Thursday, April 15, 2010

For Real, Make Believe

The Situation

My friends and I had a problem last week. We wanted to have all 10 of us in the same room at the same time for our fantasy baseball draft. We tried to find a time that we were all available on the same day at the same time. We emailed each other. We called each other. We texted each other. We even got fancy and used to ‘vote’ for the best time to get together. Apparently, we’re all very busy people and it just wasn’t possible to all be in the same room at the same time (before the baseball season started).

So, we dropped the requirement of being in the same [physical] room at the same time. We said, “there must be a way for us to get online and FEEL like we’re in the same room – we’ll share our webcams or at least audio.” Being that we’re technology savvy folks, I expected this to be an easy task. I thought “we’ll just use Second Life, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Telepresence or something like that”. The team offered ideas like,, Vonage, CamFrog, Savorchat, etc. We even reached out to our networks through Facebook, Google Buzz, gtalk, aim, and twitter to ask for ideas. Apparently, even through our networks, the technology just doesn’t exist – at least not in the format we wanted (and, of course, the [free] price we wanted :) )!

The draft HAD to happen, so what did we do? We failed to meet our expectations. We all sat at our own homes, on a weeknight, and we used chat. No audio, no video, just chat – as if it were 1997.

This failure doesn’t bother me – we still had a great draft and we’re looking forward to a great season. What WOULD bother me is if we didn’t take a moment to reflect upon this failure and learn from it.

Find A Solution

The simple solution would be to find or create an application that allows for 10 simultaneous webcams. I think this solution already exists, but it comes with a cost. Maybe it will be free someday, but until then, I took the opportunity to let my mind wander and consider all possibilities (especially if I have to pay, I want to think about what I want to pay for). In order to consider all possibilities, I tried to remove all the barriers of reality and I thought about synthesizing a number of related ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’.

Imagine… (The Craziness Begins Here)

Imagine a blend of social media, geospatial awareness, virtual worlds, webcams, interactive holograms, touch tables and Project Natal.

All of these technologies already exist, but it seems to me that they are currently progressing down separate paths – it seems like there would be tremendous benefit in blending their value.

TechnologyWhat is it?[Some] Examples
Social MediaConnecting people to people in a 2-d, textual way (on a screen)Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, etc.
Geospatial AwarenessSharing/awareness of physical locationFoursquare, iPhone
Virtual WorldsConnecting people to people in a 3-d way (on a screen), greatly increasing the ‘feeling’ of being in the same room at the same timeSecond Life, World of Warcraft, Active Worlds, etc.
Interactive HologramsRealistic 3-d objectsinteractive holograms
Touch TablesAn interactive, touchscreen tabletop that recognizes and interacts with standard objects (cell phones, credit cards, cups, etc.)touch tables
Project NatalInteractive artificial intelligence on a screen, with NO controllerProject Natal
WebcamA device to share videoLogitech QuickCam, Microsoft LifeCam

There is already a way for a webcam to be put on a car, and while the car is driving around taking video, a virtual world is simultaneously being created. That virtual world mirrors the real world – and its online, so we can interact with it. It seems to me that it is only another small leap to project that virtual world into a 3d hologram, as opposed to a 2-d screen. Then, if we can have connected, online, interactive holograms – wait a minute, woah! Imagine the fun – talk about connecting people to people, sharing non-verbals, ‘feeling’ like you are face to face! Maybe I can be in my living room, sitting on my couch, watching tv – and I can have a live hologram of my best friend “sitting on my couch” right next to me (looks like a hologram to me, but he’s sitting on his couch at his house, 1000 miles away – and he has a similar experience while sitting on his couch at his house).

Why stop there? :) If we, as regular human beings, can interact with a blended ‘real world’ and ‘virtual world’, then maybe we can add in the phenomenal artificial intelligence of Project Natal. We could have many, many Milos running around. They could learn from us and we could learn from them – in a blended reality. Add in the concept of touch tables, where we can interact with [real or virtual] objects.

Can you picture it? What are you picturing? I think it is an environment. It is an environment with many potential applications.

Imagine the Applications

A few possible uses of this environment might be:
1. Education system
2. Healthcare
3. Business
4. Entertainment

Education System: Used as an education system, this blended reality provides tremendous opportunities. Real people can find and interact with other people in real-time, in 3-d. Virtual Worlds could be built to look like anything, so you could have a holographic rendering of any period/place in time that you’d like to study (while walking around it – with other people).

Healthcare: In healthcare, this could be a way to have any person meet with any doctor at anytime that they are both available (without any travel costs). I’ve even heard about ‘remote surgery’, so I think this could be an environment to have as many doctors (and protégés) available to operate and ensure that remote surgery goes well.

Business: Of course we have to consider the financial application. This could lead to extremely efficient business operations. Employees could ‘meet’ with any other employee in the world at any time – sharing all non-verbals as if they were in the same room. No more scheduling conference rooms, no more travel costs (or at least, less worrying and travel costs J).

Entertainment: Think about the next generation of tv shows. There could be 25 “Survivors” all going on at the same time – like a tournament (think about how quickly people would become Survivor experts – that’s a perfect example of learning agility). The cast with the most interest would make the best revenue because of ads (which makes me think about entire new ways to sell advertising – experiential ads)

In general, we’re talking about sharing of resources – anyone in the world with a minute, passion, priority – can help or share a dialog with anyone else. Maybe we even build-in automatic language translation as Phase 2 J??

Let’s play Devil’s Advocate – Why is this a terrible idea?

If we were to share spaces, what does the combined space look like? Lowest common denominator (i.e. whomever has the smallest room, blandest colors is the design of the shared room), or do we need certain physical boundaries/markers?

The obvious problem of privacy – and the related problem of folks just wanting to be offline/disconnected/local. There would be normal resistance to change, not ‘getting it’, or just pure ‘wanting to watch – why would I need to connect to others?’.

The artificial intelligence of this connected world – as avatars are out learning on their own, it could be possible that they do harm in the virtual world.

What about the true physical characteristics – ie my daughter asked if we could have a virtual, holographic Yoshi that she could actually ride around the house. Or I thought of surgery, what if I needed surgery, could the physical changes be made in a virtual environment – could a team of doctors from around the world work on me if I were in a special physical building that automatically made corrections or at least allowed them to operate from anywhere in the world? (similar to remote surgery?).

Recap – In a Nutshell

Come home, put on your webcam, you can see 3d holograms in your room, you can interact with them – touch them - some of them are real people, some of them are avatars, some of them are just objects. Picture watching a 3-d, live, interactive, holographic version of your favorite sporting event – with all of your best friends standing “right there” with you – laughing and loving every second!


I’m sure there are movies about this concept. It’s exciting to think the technology is already getting close to this holographic, 3-d rendering of blended reality and virtual worlds – with automated, intelligent avatars and interactive objects. Will it happen? How soon might it happen? How can we leverage it? Is there a reason to get there “first”?

I wrote this fairly quickly, so I hope it is interesting and makes sense.

My daughter dubbed this idea “for real, make believe”.

“Don’t believe everything you think about.” -Wayne Dyer

“We already have all the answers, we just don’t have the right questions” - not sure, heard it somewhere, can’t find a source through Google

What do you think?