Dec 112008

…and a little end of 2008 Virtual Worlds, State of Play…

Broome Australia 2008_07

Just back from a short break in the lovely town of Broome in NW Australia (my pics). It was interesting being disconnected from ‘the cloud’ but in the process having a few ‘virtual experiential’ moments. One of these was watching the controversial film ‘Australia’ in the worlds oldest picture gardens, Sun Pictures (pictured below). Several parts of the film are set in an open air cinema in the 40s and it was so odd to actually be ‘in’ more or less the same scene of deck chairs, insects buzzing around – as the real sun set, the wind blew off the Northern Territories outback while the film panned around those environments, and lizards crawled around on the screen, bats flew overhead, propeller planes took off from the nearby Broome airport and in the audience several from the Broome aboriginal community. A kind of forget 3D lets get to 4D film experiences.

In other parts of Broome I talked to a few people about some of my work, y’know, the web, cross-media, film and virtual worlds (and just like those low hanging fruit journalists who are constantly predicting the end of 3D worlds) even out here in the styzx a couple of folk suggested that games & social virtual worlds especially will really suffer in this economic downturn and may not survive. Which leads to the point of this post to put things in a little perspective.


First lets look at investor confidence in them. From Virtual Worlds Management Reports there was $1 billion US invested in 35 virtual world companies between Oct 06-07 – and since Oct 07 to the present day there has already been $918 million trusted to the success of this particular industry. This breaks down roughly as:

  • Q3 08 – $148.5 million invested in 12 VW companies
  • Q2 08 – $161 million in 16 VW companies
  • Q1 08 – $184 million in 23 VW companies
  • Q4 07 – $425 million in 15 VW companies

As a topical reference, and to put things into heritage media perspective the total spend on all film and tv drama in Australia in 07-08 was $420 million US (at current exchanges). Now the majority of these worlds invested in are youth based but many specialised ones aimed at the Gen Y hole (see charts for more info) that are focusing on key niches. These start to fill in the gaps that ‘generic’, jack-of-all-trades, social virtual worlds such as Second Life cannot truly cut the mustard as sub-builds inside the service. So we have recently had in the last week the to user launches of a dedicated real life buy with real cash Virtual eShopping just in time for XMas and what will be a real winner in my view (having just tried it finally) the social sports virtual world, Football Superstars which combines EA-like footy with social activity and even has a bit of WoW-like quest giving challenges.

The social aspect of virtual worlds are not lost on the big consoles either with the Launch of XBox and PS3 virtual worlds that I covered in a recent post and also the Inquirer’s article Sony, Microsoft begin battle of Virtual Worlds. I was going to talk a lot about how during hard economic times people turn to escapist activities. In the past it used to be film or TV, but now there are many more choices and as we haven’t seen a global economic downturn of this scale since the 2nd world war – the escapism of choice is now immersive interactive media. This will not be lost on advertisers who also need to optimise their spend across the many variants of shared social worlds.

Shared Social Worlds Diagram


Savvy businesses have now moved beyond the hype bubble of Second Life’s superficiality and realise the power of social collective collaboration. As well as education and science virtual worlds as ‘tools’ are developing into major economic government initiatives. The Athena Alliance have released a report called “Virtual Worlds and the Transformation of Business” with some optimistic summary lines.

The rise of the collaborative enterprise that is likely to result from the successful deployment of Virtual World technologies will usher in a new era of business. It will change the way firms compete with one another for customers in both goods and services industries. It is our firm belief that if our nation accelerates the development and maturation of Virtual Worlds, it will encourage a more collaborative and enterprising form of business. This will lead to greater innovation, sustained productivity, and competitive growth in the world economy.. the companies and workers can use the tools of Virtual Worlds to transform the United States into a collaborative enterprise-driven economy.”

The use of virtual worlds for simulation is not lost on the military either. This goes way beyond using first person shooter games to train late teens for an army life using well, first person shooter game technology in war zones. Last week the largest global simulation conference ever was held “The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC)” focused on the use of more social virtual worlds for training and education for military and scientific use. It was keynoted by General Wallace, the Commander, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command who talked with other big government players about the likely hundreds of billions of dollars that will be invested in virtual simulation technology. As we know most media developments have come about from love and death, porn and war. So this growth as always will resonate in the commercial entertainment industry. An example of how military and education are mixing here is The University of Florida recently announced too that it will be spending $1.25 million on building a Second China for the US Foreign Service and Military to understand the culture without the need to go there and fail-forward.

