Hotspots: Second Life’s New Controversies

Sadly, as most of you have noticed, there has been not enough time for me to keep the blog updated… and just when everything in Second Life® is about to change:


Linden Lab is now profitable

In an unexpected side remark, Jeska dropped the hint that Linden Lab is now a profitable company, and has been as much for quite some time. No, they’re not making billions; but finally they’re able to rely on their income to plod through the next stages, without relying upon external sources of investment.

Will this make them more attractive for a potential buyer? Hardly likely. The business model will not allow anyone to “make money fast”; now they have an even better incentive not to consider the buy-out option; and open sourcing the technology makes Linden Lab uninteresting to potential buyers (would, say, Microsoft buy a company with an open source product? Never!).

This means that Linden Lab will not disappear shortly, as people have been predicting for, oh, perhaps three years now 🙂 — but will continue to grow and expand their operations. Slowly, of course, but on a solid and positive cash flow, a good income, and a marginal profit. Just what it takes to continue the Road to the Metaverse.

Voice in SL

Due to launch on the next release (May 23), I expect eagerly the impact this will have on people’s lives, when one more layer of anonymity is finally revealed. No more pretension of being someone you’re not; the mist of illusion about your true self is dispelled and Second Life will slowly abandon “the place where you wished to live” to become “the new communication medium of the 21st century”. It’ll be a huge jump into unchartered waters – specially because, as so many point out correctly, there will be no alternative. All Metaverse wannabes these days include voice, even the ones that are just vapourware right now.

Sorry, immersionists — you’re out of this game. It’s augmentism from now on that will dominate the shaping of the Metaverse.

The next step will probably be some sort of face-morphing based on a picture on your Webcam, that will allow your avatar to assume some of your real expressions and present them in-world. Physical avatars, probably to be launched this year, will be a first step — doing gestures without the need for animations — and face-morphing is available from Logitech as a popular, mainstream product. Remember that Linden Lab now employes FX specialists that have worked on movie productions like 300. They know all the tricks in the trade.

Bye-bye, anonymity — it’ll be really you in-world.

Resident Validation

The hottest issue in SL since the prim taxes were abolished. Linden Lab has thought it the following way: if a Windows user downloads Internet Explorer from Microsoft and connects to a site running Microsoft’s IIS, and views child porn, who is responsible — Microsoft?

Of course not. Internet users are responsible for what they watch, and content producers are responsible for what they put on the Web. Microsoft, in fact, warns on their Terms of Services that their products are not to be used for illegitimate means.

And so does Linden Lab. But to go a step further in forcing residents of SL to accept that now they’re responsible for what they do, they’re introducing (probably also in May 23) a new, opt-in, validation system. You’ll be able to send your real life data — name, address, and an ID card, depending on where you live in the world — to a third party company, Integrity Services, and through an API established with Linden Lab, they will validate your real identity, and LL will be able to flag your avatar as “validated adult”.

In return, you’ll be forced to flag all your content and your parcels as being adult or not. Only validated avatars will be able to hold adult content in their inventories, and enter (or own/rent) adult parcels. No more fear of teenagers seeing those naughty sexy ankles.

LL will rely on the community for flagging content that is mislabeled, and abuse-report it — just like it happens in, say, YouTube or MySpace. So most legitimate users will flag as much content as mature as quickly as possible to avoid being shut out of SL — and expect their close friends to do the same.

The issue is polemic at several levels. Many residents have established a relationship of trust with Linden Lab — and their laissez faire mentality — and are positively uncomfortable with third party companies validating their real life data. In the past, companies providing validation systems used by popular pornography sites have been targeted by the FBI as potential sources of many sorts of frauds and of “leaking” information to spammers (emails), marketing agencies, and even US government agencies. Speculation or fact? It depends on what newspapers, e-zines, or blogs you read. A better approach would have been to give residents a choice of company to work with.

So, what will this impact SL? Sure, a few will leave — so what? There are always people leaving — SL has as low as 10% of retention rate, and that is not an issue for LL.

The impact, however, will not be in how many people will leave (my estimate: about a million in a month, but we will hardly notice that, since SL almost grows by the same amount… it’ll just be a “flatter growth curve” for a while), but how they use content. The ‘adult’ market in SL — specially the one pursued by amateurs — is huge. How many percent of all transactions in SL — items, land, services — is on adult content? We don’t know the exact data. We only know that itmust be huge, or the landscape would not be crammed full with shops offering all sort of kinky clothes, escort clubs, casinos, and all types of very mature items, animations, and attachments. They’re so ubiquous as to come to us as “second nature” — they’re part of the landscape, like the Linden trees.

They will not disappear overnight — but their customers will. To enter these shops, you’ll have to be validated, and this means sending your data to a company most don’t trust. Even if the fuss of going through that process is not much, many will never bother with it, and leave a “puritan” SL for something else… well, mostly, pronography on YouTube or MySpace, which is easily accessible and doesn’t require even a credit card.

I expect a “transition” period where people will offer to buy ‘adult’ items, unflag them, and give them to friends (thus making transferrable items fashionable again, hooray!); and others who will validate themselves, flag a whole sim as adult, and then allow people to rent plots nearby and allow them to use their cameras to close in to the desired adult content. Residents of SL are very creative in bending the rules to make a profit out of it — but this will be mostly a transition phase. At the end of the day, we’ll have a mostly Disneylandish landscape, all PG and politically correct, and “ghettos” where the few validated adults will enjoy themselves to the fullest.

For companies coming in to Second Life, this will be a boon. The landscape will be stripped down of prnography, illegal gambling, prostitution and even probably violence — the perfect environment to show off your corporate exec that this “metaverse thingy” is what your business has to be in.

Also, professional content creators who do not fear the conspiration theories will now have a huge advantage in the adult content production — the competition from amateurs that pop in under different alts every day will simply disappear. So, in a sense, the market will shrink, but the quality will increase, and probably the ones that are willing to get validated will be available to pay much more for high-quality adult content.

So it’s not “a huge loss”. It just means things will change a lot.

“Governance Tools”

At the beginning, this will be something quite simple: the ability to “subscribe to ban lists” directly from a tab on the “About Land” parcel dialogue box. What will this provide? Well, a BanLink “clone” that does not require in-world scripts/prims on your parcels, and that will be easy to operate. Just like BanLink, once LL releases the protocol (ie. what an external webserver needs to provide — probably just a simple yes/no query if an avatar is banned), this will be opt-in, and anyone will be able to create their own ban list systems, and subscribe to any list they want. Linden Lab will also have their own.

What this means is that Abuse Reports will be quite differently handled. First, they will go to Estate Owners (LL on the mainland), and Estate Owners will do whatever they please with an Abuse Report. They might simply add the offending resident to any lists they’ll subscribe — and this will propagate instantly to all parcels which subscribe to the same list. So, all you need is to subscribe to lists being run by people you trust, and you’ll be safe from griefers forever.

