Future Freak

When Linden Labs’ Second Life arrived just a few years ago, it was met with a combination of enthusiasm, disregard and disdain. But there were many who yearned for a way to experience life in a different way–or more accurately, as different people. For them, Second Life provided a better-than-imaginary way to slip the bonds of ordinary life and become something different even if for a couple of hours at a time. Players could play as themselves, as another kind of person, or as an animal, vegetable or even mineral. SL was a uniquely digital elevation of a role-playing game, expressed via graphics and avatars that could be made quite interesting. Heck, who doesn’t want to be able to fly and shoot laser beams out of the left nostril? Of course, most of the greater population looked on with amusement, even as Second Life grew popular enough to attract real world companies to its graphically generated shores. The mainstream generally regarded Second Life as a freaky little computer world where Dungeons and Dragons types could go and hide out from the real world. That was seven years ago. And Second Life has remained – even prospered. The outward visibility of Second Life quieted down a bit after that initial splash, but it became a very important world to those who found satisfaction in the unique immersion. By 2008, an average of 38,000 avatars were running amok within Second Life every day, and the “in-world” needle once pegged at more than 88,000 graphically generated souls present.

The point is, the idea of virtual existence is becoming increasingly popular. The second point is that the advance of technology makes that possibility more likely every day. Don’t think it’s happening? Just look at the trends. Around the same time as Second Life, another universe was born. It was called Entropia, and like Second Life, still exists. The premise behind Entropia was to offer virtual safari and adventure to those with cash. Fight a 12-headed monster? You can do it in the world of Entropia. If you’re interested, here’s the Entropia Universe presentation that runs on YouTube.

Now fast forward a bit. We have the virtual universes, lots of Massive Multiplayer Online games – oh, and Disney just bought social gaming leader Playdom for the paltry sum of $763 million bucks. Basically, the big mouse on the block abandoned its old gaming direction and shut down dozens of ongoing projects in order to jump into the social and virtual gaming fray. And let’s not forget that Microsoft’s X-Box Kinect now allows gamers to engage without anything in hand.

These are interesting developments for sure, but there’s an even bigger prospect on the horizon, and it represents the birth of exactly what we always thought virtual reality would be like. In this reality, we won’t be tethered to a computer–at least not if Emotive Systems’ Tan Le has a say in it. Her astounding new human-machine interface actually allows a user to think commands. Of course, the application potential for this is staggering. Quadriplegics will soon be able to command electronic devices that will give them mobility, we’ll be able to think the curtains open or closed, 70 year old gamers will become hyper-physical warriors and we’ll power avatars with our minds. Amazing doesn’t begin to describe the implication. The Emotive interface was recently profiled in a TED talk, and the presentation makes it easy to imagine where things are headed. It seems the future has arrived right on schedule, and we can’t wait to play.

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