenSim.

For the techies, please consult this page about Kinect and Second Life. It’s an ongoing project, but imagine the possibilities for machinima, gaming and inevitably adult entertainment (always an indication whether or not a technology will succeed).

In my presentation I asked for business models. Can people earn a living in this sector of virtual worlds, augmented reality and mixed realities? Someone who combines with great success his physical artwork with virtual stuff is the French artist Patrick Moya. We watched this video about his work:

A very different style is this beautiful impression of the Second Life art installations by Artistide Despres, filmed and edited by Marx Catteneo (aka Marc Cuppens)
handheld machinima 2012:

Cuppens also showed this video about The Cube Project LEA 2012 Second Life.

The Cube Project August 2012, “Over 25 virtual artists have joined the ranks of The Cube Project, curated by Bryn Oh, to create a 20-sim exhibit in just 5 days. What’s the theme? Artists can only use two distinct virtual objects: a black cube, and a white cube.”

Bryn Oh: “We are turning away for a moment from the wonderful range of mesh or photoshopping beautiful textures to work instead on simple minimal compositions in black and white, over 20 regions. The overall idea is to create a massive harmonious environment rather than follow the standard exhibition practice of each artist having a clearly defined separate space to exhibit.”

The Cube Project is a collaborative artwork consisting of virtual artists Bryn Oh, Cajska Carlsson, Charlotte Bartlett, Dancoyote Antonelli, Giovanna Cerise, Haveit Neox, Kicca Igaly, L1Aura Loire, London Junkers, Maya Paris, Misprint Thursday, Nessuno Myoo, Oberon Onmura, PatriciaAnne Daviau, Pol Jarvinen, Rag Randt, Rowan Derryth, Sea Mizin, Secret Rage, Solkide Auer, Remington Aries, Solo Mornington, Tony Resident, Werner Kurosawa and Xineohp Guisse.

A video impression by Marx Catteneo – handheld machinima august 2012
Music by the Artist: Logical Confusion Track: Darklight Album: Logical 3
Downloaded from

Virtual worlds are not dead, they just smell funny, Flufee said at the opening of the conference (see previous post). It’s a quote from Frank Zappa who said Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny. The same applies for virtual worlds. They are somewhere on the agonizing slow exit of the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner cycle of hype, but they allow us to change the real world as we put layers of digital information on the physical reality. They also allow us to change the real world as they enable artists to create new art.

Read also the first part of the MetaMeets report. I also updated my wiki mindmap about this conference.

‘Virtual worlds are not dead, they only smell funny’

Allow Flufee McFluff to introduce this post about the first day of the MetaMeets conference:

You can find the mindmap on which my own presentation (slideshow) was based in the previous post. I update the mindmap in function of what I learn during this two day-conference.
Some highlights of the conference:

The artist Sander Veenhof showed us the beauty and the subversive power of augmented reality. For instance by organizing an exhibition at the MoMa without any official approval:

Veenhof often uses Layar, which is a mobile browser for augmented reality. However, these days Layar seems to focus more on activating print media with interactive experiences – which may be more interesting business-wise, but seems less revolutionary. So it’s not surprising Veenhof these days is rather fond of junaio, which boasts being ‘the most advances augmented reality browser.’

- CJ Davies and John McCaffery presented the Project Open Virtual Worlds at the University of St Andrews. CJ is currently developing a modified Second Life viewer for a tablet computer that allows avatar movement & camera control to reflect the tablet’s real world position & orientation using a combination of accelerometer, magnetometer & GPS data. I think it’s pretty exciting to combine avatars and real world in this way.

- Talking about combining the virtual and ‘the real’, Bart Veldhuizen talked about which is specialized in 3D-printing in various materials – so not only plastics but also metal, nylon or silver. Shapeways boasts a community of about 150,000 members. So would it be interesting for those community members to collaborate in 3D environments? That’s not self-evident as the ideal designs for 3D-printing often diverge from what is ideal in a virtual world such as Second Life. Also, the community members may also be competitors and not so keen on collaborating. There is discussion about all this, as other designers often do want to collaborate and work in ‘virtual guilds’ and virtual worlds could be interesting places for discussions, brainstorming and early prototyping.

- So, to refer to Flufee, are virtual worlds dead, now that the talk is so much about 3D-printing and augmented reality? In the discussions about virtual worlds Maria Korolov (Hypergrid Business) gave expert advice about OpenSim, which seems a good solution for education, especially for younger kids. This was also demonstrated by Nick Zwart, an award-winning pioneer in the educational use of virtual worlds (language education) who uses OpenSim.

A social network for things | Beyond The Beyond

“Thingiverse is also introducing a new “Follow” button that will connect you to the things, digital designs, designers, users, tags, categories: all the stuff you care about most. By following a Thing, you’ll get a notification when someone comments on it, makes a copy of it, or remixes it. Some new digital designs inspire a whole family of new Things, and the Follow button helps you keep track of those.  ”

As Bruce Sterling says, it’s almost a social network of things. Now just imagine to have this affordance in augmented reality – you just point your smartphone, tablet or google glass to a thing, you activate some app and you get all this information. Also in the press release, the guys from Thingiverse explain how users have been tagging their uploads with useful descriptors – and so now you can follow tags or categories to get updates in a dashboard. We’re talking here about the annotation of our physical reality, bookmarking no longer just the digital world of websites but of the objects which surround us. 
via Diigo