Obviously, this also means — no appeal and no recourse. LL will do nothing about that. If Rude Avatar hates your guts and places Jane Doe on a ban list that blocks her out of half of the world, that’s it. Jane has no way to appeal that decision. It’s done. She can obviously complain to the list owner, but very likely get no satisfaction there. A very few lists will have attached a whole judiciary system, but very likely they won’t be popular — people in SL want the immediate exercise of personal power (or trust friends), not complex systems.

Actually, this is not fundamentally different from world-wide anti-spam and anti-hacker lists; they work under the same assumptions, perhaps with a single difference — they usually are incompatible among themselves and require different software. In Second Life, there will be a single mechanism that will work for all lists.

Although this will make griefers in SL very short-lived, the question that is always raised is how you’ll get fairness and justice — how can you prevent one person from destroying your enjoyment of Second Life by placing your name on all lists, thus effectively banishing you out of SL except for your parcel? Without appeal and recourse, and LL effectively out of the loop, ostracism will reign supreme in this libertarian world — not justice nor democracy or the right to a fair trial.

It worries me, although I expect that most “unjust” cases will simply be wiped out of existence. Let’s be fair: if you’re ostracised in SL, you won’t log any more, ever again, and not waste time with SL any more. You’re out. And the number of the ones who will never log in again will never raise a huge drama, simply because they won’t be around to raise it.

It’ll be a huge change of mentality in SL, since, after all, people hate others for all possible reasons, and now they’re able to exterminate others with a click on a website. Give atom bombs to children and see how long they can refrain from pressing the button. Again, a blessing for the ones surviving the “nuclear winter” — no griefers, only happy people around — but at the expense of justice, fairness, and a violation of your human rights. I definitely have some issues with this — the idea is good from a technical point of view, but I fear the social consequences, and would have preferred to have LL as a “last court of appeal” in every case. Like on “abusing” Abuse Reports, people that abuse the system should, in turn, be subject to sanctions by LL themselves.

However, LL has stated very clearly that they wish to have as little as possible with resident arbitration and moderation — for legal issues mostly, but also to allow international growth under different laws — so I guess this step was unavoidable.

For myself, you’ll be certain to always get a fair trial from the list that eventually will be run by the Confederation of Demcoratic Simulators 🙂

Linden Lab’s winking at professional 3D modellers and artists

If you’re a professional 3D modeller/designer/artist, good news for you. Also on May 23 (hopefully!), Linden Lab will give you a new primitive type: sculpted prims, a fancy name to introduce NURBSesque shapes into SL. After years of demanding “meshes in SL” (remember, the number of 3D designers world-wide is much smaller than these people would like to claim; popular products like Poser, for instance, sell about 150 thousand copies, and I always wondered how many of those are actually SL users…), this is the closest we’ll get (for now).

Linden Lab was very, very clever. It’s obvious that SL has to “look better” — less primmy, more organic, more professional content. A hundred metaverse development companies and their thousand RL companies demand it. But — they cannot destroy the prim economy by introducing meshes and a fully-blown “polygon count economy” — it’s too drastic a change. This system they’ve developed, although pretty unstandard (meshes get converted into a “colour map” which is a regular texture — not much unlike the RAW maps used for instant island terraforming, although with less detail), keeps the prim economy in place. Meshes are not part of the asset server; the system uses standard, 64×64 textures, which can be tied in into the streaming engine of LL, and stored in the inventory like a standard texture. It looks exactly like one, too, and it can be modified like a standard texture as well, and can be accessed (or changed) through LSL. The developers have even been talking about allowing streams of Flash video tobe used to dynamically generate the textures, and thus reshaping prims on-the-fly — a boon for artists, but something that all content creators will enjoy for things like furry attachments (say, muzzles opening, ears twitching, etc.).

It will also mean, to an extent, much richer content. Shapes that take a lot of prims — complex chairs, statues, etc. — will now only require a single one. Vehicles limited to the annoying 31 prim limit will now be able to have fantastic shapes with incredible realism. But a side effect
is reducing dramatically the texture count on a scene — one of the worst causes of lag. A cube has 7 textures, which have to be stored somewhere, even if they’re not visible. A “sculptie” will only require two — one for the shape (64×64), and one to apply on top of it. Thus, on average, the texture count could, in theory, go down, although the realism of the scene will improve dramatically. And less textures to display means a scene rendered faster — thus, less lag. Imagine that 100-prim-hair can now go down to a handful of sculped prims 🙂 … not to mention getting rid of the annoying invisiprims for shoes, which can now be perfectly sculpted and modelled to it your feet!

The first generation of sculpties will not be flexible (yet), but once we have the whole set of tools — sculpties, texture-change through Flash videos, an in-world tool to create them without requiring external tools, and flexible sculpties — the whole shape of SL will change (pun intended!) and will definitely go beyond our wildest dreams. No more “blocky” SL — it’ll have the same quality of other popular metaverses once more. LL has played catch-up and will probably win the bet with a very efficient solution.

What is the negative side of it? We were used for a long time to consider texturisers — specially the ones doing clothes and skins — as well as animators a special breed of content creators in SL, since they require deep knowledge of external tools to make their designs. Sure, you can do your own clothes through Apperance Mode, but it’ll never be the same. Sure, there are lots of “texture packs” in SL, many of those for free, and even more available through download from the Internet, but it’s clear that a special building/item/device requires specific and detailed texturing, which is only available to a professional designer.

Sculpties are almost impossible to do on a “trial-and-error” base. You’ll not only need a professional 3D modelling tool — and there are hundreds available on the market; although not all will be able to export to SL’s native “texture” format — but deep knowledge on how to use it. If you have never used a 3D modelling tool in your life, you won’t be able to learn it over a weekend, no matter how hard you try — 3D content creators in RL study for years and years until they are able to do what they want with those tools. So, the amateur is out of the picture. They’ll still be able to play with the regular tools, of course — but until LL introduces their own integrated sculpting editor, the amateur will have no choice but to buy other’s content. In a year or so, nobody will buy a 13-prim chair anymore, when you can get the same thing done with a single prim.

