Science Fiction or Reality?

In an earlier posting, I mentioned that the imagining of a flexible, interactive, portable, and digital liquid crystal interface in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, seem to be evolving into a reality with the development of e-paper.

I found another striking connection between Stephenson’s postmodernist writings and reality contained within another Stephenson novel, Snow Crash.  The action in this 1992 novel is set in two planes of existence: the "real" world and a "metaverse" that is so intrinsically connected to reality that physical human viruses (snow crash) can be transmitted to human systems via binary code in the metaverse. 

According to the Wikipedia entry on Snow Crash:

The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson’s vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representations of themselves via low-quality avatars. In the Metaverse, status is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen, which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one’s avatar.

For those of you have spent some time exploring or interacting with Second Life or MMOs, you will find amazing similarities between the metaverse detailed in Snow Crash and the evolving virtual worlds or today.  The one element of Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse that is missing from contemporary virtual worlds is a common programming protocol/language connecting all the various worlds.  Right now, Second Life and other massively multiplayer online games all run on proprietary client and server software.  They are, in effect, like myriad individual planets, each with different composition elements, existing within an infinite solar system.  Even though there is intelligent and highly evolved life on each of these planets, the inhabitants have not conceived of a way to travel among the various planets.

Enter Multiverse, a visionary tech company created by some of the programmers who made Netscape a reality that seeks to create a common protocol for virtual worlds and games.  The Economist ran an article on June 7, 2007, that outlined the goal of Multiverse Networks.

What happened on the internet, of course, was that the web came along and provided common, open standards for both client and server software, doing away with proprietary online services and bringing together previously separate communities as CompuServe, AOL and the rest adopted the web’s open standards. Now a firm called Multiverse Network hopes to do the same for MMOs. It has created MMO client and server software based on open standards, and a way to move between virtual worlds built on its platform, just like following a link from one web page to another. And it has made its software available for free download by anyone who wants to build and host a virtual world.

According to the information provided on the Multiverse site:

  •      Multiverse lets you to build an MMOG or virtual world for less money      and in less time than ever before.    
  •      Multiverse technology is scalable, extensible, and highly customizable,     enabling you to build your world with its own unique look and feel, gameplay, and mechanics.    
  •      Our active developer community     is creating a wide variety of worlds.    
  • Make money through subscriptions, item sales, and/or advertising,      and pay us only 10%      of your gross revenue.    
  •      Download our client, server, tools, starter assets, and sample worlds for free and start building your world today!    

Why are investors, programmers, educators, and tons of other organizations so interested in Multiverse and its competitors?  In part because Second Life and some of the larger MMOs have reached what The Economist termed as a critical mass of users.  In other words, people can start making "real" money and conducting "real" business in virtual worlds.

And, of particular interest for all of us, people are LEARNING through interactions in virtual worlds.

If you are a DEN Second Lifer, be sure to check out Steve Dembo’s blog posting about the DEN group in SL.

For more information about Multiverse and this evolutionary leap, check out these two articles:

Seriously, Neal Stephenson is a really interesting author to add to your summer reading list . . .

I just started to read Interface – co-authored by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George – in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election . . . hmm, science fiction or reality?

There’s no way William A. Cozzano can lose the upcoming presidential election. He’s a likable midwestern governor with one insidious advantage—an advantage provided by a shadowy group of backers. A biochip implanted in his head hardwires him to a computerized polling system. The mood of the electorate is channeled directly into his brain. Forget issues. Forget policy. Cozzano is more than the perfect candidate. He’s a special effect.

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