“The goal of the federally funded research project: To educate and prepare foreign service or other government professionals to arrive in the country prepared and ready to work.”


On the money side there is a great deal of research now going into how virtual world economic models and currencies will evolve from a range of closed systems to a state that may become viable alternatives to ‘real world’ currencies. The Virtual Economy Research Network just had an interesting article on the VW freemium model – free-to-play but encourages the adoption of the inworld currency rapidly, for example.

A brief look forward and in terms of users of these worlds there is going to be a big acceleration over the next 3 years with a recent Instat report suggesting that “registered users of virtual worlds are expected to exceed 1 billion” by 2012 and total revenue is expected to exceed US $3 billion. The majority of this revenue is not from an expected subscription or advertising but “90% of their revenue from the sale of virtual items, currency, land, and fees associated with these items”. Finally a reason why there is even more investment in youth worlds “70% of the more than 300 million registered users of virtual worlds are younger than 18.”

Forester and MillionsOfUs have just published a report looking at how traditional corporate business will begin to flourish in these spaces and to quote their executive four point summary:

  1. It grants unprecedented depth of engagement with consumers. Second only to inperson
    consumer meetings, virtual worlds allow marketers to get up close and personal
    with individual consumers. Using these interactions to allow for feedback, creative tasks,
    and just plain fun creates brand and product advocates in the user base who go far beyond
    in-world influence.
  2. It taps into an audience that is difficult to reach via other channels. Today’s virtual
    world users are seen as a minority vanguard for future usage, but they are also difficult to
    reach via other channels. This is especially true of youth groups and deeply creative
    communities supported by various virtual worlds.
  3. Newer worlds offer better opportunities for cross-channel tracking and more
    targeted audiences.
    Early virtual worlds, while technically groundbreaking and providing
    the necessary foundation for future worlds, often lacked audience-tracking tools and were
    open playgrounds without a specific purpose. New, recently launched worlds or those just
    around the corner will offer better tools for customer tracking and tend to target gamers,
    youth, conversation, or other specific tasks, rather than just being open. This allows better
    brand alignment and campaign integration.
  4. Virtual merchandizing resonates with youth — and can be very cost-effective. Virtual
    items and other digital assets resonate with Gen Y consumers far more than with older
    (physical-media-loving) consumers. They appreciate novel, unique items and accept brand
    involvement in these items and their distribution — provided it has been thought through.
    Needless to say, the creation, storage, and distribution of virtual items can be very costeffective
    compared with traditional merchandise like t-shirts and caps.

There is no decline happening. So journos, nay sayers, please look at your own industries please. To reiterate the above examples are social or simulation virtual worlds and there are around 78 currently being used by 360 million people. I haven’t touched on online game worlds or offline games which starts to turn the whole affair into a $40-50 billion industry overtaking movies (including home entertainment elements too). All suggestions are that VWs and Games will be the dominant entertainment form and a widely used tool for business and education and revenues will start to match that of the $300 billion TV industry within five years time. A big issue for me is the lack or real courses in higher education in this space too. Most training is on how to use software to make fps console-type games, there needs to be a paradigm shift otherwise media education will be irrelevant as the heritage media linear form falls into the background.


Now tell me again that these wacky 3D worlds are about to disappear?

To finish I will be adding a presentation I gave at the Online Distribution and Business Collaboration Conference two weeks ago as it contains many references to the above post…hold your breath…

Sep 232008

OK I had better blog this ‘press release‘ copied below which quotes me, but also as I am heavily involved in the creation of these courses and still running LAMP (the innovation unit at AFTRS). Frankly it is one of the best things to happen in Australian industry education for the last three years that I have been based in Sydney. AFTRS is renowned for its high production value filmmaking primarily with many students being nominated and going on to win Academy Awards, Oscars etc.