It’s a tough trade-off. Pretty much like animations — for two years now we have been “promised” an in-world animation editor, and “physical avatars”, ready for almost a year, but not yet integrated into the main code, are a way to make that simpler — you’ll have very high quality items from a handful of professional 3D modellers, and lots of junk (and copied material) from the rest of the residents. “Sculpty packs” will probably become as popular as texture packs are these days. But if you require a low-prim scene with an organic look, you’ll need a pro to create it, not a “talented amateur”. Thus, the rift between talented amateurs (6 millions) and professional artists (a few thousands) will continue to widen. Still, as the ratio of content producers to consumers reflects more and more RL (about 1:10) this might not be noticeable: not everyone wants to design their own hair, just pay L$250 for something that looks good, has a very low prim count, and low lag so that you’re not pestered by the club owners…

The amazing qArl Linden and Cube Linde

This is the hot dynamic duo of LL’s developer team. While the rest of the team plods along banging their heads against the wall with Havok 4.5, physical avatars, HTML-in-world (SL seems now to be the only platform that does not support such a simple thing — even kids on Sourceforge playing around with primitive 3D virtual world software put that at the top of their list, and it works), or even Mono, these guys are the Golden Angels of salvation. After sculpties, there is more to come — shadows on the ground, and shadows over other objects. Or changing the default sky texture. Or more detailed prim movement without breaking the shaky physical engine underneath. Also, with every new release, dynamic reflections get better and better (mirrors!), even if it’s so hidden under the Debug settings that nobody uses them. The current version is too good — people use far more “shiny” than is good for their health, and this gets mapped all over the place with incredible detail, but unfortunately you need a pretty decent computer to render it without lag. It’ll need some tweaking to adjust those algorithms to low-end computers, but I’m
sure that SL’s new developers are eager to start seriously push the limits. Yes, they have a goal now: SL has to outdo Sony Home, which will be the reference in content quality from June onwards, and they’re struggling very hard to come to the same results. Alas, at some point, this will also mean updating the avatar’s mesh — and one wonders how they will make that transition without breaking the clothes market.

But I personally have very high hopes from this team. They’ve worked on the Hollywood CGI special effects market. They’re good. 🙂

Scalability

Cory and his team will very shortly present a white paper on what will be “SL 2.0” on the server side. We, from this side of the screen, will not notice any real difference on how SL operates — the client will not be affected —except that suddenly IMs will work, teleports won’t fail, inventory won’t be lost, and our L$ account will always display the correct amount.

What’s the “big change”? It’s all happening under the hood. For some months now they have been dealing with the issue of having two co-location facilities — in Texas as well as California — and tracked down the many problems of a de-centralised grid. And the veredict is not good: SL does not scale well outside a single grid. A new, radical model needs to be developed from scratch, and that’s what Cory’s been doing.

The server simulators are self-sufficient — this was the part that Philip and Cory always got right. What they seemed to have ‘forgotten’ was that some things need to be centralised, and their approach so far doesn’t scale well beyond a single grid. So, they’re introducing a new model which will be presented to the public soon, and closely thereafter implemented. It’s not just “throwing hardware at the problem”, like many people think (“you’re rich, why don’t you buy faster machines or migrate to Oracle?”). A little-known secret told by any teacher of a computer science university degree is that “a good algorithm beats a faster machine every day”. This was why Google, with “old PCs running Linux”, was able to index the Web faster than any other competitor at their time. It’s not computing power, just designing far better algorithms.

And this is what they have been rethinking. It takes time to do so. Contrast it with the run-of-the-mill variety of current metaverse platforms. They don’t even care about running a multi-million-user platform across different hardware and de-centralised grids. Nobody has ever attempted it. World of Warcraft uses their own servers, there is no “need” to think about a way to “de-centralise” their server base to allow “others” to run WoW servers — only Blizzard will run them. OpenCroquet is used inside academic labs. Multiverse targets corporations and game companies that will control their user base — they’ll know where they are and how they’ll connect. They don’t care about a de-centralised grid, because nobody really needs one! Even IBM, Sun, Xerox, and possibly Microsoft, have designed “metaverses” for internal consumption only.

Second Life, however, has to literally grow beyond its (electronic) borders. They cannot “afford” to think on a centralised model, but imagine how the grid of 2010 will look like: a huge mainland probably run by Linden Lab in a dozen co-location facilities across the world; several “licensed” grids run by corporations and universities, all connected together; and individuals using their own sims running from home and allowing a handful of friends to connect. All this is “part of the Metaverse plan”. Only Linden Lab (and, well, the user community around SL) are thinking about this model. The Electric Sheep Company’s OpenMetaverse project or OpenGrid are examples of things that need to address world-wide interconnection across several grids, using the same SL protocol (the Sheep were very clever, they used the 30-year-old DNS system to distribute assets — way to go!).

Nobody else is thinking about this. Except for Linden Lab. And the time to announce this is quite right, because…

The “Open Letter”

… once more, residents are congregating to push their Luddite views upon Linden Lab. Called “Project Open Letter“, this has about 4000 signataries, and their purpose is quite clear: prevent, as quickly as possible, that Linden Lab introduces new features without fixing all outstanding bugs.

This is hardly a “new” iniciative. In my (almost) three years in Second Life, I have been very unfortunate to enter it on a stage where the major developments (SL 1.4, with the introduction of XML-RPC and animations) had just been introduced. Until June 2004, SL’s development cycle was quite clearly defined: features, features, more features, and another set of features. All were major changes when launched and had bigger impact than say, flexiprims a few months ago or sculpties right now. It was the only way to make sure the interest in SL raised and attracted the media’s attention; there were only 12,000 users in SL in June 2004.

Since that time, things have been quite more difficult for Linden Lab. They tended to focus on fixing a few bugs here and there until the resident population quieted down and started demanding for more features. Then, encouraged by the repeated pleas of “new shiny things”, LL entered a development spree and would launch a brand-new version with cool new things — only to find out that, deployed outside the lab, things would suddenly exhibit several anomalies (more on that later). Residents would rally at the Government Mansion and spit venom and claim Cory’s or Philip’s head. LL would try to launch a few more features on subsequent releases until the “wrath of the residents” would be unbearable. And then, it would mean about six months of painful debugging, dealing with scalability, introducing new servers, and so on. LL would “lose” half a year in their state-of-the-art technology, which looks more and more outdated every day a new game is released on the PlayStation 3, while it was top-notch in 2002 and still reasonable in 2004.

After this cycle, they would gather some encouragement, and try to introduce a whole bunch of features again. This would go on for a few months; starting in 2005, they even planned the technological releases for half a year or so, and quite often managed to keep their promises! But — alas — the Luddites with their pitchforks would raise again, and force LL to stop all development until all bugs got fixed. And LL would comply; another 6 months of waiting; another half a year wasted; another period where the competition in the 3D market would launch incredible games with beautifully rendered pictures, and the LL developers would just sigh and delete the code on their superfast new renderer, and get back to make sure flexihair still looks good when viewed from 20 m away.

