Augmented reality; litigated virtuality

I am fascinated by the progressive blurring of the physical and virtual worlds. Not to veer off into metaphysics and spirituality, but as cognitive science and computing technology advance, we take baby steps closer everyday to the Matrix.

Until then, new devices, development tools, and applications are rapidly coming to market that allow us to operate with a conscious duality in our physical and virtual worlds. Addressing the virtual of these dual worlds, not long ago I posted about the amount of activity and funding this year for development platforms and virtual environments in “Talk to the (Digital) Hand.”

Likewise, at the Austin Game Developer’s conference last week, I took a moment to mingle at the closing party and got a brief primer of the story of BigWorld Technology, which is a turnkey platform provider for virtual world and MMOG creators. While the U.S. matters, they are seeing phenomenal upside in Asia-Pacific markets. Expect this investment activity to continue, becoming more and more mainstream focused.

A few additional observations of note:

First, at the O’Reilly Government 2.0 Summit and Expo, one of the presenters, Rob Rhyne, spoke on the subject of “mobile augmented reality for local government.” Perhaps light on details, but you can get a feel for his talking points in the presentation deck.

In a nutshell, imagine if you could see computer-generated information overpaying what you are physically experiencing (seeing, hearing, etc.), that is driven by data about your surroundings. An example might be viewing the outside of a skyscraper, via your iPhone display, and, as you move it around, seeing labels geospatially appear on the building indicating where the coffee shops, pharmacies, and shipping locations are.

SexGen RrugAt nGenera, our Wikinomics team has been writing about augmented reality for more than a year. And, we agree with Rob that civic applications for augmented reality have the potential to really highlight the power of Gov 2.0.

Meanwhile, the complexities of the real world continue to seep into the virtual world. It was intriguing to recently read about the makers of Second Life – Linden Lab – being targeted in a sex-code lawsuit in federal court. The crux of the lawsuit is that it claims Linden looks the other way, while virtual residents rip off the plaintiff’s “SexGen” product line, which enables consenting avatars to engage in virtual sex acts.

According to the Wired story, the lawsuit appears to mark the first time Linden Lab operators been sued by an in-world (i.e., Second Life) merchant for alleged real-world copyright and trademark infringement. There’s real money at stake here, when you consider that Second Life reported resident-to-resident purchases of $120 million in Q1 2009 alone (!), with Piper Jaffrey predicting purchases to exceed $600 million for the year.

As I said at the outset, I think it will be fascinating to see how these many, different developments play out and how our legal, moral, and civic institutions respond and perhaps (wishful thinking) anticipate an existence where our real and virtual selves are at work and play, simultaneously, 24 x 7.

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