Published Date 1/15/10 3:35 PM
Or maybe a second life?
I am a strong advocate of getting involved with the Computer Society at any level that makes sense for you. Networking increases innovation, career opportunities, and is a key benefit of our society. (See the Presidents Corner for more on this.)
A lingering question in my mind is "how critical is face-2-face interaction?" SecondLife gives us a chance to explore this question, and potentially get the benefits of networking as well. A Computer Society chapter has started to meet monthly in SecondLife (first Saturdays on the IEEE Island), minutes and more info from the Northern Virginia Chapter.
SecondLife uses avatars with pseudonyms, and offers interactions where you may prefer to be anonymous. Within the CS meetings most participants 'wear' a titler that displays their real name along with any message they want to convey. If you join the SecondLife CS Group, you will get notices of meetings, and also (if that group is selected) a message over your head indicating that you are an "Engineer" with the CS group. (I will encourage a choice of "technologist", or maybe just "wizard" as optional titles.) An open source variation of SecondLife is emerging, OpenSim and avatars created there be imported into SecondLife. If there is enough value in this type of environment, it may make sense for IEEE or the CS to host the open source environment for our professional use, but until then, there is always the more public environment.
You have to load software onto your computer to use SecondLife (so it is probably prohibited on corporate laptops, etc.) and many companies may not allow you to visit SecondLife using company equipment. So there are constraints on how far we can use this particular environment for professional interactions.
What we can do is hold meetings, with audio interactions, and slide presentations. One advantage over face-2-face is a group and private chat facility that allows you to interact without having to interrupt the audio stream. One disadvantage is the lack of body language that provides the natural queues for interaction. But it works fairly well. Guest speakers are being solicited for future meetings.
A project has been initiated for an Artificial Intelligence Learning Center (AILC) to animate avatars (droids?) in SecondLife. A large robot has been built on the Island, which includes internal meeting space and will have workshop areas where you can go to learn various methods involved in this process. There is a greeter robot there (in the sphere/ planet meeting room, just pass though the walls to get in) that uses some of the techniques. Volunteers are being sought to help develop this center and a traditional web site at: http://ailc.agstechnet.com/ .
I'd be interested in your thoughts on the value of virtual interactions vs other methods. We have traditional text (from e-mail to twitter), teleconferences, and of course face-2-face --- do avatars add or detract from the experience? Does having a three dimensional world provide something beyond text? One response I received about the value of "Google Wave" suggested the possibility of collaboration in three dimensions in a virtual world -- and tools that are being created to facilitate this. So maybe it is time to get out of Flatland and into another dimension?
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