Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Will the Moon and Mars be Virtual Worlds' Coronation?

moon landing

In the UK it was the Queen's Coronation in 1953 that drove TV's into the mass market, as people bought sets purely to witness the historic event. Perhaps virtual worlds will become de riguer when man returns to the moon, or first lands on Mars.

ln 1969 I was 8 years old. I remember sitting on the floor of our school corridor with the rest of my school watching the grainy black and white images of the first moon landing. At the time TV technology was over 50 years old.

In 10 years time humans might return to the Moon, and in 20 years we might land on Mars. Are we really going to experience this event primarily through a technology which by then will be 100 years old?

The most interesting alternative (well beyond the simple re-packaging of a headcam feed to a wrap-around headset display) are virtual worlds.

When that astronaut (or taikonaut) steps out onto the Moon I (and you) could already be standing on the surface waiting for them.

NASA are already out to tender for their own virtual world. But this won't just be one world, but also a virtual Moon, a virtual Mars. As we collect more and more data about these worlds their virtual analogs will become ever more accurate. Scientists will gather in them to plan missions, analyse data, and decide on the next move or dig of a robot explorer.

But when the landings come these worlds will be crowded. The mission specialists will have their private world, the rest of us will have our own public instances, as crowded or as private as we like. Some might immerse us, forcing us to wear spacesuits and move in reduced gravity, others let us party around the virtual BBQ.

Using video or other motion capture analysis the movement of the astronaut will drive the million copies of their avatar. We'll watch from wherever we want to stand, we'll hear the words as they are spoken, and watch their actions as they do them.

For some this may seem less real than video. But both are just streams of data - and digital video (particularly with emerging object based standards such as MPEG7) has no monopoly on, or even claim to, truth. And in the virtual world you will be immersed, not just viewing but part of the action, it becomes subjective not objective.

Of course Mars offers an additional challenge - lag. The Moon is only 1.2 light seconds away. Mars is 200 - 300 light seconds away. As a one way experience that will be fine, but it disrupts the two-way experience - particularly important for the astronauts, their controllers and scientists, and perhaps even their families. The solution to this may be the flip situation - we virtualise ourselves as an AI based personality construct and run ourselves in the virtual Mars on the astronauts servers on Mars.

So perhaps my grandchildren will remember the return to the Moon or the first Mars landing not as something they saw on a screen sat on a cold wood floor, but as something they experienced unfolding around them.

***Imported from old blog***

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