Virtual sex: the futurist perspective

Ross Dawson is an Australian futurist, prolific public speaker and creator of frameworks that assist in understanding trends. I’ve spoken on virtual worlds at a couple of get-togethers he’s organised and he certainly understands the field broadly. He’s recently launched Future of Sex, devoted to the future trends in sex. Virtual worlds feature as a key component but the site covers a lot more than that. Whether it’s interspecies virtual sex, robot unions or teledildonics, the site is focused on covering it.

Ross himself is up front on one of the main reasons he’s created the site:

As a publisher, we look for where there is a solid business model. Just over 5 years ago now I wrote a blog post about massively multi-player sex games, commenting on the broadening scope of virtual worlds. Since then, continuing until today, I have received thousands of visitors a month to that post from Google searches on related topics. Since we put into the post an affiliate link to the largest virtual sex world Red Light Center we have been making some very healthy pocket money off just that one post.

There’s no doubt virtual sex is only going to grow in both financial and public awareness terms – and as always its likely to drive innovation in virtual worlds as well as push the boundaries in areas such as avatar rights and the right to expression.

Election 2010: virtual worlds make their debut

As Australia draws to the end of its five-week election campaign, I’d pretty much given up on the political parties doing anything beyond the odd YouTube or Facebook campaign strategy. As I wrote in 2007, Australia has lagged some other countries in the use of virtual environments for politics, and this campaign hasn’t changed that, with the debate over competing broadband policies about as substantive as it has gotten.

You know for certain that our politicians are truly lagging in this area when the mainstream media beat them to the punch. Channel 9 have announced that their election coverage on Saturday will be centred on a bunch of ‘virtual sets’. As the video below shows, it’s fairly standard green-screen technology, but its an evolution all the same.

Although the interactivity will be limited to manipulating election data, and the communication will be one-way (presenter to audience), it’s a step forward for a couple of reasons. First, it’s provides an in-your-face example of virtual environments as a collaborative and/or information-sharing tool. Second, its use will be a major eye-opener for the strategists in each of the parties, who still appear to be wedded to 2D technologies for campaigning at the expense of everything else. The reaction of the public to Channel 9′s coverage is likely to be mixed, with some pointed criticism likely at gimmickery over substance. That doesn’t matter to a large extent: the cat is out of the bag over at the Fourth Estate. Two of the other Estates (‘the Church’ and the public) already have a good sense of this technology. There’s only one left looking backwards – the one that should be leading the debate or at least actively contributing to it.

Watch the Channel 9 spiel for yourself:

Have your say on the internet filter: it’s delayed but not forgotten

Sorry, this is really for Australian readers only: a large number of Australian media sites are running a common poll on the proposed internet filter. Sure, it’s a very simple question, and there’ll no doubt be some debate over its wording, but it really has one intention: to get a idea of wider community perceptions of the issue. The majority of the tech community are arguably against the filter, but it goes without saying that’s a specialised cohort of people.

So if you have an opinion, or have family / friends to whom tech primarily means the microwave they heat their cup of tea up in, then put in your two cents worth.

Click on the poll image above or go here to have your say.

Government and virtual worlds: Australia on the catch-up

The issue of virtual worlds getting on a government’s policy agenda is something we’ve examined pretty closely, and like most of you reading this, it can get frustrating sometimes seeing the pace at which change is occurring.

In recent days I was again struck on the world leadership role the United States Government are taking in regards to virtual worlds. This report by Dawn Lim at Nextgov showcases beautifully both the depth and breadth of work going on across a range of US Government departments, including the cross-agency vGov portal which is currently under development.

The contrast with Australian government departments is fairly stark. Educators and artists are certainly leading the way, but things get pretty sparse beyond that. In the e-health sphere, there is only limited awareness of the potential of virtual worlds and there’s certainly no active strategy to incorporate them into developing standards.

