ACCELER8OR

Nov 07 2012

Why Am I Here? Notes On Getting A Second Life

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“Why am I here?” I asked myself for the twentieth time in the last hour.

I felt like a fool.  Why had I allowed Shasta to talk me into this?  An idle fantasy?  A chance to escape the humdrum daily grind and allow myself the freedom of just being myself?  This was crazy.  It was going to be just like all the other times.  Disappointing.

“Come to Second Life,” Shasta had said in the IM.  “You can work for me at the bar I’m partners in.  You’ll love it here.”

I trusted her, I really did.  Despite the fact that we had never once met IRL, Shasta has always been a friend and mentor and confidant.  She has always been one of the real believers in my artistic talents, even though I have never really been a successful artist.  I had known her for ten years, and tonight I was going to meet her “face to face” for the first time.  Despite the fact we had been out of touch for two years, when she had found a link to my new internet account, and contacted me, it had been like we had talked only yesterday.

She had begged me to come; to see her new club and to just hang out.  I had been dubious, but let her talk me into it.  I had downloaded the program, set up an account, and signed into the virtual world of Second Life.

I had been in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games before, and while I liked a few, like Ragnarok and Lineage 2, I wasn’t expecting much from Second Life.  It seemed kind of tame actually, a world with no story line, no monsters, no combat outside of a few arenas.  I expected it to be rather boring.  Indeed, just figuring out the basic interface had been confusing, and seemed rather poorly laid out compared to several other MMORPGs I had played recently.  Just figuring out how to make the Avatar of myself had taken most of the hour, it had so many customization options. It took a while, and some aspects of the Avatar really were not well done, particularly hair, but finally, here I stood on the entry platform, a tall white haired bombshell in a tight red top and black mini.

No, I didn’t look anywhere near my IRL appearance, but that was the point, no?  I was here not as the person I was stuck being in RL, but as Valkyrie Ice, Succubus.  For nearly 20 years, from the days of BBS’s and my first appearance in one of the innumerable Red Dragon Inns, Valkyrie Ice has been my online persona and more me than the person I have to pretend to be from day to day.  In “real” life, I have to spend too much of my time being what other people want me to be, from the good little drone work wants to behaving the way people expect me to just to keep the guys in white coats from coming to take me away.  Additionally, as a Transsexual, only online am I free to just be myself; free of the expectations of my RL physical appearance, social status, and gender.

But I didn’t feel right.  Sure I was roughly looking like I should, at least insofar as my human form went, but that has always been the problem with MMORPGs.  I could never get an avatar that was really “ME.”  Call it delusion, past life experience, wishful thinking, whatever, I have always had dreams of being a succubus, a real cloven hoofed, bat winged, spade tailed, and rams-horned demoness with a mischievous and flirtatious streak a mile wide, but not a real gram of evil intent in my body.  SL’s Avatar could be made to match the overall form of face and body, but I was still all too human, and once more feeling like I was wearing yet another mask over my real self. I was half expecting this to be yet another teaser that ended up just being more frustration than fun in the end despite Shasta’s assurances.

And to top it off, I was a human about to walk into a virtual furry strip club.

Yeah, you heard right.  In my daily life, I am L. S. McGill, furry pinup artist without a following, once published in the American Journal of Anthropomorphics. For those of you who have no clue what Anthropomorphism is; it means giving human characteristics to nonhuman things, such as animating a toaster.  Generally though, it is commonly used as a classification for the millions of people like me who feel that they are not “human” at heart, and are instead part animal.  Be it anime cat girls, werewolves, humans with animal ears and tails, right down to full animal forms with human intelligence and speech capabilities, Anthros, or “Furries” make up a significant portion of the online community, and can be found almost everywhere.  Go to almost any fan convention, and you will undoubtedly find some furry costumes, furry merchandise, and of course, Furry fans.  I’ve been drawing furry art most of my life, and despite various attempts to break into the market, I’m still a failure with talent, and a life plagued with bad luck, poverty, and one setback after another.  I am a very good artist, but have difficulty getting my work out where it can be seen and sold.  Basically, I am creative, bright, intelligent, and cursed with an inability to ever get anyone to actually notice any of those things since all anyone ever seems to see is the fact that I am built like a linebacker for the NFL.