This cycle has been repeated quite often. In late 2006/early 2007, LL had at least advanced towards a different model: assynchronous releases, ie. making the client separate from the server, without requiring people to log in to the (mostly empty) Beta Grid. This introduced the incredible advancements watched on the First Look series. I was personally overwhelmed with the elegant solution: keep the Luddites happy (there wasn’t a major release for almost half a year!), and let the rest of the world log in with the First Look viewer and get access to those fantastic new tools and features. It worked very well — until they had to merge the “new code” with the old — with unpredictable results. Alas, we have seen the pitchforks again — this time, however, they have the RL media backing them up. And this means that LL had to answer them.

Linden Lab will still give us voice (for those that really enjoy it) and sculpted prims, but I guess that will be all that is “noticeable” until the year ends. Most of the development efforts will now be targeted to scalability issues — a very worthwhile endeavour, of course, since reducing things like lag, instability, inventory loss, and login/teleport difficulties will go a long way with appeasing the Luddites — and minor tweaks here and there. Shadows, for instace, will probably come with another series of First Look viewers, as well as things like an in-world editor for sculpties, or client-side inventory storage. It might even possible preview the physical avatars on First Look, as well as HTML-on-a-prim — at least in a limited way that doesn’t require a new release. More deep changes, like Havok 4.5 or Mono, or a new mesh for avatars, will need to be postponed for 2008.

It’s very hard to explain to anyone without formal training in complex distributed network architectures why the impact of a slight change is almost impossible to foresee, when something that was thoroughly tested in a “lab” environment suddenly breaks apart when deployed on the “real” grid. The best analogy I can come with is to try to predict the weather for a century by observing just local changes — the weather is a chaotic system, and we don’t know the initial conditions, so it’s impossible to predict accurately anything beyond a week or so (the time the air masses take to cross our planet) using statistical methods. Still, this never prevented the environmentalists to predict a “Global Cooling/New Ice Age” in the 1970s and a “Global Warming” in the 1990s, and this also means that engineers and network specialists will still try to predict how a certain feature will impact the grid overall. It’s a task as hard as anything else. I usually tell my friends how a single line of code on a router on an insignificant country suddenly shut down by mistake one sixth of the traffic between Europe and the US for about fifteen minutes; it was impossible to predict the impact of that change (nowadays this would be harder to do!).

However, for people used to predictable environments (“if I urn up the heat, it gets warmer in the room”) and believing that science is all about predictability (and have not heard about quantum mechanics 😉 ), they are quite unpleased with LL’s usual answer when something gets seriously wrong: “we did not know how strong the impact was going to be; and yes, this was thoroughly tested”. On complex environments like SL, some of the deployment is done instinctively because there is no scientific model that can be used to make an accurate prediction. People will work on “gut feeling” based on their past experience. LL has just a few years of experimenting with something quite new and unlike anything else in the world. In a decade or so, we’ll have Metaverse Engineers who will know all about it by reading textbook cases and knowing what to do (or what to avoid). But — this is all too new yet! Even the oldest network engineers at LL aren’t psychic to predict the behaviour of such a chaotic system. The good news, of course, is that they get better and better at it; they also get better at simulating the grid’s behaviour to give them more accurate tests; and, more important than that, they’re also working on creating a truly decentralised grid (Cory’s Pet Project) instead of a scalable, centralised one — which will definitely make things so much easier to deal with.

Imagine a day where LL will be able to selectively give you, on your sim, the features you wish 🙂 If it crashes your sim, it’s your fault; but it won’t affect anyone else.

Ah well. Linden Lab could ignore the Luddites in 2004, they can’t do it in 2008 anymore, but they’re definitely working to please them. According to Cory, 72% of their developers are just doing bug fixing right now. Leaving 28% for innovation, research and development. For such a tiny company as LL, this is actually not bad.

Hopefully LL re-introduces the series of the First Look viewers again — letting us enjoy a better Second Life while the Luddites remain happy within Sony Home and its vastly superior static content 🙂

CC BY 4.0 Hotspots: Second Life’s New Controversies by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

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  • Huh! Rather long one… let’s go one by one…
    Linden Lab is now profitable Congratulations to Linden Lab! It is always nice news when someone stand on its own feet. It is the promise of the future independance and freedom. Wish it will be used for the best for the whole community.

    Voice in SL I always have that slightly negative feeling when you are talking about voice. It almost sounds like a revenge or something. Hopefully, I am wrong.
    You are insisting on deep gap between imersionists and augumentists. There is a difference between those two approaches to the metaverse but is it really a gap? Aro those two groups in some kind of war or collision? No, they are not. And for sure, it is scarry to hear something like: “Sorry, immersionists — you’re out of this game. It’s augmentism from now on that will dominate the shaping of the Metaverse.” If metaverse stay with out one of the sides it will be much poorer. Both of the parties give its share to the beauty and diversity of cyberspace. And they both exists side by side. Hopefully, I will not be lazy to throw my 2L$ about that later this evening.

    Resident Validation I wanted to skip this one, there is too much noise about that these days that it becomes pointless. But, still, your blog makes me think about it in a slightly different way. It is not if one will verify herself or not. It is not about security of data and it is not about privacy issues. Well, yes it is, but it is an old question. What is of any interest here is that, finally, Second Life is facin the problems of the rest of the metaverse. Pribvacy of users and age verification are here since internet became mainstream. It just means that SL became mature (no pun). And we are to see how the fresh platform behave in the world of big problems. How it deals with justice systems and serious offenters. So far… not good. Lindens are trying to solve the problems that still have no solution by very radical means. Playing like that is no good for a fresh player like they are. Tey are risking to become one of the experiments, which is not a good thing. It would be same for SL to be sacrificed because media needs a new story. They did their job too good to fail now for the reasons far away from networking.

    Governance Tools This is another painfull one. You said it right: “people in SL want the immediate exercise of personal power (or trust friends), not complex systems.” Ostracism is an old experiment, never led to good results. It is one of the first tools of democracy, but old Greeks were in much better position to experiment with both democracy and ostracism. At least, population of a polis was much smaller that the population of SL while agora was able to host more participants than Town Hall. Those two combined with social climate in which reputation of a citizen is counted and taken seriously (contrary to reputation of SL resident) sould give some results. In our world, we are just left to hope for the best.

    Linden Lab’s winking at professional 3D modellers and artists It is always good to have more professionals making the in-world content. But, amateurs are what makes the SL what it is. If “the amateur is out of the picture” we shall see another devastation of our world. Once again I shall roll back my response to Extropis’s article on this blog: “Creativity is part of each of us, and it does not matter which form it takes or if we are particularly good at it. Creative process is something that affects both the object (in broadest possible sense) we create and ourselves. That is why art is with us through the whole history. And that is also the reason of web2.0’s success.”

