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Thursday, June 02, 2011


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dandellion Kimban

He would be interesting if he was writing fiction. But treating him as a serious scientist is compromised by his wish-full thinking of a 5-y-o.


Should I make my hipster comment about Second Life again? (It's not on the road anymore, it's in a cul-de-sac).

Where Kurzweil has been right in the past, it's been by guessing well about what Moore's Law makes possible. Here though he's talking about the nature and desires of human beings so, yeah, he's no more likely to be right about that than the guy ranting on the street corner downtown.

As far as the generational thing goes, I wouldn't be surprised that kids who grow up with virtual worlds around have figured out pretty quick how far they fall short of being a solution for any of the actual problems of life, as a consciousness embodied in a relatively unchangeable biological frame.

Does software have Buddha-nature?

John Branch

Though I haven't listened to the video excerpt yet, I can suggest an analogy that implies a different future from Hamlet's prediction based on present-day usage. Back in the early 80s, I built an 8-bit microcomputer; my father was amused, since he'd been involved with electronics himself for some time, but didn't see why anyone would ever want one or what they'd use it for (this despite the fact that the startup weekly newspaper I was working for already did its accounting on one). The obvious lesson: a lot of people eventually found uses for computers; it just wasn't clear in the early days how or whether that would happen. Something similar happened with the Internet. To put that part of the story in personal terms too (and to brag, I admit): I mentioned ARPAnet in print back in 1984, routinely visited CBBSs (computerized bulletin board systems) for some years after that, and was using the Internet in the early 90s for work purposes. Again, in the early years it wasn't clear what this set of technologies would lead to. One thing that IS pretty clear is that the later, widespread adoption of computers and of the Internet wasn't predicted by early usage patterns. The same might well prove true for virtual worlds. Let's check again in 15 years.

Eleri Ethaniel

Mebby it has something to do with the whole expectation that the 18-30 something set need to get out and Get A Real Life; it's not until late 30s early 40s that having a virtual life (that's not a action-->reward game) becomes vaguely acceptable again.


The man is a wannabe cult leader. In the same league as that Heaven's Gate guy. He is just pushing another form of Rapture delusion.

Pull the plug on him.

Hamlet Au

I just added a clarifying line: "And while Second Life has a lot of 30 and 40-somethings, the overwhelming majority of that demographic are far more likely to play a social game on Facebook, than they are to be in SL." Because I suspect Kurzweil or his supporters might argue, "Well, when the 10 year old is 45, she'll want to be in a world like Second Life." Maybe, but way more 45 year olds are playing CityVille or something like that.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

Eleri is correct. Kurzweil and Ed Castronova make the same mistake: the "desert of the real" for some can also be a garden of earthly delights to others with easy credit and the ability filter out bad things.

If the Singularity were even possible, maybe it woudln't be the rich and connected who make the transition; it would be those unhappy with their existence in a system that denies them power and influence.

My Millennial students, and affluent and upwardly mobile bunch, are horrified by any thought of Singularity, even as their every move is planned in a hive of acquaintances and mediated by social technologies.

They already are avatars, duck-walking through RL, but they just don't know it. When a gamer in my most recent class pointed that fact out,no one challenged the idea.

They have merged with their smart phones.

Maria Korolov

Plenty of young kids are involved in immersive 3D environments. They're called video games. I can't think of a bestselling video game today that doesn't use immersive 3D. Sure, there are plenty of popular 2D or 2.5D casual games like Farmville -- but you can't say that kids are rejecting immersive 3D altogether, or that they're too busy to play. They're certainly spending enough money on them.

There is going to be a stigma associated with 3D, especially during the transition phases. I still remember folks who refused to use a mouse, and said that Mac-style graphical user interface was a toy, and not suitable for business. Too slow, too simplistic, too sissified.

Kurtzweil may or may not be right on the other predictions, but we're probably on the beginning stage of a massive transition to immersive 3D environments for collaboration and communication and to 3D interfaces for interacting with our computers.