That said, the Government 2.0 Taskforce report commissioned by the Australian Government does hold some promise. You can read the Government’s full response to the report here, but the standout recommendation for me is 4.4, which states:

Agencies should support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0- based proposals that create, or support, greater engagement and participation with their customers, citizens and/or communities of interest in different aspects of the agency’s work. They should create a culture that gives their staff an opportunity to experiment and develop new opportunities for engagement from their own initiative, rewarding those especially who create new engagement/participation tools or methods that can quickly be absorbed into the mainstream practice that lifts the performance of the department or agency.

That’s the open invitation for Australian Government Departments to start innovating, and the US Government example is certainly one worth exploring for its applicability here. In that example, it was the usual story of small groups or individuals advocating for change and driving that change with minimal budget support. Government Departments here obviously don’t have the critical mass that their US counterparts do, but the very nature of virtual worlds means that’s not a significant roadblock.

The main barriers still seem to be awareness and a reliance on stereotypes to inform decision-making. Only those handful of people working within the system will be able to change that, although fighting against short-term political prerogatives isn’t easy at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a heated debate over internet filtering.

Over to you: are you aware of governmental initiatives underway that may help in shaping policy agendas in the medium term?

Discussion on internet filter on Tonight Live is… live!

As mentioned previously, I had the pleasure of appearing on Tonight Live with Paisley Beebe. The topic of discussion was the Commonwealth Government’s proposed internet filtering legislation and its potential impact on virtual worlds.

Paisley asked some incisive questions that helped set the scene for both the challenges and opportunities the legislation may provide. As I say in the interview, I’m confident environments like Second Life won’t be heavily impacted by the legislation, assuming those of us affected ensure the government understands the issue.

Aside from that discussion, there’s some great music from Frets Nirvana and an interesting discussion on virtual pets with Sapphira Laval. Here’s the full show for you to view:

A big thanks to Paisley for the invitation to appear and to Bliss Windlow and AutumnFoxx Sutherland for their assistance in the lead-up. If you haven’t already, do check out the enormous stable of shows that Treet.TV offer: they are an Australian success story to say the least.

Twinity: intersection of immersion and State

With a new round of funding in the bank, Twinity is on as firm a ground as it’s ever been. The development of virtual replicas of cities has proven a successful formula to date. Singapore is a Twinity stronghold and a virtual Orchard Road is on the way.

twinity-singapore

Two aspects of the Orchard Road announcement caught my interest:

Virtual Singapore was developed in consultation with the Media Development Authority (MDA) and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

and

Twinity is tying up with AsiaOne – the interactive arm of Singapore Press Holdings – to seek retailers, brands and firms interested in promoting their products or space on the virtual ‘Orchard Road’.

Bear with me while I explain some of the intricacies.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is a government agency that has two main purposes: “The first is to promote the growth of the media industry. The second is to manage content to protect core values and safeguard consumers’ interests“.

The Infocomm Development Authority is also a government agency with the roles of “infocomm industry champion, the national infocomm master-planner and developer, and the Government CIO“.

AsiaOne is a key business within the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) stable. SPH isn’t government owned, but under SIngapore’s Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, no management shares can be transferred without approval of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). This is the ministry that oversees the Media Development Authority.

What this means is that the SIngapore Government has direct involvement in the development of virtual SIngapore in Twinity. Nothing wrong with that at all – Australia’s government has played a role in funding virtual world presences, as have a plethora of other governments. What interests me most is the AsiaOne partnership, which is likely to have an advertising revenue focus. If you’re currently a SIngapore business person, you’re likely to have advertised with SIngapore Press Holdings at some stage as it has nearly 80% of the over-15′s market.

What do you do when SPH’s sales team phone you to negotiate your next advertising package and mention you can now advertise in Twinity? If you don’t know that the government have funded the Twinity presence, the less well informed may see it as a gimmick and decline. This is where it gets really interesting: if take up of advertising in Twinity’s virtual Singapore isn’t as great as expected, what happens next? I won’t be surprised if Singapore becomes the first sovereign entity to have virtual world advertising as a standard option for its business owners. The initial acceptance may be limited but the incredibly close government involvement combined with substantial influence over SPH makes for one fascinating and potentially controversial case study of virtual worlds and business. There’s no criticism of Metaversum intended – they have operated as one would expect of a commercial entity. It’s wider issues of politics, media and governance that invite further discussion.