    The “Open Letter” Another one that made more comments than it is worth. But, it makes me disappointed that so many residents (this probably includes some of Lindens) failed to understand that open letter was not an iniative against SL project but for the best of it. The single point of it was that introducing new features is not a good thing to do if the basic networking cannot serve those that already exists. New features are marketing move, but there is not so much need to compete with other systems in this moment. SL has an advantage that could be uised to fix the things. E.g. voice feature (no, we won’t argue if it is good in any other way than technical possibilities at this moment). We cannot use it now since it is not implemented. If scalability problem is solved it will be nice groung to put voice in and everything will be great. If Lindens introduce voices now, on the grid in this condition, voice will be just a nice thing to show media and corporate CEO’s. But, we will not use it. It will just make more lag and more problems. That is the only point of open letter. It is not an attempt to molest Philip.

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  • Great article Gwyn 😉

    Just a note, The OpenMetaverse website is sponsored by the ESC but it is an open effort.

    The Open Grid document was put together by several people. The bulk of the concept is from Adam Zaius who had the idea before OpenMetaverse even came along. This was inspired in large part by OpenSL and the OpenSim project stated by another industrious developer with little help from the outside.

    Love to the Sheep and especially Christian, but to give them all the credit is a disservice to all the others who contribute their time to the open projects around Second Life.

    Also, send money to libsecondlife.

  • Ashcroft Burnham

    Ahh, so you did get around to ‘blogging about the how sculptured prims will change the grid forever! 😉 As an aside, one wonders whether, in a few years’ time, 3d content creation programmes will be easier to use than they are now, at least for basic tasks (think of how much easier that it is, for example, to select precise areas in photographs and cut and paste them to be natural looking than it was ten years ago).

    As to governance, it is hard to predict exactly what proportion of people will want sophisticated justice systems, such as the one that I am developing, rather than personal power to govern their ban lists. In the absence of such a system existing at the moment, it is certainly premature to claim that there will only be a few interested. A justice system, after all, has a universal appeal in the way that any one single person’s ban list does not. For example, suppose that 5% of residents would subscribe to a justice list ban system, whereas 75% of residents would subscribe to the personal ban lists of people whom they personally trust. Even on that pessimistic assumption, the justice system ban list would likely have far more subscribers than any one single person’s ban list, since any given person would only be known and personally trusted by a handful of people. In the system that I am developing, where those who subscribe to the list are the ones who get to vote to determine how the system is run, once the system reaches a critical mass and is able to exercise real power, there will be ever increasing incentive for people to subscribe themselves and have a say in its operations.

    On the subject of reliability and the open letter, it is rather unfair to call those who want SecondLife to work properly “Luddites”, merely because getting SL to work properly means that Linden Lab will not be able to implement new features as quickly they would if they had no regard for whether it worked properly. Luddites were manual workers in the 19th century who deliberately damaged people’s machines because the machines, which were far more efficient, put them out of work: in other words, they destroyed what belonged to other people and created efficiency for the sake of their own, short-term personal interests.

    People who politely insist that the product that they use and is important to them work properly are hardly in the same category: SecondLife has millions of users and has been around for half a decade, and, really, the users cannot be expected to act like perpetual beta testers for some perfectly working, feature-packed metaverse many years in the future. Those who are heavily involved in SecondLife, whether as an important aspect of their social lives, or whether as a business, are entitled to be concerned about such things as losing their possessions, hours on end of not being able to transact in currency, not being able to move around the grid for arbitrary periods of time, and not being able to control one’s avatar properly, or even communicate effectively with other avatars, when the particular locality happens to be busy (as in, having twenty or so avatars on a sim). Those problems fundamentally undermine the basic functionality of the virtual world, and it is quite reasonable for people to believe that resolving them is the very first priority for the software developers, and certainly a higher priority than improved video streaming or new prim types or voice integration.

    Really, something with fewer features that works is infinitely better than something with more features that is broken: the features, after all, are irrelevant in so far as the thing that has them does not work. What would you prefer: a highly luxurious and sophisticated car that breaks down every day or two, or a basic but sturdy and reliable car that keeps on going and always gets you where you need to go?

  • More and more I think that LL’s highest priority should be to open SL. That is, standardize the protocol and open-source the server software. They already mean to do that, why delay?

    LL, profitable or not, is too small for what SL has become and for how fast SL is growing. They are still trying to fill in too many roles. SL needs a new division of roles where some providers will only operate sims, some will develop tools for the client, some will develop tools for the servers, and some will provide the integration of all the parts.

    Just take the age/identity validation mechanism for example. LL’s solution with Integrity is far from ideal and I don’t think we should blame LL for that. But the right solution would be to provide several different choices. Competition will improve these tools in time and, besides, no tool will probably satisfy everyone. An open system can provide these choices. I don’t think LL can.

    As long as LL tries to cope alone with all these challenges, SL will suffer. Decisions and choices made now will impact SL in the long term. LL’s relationship with the SL residents will also suffer more and more damage. Personally I am concerned only for the future of SL but I do believe that LL will also be better off once they find the right role for themselves in a better, open, SL.

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  • Excellent analysis, Dandellion 🙂 And here some more comments…

    1) The issue about integrating voice and the old augmentism/immersionism paradox is a bit strange. You can have augmentism inside an immersionist world (people only need to reveal their RL data); you can’t have the reverse (when everybody has “RL avatars”, talks with their own voice, and have their faces plastered on your avatar’s face, how can you do immersionism? It’s you being there…). SL was designed (and you can see it on its ToS) as an immersionist utopia; after enough time passed, and this upcoming release will be the final blow, another utopia went the way all utopias go.

    A good example was a conversation yesterday between two oldbies and a very friendly newbie. The oldbie: “Where do you live?” (he had a nearby plot on the sim we were) The newbie, without hesitation: “Cleveland” The oldbie laughed and explained he actually meant: “where do you live in Second Life?”

    This is the difference between the “old school” that was educated and trained to think about Second Life as a “different country” (immersionism) and the new generation that just sees SL as glorified 3D MySpace with an economy.

    I don’t think that you can have two radically opposing views of a “metaverse” running inside the same environment — immersionists will have to go away, there is no more room for them in SL.

    2) I agree that validation is a complex issue, really, and I’d personally prefer having multiple choices of validation services. For instance, what about a Verisign certificate? They ask pretty thoroughly about RL data — why doesn’t LL trust Verisign, who have been around in the Internet for way longer? Still, I also agree that it’s a pity we’re subjects of “experimentation”, but, like Google does, SL should be flagged as being in “perpetual Beta”. The good thing is that we’re slowly getting used to it 🙂

    3) Finally, the “open letter”. Well, you’re not the only one that gets annoyed at my depiction of the anti-feature group as “Luddites”. I have rather strong feelings against anyone that complains about how things don’t work for them, and “demands” that they work, “because they’re paying customers” (or: “because they’re losing a lot of money”) — and, as a result, demand that all innovation and research stop immediately to “fix what is broken”.

