Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…
-Neuromancer (1984) William Gibson
I am an avid reader. I love to read. Put a book with an interesting title, cover, or topic in front of me and I will read it. I’ll read it fast, and I’ll probably read it again months or years down the road. A good book is something to be savored more than once. You might mistake my speed for rushing to finish it, or assume I miss out on relishing the content. Not true: I just happen to read quickly. For me, books are something like pieces of theater that play themselves out in my head. If I read too slow, my mind wanders and I sort of tune out. I guess this is like watching a movie in slow motion with no audio.
Of course, some books are much more than interesting diversions or simple brain candy that goes “pop!” in my brain (even while generating ideas and sparkling little epiphanies). Some books are like a whirling vortex of images, emotions and thoughts: with accompanying explosions of sound, color, sense and scent (ok, not really – I do have a very active imagination). When I read, some books suck me in so deep that I literally become oblivious to the world around me. I might as well be dreaming. And – rarely – some books have such an impact on me that I can recall different scenes or events in the book as if I had really experienced or dreamt them. Odder still is that sometimes, when I find an old book that I haven’t read for a long time and start to reread it, I experience a tidal wave of nostalgia and memory of the time when I first read it. Things I have smelled, places I have been, the mumbled voices of my family in the background and (most especially) that particular atmosphere that is different in every city in which I have lived. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
One of the passages that has had the greatest effect on me (at least in terms of technology, the future, and all the other fun things I’m doing now) is the aforementioned excerpt from Neuromancer. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have read that paragraph, savoring and relishing the mental image it creates. I could build a whole synthetic world and story around that simple paragraph. Can you picture it? Like city lights, receding… I can picture it now, moving, changing and pulsing: almost as if it were a living thing. I want to go there. I want to build it. I want to share it with other people.
I think my desire to build – and share – such a space is one of the reasons I have devoted years of my life to virtual realities, virtual worlds, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games. It also explains my continuing interest in artificial intelligence, artificial life, simulations and so forth. About two years ago I had an awakening when I realized that the future I have been longing for (especially since we STILL don’t have flying cars or vacations at the Lunar hotel) is almost here.
Although many of the elements that truly blend the real and the virtual are here, these are yet to be concretely consolidated into one functional system. Also, not all of the pieces required to construct such system have matured to the point of usability. I could sit back and wait for others to develop the entire system, but I am too hungry for it. So I decided to form Neogence Enterprises and attempt to build the world’s first global mobile augmented reality network (even though I really don’t like the phrase augmented reality).
So, here I am. I’m doing it: I’m attempting to build it. I have a grand vision, more ambitious than just about anything else I have ever tried (although attempting to ski a black slope in the German Alps – right after I learned how to stop on the bunny slopes – ranks pretty high up there). In the rest of this multi-part series, I’m going to explain:
- What augmented reality is.
- What mobile augmented reality can be and associated potentialities.
- How mobile augmented reality is going to function.
- Details concerning Neogence’s short term goals.
- What Neogence plans on launching on October 10th 2010 (10/10/10).
I hope you stay tuned. I’m definitely looking forward to your opinions.
I am becoming something else. In this moment, this being-in-transition, I am willfully stepping into the unknown. I am between realities. I can only imagine what I want to become, and then choose to become that new thing, but it is radically ungraspable, inconceivable. I can never know the reality of what I am choosing to become, desiring to become. My decision to transform can never be the right one, because it is always based on an illusion, a fantasy, a false conception with only a few points of data, not the rich details of an embodied life. As the transformation unfolds, those unknown events begin to occur, like seeing my breasts in the mirror for the first time after shaving my chest closely, feeling the movement in my orgasm change into something new or just walking down the street for a moment as a girl, unnoticed and not needing any special attention. My decision to become something else is always a decision to become mythopoetic, because the reality of the new state is always unknown, imaginary, a construct, a fantasy. Yet I don’t seek to decry this radical state of uncertainty but to embrace it. The very moments of everyday perception are also simply intersections of a real materiality with my symbolic and imaginary processing engines making sense of them, down to the way that I understand what pleasure is and what pain is and when the two become too close so as to be confused. And a choice to not transform is of course still a choice to transform into a different state, as our bodies are all in permanent transition, aging, training, consuming, producing, perceiving, creating new folds in our craniums.
Through this process, I am also becoming an artist. Yet this is simply another fantasy which I use to structure my desires and find direction. Artist, porn star, student, professor, father, mother, husband, wife, lover, child, priest, these are all simply performances of being, yet their being a performance makes them no less real, nor more real, just another fold in the swirling interplay, the kaleidoscope of realities that is our being.
While one can draw one’s fantasy, or write it out in words, 3D virtual worlds bring us one step closer to seeing in front of our eyes the fantasy films which play behind our eyes, yet there are many more steps to bring us closer to dreams. In my dreams I smell, I feel my body in action, I have visceral emotions, yet software such as Second Life is far from emulating such unreal realities. Still, we can make steps closer to dreams, with motion capture, head mounted displays, tactile interfaces, wish pressure interfaces. I wish for another reality, the electricity on my skin changes, transferring the new desired location to the system, and the pressure interface responds, as my chair morphs from a car seat to a comfy recliner in my skybox…loading world…arriving.
The web was built on openness and designed from the ground up to enable sharing of code – view the source from early web pages for examples. Yet it seems that already Second Life content creators want strict restrictions on copying, even going so far as to support the DMCA. So, while the DMCA is decried in so many cases (such as the RIAA suing elderly women and children who don’t even own computers), Second Life content creators want to call upon it for protection. There are currently multitudes of useful business models built around open source and free sharing. Why do users of Second Life, who have the ability to create a new world and rethink the negatives associated with our geophysical one, want to rely on an obsolete notion of copy restriction? This acts to simulate the production of physically-templated objects instead of assisting in the understanding of new models which are based on (and flourish from) copying, sharing and building commons.
Ultimately, this is my argument: much like the alter-globalization movement wants to create a new world, an “other globalization” not based on corporate profit at the expense of the millions who are exploited, synthetic worlds present us with an opportunity to imagine and craft the kind of worlds in which we want to exist. While many argue that Second Life duplicates the problems of sexism, racism and homophobia that we see in the geophysical world, I would argue that we can’t ignore the way that corporations are shaping our synthetic environs.
If the example of the web shows us anything, it is that users and developers can ensure some degree of freedom for the next few decades. While net neutrality threatens the future of that openness – as phone companies demand laws that guarantee the prevention of copyrighted films from being downloaded – new technologies like wireless mesh networks offer the possibility for hope. One of the most important and wonderful properties of the net is that problems are identified and routed around. It seems that synthetic worlds are at a point where some routing is necessary.