Via three years of LAMP I have had a key role in helping the internal AFTRS culture and curriculum adopt a new way of thinking about audiences and creating entertainment for them. This goes way beyond point and click, cross-media interactivity (very 90s) to experiential services and social media entertainment. So two key new courses below and a variety of ‘hybrid format’ workshops across the school will help create new thinkers – marrying dramatic story and immersive game, blending social with structured narrative and putting ‘play’ into areas where ‘playful interaction’ has previously dared to tread.

This press release from here and more about the courses here. There is already a high demand (Kotaku and Inside Film have more too) but pass this on to folk who want to play a part in the global development of the ‘gilm’ genre (thats mixing game, film, tv and virtual worlds to you and I) !

More on the wonderful world of Games and Film and Blended TV in an upcoming post with a Gary special, montage video 🙂

16Â September, 2008


15 September 2008

AFTRS_island_008Games and Virtual Worlds: a new frontier of experience

Can games have real story and rival the emotional pull of the cinema? Australia’s leading screen arts school thinks so as is introducing courses that prepare students for a future of filmic games and virtual story worlds.

The Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS) has created two ground breaking Graduate Diploma courses specialising in Game Design and Virtual Worlds. These are two of the only courses in the world to explore the link between games or virtual worlds and cinematic story.

“There are already major Australasian filmmakers like George Miller and Peter Jackson working at the frontier between film and games and we know it is timely for AFTRS to integrate games into our screen directing program.” said Sandra Levy, CEO of AFTRS

James Cameron is currently creating games and social virtual worlds around his latest film Avatar and one of his most famous films, Titanic. He said at a virtual worlds conference last week “I’ve always wanted to let people see what it was like to sail aboard the Titanic, to really know the ship, the passengers and their place in history.”

The games industry is growing rapidly and now supports a vast diversity of content ranging from pure entertainment, online social gameplay through to educational simulations of real life and situations. Some of the leading practitioners in the world have helped to develop the AFTRS program including CTO of Relic Entertainment John Buchanan and Matt Costello who wrote the popular Pirates of the Caribbean games.

“Games are a key element of the global revolution in digital content” said Peter Giles Director of Digital Media at AFTRS. “We have built strong foundations for our games and virtual world courses at AFTRS over the past four years. Our expertise in computer animation and interactive writing has been coupled with our experience of rapidly prototyping digital content through our Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP).

Habbo Hotel, Second Life, and HiPiHi are among 50 social virtual worlds which now command more than 320 million users worldwide. Film and television producers have begun to extend their engagement with audiences by moving them into social virtual worlds and role playing games such as CSI creator Anthony Zuiker who said recently:

“In the gaming area, you want to give people tasks, to shoot things and upload pictures… You’re doing this because you want these people to be creating their own story and it will be part of the crime on the broadcast… Even if it’s not the actual thing I shot, I was part of that experience, that community, that narrative.”

Gary Hayes who has created the AFTRS Virtual Worlds course and led the LAMP initiative said, “It is important when designing any form of digital content that it facilitates active engagement by the audience so that, for example, they may become the protagonist in film-like games or the ability to create their own stories. Our courses will give students the tools to create this new type of experience”.

The courses will look at the cross-over areas such as previsualisation for films, virtual scenes that aid the filmmaking process, real life motion capture, cinematic writing, sound and music for game worlds and the role of artificial intelligence in creating rich game experiences.

AFTRS welcomes applications from all areas of the industry for these exciting cross-disciplinary courses. The courses are suitable for applicants from creative or technical backgrounds. So if you have highly tuned writing or directing skills we can help you to up-skill in games and virtual worlds. Conversely, if you have a games or virtual worlds background we can teach you the skills in leading and developing story-rich projects.

Visit for more info on how to apply.

For further information:

Karolina Lipiec
The Lantern Group
Ph: (02) 9383 4029 / 0415 985 058

Jun 232008

As promised a rough transcript of a presentation I gave as part of the Digital Content Session at the Trilateral KANZ Broadband Summit in Seoul on 19 June 2008. It looks at the emerging nature of Social Media Entertainment but focuses on how creative professionals can keep up with ‘the crowd’. Covers how Film, TV and Radio are early types of non-participatory, localised, social media content but interactive digital experiences are inherently global. LAMP, forward thinking companies and other Australian initiatives develops new multi-platform services that reach out to international markets – video sharing communities, social virtual worlds, alternate reality games, locative stories, simulations and newer hybrid forms. Gary looks at Australian successes of the collision of animation, online games, film, mobile, broadband web and social media applications and the potential for co-development and cross-training between NZ, Korea and Australia.