    And then, after submitting those complains, go back to the world of virus, spamming, blue-screen-of-deaths, of Microsoft Windows, and pretend they’re suddenly different people.

    Well. You can’t have two measures if you’re being honest about what you’re fighting for (the Luddites, after all, went back home after a destruction spree, to sleep in their comfy, factory-produced beds…). If you’re honest enough about only using “perfect, flawless” products, you’ll be doing the same fork-pitching with Windows products, raising awareness in the media to fight spam once and for all, get the police to investigate virus software houses, and the like. “Partial activism”, for me, smells of hypocrisy. You can’t be “tolerant” with buggy, faulty software developed by a company, but be aggressive and prevent innovation and research on another.

    I used to be more tolerant in the past with that attitude, in the sense that I feel it’s important that people protest about things, get it out of their system, pat themselves on their collective backs, and then return nicely home for another session in SL 🙂 LL would ignore the ranting (although claiming otherwise) and move on with their research path.

    But things have been getting more and more intense. It’s not an attempt to “molest” Philip, but a true attempt to stifle and control the rate of innovation. When “the wisdom of the crowd” starts to tell scientists how they should do research, innovation and research are stifled down — look, as an example, how far back the old USSR was, in terms of technological development, because their research efforts were curbed by government.

    Or, if you wish, look how far we westerners are behind on developing a non-polluting car which doesn’t work on petrol derivatives — while we have operating nanomachines. Surely an advanced civilisation like ours, that is able to create metaverses and computers, should be able to tackle things like “clean” automobiles, or cure the common stomach ulcer (not to mention AIDS or cancer)? We have the means to research that technology — but “interests” are stronger and disallow some kinds of research.

    This would be worth a post on its own on a completely different subject, but, for the record, here goes my reasoning. At some point in time — hopefully distant in the future — Second Life, and Linden Lab, will be “curbed” in its development by the “powers that be”. LL is already facing the first wall: Puritanism, which, as a consequence, will need validation. The next wall is dealing with money and taxes, and I’m not sure how that will be accomplished. But these will obviously demand that LL removes their developers on much more interesting things and dedicate to unplanned and unforeseen development as a consequence.

    The major issue, however, is the “under-the-hood” development. As stated by Cory, 72% of the dev team are working on fixing bugs. That’s impressive — but it means that there are not many left for doing the crucial changes: moving over to a different architecture that deals with multiple grids and independent, 3rd party server farms. All this is very nice, but so many resources have been pulled into fixing irrelevant issues — all of which would quickly disappear if the whole architecture would be replaced! — that there might not be many people left to focus on the next stage of the SL Grid. Also, years of development have gone to a standstill, as un-integrated code has been abandoned, and the developers assigned to bug fixing tasks: SpeedTree, the fifth attempt to upgrade the physical engine to Havok 4.5, Mono, Jabber instead of their homegrown variety of IMs, HTML-on-a-prim, physical avatars. There have been thousands and thousands of hours invested in all these projects — abandoned for now.

    But all of them require deployment — and they will be unstable at first. They will break existing content (eg. think about animations/clothes and new avatars; think about Mono and all the LSL scripts that might break because they rely upon a different type of virtual machine). They will make another 5000 users very angry, unhappy, and frustrated.

    But what is the alternative? A “freezing” of the codebase?

    Well. In my mind, Linden Lab cannot “afford” not to be innovative. If the Open Letter is the kind of reaction people have when we’re “only” 6.2 millions, what reaction will there be with 150 million users? It’s obvious that the greatest technology hurdles have to be done now, when LL can afford losing a million users now (which they will quickly recover in one month or two), and not in 2010, with 150 million users and perhaps 100,000 companies using SL as their primary communications platform.

    Software reaches maturity when it is used over a decade — that has always been an old rule. The success of things like, say, MySpace, rely upon a “stable” web architecture that has handled all issues pretty well for over a decade. There is no “innovative technology” under MySpace — just engineering feats, and nothing else.

    Second Life, however, is all new. The technology is totally new; the engineering problems have not even been written down, and if they have, the ink has not dried yet. SL is, in effect, a complex interaction of several things that have been placed in the same package and having a nice wrapping around it. A lot of things are not “integrated” at all; they co-exist, because they were done in a hurry for a world tested with 300 users (of which less than a half had been online simultaneously), and there has been no time for planning and thinking on them properly.

    It’s a miracle it even works — and that it works perhaps 97% of the time. So many people cannot say the same about their Windows desktop — and still they use it every day without complaining.

    So, I insist on my message. Second Life is not for the kind of people expecting perfection and stability — it’s too new, it’s changing too much — when we don’t even have seen but the tip of the iceberg of the real value that SL provides. Being on the edge of the technological forefront means dealing with what it entails; the first automobile drivers had to be mechanics as well, and their early cars broke down all the time. It took us almost a century to develop a safe car that starts at a touch of a button (or turn of a key), works reliably 99.9999% of the time, and gives good performance with minimal performance.

    We’re not looking at the Matrix yet, where everything is photorealistic, without lag, and except for a few sporadic glitches (“déja vu”), everything runs smoothly 🙂 No, Second Life is the Matrix, version 0.1, and needs at least one or two decades to be as reliable as that.

    But first and foremost, it’s a research project, and we’re just the lab mice. The good thing about it is that we have a choice — if we don’t like to be treated like lab mice, we can turn SL off and use something else instead. Like reading a book, say, Snowcrash. Or even watch TV, which works 100% of the time!

    One cannot ask people to be patient and wait a decade, but certainly it’s worth taking the trouble to explain why it’s crucial for Linden Lab to deploy innovative solutions now (and not in the distant future!) instead of focusing on temporary bugs and glitches that will go away under the new architecture anyway.

    Don’t destroy the factories and research labs while you’re consuming the product at the same time. In essence: don’t be a Luddite.

  • Ash,

    Luddites were manual workers in the 19th century who deliberately damaged people’s machines because the machines, which were far more efficient, put them out of work: in other words, they destroyed what belonged to other people and created efficiency for the sake of their own, short-term personal interests.

    Precisely what these people are doing 🙂 Well, the difference being that what they’re destroying is virtual, and no humans are being harmed in the process…

    What would you prefer: a highly luxurious and sophisticated car that breaks down every day or two, or a basic but sturdy and reliable car that keeps on going and always gets you where you need to go?

    I thought the answer was obvious, or else what would I be doing in Second Life?… If I’d prefer the latter, I’d be much happier on There, ActiveWorlds, The Sims Online, IMVU, or even Kaneva…

    All of these work quite well. Some have years and years of development and are pretty stable. They do what people want. Lovely 🙂 But booooring 🙂

    Fortunately, we’re in Second Life 😉

  • Gwyn,

    thank you for your reply. I still disagree with calling those who want SecondLife not to be increasingly unstable Luddites. Those who ask that Linden Lab make their software work properly cannot really be said to be destroying anything: indeed, instability (especially of the serious kind that I described) is more destructive than concentrating on fixing that instability.