It will take more processing power. It will take better graphics cards. It will take faster bandwidth. But we all know all of those things are coming.

Hamlet Au

"I can't think of a bestselling video game today that doesn't use immersive 3D."

Angry Birds is 2D and has been downloaded 100 million times, for starters. But if you're talking about next-gen console games, which do tend to be immersive and 3D, those are lucky to sell 5-8 million copies. The absolute high end is something like Call of Duty 2, which sold 20 million copies -- but even that's quite small compared to CityVille, Angry Birds, etc.

With immersive 3d games, we're also talking about a subset of young people -- specifically males, overwhelmingly, but rarely girls. You can't have an immersive 3D future when it's just a bunch of dudes. (As Playstation Home learned.)


Mobile tech has won the world. People want to augment their daily lives, reaching out to friends wherever they are while engaging in casual games that can be easily integrated into daily routines.

I don't the future will be Uploaded. I think it will be Augmented.

And I think the video in this blog post illustrates it perfectly. http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/2011/03/15/augmented-cities-and-dreaming-wisely/

Melissa Yeuxdoux

"If the Singularity were even possible, maybe it woudln't be the rich and connected who make the transition; it would be those unhappy with their existence in a system that denies them power and influence."

I think Ignatius may have it. When you're young and strong and non-sagging, it's very easy to join in the "get a first life" mockery. Let's remember to ask them what they think in a couple of decades.

(As for "lots more old folks are playing FarmVille": I also think Gwyneth Llewelyn has it right when she suggests that Second Life isn't a mass market product. There are lots more people of the "Here we are now, entertain us" persuasion than those who are happy making their own fun. (Alas, there are sociopaths of the latter sort; they're called "griefers"--but that's another issue.) We can all admit it's a lot easier to mindlessly grind away, harvest your crops and gather your eggs, and take part in Zynga's Skinner box, and maybe Linden Lab just has to deal with that.


If you haven't already, you should pick up Vernor Vinge's book - Rainbows End. I think he's got a more likely vision (more likely than "mind uploading") for how immersive VR will develop in the next couple decades. He also doesn't pretend he's not writing fiction.

I was thinking about another factor that's been discovered in SL and current virtual worlds which maybe isn't so apparent to people looking in from the outside. To create a truly compelling virtual space nowadays can take comparable time, effort and specialized talent to actually building a real environment such as a house. And the results are ultimately less fulfilling as long as we still need to step *out* of virtual worlds to get about the business of living.

Galatea Gynoid

The problem with your analysis, Hamlet, is that you're imposing a false dilemma on the future that's only a true dichotomy today because of limited technology. Second Life has plateaued while Farmville booms on Facebook because you can't make Farmville or Facebook in Second Life, or any other similarly compelling content. The platform can't handle it. And you can't make Farmville and other Facebook interactions more immersive due to the current nature of Facebook, the web, and the need to scale to gigantic proportions. Given the choice between a more immersive world or a much larger world, connecting to far more people with far more going on, they've chosen the latter. But in the future, one hopes computers and networks get better (Kurzweil's off the deep end on his misapplication of "Moore's Law" to everything under the sun, but I think it's safe to apply it to computers). Facebook itself could become a much richer, more immersive environment, or at least play host to such things. Or Second Life (or its successors) could finally become capable of hosting true social events on large scales, and Farmville like content without bringing the Grid to its knees and bankrupting the poor souls trying to run it. Either way, you end up with widespread immersive VR in the future. It's just not going to happen on any system with the limitations of present day SL.

Hamlet Au

"Second Life has plateaued while Farmville booms on Facebook because you can't make Farmville or Facebook in Second Life, or any other similarly compelling content. The platform can't handle it."

You may be right. But then, a next gen console could handle it. Trouble is, the market for next gen consoles is shrinking, not growing. The PS2 has an install base of 150 million. The 360 has an install base of only 53 million. If people are so interested in having immersive experiences, why are so few of them buying 360s?