Transcript below the SlideShare embed

Innovating Global Social Media Experiences and Collaborative Entertainment Production – © Gary Hayes 2008

An nyoung, Hello

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this Kanz Broadband Summit this morning and I hope I can inspire collaborative action in us all. My talk is based around one key premise that those who we used to call ‘our audience’ are now empowered and creating, I would suggest, more compelling relevant and original content than ‘us’ so-called creative professionals. I look at how the creative content industry can become relevant again and innovate global social media experiences and particularly how collaborative creative development between cultures and countries can bring back the initiative. I will also touch on the fact that the real paradigm shift of broadband is not about technology but about enabling creative collaboration in social groups (the industry and audience). I use the ‘them and us’ metaphor for ease of presentation because of course they are us!

Don’t worry this is not another ‘community-created-content-will-take-over the world’ talk, there have been many of those because that has already happened, this is about a co-creative society sharing it’s media and creating tools to make the process much easier. A high bandwidth wired up world gives them the many-to-many distribution channels and with community created tools for self-publishing they are entertaining each other and creating flexible companies with a skilled and transient human resource. What does this mean for industry and creative professionals? The good news is that ‘they’, are showing industry (inside and across national borders) the best processes in how to create original and innovative content. We, the creative professionals must take note – be as flexible, fleet of foot and inventive as the ‘crowd’ are becoming.

We are hard wiring the world and humans when given the means to communicate over open, high bandwidth channels will share their stories and develop loyal followings from 100s to 100 000s of those who want to be engaged by them. Trying to regulate and halt the growth of social media will also be at our peril. Force majeure will mean ‘they’ will develop their own connected communities with or without telcos, governments or entertainment companies. But that is another story, what remains are new, niche ‘born to be wired’ communities of interest mashing-up content, engineering better software and deciding between themselves what products will succeed in the marketplace. How can industry emulate this force of nature?

Now everyone is a filmmaker, broadcaster and storyteller. The quaint but already outdated methods of distributing ‘stories’ that relied on reaching ‘captive’ audiences by broadcasting ‘at’ them in one direction, we can liken to someone watering a tamed forest with a spray hose. That walled forest was once refreshing but they have quickly learned that outside this wall they have the ability to ‘grow their own’ they will, with or without us –  and their combined wisdom dwarfs any sized company or government organization.

Playful Content R&D. Innovation is not about delivering linear tv and film over the wired network to a pc or onto a mobile phone. That is the utility business not the creative one.
The participatory audience are showing the way in how they create hybrid forms from film, tv, games and web applications. They often do this through behaviour rather than engineering. They mesh the way they consume media. Sending Facebook updates from their mobile phone while half watching a TV programme but talking about it on twitter while listening to a friends music playlist and so on. New generations learn that they can cherry pick key parts of services making the new form better than the source as this diagram illustrates, it is not about the content, display or distribution but about the format they enable. The way the community are creating this content is a model for industry and the content and telco industries need to move beyond old business models and look at cross-media form rather than distribution

We have to think beyond mono-media. By that I mean see media as just a single film or TV episode or a mobile game. In fragmented markets where participant audiences spend time across hundreds of touch points we need to provide our stories for them across those devices and channels.

Peter Jackson said “I think we’re on a threshold of a new way to tell stories… It’s a form of entertainment that’s not a game and it’s not a film. It’s a filmic game experience.”

As an example quite a few companies and academic organisations in Australia are now developing compelling hybrid forms, such as TV and Games. This cross-reality mix is showing real potential as the live dynamic element of TV utlises the immersive quest like elements of online games. We must also be careful of assuming all interactivity is equal. There is a big difference between on one-hand, point-and-click ‘broadcast-interactivity’ or games where there are preset outcomes (watch a video or hear a sound) and on the other hand, spaces and places where the community can promote, comment or co-create with the original creators.