I fired some questions on the issue through to Metaversum’s Managing Director, Jeremy Snyder:

TMJ: Does Metaversum see the Singapore model of government funding combined with a media partnership to drive advertising as one it’s likely to explore in other markets.

Singapore really offered some unique opportunities for us. Their drive to stimulate and showcase innovative companies in the IDM (Interactive Digital Media) space. The media partnership that we entered here is a strong endorsement of our vision. We do see a lot of value in similar strategic partnerships for other markets.

TMJ: Does it see this model working as well as it may do in Singapore where SPH’s management has a close relationship with the government?

Twinity: The relationship between SPH and the Singapore government was not part of the decision process for entering that partnership. Negotiations for funding in 2008 & subsequent negotiations with SPH were entirely different excercises.

TMJ: Does Metaversum have any concerns that potential success in Singapore may be as a result of the unusually tight control on media in Singapore, which may ensure widespread adoption of virtual world advertising as indirect government policy, making it a case study not easily replicated in other markets?

Twinity: Singapore’s media policies in the Internet space really don’t have any affect on our business. Similarly, we do not plan to apply any different standards for content in Twinity’s virtual Singapore than in other locations in Twinity. We feel our success in Singapore and elsewhere will still come back to the core values of Twinity – the connections to real life, the content available, and the strength of the community.

What do you think: is virtual Singapore likely to provide a unique social experiment?

Proposed ISP filtering allows surveillance of journalists, citizens, politicians

Should Senator Conroy’s proposed ISP filtering come to fruition, it concentrates extraordinary powers on whoever is to actually run it. It allows the surveillance of the Internet activities of Kevin Rudd’s children, the journalists at News Limited, or the government’s perceived political opponents (or its own members), or of anyone.

At will. Without cause. Without warrant. Without oversight.

Whether or not you agree with the filtering plan’s goals, this one thing should give you pause: your web-browsing history, and the web-browsing history of every Australian is available to some as-yet-unknown party, from the moment mandatory ISP filtering is switched on.

Sure, the contractor who provides the filtering service, and who maintains the systems will doubtless have all sorts of NDAs. But if someone in Rudd’s family browses porn from The Lodge, for example, then there’s considerable potential for leverage and extortion, because the contractor could obtain that data at will, even if government officials themselves could not, by law, obtain it.

Because filtering systems are logged. Filtering providers are, in fact, very keen on logging. Whether a request is blocked or allowed, the fact of it is recorded. Filtering providers use it to assess how well the system is performing. Individual user addresses are at times monitored from the logs, and some of that data is processed by humans to identify new things that should be blocked, or to see how people are attempting to defeat the filtering.

Whoever is providing and controlling the filtering gains unprecedented political power. Want to know what the journalists at a particular newspaper are up to? Scan the logs for their network addresses and check out what they’re reading on the Web. Ditto for other politicians. Or for anyone of interest, from parliamentarians to cleaners.

The potential for abuse here is absolutely appalling.

All you have is the word of people that these secrets won’t leak or be abused. Won’t they? The preliminary filter lists have already leaked, and contain quite a number of things that are far beyond what we’ve been told would be there. Our trust has already been violated even during the trial phase.

It’s only a matter of time before someone uses this data for their personal or political advantage.

And we, as a nation, are making it all too easy for that to happen.

Protest in Second Life: the current Gaza conflict

Over on DIP’s Dispatches from the Information Age, SL resident Eureka Dejavu has posted some pics of a protest held over recent days. The focus of the protest is the current flare up of hostilities between Hamas and Israeli defence forces. Specifically, the protest is against the current Israeli actions in the Gaza strip. This has caused some angst in some quarters, with accusations of one-sideness.

gaza_protest

Although I deplore in the extreme Hamas’ actions to date, I’d be surprised if the protesters were there primarily to support Hamas. Isn’t the distress focused primarily on the loss of innocent human lives in the midst of it all?