Gary Hayes

Yes odd argument Hamlet overall, you seem stuck in the present & looking at wall garden consoles or clunky virtual worlds is nothing to do with 34 years from now?! - Second Life is a crude early stage technology with a one dimensional business model - it's equivalent in 34 years time will be nothing like virtual spaces today where surround immersion & mixed & Augmented Reality will make SL circa 2011 look like a website from 1994. Kids around 10 years of age now, statistically and anecdotally (nephews & friends kids) use 'virtual worlds' without barriers - they don't give a tosh about user numbers, business models, they just use them fluidly, and that's the point here. Second Life was/is attractive to 30-40 year olds who saw it as cool technology at first then fell out of love with it...what Kurzweill is talking about is a Second Life model (millions immersed in virtual space) where you will have the choice for your persona to be permanently 'hosted' inside it...yes a long way from sculpties, lag, shadows, jerky machinima and bad management, which is the current state of affairs and NWN items :)

Dizzy Banjo

While I love Kurzweil's imagination, I tend to agree with Pathfinder. The virtual has spilt out over reality already and its much more convenient and fun to use it here, rather than through the process of avatarisation / immersion.

I love the Matsuda film, but the most exciting things for me are how virtual objects and their control may actually become part of our world in unexpected ways. Augmenting visually is clearly interesting and control using virtual keyboards and interfaces is perhaps the most obvious translation of our current interaction paradigm. But I think the most exciting things may come from tailoring representation and interaction methods to a wider set of inputs , which may lead us in directions which don't just mimic a keyboard over reality.

I think the other trend which is exciting in this area is the ability of devices to 'just understand' what the user wants in a particular situation or location through learning their behavioural patterns. So instead of users constantly interacting with stuff - they just get what they want.

Either way - I think these trends, of augmentation and of personalised recommendation lead away from the core idea and user experience of immersed and highly 'user interaction intensive' of virtual worlds like Second Life.

foneco zuzu

Lets just wait and see who will survive in 5 years, facebook or linden labs.


most 40 year olds. still have too many 5 year olds.. and cant afford them even with 3 jobs in real life.. what does reality care for vr games and facebook rich boyz girlz. toys?

facebook is a phone- book. end. and will be tossed like one.:)

yes. by 2045 some self absorbed folks will try to upload their brains.. just like some freezed themsleves in the 80s...


Terminated Account

If I may add my two cents as a terminated account in SL:

How can you expect late teens to join SL when they have spent the last few years with the notion that minors are banned permanently and their adult friends terminated and reported to the police for just talking to them?

The real problem with the lack of new young users in SL is that LL treats its customers as subjects in a dictatorial country. And since the teens are all gone now (after the migration of Teen SL into the grid) they are policing adult users too, in a way that looks like ethnic cleansing and particularly against non-US users (local payments, anyone?). Since the people who are banned do not talk well about LL, naturally, the only opinion you hear about SL is: "Oh, that laggy place where you do pedophilia, cannibalism and mutilation for years if you wish to but are banned for no apparent reason and no explanation? No thanks."

Before you say anything...yes, I appealed my termination.

SL did not cause the original web to die, and there is only one reason why: it was supposed to be a free world where one could reinvent their lives and it was advertised as such. Unfortunately, it is only money-robbing, money-losing scam.

foneco zuzu

I have to agree, LL is trying to forget that most of its users base is:
Non US one.
With different moral values.
What can be seen as a terrible atrocity its as natural as breathing for other cultures.
So unless LL wants to just become Usa territory, they must remenber that Sl is 1st and for all, freedom of choice!

Ciaran Laval

I have to agree with some of the other comments here Hamlet, you're basing your view on the present, I'm pretty sure the future will provide more 3D feature rich environments for people to engage with as technology improves.

Second Life has been described as having a steep learning curve, people have to load a client, they have to update it, in the future these barriers won't exist.