Moving on a little, I would like to quote from Building a Creative Innovation Economy, A Cultural Ministers Council report from February of this year.

“The creative sector must engage with the community to ensure ongoing support and survival in a global environment where there is increasing competition for consumers’ disposable time and dollars from an ever-expanding choice of leisure services and products. In this sense, user created content on social media web services such as YouTube and MySpace can be seen as competition for cultural audiences’ attention.…The Australian Film, Television and Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP) is another example of an innovative approach to training. The program enables the conception and development of multimedia content and services in a live-in setting, facilitating collaboration between project teams and mentors. The four stage process equips participants with the tools they need to create compelling interactive content that meets the needs of their audiences and marketplaces. LAMP offers participants a healthy mix of creativity, business awareness, technical skills and audience awareness.”

So I am keen to talk about one of many innovative initiatives in Australia to aid the development of new form content. LAMP (The Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) was formed in 2005 through AFTRS and comes from a tradition of hothouse development initiatives in the UK, at the BBC and the American Film Institute’s Digital Content lab. My experience is that Australia has some of the most creative thinkers in new emerging media content and they are very keen to work on creative vs just technological collaborations.

Since its inception LAMP has propelled over 61 projects and transformed hundreds of participants at workshops and seminars. The reason the hothouse, live-in-labs work is that they create small social networks with a complimentary mix of great story tellers, innovative technicians, interactive designers and producers. They also take these time poor people away from the normal day to day activities and allow them to take risks. This is exactly what the community is doing and who naturally take risks. The more we allow international teams to come together and take risks, the better for all and innovation will result.

Here is a short sample of some social media projects that have been developed at LAMP. Four example projects and two from the last collaborative Australia/New Zealand lab. Portable ghosts explores games that cross from web to real world to mobile. Master Raindrop looks at the combination of online games, mobile and real life movement training. Thursday’s Fictions explores spirituality and literature in a social virtual world and Wild Ark tells stories using mobile devices around zoos and other immersive real life environments.

Our second was developing seven ABC TV original and existing IP of which many ideas are now being implemented in that organisation.

Many projects developed around the world now create content that the community can take up, give them the tools or the forums to continue the stories so they can build and grow the original idea. Most LAMP projects now take this onboard and see the interaction with the audience as a primary driver behind their original idea. A good example of this is Bush IPTV – a pilot LAMP is producing for a broadband TV service in remote indigenous communities in far north Queensland.

Many projects also fall into the ‘simulation’ camp, creating virtual spaces that allow scenarios for entertainment, research and social collaboration. Here is a small selection of testimonials from recent participants.

I can highly recommend LAMP to anyone with a great idea looking to turn it into a success. It was a totally immersive and focused, overwhelming experience – nothing like I’ve experienced before The impossible is possible It was a wonderful creative experience where I believe we were able to generate a wealth of truly new ideas. Marvellous! A creative vibrant practical atmosphere The lab exceeded my expectations…The way everyone helped each other out in an environment that was friendly, affectionate and creative allowed us to take our project in ways never thought of before. This has definitely been one of the best experiences of my life. Thankyou! I loved loved loved it! Concept of LAMP is wonderful and it was above and beyond expectation LAMP helped solidify confidence in the concept and creating a truly viable cross media platform LAMP 08 was the most amazing professional development experience of my life!

The role of media producers now is to create compelling cross-media immersive entertainment experiences for global audiences. The producer as aggregator of content/curator – creating the conditions to activate audiences.

Games I would suggest are the most social media. A recent report from Bond University said that in Australia social and casual games are now the most dominant with only 19% of all gamers preferring to play alone with more than 56% preferring to play with others.

That suggests why the merging of traditional online social networks such as myspace and Facebook with game worlds are growing so quickly. I personally have been involved in the creation of some of these spaces inside virtual worlds with Telstra’s and ABC TVs presence in Second Life (a great portent of future socio/economic virtual worlds) with BigPond now the highest globally for all brands in second life.

There are great opportunities for collaboration and the creation of a new form of global Social Virtual World like Korea’s Cyworld potentially stretching into English speaking countries –  and to reiterate the social aspect again, 84% of Australians think that playing together is important for forming family connections with more than half saying games are more social forms of entertainment than other media.

