Some people have asked for some more elaboration on where, in my view, the fields of 3D worlds, Virtual Globes, and Social Networking are heading. I’ll share a few off the cuff thoughts. It’s not like I’ve ever thought about this much.
What I think Google and not enough other companies understand is that the question is not, "what can we do to make a product and make money?" but more simply "what do people need?" Google talks about this endlessly, knowing (I presume) that if you can answer that question, the money may follow. I wouldn’t even ask what people want, because focus groups and the like can only answer multiple choice questions. The set of possible answers must already be known.
So what do people need? Let’s focus on information delivery and making use of the world’s collected knowledge (otherwise known as contextual decision making). And let’s not constrain ourselves to the current players at first. Let’s jump ahead to some yet-to-be-imagined company in Web 3.0, or "Web 3D" as it may be called.
Let’s call the company, "Hippo, Inc." and we’ll call their development offices the "Hippocampus." Their mascot is the horse, naturally, internet of the ancient world. Or so as not to confuse the kids, we can stick with the river horse, aka the friendly neighborhood hippopotamus (also, if global warming is really bad, we’ll need the swimmers). Either one will do.
What do they make in the Hippocampus? They make memories, of course, and a bit of spatial cognition too. Their device, the Hippodome is capable of recording your living stream of memories, to the extent you wish, extracting the relevant knowledge and raw information. It can return those memories to you, independent of your natural mental abilities and in new associative patterns. But the real power comes in when you factor in everyone else’s memories too. They’re all in the system, mixing together, like glue (sorry, horse). Suddenly, the world comes alive with information, stories, details about every place, every person, every thing we come into contact with.
You meet a person on the street. You know them instantly, as if you’ve always known them. You go to a new city and you already know your way. You want to make a political point about the war in Fakestan and its entire history is there for you, already in your mind. Congratulations, you’re an augmented human, independent in individual free will (to whatever extent it naturally exists), but connected in memory and awareness of the world.
Now, it’s not the Metaverse. It’s not virtual, though it is often spatial. It’s something real, something I’d rather call RealityPrime–the real world, plus-plus.
And it has the potential to change the real world far beyond what the Internet has done. In fact, I could speculate that if Fakestan had Hippodomes too, the ethnic tensions a few spice barons exploited to start the conflict might somehow melt away in a cloud of understanding. Of course, if Hippo, Inc. is a corrupt belligerent monopoly or is otherwise beholden to oppressive authoritarian forces, then all bets are off. Like any technology, it can be used for good, or evil. That’s why the choices Hippo makes are so important.
Well, either way, this vision is still a few years out. But it seems we have the building blocks available today.
Google’s mission is to assemble, index, and distribute the world’s information. Certainly that will someday include our memories. I mean, isn’t that already happening with what we publish: our blogs, newspapers, and historical documentary sites? (well, to be fair, some sites do more dissembling than assembling, but that’s not all that different from how our memories and reality-filters already work).
Google Earth and the like, especially on mobile devices, provides the on-the-spot situational awareness for the everyday jockey. The fact that it’s displayed in cool 3D graphics is a result of the best pathway we currently have to our brains. The visual system is capable of turning a series of pseudo-3D static images back into some form of tempo-spatial cognition. it’s a miracle it works (see the image of Annie above). But someday, we’ll have a rendering engine that can render those concepts directly.
Microsoft’s SenseCam, Accenture’s Personal Awareness Assistant, or a few others seek to let you record your life, though on whose terms isn’t clear. As bulk information, it’s nearly useless. But as semantic knowledge, it’s a treasure trove that can probably describe you better than you ever could.
And places like SecondLife? Well, creativity is best not restricted to the real world, in my mind, though the intersection can be fun. But to the extent that Linden Research and others become brokers of trust in distributed spatial transactions, they may also have a role to play.
And let’s not forget MySpace (how can we ever?), which serves the same function as our clothes — to dress us up, to hide the naughty bits, to speak to the world who we are, or at least who we want to be. And it shows us who is like us, and who might like us anyway.
To the extent that privacy is at all respected now or in the future, by law or by tradition, we have levels of access to our innermost selves. First you get the avatar, the home page, the superficial ego. Then you get associate, or if no monetary transaction is involved, the friend. Eventually you find the lover–and I’m not speaking of exchanges of bodily fluid, but of vulnerabilities and trust. And finally, ultimately, you find the more spiritual true self, the person you get to know over many years. Except in RealityPrime, the information is all there, subject to the access we grant.
At least, I’d hope it works that way. There is a possibility that in a truly open, augmented world, where every bit of information is available on the first order, we would quickly realize who was out to scam us or take advantage. But my sense is that the criminals are always the first to find a way around any protections, so I hope we start opening things more slowly than the idealist vision might prescribe, if for nothing else then to gradually test these ideas in the real world. It’s already begun.