Carrie Lexington

I haven't finished reading the entire article but i had to stop and comment on this:

"Immersive virtual worlds like Second Life are not gaining more users, and the generation that will come of age in 2045 are showing little or no interest in them now."

i have to disagree with you on this. kids are playing in virtual worlds like mad. they are bonding in the classroom over video games and virtual worlds, saving their lunch money to purchase prepaid cards at walmart. they are not interested in the Farmvilles of Facebook.

there are tons of virtual worlds for kids as young as 3 and 4 years olds and kids take to them like a duck takes to water.

i find it hard to believe that in 2045 there will be interest in virtual worlds.

John Lopez

There were two excellent points in this thread. The first was regarding the ability for SL to be the platform for engaging content. It is a great platform for a subset of content, but when you attempt to extend it in ways that people extend browsers into compelling social networks, it collapses around your ears in a storm of lag. So maybe some other technology will replace it that *is* as flexible as the standard browser.

My bet in that regard is WebGL, but it could be Unity or even Open Sim based.

Why not treat websites as distinct 3D worlds that we can travel between and let those worlds make a myriad of incompatible interfaces that compete until eventually some standards arise for UI and even user presence (a portable avatar). I'm patient.

It will take a long time. There will be some horrible decisions made, sites that annoy while others delight and eventually people will find that exploring 3D content is just something you do, just like video now and audio before that moved online.

There will be a train-wreck of failed companies around it and eventually, someday, we will just think of 3D as another media type and an avatar as just another browser use decision.

This also resolves the second problem: Second Life's public perceptions. I have taken SL off my public facing sites simply because I was tired of be asked about the pr0n industry. My son won't go back (he was on the teen grid) because he finds collaborating on Deviant Art and other sites more compelling and less buggy.

Finally, it turns out people enjoy meeting one another even today. The doomsday predictions of a culture of shut-ins using their computers appears at least temporarily averted. The kids I know far prefer to visit in the real world and use technology to augment that time, not replace it.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

@Carrie, we may all be asking the wrong questions. It's about the amount of time needed for a particular task.

I ask all of my cyberculture students about gaming--we are a campus where gamers are a minority of the non-upwardly-mobile because their grades suffer (or are believed to do so).

Nearly every student I teach *was* a gamer, just like the Club Penguin and Habbo crowd you may be describing. My students *were* into Ultima, Everquest, The Sims, etc.

I don't know about other cultures, but the cultural narrative among the US affluent is "put aside childish things and go to a good college." So my students did, to get better grades and to buff up the college-entrance credentials with community service, AP classes, test-taking classes, internships, sports: they gamed their lives.

Now that they are in college, these students might play a console-based game from time to time casually, in the same way that a few of their faculty break out the polyhedral dice for a D&D or Savage Worlds session once in a while. But having a second life in any 3D environment is just not something 95% of my students value.

The big question for academics and game-execs alike will be whether today's youngest children of affluence (and they rule the consumer culture) continue to play time-intensive games after high-school. We'll see.

Carrie Lexington

@Ignatius, agreed. i think it's an entirely different generation though and whether or not they continue to interact in virtual worlds after high school largely depends on the whether or not the public perception of vw's shifts from something to kill some time on or something that is of real value. I would like to think that the young children of today are learning what our generation has struggled with - integrating virtual world presence in our Lives, minus the stigma and negative stereotypes. kids don't have those negative emotional attachments to things until we start feeding them with those ideas.

honestly, i feel a little over my head in this discussion. i'm not very well read on this topic, just throwing out some of my initial thoughts.

Alicia Stella

Kurzweil is speaking about when a virtual reality environment is projected directly into our brains, (similar to having a dream in bed while your body stays in place,) with ALL of our senses being controlled by the experience. Second Life, or anything on a screen in front of your face, is not fully immersive or "realistic" as he describes it, and therefore will not gain large usage by the public until it's truly competing with actual reality in that respect.

Xbox games can often be more "realistic" than SL and it garners much success. SL is more of an extension of the web, but in a 3D plane.

Once SL (or other virtual spaces) and the web combine for a more simple experience, everyone will have an avatar of some sort to explore the virtual world web of tomorrow. Just as we all have an email address today.


Virtual worlds will become madly popular when you can visit Lady Gaga's house in one.