To jump back to the notion of the hybrid form again. Much of this is reflecting my definition of web 3.0, the live or synchronous web where we communicate and co-create in real time. Social interaction through virtual worlds, interactive broadband TV or web and mobile applications can coexist and mingle in this world.

Australia for instance already have a range of companies that are pushing the envelope of what new form entertainment is. Hoodlum for example have just won BAFTA awards for their extended entertainment titles alongside Lost and BBC Spooks and like many LAMP projects they are creating ‘social entertainment’ which is about connecting communities with common goals and quests and stimulating the wisdom of the engaged crowd.

In 2007 Australia had around 40 traditional game companies who have produced more than 200 games resulting in $100mill in exports –  notables include Ty The Tasmanian Tiger and De Blob but we still see the growth and dominance of MMOGs many originating in Asian countries and proliferating in Australia

AFTRS is pioneering new forms too. Alongside it’s world renowned TV and Film courses, AFTRS is developing a range of foundational and specialised graduate courses that will explore games, virtual environments and innovative new forms. They will explore the link between story and participatory applications and how interactive media can be made more ‘cinematic’ and immersive. At post graduate level it is planning to offer a project based course that encourages pioneering projects and inspires innovation.”

Australia, New Zealand and Korea are a wonderful mix of original thinking, great test-bed participant audiences and world leading technology. Able to leapfrog over legacy telecommunications we see in other parts of the world it is possible for ground breaking new formats to be developed in partnerships between the three countries. Australia and New Zealand particularly bring world leading innovative media forms to the mix.

Finally social networks have come about to both connect family and friends but also out of business and a collaborative need –  we as content producers must be very focused on this to be relevant to the audience that are doing it themselves. Governments and creative industries can become allies in this equation and become authentic co-creators of social media spaces where the voice and creativity of the ‘audience’ can play out.

Nations who have key creative synergies, technical innovation and highly motivated participant audiences to collaborate and develop new forms together. Which is why I suggest we endeavour to create an initial rapid content R&D lab between the three countries be set up this year. The outcome of these will be many real projects a selection of which can be developed to market.

Thank you

© Gary Hayes 2008


Oct 222006

Still catching up with drafts and this one is more about my editing than my own crystal ball gazing. I love predictions about the way we will be interacting in the future especially when we are getting a little sniff of them in the present day, eg: web 3.0. So I selected, last month, some quotes/segments from the fantastic Pew Future of the Internet report from Sept 26 this year. The report made some assumptions and commentators responded, more in a moment.

Alternate Reality Personalizaton

As we hurtle towards the end of 2006 I think back to my measly predictions at the start of the year as to what would happen this year. I know it is only October but I am surprised how many are pretty close – especially developments in video on the web and viewer created content but as usual, premature on personalization, still! This was echoed in many of the notable folk below. Seems until we are completely swamped by content as to be comatosed will the demand for agents, targeting and personalization really kick in. Perhaps with 60% of all video (for example) on the web controlled by Google now, their personalization engine will start to trickle in under the radar of most people. Just before we go to Pew aggregated quotations, here is a quote (that falls in my space cadet camp) I did this time two years ago about our relentless stampede toward too much content.

“Just as humans eventually were unable to tame the complexity and scale of the physical universe so it will be with our media universe. The only course of action will be to send personalised intelligent agents, reconnaissance drones, deep into the content cosmos to capture relevance. The personalized future will be a world where rich audio visual and immersive game media orbits around the digital you – occasionally being sucked into your ‘realmÂ’ like stars pulled by forces unknown into black holes” – Gary Hayes, 2004

But enough about my near term predictions back to the future of 2020 with the Pew Futures doc (which is here in PDF by the way). I scanned the survey they did and found it a bit weak, most results were half/half and inconclusive but I found the plethora of future quotes far more interesting here is a selection of my favourites mostly in the AI/personalization and Virtual World/Alternate Reality future domains.