Yes, Hamas use appalling tactics of placing themselves in civilian areas, but that doesn’t negate the right of those concerned for those civilians to be outraged at their death? As Eureka summarises in her post, that’s exactly the perspective encouraged at the protest.

For mine, this view expressed in the post says it all:

The gathering is an example of the rich, textured opportunity that 3D immersive spaces like Second Life offer for people to express their concerns about present day issues

Click here for the full photo set (from which the above picutre comes) and judge for yourself. As always, comments are welcome – was this a one-sided protest, a rightful platform to express sorrow at current events, or both?

Who’s your Daddy?

Mark Kirk

US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would like to be your parent. At least, he would like to act as though he was your parent.

Starting back in May 2008, Kirk has been singling out Second Life for special attention: he would like legislation to be introduced that prevents children from accessing Second Life- both the Teen Grid and the Main Grid (he makes no distinction), through public libraries and in schools.

On the surface, it sounds alright. We all want to protect the kiddies, right? Who is going to say an ill word against legislation that looks like it is designed to protect our children? But then you have to wonder: why should teenagers be excluded from a place designed especially for them? How will adults who want to access Second Life through libraries and schools do so?

There is no easy, cost-effective way to restrict access to content in public libraries and schools. Unless the Congressman wants to spend many more of the limited dollars already available to libraries and schools on solutions that would allow some people to access Second Life but not others, then Second Life would effectively not be available to anyone at these venues.

Legislation banning access for kids is not considered to be censorship – law that acts in place of parental control is often seen as advantageous.

Legislation that also functionally causes a service to be banned for adults is a bit stickier. It may not strictly constitute censorship, as the law would not state that adults are banned. However, functionally, censorship would be the end result.

Does it depend on the end result, or on the original intent, as to whether this is in fact a case of censorship?

For those who are not US citizens, here are the words of the First Amendment (1791):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This is the fundamental piece of law protecting US citizens from censorship. Formally, censorship is prior restraint of communication based on content and enforced by law.  Censorship by the government is broadly unconstitutional.

What Kirk seems to be trying to achieve, intentionally or unintentionally, is an end-run around the constitution. There’s precedent for the State acting in loco parentis, but this sort of legislative restriction barring adults would never fly. Because it’s targeted at kids, and catches adults as collateral damage (something Kirk must have considered), it could squeak through to the detriment of everyone.

On another tack is this related idea, which to some extent makes the legislation pointless:

Thinking members of Congress, teachers and librarians have said that website filtering in the schools and libraries won’t protect kids because they aren’t finding predators in schools and libraries, but from their home computers that they surf alone in their rooms because they have nothing to do after school as many after school activities have been cut.

Perhaps a more useful way to spend Congress’ time and funds is:

  • To put more effort into providing alternative activities for children after school

and, maybe even more importantly

  • To put more effort into educating children about the use of services provided over the Internet.

An educated child is more likely to be self-monitoring. A restricted child is more likely to see excitement, danger and really wild things in those services that have been restricted.

So, what do you think? Is this legislation “in loco parentis”? Or just plain loco?

Source

Australian politics and virtual worlds – no momentum

It’s coming up to a year since the change of Federal government in Australia. In Second Life, there was an election night party.

At the time there was lots of excited talk about the ALP’s broadband policy and the promise it may bring – there is progress on that front but it’s fraught with problems. Then there’s the internet censorship issue bubbling along. All in all, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy hasn’t shone in his role to date. There’s a real perception that we’ve got a government with 20th Century views on some distinctly 21st Century challenges.

In the year since that Second Life election party, there’s been zero interest by either political party in virtual worlds. There’s certainly been significant forays by both sides into social networking via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The US presidential primaries this year saw Second Life play a role, and Barack Obama’s supporters kept that going through the campaign itself. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have obvously been watching the US Democrats’ online campaigning efforts, but there’s no inkling of a virtual world foray at this stage.

We’ve previously queried our pollies on their thoughts with no response – it appears that the current Minister is no more cognisant of the opportunities and challenges than his predecessor.

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