    I also do not think that people can really be criticised for being hypocritical for not doing the same to Microsoft: people very often do complain that Microsoft products are unstable and insecure, and that Microsoft has improperly prioritied often relatively trivial new features over stability and security: that prompted a change of direction for Microsoft from about 2002 onwards, including the policy that no future Windows service pack would contain any new features (although XP SP2 did contain the security centre).

    People do not, of course, go around writing “open letters” to Microsoft about Windows, largely because they know that Microsoft would not pay any attention. It is the open and collaborative attitude of Linden Lab that has lead the authors of the open letter to adopt this approach, no doubt because they believe that it is likely to bear fruit with Linden Lab in a way that it would not with Microsoft.

    As to expecting unreliability, although you term SL as “Metaverse 0.1”, SL went through a beta stage years ago, and now has 1.x numberings. One should generally expect that software that is no longer marketed as beta has completed enough testing to be at least mostly stable.

    Secondly, the problem is not so much that SecondLife is not getting more reliable fast enough: it is that it is getting less reliable. There is a great difference between obtaining software that is advertised as experimental that is unstable but slowly improving, and then complaining about it, and getting software that is advertised as final, and gets much worse over time, rather than better, and complaining about the degridation.

    There is a lot to be said for Lem Skall’s approach: after all, one does not get new little pathces with new features in dribs and drabs on, say, Red Hat Enterprise Server Linux: one gets a determinate development cycle, with releases every six months or so with a whole set of features that have been tested for six months in advance by a whole community of developers.

    Now, of course, as you point out, SecondLife is complicated and unprecedented, and people will never be able to get it perfectly stable within a few months, but that is not, as far as I understand, what people are demanding: they just want the basic functionality to work reliably for a substantial portion of the time. If the best way of doing that is to press ahead with the new architecture, then the people who wrote and signed the letter cannot sensibly be blamed if Linden Lab abandons the best way of dealing with the concerns raised in the letter in consequence of the existence of the letter in the first place.

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  • augmentism vs. immersionism
    “I don’t think that you can have two radically opposing views of a “metaverse” running inside the same environment — immersionists will have to go away, there is no more room for them in SL.”

    You can (and will) have those two running paralel. Maybe one environment, like Second Life, will not be big enough to host both of them, but we all expect that different systems will work together (that is the point of open protocols, right?). It will rise even more questions to deal with, but hey, noobdy said this world is simple.

    Once again, I will say that losing any of the two approaches would be grat loss. It would degrade metaverse to just a game or just a business application. Both of them are too boring and not satisfying enough.

    open letter
    I refuse to be called “luddite” just for supporting open letter as an initiative to make Second Life better. I enjoy the “openess” of LL to feed-back. As from its beginning, SL was the world of residents. It can sound as democratic utopia which it isn’t. But, I believe in Linden’s positive attitude towards resident’s input on world’s development. We all know that something is not good in the system and most of us would be happy to see it working better. Luddities had no such motivation. They were against the newly introduced system. Having in mind the method of Luddities, they were more like our griefers and virus makers. Identification of Luddities and people who signed open letter is melware, it is direct attack to any democratic and public oriented initiative in-world.

    Opennes of LL is what distincts them from Microsoft. It may sound trivial, but even on the field of networks and IT not everything is in the code. Lot of work is in the politics and attitudes. Unfortunatelly, LL is lately doing some things that can show up as very bad moves. But, as it is not proof otherwise, I will act towards LL like towards any open and benevalent company.
    Speaking of Microsoft and hipocrisy, I don’t “go back to the world of virus, spamming, blue-screen-of-deaths, of Microsoft Windows, and pretend they’re suddenly different people.” I am happy GNU/linux user 🙂 . Accordingly, I do know what means running beta software. Actually, my SL client is in alpha. My complaints which made me to sign the letter are not complaints of spoiled child. It is a note that somethings should be done different way for the benefit of Second Life, its residents and Linden Lab.

    As you noticed, there are three groups of tasks to be done: new feats, fixing the bugs, and new architecture. Now, seriously, which one is to be done first and which one deserves most of developer’s time? From which strategy will SL benefit the most?

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  • @Dandellion: A new architecture, most definitely, since anyone can now write a SL-compatible browser, and an open-source simulator server software will soon be available. What is missing? The “glue” that connects both, which, at the moment, is in LL’s hands.

    This is actually what Cory’s team is doing right now. But it means “replacing the whole warp drive with a radical new technology of SS Enterprise while dodging a fleet of angry Klingons, using a team of engineers who haven’t got the slightest clue on quantum mechanics”. So expect things to become much worse before they improve — the whole core infrastructure is going to be redesigned from scratch, and one can only begin to imagine what that entails…

    I would say that over 90% of all “critical” bugs are related to the centralised database and nothing else. Sure, some texture flicker or bad alpha sorting is client-size, but anyone can change the code if they wish. Bad teleports, missing inventory, loss of L$, incomplete transactions, all sorts of issues with IMs and Group IMs — they’re architecture problems, neither in the server nor in the client.

    Effectively demanding LL to focus on “fixing bugs” means asking them to get rid of their architecture while they put a new one in place — all that without major disturbances in the grid. An almost impossible task. The good news is that Linden Lab is doing exactly that; the bad news, of course, is that SL will be much more unstable in the coming months before it finally scales well.

    There is no question about where my support is 🙂

  • And mine too.
    Though it is not my profession I allow myself to agree also with:

    I would say that over 90% of all “critical” bugs are related to the centralised database and nothing else.

    And yes

    Effectively demanding LL to focus on “fixing bugs” means asking them to get rid of their architecture while they put a new one in place — all that without major disturbances in the grid. An almost impossible task. The good news is that Linden Lab is doing exactly that; the bad news, of course, is that SL will be much more unstable in the coming months before it finally scales well.

    Don’t you think that implementing new features is not something that makes that almost impossible task is unnecessary burden? It is reasonable to expect of residents to go through the heavy periods while infrastructure is renowed. There will be ranting but not in such measure. Also, making grid more stable is the common wish.
    But, in heavy periods it is not nice to make things more heavier both for developers and for the residents.
    It is nice to have good PR service which will be open to residents.
    It is wise (in the terms of strategy) not to fight on so many fronts in the same time. Don’t call the feds while you are doing architecture. Don’t allow negative media campaign about sexual activities of residents.
    And no, this ranting is not against LL. But support doesn’t always mean that we agree on each bullet in the list.

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  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘It’s augmentism that from now on will dominate the shaping of the metaverse’.