Also, we don't have proper 3D yet. We have a perspective view projected on a 2D monitor. When real 3D *without funny glasses* is widespread, that will be an entirely different experience from what we have now.

Eleri Ethaniel

""Plenty of young kids are involved in immersive 3D environments. They're called video games""

Right, but those have clearly defined goals, actions and rewards. Your interaction is, for the most part, mapped out for you. The fact that the environment in those games is 3D is incidental to the gameplay; the space doesn't impact (for the most part) the action.

In SL, and other true virtual environments, you have to seek out and/or create your own content, and that's more effort than 'kids these days' want to put into their online interaction.

As an example, part of the reason the MMO Uru Live died (Commercially, the game is still running.) on reboot is because so much of it was self-generated activity and exploration; and it was being marketed to the 20-something gamer set. They couldn't figure out what to do without NPCs setting them specific tasks, and when they'd burnt through pre-made content, they didn't know what to do with themselves.

Arcadia Codesmith

I think Hamlet's looking at existing trend lines, Ray's looking at truths beyond the numbers, and only time will tell who's right.

But if you look at Facebook and see the future, you're probably behind the curve. Facebook is last week's news. The future is taking shape someplace nobody has heard of... yet. It always does.

Extropia DaSilva

In 'The Singularity Is Near' Kurzweil writes "Computers... will become essentially invisible: Woven into our clothing, embedded in our furniture and environment. They will tap into the worldwide mesh (what the World Wide Web will become once its linked devices become communicating web servers, thereby forming vast supercomputers and memory banks) of high-speed communications and computational resources...

...These resources will provide high-resolution, full immersion visual-auditory virtual reality at any time. We will also have augmented reality with displays overlaying the real world to provide realtime guidance and explanations".

So while the videos Hamlet posted make it sound as if Kurzweil expects us all to forgo the real world in favour of some hyper-realistic Second Life 4.0, a more thorough reading of his preditions reveals an expectation that the virtual and the 'real' will become much more integrated. We may occasionally escape to some purely virtual environment, but for most people the two will be combined. For instance, in future SL community conventions digital people like myself might attend RL conferences, because augmented reality would make it look for all the world like I am mingling with the RL crowd (Wagner James Au once reported on a prototype technology allowing avatars to seemingly inhabit real spaces).

Dylan Rickenbacker

"Immersive virtual worlds like Second Life are not gaining more users, and the generation that will come of age in 2045 are showing little or no interest in them now."

Do some math on that, Hamlet. The parents of the generation that will come of age in 2045 is busy learning to read and write at the moment.

Extropia DaSilva

"Kurzweil's off the deep end on his misapplication of "Moore's Law" to everything under the sun, but I think it's safe to apply it to computers".

But he does not apply Moore's Law to everything under the sun. He applies Moore's law to the practice of doubling the number of transistors on an integrated circuit of fixed size. He acknowledges that there are fundamental physical limits that will one day make it impossible to improve integrated circuits any further, but anticipates three-dimensional molecular computing (which is already working in prototype form in laboratories) will take over, thereby extending the exponential curve still further. He does apply his 'Law Of Accelerating Returns' to a wider range of things than just 'computers' but even this is restricted only to 'information technologies' and not 'everything under the sun'.

Extropia DaSilva

>Maybe he's right that a singularity of technological progress will make us want to upload our consciousness to virtual reality.<

Maybe. But, again, what Kurzweil predicts is not so much a mass exodus to some cyber-paradise but ever-more effective ways of combining machine and human intelligence. That's what the Singularity is. Not 'disapppearing into a cyberparadise' but learning how to combine human and machine intelligences so effectively, future generations (of humans, computers or combinations of the two) become profoundly more capable in terms of their mental prowess than we currently are, which would make it extraordinarily difficult for us to imagine how such massively augmented intelligences might affect the world.

