The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. PhysOrg (USA) – Interview: Dr. Ben Goertzel on Artificial General Intelligence, Transhumanism and Open Source (Part 1/2). ”
Dr. Goertzel spoke with Critical Thought’s Stuart Mason Dambrot following his talk at the recent 2011 Transhumanism Meets Design Conference in New York City. His presentation, Designing Minds and Worlds, asked and answered the key questions, How can we design a world (virtual or physical) so that it supports ongoing learning and growth and ethical behavior? How can we design a mind so that it takes advantage of the affordances its world offers? These are fundamental issues that bridge AI, robotics, cyborgics, virtual world and game design, sociology and psychology and other areas. His talk addressed them from a cognitive systems theory perspective and discussed how they’re concretely being confronted in his current work applying the OpenCog Artificial General Intelligence system to control game characters in virtual worlds.”

2. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – How to hijack the metaverse. “We all remember the Microsoft-Netscape battle. Okay, maybe some people don’t, so here’s the summary:
Netscape was a company that made a free Internet browser and and a not-free commercial Web server. (The latter has since been bought by Sun, and open sourced.) Microsoft built their own version of a Web browser, Internet Explorer, and bundled it with every copy of Windows. Instead of going out of their way to download Netscape, most folks just used Explorer, since it was right there, and almost identical in terms of functionality. I don’t know how much Microsoft actually won, though — they had to spend money on creating and maintaining the browser, and defending themselves against a very expensive lawsuit and — because of continued competition from Netscape, and, later, Firefox and Chrome — never could charge for Explorer. Maybe they sold a few more copies of their Windows Web Server as a result, but I’m guessing that the companies using it are Microsoft shops all the way, and wouldn’t have used Linux and Apache anyway. So — assuming that Microsoft hasn’t learned its lesson with Netscape — could this happen again on the 3D web? Absolutely. Here’s how.”

3. New Scientist (USA) – Fire-breathing dragon roars to life. “Virtual worlds wouldn’t be complete without fire. But the sound of a blaze is notoriously hard to synthesise realistically because of the complex combination of high and low frequencies involved. Now Jeff Chadwick and colleagues from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York have devised the first practical technique that can recreate the sound of fire based on its behaviour. In the video above, you can see various examples like a fire-breathing dragon and a virtual candle that gets blown out. The method uses a combination of two approaches to synthesise the sound of fire. Low frequencies are produced based on a physical model, where a simulator solves mathematical equations to determine what a flame is doing at each point in time. This requires a lot of computational power, making it too expensive to accurately capture high frequency phenomena. “We would have to update its state tens of thousands of times for each second of animation,” says Chadwick.”

4. New Scientist (USA) – Where’s my Holodeck? The latest interactive movie news. “It is time for cinema to take its next step. 3D technology now fills our screens with beautifully rendered characters and virtual environments, but we could have so much more. So says Dennis Del Favero, director of what he calls the world’s first 3D interactive film, Scenario. Rather than having audience members sit back and enjoy the action, the interactive narrative has them drive the story. Undoubtedly, the ultimate synthetic interactive environment must be the virtual worlds generated by Star Trek’s “Holodeck”. To date, steps in this direction have been restricted because computer-generated characters cannot yet understand and speak in natural language. One solution is to sidestep the need for language and interact with audience members using physical markers, like movement.”

5. Information Week (USA) – Army’s $57 Million Training System Uses Gaming Tech. “The U.S. Army is developing a new $57 million computer game-like virtual soldier training environment aimed at creating a better prepared combat force and decreasing existing costs associated with training.
A company called Intelligent Decisions is the prime contractor for the project, leading the development of the Dismounted Soldier Training System, which will create a virtual environment that will simulate real-life situations that soldiers may find themselves in during battle engagements, according to the company. The system will reduce the Army’s need to maintain large-scale physical instruction facilities, thereby cutting its training costs. The team building Dismounted Soldier is using CryENGINE, a popular computer-game engine, to build the system to give soldiers as immersive an experience possible. The engine will allow the environment to realistically simulate details such the emotions shown on soldier’s faces, the way soldiers use standard combat weaponry, and the terrain of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where current military engagements are taking place, according to Intelligent Solutions.

6. PC World (USA) – Hands-On with Kinect’s Second Wave of Games. “Bolstered by record sales, Microsoft is betting big on Kinect this year with a slew of new games and deeper integration with the Xbox 360 dashboard. Kinect dominated the discussion at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, and was the main attraction at its booth on the show floor, where I checked out some of the upcoming games first-hand. Microsoft has been tweaking the Kinect software, and that has allowed developers to add more nuance to their motion controls. In Kinect Sports Season Two, players will be able to throw darts with more accurate hand-tracking or put spins and slices on their shots in tennis, according to Scott Henson, studio head of developer Rare. Season Two’s E3 demo was also the first example of a golf game working on Kinect.”

7. Indiana University (USA) – IU researchers discuss barefoot running, stroke and yoga, virtual worlds and more at ACSM. “Participants in two weight-loss programs — one involving traditional health club sessions and the other delivered online in a 3D virtual world — lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, but the online contingent reported significantly greater gains in behaviors that could help them live healthier and leaner lives.”

8. Escapist Magazine (USA) – New Demographics Show Gamers Are Getting Older. “Despite the stereotype that videogames are a hobby exclusive to teenage boys, a new report from the Entertainment Software Association claims otherwise. Most striking is the ESA’s claim that the average gamer is now 37 years old. This theoretical person has been playing games for 12 years and there is a pretty solid chance that he might actually be a she. 42 percent of gamers are of the female persuasion, the report claims, and lady gamers make up “a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).” Additionally, people beyond the age of 50 are increasingly turning to games for entertainment. 29 percent of the elder population now enjoy virtual worlds, a vast increase over the 9 percent of 50-plus year olds with the same affinity the ESA found in 1999.”

9. The Inquirer (UK) – Intel open sources 3D world software. “Chipmaker Intel has announced that it will release the source code for its Distributed Scene Graph 3D Internet technology. Intel has been pushing Opensim, an open source virtual world simulator for education, social networking and of course gaming. Intel’s work has been concentrated on how to increase the number of people, known as avatars, that can inhabit a virtual world from hundreds to thousands. At Intel’s annual research event, the firm said that it will open source its Distributed Scene Graph 3D Internet technology and an advanced ray-tracing package that it claims will decrease the time it takes to render realistic images by half on systems that use Intel’s chips.”

10. CNET (USA) – E3 2011: The Sims Social to offer Facebook flirting. “Electronic Arts is hoping to convince folks to covet thy neighbor’s wife. Or that co-worker you’ve always lunched with. Or your college sweetheart. Virtually, of course. At E3, a show that caters to hardcore gamers who stand in long lines to get the first chance to play soon-to-be-released action titles, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Assassins Creed: Revelations, EA’s new title in The Sims franchise has gone a bit below the radar. But The Sims Social, which will launch this summer on Facebook in five languages, would seem to have all the prurient trappings to turn it into another hit for the franchise.”

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