“This is the AI bogeyman. It’s always around 20 years away, whatever the year.” – Seth Finkelstein, Programmer and anti-censorship activist

“Simulations will develop to where some players’ experiences so closely mimic reality that the players will be stimulated with the same neurotransmitters that drive feelings of love and pleasure in the real world. There will be simulations as addictive as nicotine and cocaine, but without same degree of societal antipathy.” – Sean Mead, a technology consultant

“There is a strong likelihood that virtual reality will become less virtual and more reality for many. However, I see this as an addiction phenomenon that will likely inspire us to understand unexplored dimensions of being human.” – Barry Chudakov, principal, The Chudakov Company

“Autonomous systems will not become a serious problem until they are sophisticated enough to be conscious Â… As it stands now, they are simply tools – advanced tools, but tools nonetheless. True AI is still 50-100 years away,” – Simon Woodside, CEO, Semacode Corp, Ontario, Canada.

“A human’s desire is to reinvent himself, live out his fantasies, overindulge; addiction will definitely increase. Whole communities/subcultures, which even today are a growing faction, will materialise. We may see a vast blurring of virtual/real reality with many participants living an in-effect secluded lifestyle. Only in the online world will they participate in any form of human interaction.” – Robert Eller, technology consultant

“Now, fear of enslavement by our creations is an old fear, and a literary tritism. But I fear something worse and much more likely – that sometime after 2020 our machines will become intelligent, evolve rapidly, and end up treating us as pets. We can at least take comfort that there is one worse fate – becoming food – that mercifully is highly unlikely.” – Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future.

“While this scenario is clearly a danger, we don’t yet understand how powerful fully-connected human beings can be.” – Mary Ann Allison, a futurist and chairman and chief cybernetics officer for The Allison Group

“There will be an increasing problem with people ‘disconnecting’ during their so-called leisure time and immersing themselves in purely virtual realities for entertainment purposes. We’ve already seen how these can be addictive, and, by 2020, the technological capability for them might be near ubiquitous – leading to perhaps an entire generation ‘opting-out’ of the real world and a paradoxical decrease in productivity as the people who provide the motive economic power no longer are in touch with the realities of the real world.” – Glenn Ricart, a member of the board of trustees of the Internet Society

“First, there is nothing virtual about digitalised space. It has real-life effects, rewards, and problems. Second, what do we lose people to today? Is it better to go jump off a mountainside for your kicks or do drugs than to spend it in some digital version of reality that feels better and more rewarding? The main problem isn’t that ‘virtual worlds’ are addictive; it is that the physical world is not sufficiently challenging and rewarding. Blaming the media should not be a way out of fixing the very real social problems the world faces.” – Torill Mortensen of Volda University College in Norway

“It will be possible for computer users to build ‘alternate realities’ around themselves, and some will find this environment to be so much more appealing and comfortable than the ‘real world’ that they will prefer it. I see a future epidemic, especially among children and teens.” – Michael Cann Jr., CEO of Affinio Corporation

“‘Virtual reality’ is a pointless and dated term that has no meaning other than the technical (computer science) definition. We live in a pervasive communication environment and this will only increase. The demarcation of virtual and real and mediated and non-mediated will have no meaning for most people and is an artifact of older generations. Reality will be one seamless world that spans face-to-face and digital areas of action. If anything, the ability to physically take a class or travel to meet with someone will be considered an elite privilege.” – Ted Coopman of the University of Washington

“What people refer to as ‘virtual reality’ is still an aspect of all of our reality – it’s not a separate reality any more than books, movies, video games, or our imagination is a separate reality. Saying someone is addicted to virtual reality will one day sound as ridiculous as saying some people today are addicted to books.” – Patrick O’Sullivan of Illinois State University

“Synthetic worlds are simply intermediate environments: the first settlements in the vast, uncharted territory that lies between humans and their machines Â… Ensuring that the technology serves such a marvelous end, rather than a lesshappy one, is the real challenge for the next few decades. We will be less likely to meet that challenge the longer we treat video games as mere child’s play…There is a huge throng of people just waiting at their terminals for a fantasy world to come along, one that is just immersive enough, under the technology they can afford, to induce them to take the plunge and head off into the frontier forever.” – Edward Castronova, from his book Synthetic Worlds

There are many more insights in the Pew Futures PDF on privacy, globalisation, transparency and priorities.

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