Concensus Avatars, and Primary / Secondary Negotiation Phases

A bit from a talk last year by Vinge -- » Blog Archive » Vernor Vinge Paints the Future at AGC:

I am convinced that the day we really get high resolution heads up displays, most people who nowadays are carrying a bluetooth earphone and microphone would have no problem with wearing eyeglasses that gave them a heads up display of something like 4,000 by 4,000 if the infrastructure had moved along in concert. Then high resolution HUDs could be exploited. ...

I'm unclear on what the infrastructure issue is, here. Bandwidth? That's only a problem if you assume one is transmitting bitmaps at full res in real time. I don't think that's likely, at least at first. Look to the way that humans transfer this kind of information via the extremely efficient lossy compression scheme we call "language".

.... That’s an example of a highly disruptive technology. It essentially destroys all other display technology except as emergency backups.

If you were able to get localization that was really good, you could imagine setting this up so that if your wearbale knew where you were looking, what the orientation of your head was and where your eyeballs were tracking, then in addition to being able to produce the world’s best display, as good as the worlds’ best desktop display, you could actually overlay things in the environment.

There could be some interesting localization artifacts, here, as different localization schemes amplified one another's errors -- or just introduced strangenesses. The avatar floating six degrees to the left or right of the speaker, for example. A person's modified nose floating in the air above his/her head. Again, this is an argument for a vector-based system, offloading the localization to the local system: Let my eyes localize the stuff, don't make the broader system do it.

The term for that in academic circles is augmented reality. In that situation, having the processing power that’s involved with the network infrastructure I just described becomes very very useful, because you could in an ad hoc way overlay those portions of reality that you wanted to.

In an auditorium like this you could make the walls look like whatever you wanted, you could make the speaker look like a clown, and since everything was networked, you and your friends could get together and agree on what things looked like. The notion of consensual imaging becomes very very important, and again this is actually a very disruptive technology, if it were finally to happen. It blows away all discussion of large three-dimensional display technologies.

This is the really, really fun part -- in a project I'm working on right now, I call this "digging". A technology's adoption phase has phases of its own, and the one that's most interesting to me right now are what I could call the primary and secondary negotiation phases. The primary phase is the part where the bleeding edge early adopters figure out amongst themselves what consistutes and appropriate use of the tech. The secondary phase happens while the tech is going mainstream, and involves complex interactions between the bleeding and leading edges and the critical-mass bulk right behind the leading edge.

It's really that critical mass bulk that will drive everything. I don't take it as given that as goes the bleeding edge, so goes the leading -- or as goes the leading edge, so goes the critical mass. These are different populations, and I think even a trivial reading of how trends develop is liable to show that the leading edges don't determine how the body of the wave flows, or even predict it, so much as they give clues. To understand those clues, you need to understand the composition of the bleeding/leading edge communities, and how those communities relate to the critical mass adopters.

Here's how I'm thinking the adoption phases are likely to shake out with regard to consensus avatars. In the primary negotiation phase, digging (i.e., hacking someone's consensus avatar) would be regarded as a form of vandalism; in the secondary negotiation phase, it would be regarded as 'play' -- at least, that would be the socially acceptable way to regard it. Anyone who persisted in regarding it as vandalism would be be regarded as old-fashioned, behind the curve. You'd have to buy in (at least superficially) to keep up.

Naturally this is just the tip of the iceberg. We would still have to figure out how augmented "reality" would play out for ordinary things -- things that are (superficially) not as charged as presentation of self.