Obviously, in the “real” world, if you’re a giant, the only thing you could ever possibly be good at is sports or physical labor.  God forbid you ever want to actually use your brain to make a living.  Being an artist is even worse, since no one who is 6’5” could possibly do anything other than smash things into the ground.  My talents and my A+ certification seem to mean less to employers than my size, so I’ve been forced to make my living most of my life as a bouncer.  My hesitation at the moment wasn’t about walking into a strip club, since I’d worked those for years, it was the fact that for the first time, I wasn’t going into a club as security.

For the first time in my life, even though it was virtual, I was going to leave the shadows at the edges of the bar and step on the stage as one of the dancers.

“This is stupid.  I’m going to make a fool of myself,” I muttered to myself as my fingers hovered over the keyboard and mouse.

Part of my hesitation was the fact that it had been obvious that the furry avatars in Second Life had been little more than an afterthought.  The stock AV was a fox-like head that looked horrible.  It was too big for the body, and looked like a cheap mascot head from Disney world, little more than a sphere with eyes included as part of its texture, and ears and a muzzle tacked on.  The human Avatars were far more complex, with moving eyes and mouths, and extremely customizable, but I had been a furry artist for too many years to think that most furries would settle for a human face, or really want to see a dancer who looked “too human”.  If I had my wings and tail and horns, I might have been a little more confidant, but I had known too many furries to who even my drawings of myself in full succubus form had been “too human.”  Now, as succubae are shape shifters, I could get around that by simply altering my appearance, and had for several years described myself as a white unicorn anthro with sapphire blue hair and mirror polished hooves, horn, and nails, named China Blue.  But I had gotten as tired of those masks as all the others and I was going to be making a real attempt to simply be myself… my real self… instead of yet another mask.  Don’t get me wrong, I like being a shapeshifter, but I was hoping for once to be able to be the me I usually hid away from everybody.

I sighed, then finally stepped off the platform and made my way down the path to the novice island.

 

* * * * *

If you’ve ever played any MMORPG than you should be familiar with the concept of a Novice area.  It’s were newbies to the game can familiarize themselves with the basics without annoying the experienced players.  Second Life was no different.  I ran through the tutorials about movement, camera controls, and how to move and use objects, taking my time and trying to memorize enough to avoid making a complete fool of myself.  By the time I was done, I had mixed impressions about the interface.  For one thing, it was complex.  I had controls for camera movements, self movement, and object use, which was pretty standard, but I also had a dozen options I could see no real use for yet.  I gave up after learning the basics, figuring I’d be unlikely to use the object creation menus, or any of the editing features anytime soon.  Once I was confident I could navigate around, I decided to look up Shasta and find out how to get to where she was.

“Hi Val,” came the return IM a few minutes later.  “I’m a little busy at the moment, but I can send you a TP.”

Yeah, I was dumb.  “Um, what’s a TP?”

“A teleport request.  It’s the most common way to get around.”

A second later, a blue sign popped up on my screen saying Shasta had asked me to join her in Hydrangea, the name of the area where she currently was in the virtual world of SL.  I clicked on the yes button and suddenly found myself falling through a grey void.

Okay, okay, so it wasn’t quite that instantaneous.  I had to wait a few seconds while a load screen appeared and so on, but my arrival in mid air was a bit of a shock.  Before I could hit the page up button to fly though, I landed, and the grey void started filling in around me.

And I suddenly started seeing what made Second Life so attractive.

Shasta filled in at first, and in a few seconds, she had gone from grey to the familiar form I had seen described, and even sketched a few times, but this wasn’t the typical furry cartoon art, this was a 3D person standing before me, with a raccoons head that looked far more realistic than the default furry AV had, a full body fur pattern with a creamy colored belly fur, dark brown main coat, and black “socks” on her hands and feet, and, of course, the obligatory banded tail.

