First Life: Thankfully Funded By Microsoft
Last night, my mountain abode and its surroundings were bathed in noon-like light, courtesy of clear skies and a spectacular full moon…which reminded me of my prior telescope-enhanced thoughts on the subject…which prompted me to bump this writeup on Microsoft’s recent presentation at the TED conference to the top of my to-blog-about queue:
I was admittedly cynical in my recent Second Life coverage. To be abundantly clear, what I wrote fully represented my personal belief on the subject; I didn’t over-dramatize my opinions in order to drive blog traffic, or for any other reason. The core of my concern about virtual worlds, in case it wasn’t already clear to you after reading my thoughts, is the profound detachment from the real world that Second Life and its ilk encourage.
Such detachment, which unfortunately is already well underway, is IMHO a root cause of environmental collapse and many other woes plaguing our species and the broader Gaia. We spend time on Stairmasters in air-conditioned health clubs instead of hitting the hiking trails. We view and hear landscape visages and animal species via television intermediaries. And we’re profoundly disconnected from the ultimate source of the styrofoam-and-plastic-swathed food we buy in supermarkets.
I recall, for example, a companion’s shock upon viewing the cattle-slaughtering scenes in the film Fast Food Nation. I also remember fellow Nepal trekkers’ baffling-to-me distress when they witnessed the butcher of a goat, and my subsequent amusement upon observing their discomfort at dinner. Where did they think meat came from?
This detachment extends to our awareness of the cosmos that surrounds us, and our relatively miniscule place within it. In this case, however, I suspect the reason has at least as much to do with supply as it does demand. The tall buildings and substantial light pollution in towns and cities aren’t conducive to solar system screenings, after all. And even if folks live in clear-skies surroundings, they often don’t have sufficient disposable income to justify a telescope purchase, or disposable time to learn about astronomy.
That’s why Microsoft’s currently-in-private-beta WorldWide Telescope (coverage from Robert Scoble and Slashdot), nurtured from a seed planted several years ago by still-missing Jim Gray, has me so excited. It democratizes access to the cosmos and. although it still relies on a computer monitor intermediary, at least the terabytes’ worth of data feeding it come from real-life telescopes around the globe. Indicative of the blossoming rivalry between Microsoft and Google, the latter company expanded Google Sky (which, as I wrote last August, previously ran only as part of the standalone Google Earth app) to be accessible via any web browser (Slashdot again, along with Ars Technica) two weeks after TED. This is clearly a case of beneficial-to-all competition.
In related news, Wired has a timely writeup on four worldwide telescope networks whose captured images are publicly accessible. Speaking of Microsoft, check out this demo of a research project called MySong which automatically generates an instrumental accompaniment to an input vocal melody. And once more into the TED breach, I highly encourage you to block off 18 minutes of your day and watch this stirring presentation from neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor:
I was particularly struck by the fact that she didn’t express a clear preference for either the ‘right’ or ‘left’ brain perceptions of herself and the world around her, aside from noting that the ‘right brain’ version was one that was comparatively unfamiliar to her at the time of her stroke. Not One, Not Two, one might conclude…
Happy holiday weekend, all.