Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 6 – virtual reality and the implications of many worlds

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on October 31, 2009

I left off my posting Business and Convergent Technologies 5 with a pair of questions, and in anticipation of somehow addressing them with at least tentative answers. The questions were:

1. Given the nature of ubiquitous computing and communications, and the diversity of needs and priorities that our complex societies and communities demand, will any one single voice come to the fore and play the leading role in shaping this new VR-2?
2. With the emergence of an ever more comprehensive suite of interconnection standards and common standards scripting languages, does that even matter?

And my objective with this posting is to try and develop at least the start of an approach for thinking about these questions. And to start that I need to dig a little deeper into what ubiquitous computing is from the end-users’ perspectives and I definitely mean that to be plural and plural. I am going to approach this as a matter of identifying and exploring a dichotomy that I expect to see played out as virtual reality goes ubiquitous and mainstream, and as the larger suite of technologies and their applications that I write of in this series join in with that.

On the one hand, online social networking and our growing capacity to communicate and share information bring us all powerfully together. These capabilities also, however, help us to shape and share our individual voices – consider this blog as an expression of my one, single voice and ask yourself if you would have ever even heard of me pre-Internet. I would expect that for most readers your answer is a very clear, unequivocal “No.”

What works for individuals also works for groups of likeminded individuals who can find each other where they never would have before, and where they can now join together in common effort and shared community where they could not have before. So this new shared capability has potential for bringing us all together and it also enables us to find and share our unique individual voices and to split up into purpose and interest driven groups, and yes into groups in disagreement and even conflict with each other as well.

From a technology side, all aspects of this are driven by the same three emerging approaches:

Open Standards, with HTML, XML, CSS and so much more, and with new entries joining the list all the time. I cite the Open Mashup Alliance and its proposed Enterprise Mashup Markup Language (EMML) as just one of several new and emerging entries in this.
Open Source, and that means open both for interoperability and connectivity of end-products and increased compatibility in product and service development.
Interoperability, as expressed to most people, most directly and overtly in the way Internet access and functionality are platform-independent for end-user’s computers and their other access points.

These all, singly and in combination help us come together and they help us find each other and connect when developed and applied in this ubiquitous computing and communications framework, and they in fact play a significant role in making that possible.

So what does this do to address that first question? I would contend that the overall effect is to level the playing field so more groups can participate in driving the marketplace that this capability is coming from. That would mean no one constituency and its needs, and no single killer app, crucial to some specific significant group or set of groups would play the dominant role in forcing the specific evolutionary path for ubiquitous computing and communications. My benchmark for comparison there is the way single technologies and product types drove the pace and direction of evolutionary development in a Web 1.0, central publishing environment where everything was more channelized and connection options were more limited to the market leader than expanding to meet end-user needs and interests. But this still leaves a real issue.

What are the fundamental, technology and tool-agnostic parameters that this system will have to evolve and grow within? Right now bandwidth is looking to be an issue and even in countries with widely deployed broadband capabilities now. If there is one thing we can definitely expect to see with a widespread development of mainstreamed, immersive virtual reality as a market space, it is a need for improved bandwidth and data compression. Even virtual reality is going to have to hew to the physical parameters and limitations of our standard, real-world systems. These physical reality systems defining meta-parameters will probably play a more critical role than will any single killer app connections option as a growing host of apps compete for public attention, acceptance and use. And it is here that this is going to get really interesting in the details – this and one other area of crucial consideration.

The world is getting flatter in a lot of respects but the lumps are not going to disappear without a fight, and the many and growing barriers and sources of lumpiness that block flattening have to be taken into account too. In the United States, this means entries in the lumpiness race like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and our ever increasingly complex patent and copy right laws and sets of case law precedent. This is a game any and every country, international treaty organization and special interest and lobbying group can get in on and most seem to be doing that. I am going to touch on a bit of this in my next segment in this series and after that I am going to shift gears and delve a bit into the database and knowledge management sides of ubiquitous computing and communications, and data ownership and privacy and security.

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