Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Peering Into Virtual Lives

I suspect we're about to see an uptick in interest in and understanding of at least one aspect of virtuality with the debut of a new documentary film called, appropriately, "Second Skin." After you watch the trailer, above, you might be inclined to scoff at the notion of virtual government. "Oh, virtual worlds and online games are just for people with dead-end jobs and no lives," you might decide. But my guess is that the film will offer a rather more evenhanded look at the massively multiplayer online gaming impulse than does the trailer.

The point being that there's plenty of real life in Second Life and its ilk. And the division between first and second lives can be easily surrmounted, if not just about dissolved.

Companies already are creating head-mounted gear to control avatars. Just this week, Carnegie Mellon University annouced a new controller that allows users to experience almost realistic touch as they move about and manipulate things in synthetic worlds and online games.

The imagination runs wild, of course, but one person's prurient interests can be another's chance to practice surgery without injuring real patients, or learn to fly UAVs without crashing them, or design fighter jets with a real feel for how the parts fit together, or get a tactile understanding for how to assemble and dissasemble a rifle. Palpable virtual reality--how can government not adopt it?

Oh, and for those whose interest is piqued, sign up now for the second-ever conference of the Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds, "Federal Virtual Worlds Expo: Implementing the Future," April 24-25 at the National Defense University in Washington.

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