    The person making this bold declaration is a brilliant analyst of SL society and the underlying technology used by LL. I, however, believe Gwyn has seriously stepped beyond the boundaries of her expertise in making such a statement. Gwyn has admitted that she does not like to think further than 10 years ahead, and she focuses her considerable skills almost exclusively on what LL are up to. Rephrasing her statement to ‘it’s augmentism that for the next ten years will dominate the shaping of SL’ would make for a more reasonable assessment.

    So what is UNREASONABLE about it? Mostly, Gwyn has failed to understand that the maturing technologies of augmentism will set in place enabling technologies from which a new class of immersionists will evolve. The ‘Metaverse’ is driven not so much by Moore’s Law but by ‘Bell’s Law’ which states ‘every decade, a new class of computer emerges from a hundredfold drop in the price of processing power’. We are now approaching a billionth of a cent per byte of storage, and pennies per gigabit per second of bandwidth. Thanks to this, the Web’s old architecture of a proprietory network with PCs attached to it is giving way to an architecure in which we are never offline, every device can see every application and the applications are web-based as opposed to being stored locally on your PC. Obviously this ‘computer’ is generating prodigious amounts of data, but the information is not just growing QUANTITIVELY but QUALLITIVELY as well. This fact is forcing Google etc to autoevolve search engines into massively parallel pattern-recognition AIs.

    It so happens that we each have a petascale, massively parallel information-processing system packed in our skulls. Two capabilities we would like to replicate in AI are the various forms of pattern recognition (identify sounds, understand speech, classify objects etc) and something known as ‘higher-order intentionality’. We have developed and are improving technologies that allow us to track and monitor information as it is processed by the brain. We cannot monitor the entire system yet, but so far we have modelled about 20 regions, and this has already helped advance AI. For instance, plugging in models of the visual cortex has enabled visual search engines to begin performing tasks like recognising objects. I must stress that our models of the VC are incomplete, and obviously the real thing is part of a much larger system and therefore AT THE MOMENT humans far outperform AI in the area of visual pattern-recognition. HOWEVER, once the latter matches the former, it will inevitably soar past it because it will combine this one example of human intelligence with machine intelligence that already far outperforms us. After all, a propperly working visual search engine could search through and memorise BILLIONS of images in a few seconds. No human being comes close to this.

    This will still be driving augmentism, because after all it is a model of but one region of the brain. Humans will use these new search engines etc to massively improve their performance. They are mere tools to work with.

    ‘Higher-order intentionality’ basically means the ability to form a theory of another mind. Human brains can do this, and we would like software brains to do it as well, so our computers and applications etc can better adapt to our needs. There are many areas of R+D looking into this, and as it bares fruit and improves its performance, this will see software slowly change from a tool we USE to a tool that CREATIVELY COLLABORATES with us.

    This change will happen in small steps, each justified on several levels. If Gwyn were to use these tools, the 1st generation would be 10% AI and 90% Gwyn. Subsequent generations will close the gap and at some point another change will subtly come about. Somwhere around a collaboration of 60% Gwyn, 40% AI, it will no longer seem like a tool we are working with, but another person. As Peter Norvig (director of research at Google) said, ‘people will discuss their needs with a digital intermediary, which will offer suggestions and refinements. The result will not be a list of links, but an annotated report (or a simple converstation) that synthesises the important points with references to the original literature’.

    At this point it my reference to ‘a new class of immersionists’ should be clearer: Avatars run by AI rather than human brains. Again, do not expect Turing level AIs right-off-the-bat, expect Gwyn’s ‘digital intermediary’ to act on her behalf for increasingly lengthy amounts of time and in increasingly diverse ways. Still augmentist…but on the threshold of true immersionsism.

    Eventually, we will have totally reverse-engineered human intelligence, leading to autonomous avatars with no biological brain driving them, capable of the full range of human intelligence, including emotion and consciousness (at least, they will convincingly act as if they possess these qualities). I call these new kinds of avatars ‘mind children’, a term 1st used by Hans Moravec in reference to intelligent robots. Once Mind Children exist in SL , NO human will be able compete with them. Anshe Chung would be NO MATCH for a mind child that could track billions of financial data per second. Aimee Weber will not seem particularly creative compared to a mind child analysing a design proposal from a trillion different angles simultaneously, capable of thinking through 100 years of creative effort in a microsecond. Hamlet Au will be a rather inept reporter of Sl compared to a mind child whose brain is 100 MILLION times more powerful than his own, and who can therefore split its identity into tens of millions of human level avatars monitering tens of millions of events AT ONCE.

    There is, of course, a great likelyhood that no person in SL TODAY will be alive to see this eventuality. Actually, that is wrong. The people who CREATED Extropia DaSilva, Gwyneth Llewelyn etc might be dead, but the avatars and their inventory (which could be quite a lot of data by the time we die) would still be stored out there on the ‘web’. Eventually, the software modelling of human brains would be complete enough to model general human intelligence and, in theory, could be used to run Extro, Gwyn, etc. Ideally, we would scan every interneural connection and neurotransmitter concentration levels that comprise our knowledge, learning and skills, in which case the AI mind would be perfectly capable of acting just like us (an ‘upload’). Less ideally, we do not live to use ‘upload’ level scanning, but we leave behind enough information about ourselves such that a mind child does a reasonable job of ‘being’ Gwyn. I would expect most of us to live this long, at least.

    It can be argued that an ‘uploaded’ Extropia DaSilva is NOT the original. I agree, which is why I insist on maintaining a SEPARATE IDENTITY to my ‘primary’ (the person who created me). Augmentists do not tend to separate their identities, and I think this will cause conflicts when the time comes to choose whether or not to upload your mind, and see your Sl self become a ‘mind child’ far greater in his/her abilities than you could ever be.

    Extropia DaSilva- expects all this in the next update of SL. There’s opimism for you.

  • (when everybody has “RL avatars”, talks with their own voice

    There is technically no need to talk with a RL voice.
    I can imagine voice filters will be either a further innovation
    or external service to support immersionists.

    Actually this could be also a new venue for creativity and a new market in SL.

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  • Well, I’ll rephrase my “from now on” into “in the next 10 years”, Extropia 🙂

    Indeed, the moment we do direct interfaces to the cortex, the notion of “augmentism vs. immersionism” will fade away and be a moot point anyway. It’ll be just immersionism, and there will be no way to know if someone in front of you looks (and sounds) like that iRL, but very likely the answer is no.

    10 years? Well, we’ll see. There are pretty advanced research on those areas, but it’s still on the “research” phase and not on the “technology” phase, ie. there are no commercial mass-produced products yet. Once they become available, for, say, €100-200 or so (what a LCD panel costs these days) they’ll become ubiquous. Well, perhaps not in 10 years; perhaps in 20. We’ll see.

  • Totally ignored ;0 </3