I blinked.  “Oh My God…”

“Welcome to Second Life, Val,” she said, a small text balloon forming over her head as my chat box duplicated her text.  Then a small blue box popped up asking me if it was okay if Shas hugged me.  Still kinda in a daze I clicked yes, and found myself suddenly animated, stepping forward to embrace Shas in a virtual hug so much more real than the typical *hug* of IMs.  “We’re setting up a stage at the moment, but if you’ll hang out for a few, we’ll take you out shopping to get your AV all spruced up.”

Without thinking, I nodded, then smiled at myself as I typed, “Sure.”  I looked around and found a stool nearby, with a funny little pink ball hovering over it.  I had learned how to use objects on the newbie island, so I tried right-clicking, and sure enough, a menu with the option to sit popped up, and my AV jumped over to the chair and sat down facing the “stage” in front of me.

That right there made me stop and think.  It’s a virtual world, my AV doesn’t get tired of standing, but I had automatically taken a seat through an unconscious reflex.  I had reacted exactly like I would have had I been there in the flesh.

Now, go to most MMORPG’s and sitting is a function often used to speed up your recovery of hit points and so on, but what I had just done hadn’t been anything like that, I had simply taken a seat out of the natural human response to seek comfort.

Immersion is a word often bandied about in video game circles, but if you really look at most games, this immersion is almost always limited.  It basically is how much the player feels like they are actually in the game, and it is the little details that truly accomplish this.  In most first person shooters, especially the Id series such as Doom and Quake, they sacrifice realism in level design for various traps, puzzles, and cubbyholes that give cover for player verses player combat.  This means that often times my feeling of immersion is disrupted by a sudden nonsensical obstacle, or by illogical architecture created simply to make it hard to go from A to B.  My favorite games have always been those where the environment around me made SENSE from a real world standpoint.

I had been in numerous bars and clubs, and their virtual counterpoints, and in most of the virtual ones, chairs might have been part of the décor, but to have a completely customized animation solely for sitting in one?  For the next few minutes I bounced around from the stool to a couple of nearby couches, smiling.  It seemed a lot of thought had gone into designing the animations used to make them as realistic and natural as possible.

Then I actually paid attention to what Shas and another employee were doing, and had to giggle.  They were fine tuning a dance ball, basically an object that contains an animation routine that can be used by anyone, much like the pink ball that hovered over the stool I was sitting on.  She and the other person were hovering in mid air, being moved back and forth as Shas adjusted their relative positions, making sure they actually looked like they were touching, but not overlapping too much, and making sure they weren’t in the floor but on it.  During this process they were frozen like mannequins, but when Shas closed the edit menu, suddenly they were doing a swing dance.

I watched, amazed as their AVs swirled and embraced, circled and swung, and began to get a glimmer of what was in store for me as a dancer at the club.  I started looking around and clicking on various items around the room I was in, noticing for the first time that many had Dance! as an option, and suddenly a lot of my nervousness eased up.  I really would be able to dance here, the way I had always dreamed of.

Except… well… I still looked a bit too much like a Barbie doll.  This being a strip club, I knew getting naked was part of the fun.  “So does this game blur out the naked AV like The Sims does?”  I asked.

I heard a laugh over the speakers as Shasta replied.  “Nope.”  Then her clothes vanished, and I discovered another thing that the default AVs lacked that could be supplied by the customizations… Anatomical correctness.  I was grinning like an idiot now.

“Oh my.  I really do hope we can find the things I need to make myself look right.”

I’ll be honest.  As a succubus, I am vain.  I knew how I wanted to look, how I had looked in my dreams for so many years, and I didn’t want to settle for good enough.  I wanted to be the star attraction, the “ZOMG she’s fucking gorgeous” babe that made tongues roll out like cartoon animations, and for once, I was starting to think that here in SL it might be possible.  It wasn’t going to be enough to just have horns and hooves and wings – I wanted to have some that looked damn good.

Shas kept reassuring me that we could probably find everything I needed someplace or another.  I heard about Skins, which are the graphics covering the 3d Avatar model, Prims, which is short for primitives – basically an item made out of simple shapes that is built up like legos into whatever the creator wants, such as Shasta’s raccoon head and tail – and clothing, which went over the basic shape and skin.

