I am the very model of a Singularitarian

Last night I was listening to the podcast Changesurfer Radio: The Future of Virtual Reality and there was this really clever clip at the end of a transhumanist parody from the production The Filkado.

Anyway, it’s a Gilbert and Sullivan knockoff available for download at I am the very model of a Singularitarian – Charlie Kam’s H+ filk. Just writing up some notes on the “Singularity” so it made me smile. The link to the web page has the lyrics too, which is good because the jargon and buzzwords come thick and fast.

“What is the singularity?” I hear you ask. See Transhumanist FAQ : 2.7 What is the singularity? and Technological singularity – Wikipedia.

The podcast wasn’t bad either with some interesting ideas about virtual reality.

Guess who’s coming to (virtual) dinner?

A few years back (2001?) I played around with LifeFX (Windows/IE only) which at that point had a funky email program (FaceMail?) you could download and then its avatar software would recite your emails to you with speech synthesis, a “life-like” avatar and recognition of emoticons. So I was interested when I saw this today: Wired News: Avatars Among Us.

I remember discussing with some friends that the way that sociable computers might come about would not be through embodied robotics but through an AI system hooked up to an avatar (maybe trained through embodied robotics though). If you spend you day interacting with a life-like avatar then over time you may come to consider it more than a program on your computer (or PDA or media player).

LifeFX was developed in part using technology researched in part here at the University of Auckland for medical simulations. There’s an article here about it: Wired 8.12: Must Read – Interface2face.

Oh, and there are some video clips of it here: LifeFX Demos.

Virtual Reality as Therapy

Just skimming through these while list current applications of virtual reality in practice. These look amazing though I’m not sure I’d volunteer to test “Spider-World” (which means of course I’m a good candidate for it.)

Hoffman, Hunter G. “Virtual-Reality Therapy.” Scientific American 291, no. 2 (2004): 58-65. [HTML version]North, Max M., Sarah M. North, and Joseph R. Coble. “Virtual Reality Therapy: An Effective Treatment for Psychological Disorders.” In Handbook of Virtual Environments : Design, Implementation, and Applications, ed. Kay M. Stanney, 1065-1078. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

Rizzo, Albert A., J. Galen Buckwalter, and Cheryl van der Zaag. “Virtual Environment Applications in Clinical Neuropsychology.” In Handbook of Virtual Environments : Design, Implementation, and Applications, ed. Kay M. Stanney, 1027-1064. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

Robots: From tools to partners

Article on the Economist web site observing the love for robots in Japan. Has a few religious points of contact too. See Japan’s humanoid robots | Better than people | Economist.com.

Related to this is the Robotic Life group at MIT. Head over and have a look at their site. On their publications page they have some papers you can download that would fit with the article above, especially the ones about robots as collaborative partners.

Another interesting article is Wired News: Monsters of Photorealism which comments on the ideas of Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mori asserts that the more real you try to make a simulacrum of the human being – a robot or in VR/video games/films – the less convincing they become, to the point of becoming disconcerting or even repulsive. (See also Uncanny Valley – Wikipedia.)

Anyway, that’s enough random thesis connections falling out of my head for today.

UM-VRL: Virtual Reality: A Short Introduction

A nice short introduction to virtual reality technologies at the Virtual Reality Laboratory at the University of Michigan. See: UM-VRL: Virtual Reality: A Short Introduction. All you ever wanted to know (in summary) about CAVEs, BOOMs, HMDs and data gloves.

The politics of cyberspace

Vranddiscontents
From some reading I was doing today.

Technology never escapes politics. The fiction of cyberspace is useful precisely to the extent that it allows it allows its proponents to imagine an androcentric reality in which a threatening, messy, or recalcitrant (and invariably feminized) nature never intrudes. In this respect, cyberspace is consensual primarily in its insistence that technologically mediated experience can transcend the ecological and economic constraints that have shaped and continue to shape human culture. It offers the fantasy that the more technologically sophisticated our society becomes the less it has to worry about the distribution of wealth and resources.

From: Robert Moss Markley “Introduction: History, Theory, and Virtual Reality.” In Virtual Realities and Their Discontents, ed. Robert Moss Markley, 1-10. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. (p.4)

This book is a collection of essays from writers who are more critical (even cynical) about the benefits offered by virtual reality and cyberspace, and the myths spun by the proponents of the technology.

Virtual Reality and Bionic Limbs

Was writing up a section on immersion as one of the distinctive approaches to VR (one of the seven that Michael Heim identifies) and came across these articles. Love the VirtuaSphere (but not sure if I could carry off the Lycra body suit). The VR small and taste articles are also interesting but I think I’d need to see and try out the taste one. Anyway, here are the links:

Intel Does a Total Recall at IDF

Mike, a friend of mine, forwarded me this link about the new family world envisaged by Intel its recent developer forum. The author comments that a colleague of his saw it like this,

Wolfgang’s issue with what was presented is that our future family life would have little in common with a typical scenario of today. Availability of various digital devices, ubiquitous broadband and wireless connections will enable every family member to be engaged in their own digital worlds. Just like in Total Recall, we would become trapped inside our own heads.

More at: Tom’s Hardware Guide Columns: Intel Does a Total Recall at IDF.

Seems similar to the observations a while back by Michael Lewis in the very watchable BBC documentary series “The Future Just Happened”. You can watch episodes at the main web site BBC : The Future Just Happened – the key episode for this topic is “Promise vs. Threat” (Real Player). (Book available here.)

Augmented Reality, Children’s Books and Ritual

Matt and Maggi link through to some interesting stuff about using Augmented Reality (AR) out of the HITL project (NZ / US) for children’s books. I’ve also wondered about the possibilities for shared ritual experiences – that go beyond things like the primitive “CyberSamhain” described here in Erik Davis’ “Techno-pagans” article.

Beyond Tomorrow
News story about Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand

I came across AR when I did my initial foray into looking at virtual reality for my BD, when I started looking at how emergent technologies interact with Christian understandings of being human. Some very clever, and potentially helpful, stuff there.

The HITL (NZ) stuff originates in the “Magic Book” project (HITL project in the US). There used to be some video clips there you could view on the net that showed multiple people using the augmented reality stuff. The clips are a bit dated now but might give you the general idea. I like the facility to move between the fully immersive virtual world and an augmented one.

BBC World has a programme “The Virtual World” on a few years back that showed AR technology using, among other things, haptic (touch) feedback – you could “feel” the surface of molecules through an interface hooked up to a scanning electron microscope while working in a normal work environment with others. Might be some clips from that around somewhere. BBC World’s “Click Online” has some AR stuff here.

RL & VR

Wired News: Real World Doesn’t Use a Joystick

Kozy Kitchens’ experience with having a difficult time separating her real-life consciousness from that of her game playing is all too common among hard-core gamers. It’s so common, in fact, that game publishers might want to consider warning their customers that they may soon be unable to tell the difference between the game and reality.

If you want to read some interesting essays and articles about how people interact online or shape their “real lives” and “virtual lives” see Sherry Turkle. (Her book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet is an accessible, if a little dated now, survey of online life and its psychological and sociological implications)