"In the next 25
years, we will learn how to augment
our 100 trillion very slow interneuronal
connections with highspeed
virtual connections via nanorobotics.
This will allow us to greatly
boost our pattern-recognition abilities,
memories, and overall
thinking capacity, as well as
to directly interface with
powerful forms of computer
intelligence. The technology
will also provide wireless
communication from one
brain to another.
In other words, the age of
telepathic communication is
almost upon us.
Our brains today are relatively
fixed in design. Although
we do add patterns
of interneuronal connections
and neurotransmitter
concentrations as a normal
part of the learning process,
the current overall capacity of the
human brain is highly constrained.
As humanity’s artificial-intelligence
(AI) capabilities begin to upstage our
human intelligence at the end of the
2030s, we will be able to move beyond
the basic architecture of the
brain’s neural regions.
Brain implants based on massively
distributed intelligent nanobots will
greatly expand our memories and
otherwise vastly improve all of our
sensory, pattern-recognition, and
cognitive abilities. Since the nanobots
will be communicating with one another,
they will be able to create any
set of new neural connections, break
existing connections (by suppressing
neural firing), create new hybrid biological
and computer networks, and
add completely mechanical networks,
as well as interface intimately
with new computer programs and
artificial intelligences".

I find it hard to believe that such profound technolgical change can happen in a mere 25 years. However, computers have become more 'personal', beginning with machines that filled entire rooms and used by only a few, currently manifesting as billions of smart phones in pockets of ordinary folk, capable of wirelessly downloading apps that perform various kinds of useful services, and uploading content to cloud-based services. So that quotation of Kurzweil's is really just an extrapolation of past and current trends. While I can't believe this is all just 25 years away, I can believe something along these lines will become reality eventually.

Recka Wuyts

Realistically there is most likely some thread of truth in almost everything Ray Kurzweil says. Computerized humans no doubt will become common at some point in our near future if for no other reason than our need to keep up with the information load and environmental pace of change, to say nothing of our desire to stay healthy. Virtual world travel I am sure will be a desirable activity in a world overcrowded and under resourced. Virtual worlds will evolve, who can say what demographic will embrace SL or any VW in 3,5,7,11 years. What was your virtual reality like 7 years ago?


The poster who said kids already use all the virtual worlds (loosely defined) seamlessly is right.

Both my kids (approx 10 year old demographic) use opensim, google sketchup, facebook (and all the games like cityville etc), halo etc etc

Can you argue that the different applications are not virtual worlds? Sure you can. Can you argue that they are not interconnected ONLINE social media in some way? I think you'd be hard pushed to argue that.

The idea that we'll be immersed in a 3D interactive environment like Second Life or Opensim all the time is ludicrous. We will experience some of cyberspace through our phones, a lot of it through the web, and some other parts of it through other applications.

But *some* of us will be in the 3D world most of the time.


I don't know, the other day I was walking down 7th avenue and looked around--not one person was looking up because everyone was staring down into the screen on this tiny box. And I only looked up because I banged into someone when I, myself, was lost in the world of the email in my hand. I think it's kind of like the boiling frog story--u can't put him in boiling water because he'll jump right out, but if you turn up the heat slowly...
We are leaving reality-reality a little each day..if I parachuted down into my life from 10 yrs ago into right now I think things would look a little crazy.

Jim Jesus (a.k.a. machwon)

Kurzweil is a crank who has made some downright laughably bad predictions in the past and is only dangling from his internet prediction that was fairly obvious at the time was going to happen. Issac Asimov actually beat him to the punch. This is the same guy who said the dotcom boom would last until 2007 and by 2009 we'd have a plethora of networked gadgets attached to our bodies.

nick walker

you guys are all delusional, he is saying when people are able to fully emerge themselve in the virtual world is when it will be popular. Of course it isnt now because your sitting at your house on the computer. But if it were immersive like on that movie gamer than I can see where hes going. He is also not a cult leader or a crazy. He is an inventor and author.


Second life is not gaining popularity because it appeals to a niche of freaks and perverts. There is no point, no motivation, except to have awkward virtual "sex".

If we create environments that are life-like in the future, I am positive they will be popular. Are video games popular? Are online forums with avatars popular? Is youtube popular?

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