Sansar about to launch in open beta

The Sansar website

The VR virtual worlds platform Sansar.

Sansar, the virtual reality worlds platform of Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life) will be in open beta this Spring. Keywords are “social” and “collaborative creation”. The video shows fascinating worlds – Sansar seems to be not one virtual world, but a platform where one can create interconnected worlds (even though there will be a unifying and convertible “Sansar dollar”).

I’m all for interactive social VR and user-generated content, so I totally hope the platform will be a success. I asked for access, but right now it seems the world is only for builders and scripters, so I guess I’ll have to wait some more months.

I guess Linden Lab wants to be sure that the marketplace for virtual goods is well stocked and the “real virtual economy” is functioning before letting in the general public.

Earlier press reports indicated that the economy of Sansar will be different from Second Life: Linden Lab will get its revenues mainly by a “tax” on in-world transactions rather than by taxing “property”.

Interesting to note in the video are the avatar expressions: the face muscles move naturally with the voice, so it’s more sophisticated than “just” good lip syncing (but no face tracking is used).

More details on UploadVR.

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.

Mind-blowing books, interviews about Avatars, Otaku

Professor Henry Jenkins published the second part of his interview with his colleague Beth Coleman about avatars and the x-reality (the thing we live in when we constantly switch back and forth from digital space to what we used to call the ‘real world’). I also read Coleman’s book Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation.

About everything in the interviews and the book is very important to me (also have a look at my Storify of the interview). It’s a deep meditation about the power of co-presence in participatory culture:

Telepresence, or what I am calling copresence (the sense of being present with someone via mediation), is huge for participatory culture. We are moving unerringly toward a more graphic and increasingly real-time mediation. One of the things I underscore in the book is the idea that people in their everyday engagement of networked media create all kinds of innovation and intervention.

Beth Coleman puts all the stuff I care about in a very rich context of the history of gaming, virtuality, but also of cultural studies and philosophy (yes, even the French philosopher Jacques Derrida is mentioned as is the French thinker Jean Baudrillard).

I was just recovering from the book and the tremendous interview when I noticed that Jenkins posted yet another fascinating post, about Otaku culture:

(…) the culture of a technologically literate segment of the population which is characterized by their impassioned engagement, skilled reworking, and intellectual mastery over elements borrowed from many aspects of popular culture, including not only anime and manga, but also games, popular music, digital culture, even history or trains.

William Gibson, the author who coined the word ‘cyberculture’, writes in Distrust That Particular Flavor:

Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the Web. There is something profoundly postnational about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the postmodern world, whether we want to be or not.

Jenkins now reports the publication of Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji, and bringing together works by leading Japanese and western researchers interested in Otaku culture as both a national and transnational phenomenon.

I’ve the impression many people who are knowledgeable in all kinds of web and mobile technologies often are no longer aware of the culture and literature of  ‘cyberspace’ – which is a shame, as I think it’s crucial for creativity to combine technical expertise with in-depth knowledge of the humanities (literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology…) as it relates to the disruptive change toward a networked society. Not just creativity in the sense of inventing yet another location-based social network, but the kind of creativity which gave us the iPhone and the iPad.

Anyway, here is a nice video about Otaku which you can also find on Aca-Fan, Jenkins’ site:

Gorree: ‘avatars are everywhere. Let’s use them even more!’

Avatars are everywhere nowadays. Not only in fully immersive virtual worlds but also on social networks in Flatland such as Twitter, Facebook etc. They come in many forms and one might even say there have been avatars for centuries, like the heads of kings on coins or of presidents and other important people on paper money.
At the MetaMeets conference in Amsterdam I interviewed Tim Gorree, IT Solution Architect at Nokia, about avatars:

Previous posts about MetaMeets:
MetaMeets:”We are at the beginning
MetaMeets Day 2: “Going beyond virtual worlds, machinima, avatars…
“Kitely asks for some help to get virtual worlds on the web