Following her adjustments to the dance ball, she showed me how to run a search and we headed to a mall, which in Second Life is pretty much the same as in Real Life, a building containing lots of smaller stores.

After 2 hours teleporting from one mall to another, I had begun to despair.  Oh there were horns, and tails, and wings and hooves galore, but nothing that really matched my desires.  I had settled for the moment for a set of wings and a tail bought from a store called appropriately enough “Devil Girls”, as well as new hair, new clothes, new shoes, and some other oddments, like a walk animation override that changed the default quick step walk into a more sexy hip swaying stride, but it was becoming obvious that I might have to find other options to match my self-image exactly.

So we teleported back to the club, along with a couple of new friends I had made when Shasta had invited them to join us shopping, Jo and Greytail.  Shas had to go, but GT and Jo stayed behind to help me get everything I had just bought fitted and adjusted.  You see, having the ability to adjust almost every aspect of your avatar also means that not everything bought off the rack fits just right, so you do have to tweak the spatial relationships relative to yourself when you wear objects.  It didn’t really take me long to figure out the controls for xyz coordinates and xyz rotations, nor did stretching objects, but had Jo and GT not shown me how to be able to adjust not only objects, but sub-objects within a larger object, I might have been screaming in frustration soon. Then GT showed me how to make objects, and in just a few minutes I had ditched the rather cheesy horns that I had bought as part of the devil girls set for a pair that actually looked like I thought they should that GT made for me on the spot.

And that’s how I learned about the uses for the object creation menu, and started realizing something vitally important about SL that made it completely unique from every other game I had ever played, and made me begin to look at it in an entirely new light.

Second Life isn’t a game in the usual sense.  It’s a simulation, an emulation of the real world, but unlike any other, it’s a simulation that is not 90% developer based.

Unlike The Sims, or all the virtual IM chat programs, or any other program I had seen in years, Second Life is almost entirely the creation of its players.

That’s right, it’s Players.  Its end users.  Not Linden Labs, the developers of Second Life, not the programmers who know how to hack and hexadecimal edit game files, not the few, the select, the elite.  Those people were all in SL to be sure, but they weren’t the people who had made SL what it was.  Linden Labs had created a framework, but even they weren’t responsible for what SL was.

No, SL was something completely new in my experience, and quite possibly everyone else’s as well.  It was a world created by the people who lived in it.  It was a reflection of their hopes, dreams and desires.  It wasn’t a product of a singular vision, or a unified set of ideas, this world was a hodgepodge collection of everything.

In the mall I had been shopping in, not only were there wings and hooves and tails, but they also had X-wing fighters, Stargates, and teleporters.  Amazon fantasy armor sold right next to the full body powered armor Hardsuits from Bubblegum Crisis.  Besides the various furry AVs for sale, there were Demons and Goths and Dark Elves.  Cyborgs-ranging from such simplicities as wrist claws and armored exoskeletons to things as intricate as the full Terminator T101 series endoskeleton-could be found for sale next to Japanese schoolgirl outfits and fairy tale princess dresses.  Be it Anime, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or just everyday, it all had equal space.  I could have dressed in jeans by Bugleboy, or a Gorean slave girl outfit, or Stormtrooper armor, and walked through that mall and no-one would have batted an eye.  I had the absolute freedom to be exactly who I wanted to be, and the only real restrictions were social, so I would want to wear an outfit that hid the appropriate spots if I traveled to a PG rated zone, or if I was just wandering around, but I would have done that anyway.  The point wasn’t the clothes, it was my freedom to be myself that mattered.  And all around me were things that told me that that exact freedom was what mattered to everyone else as well.

Second Life was the world its residents wanted.  Not a world that they had to cope with, or survive in, it was the world they desired.  From sex animations to Space Stations to Angel wings, everything around me was something someone had made simply because they wanted too, and had decided to share with everyone else for a minimal recompense.  Regardless of status, race, social position, or interests, everyone was free to create, to dream, and to make into a kind of reality.  Everybody had an equal footing.

And that is also why I constantly use Second Life and my experiences there as examples in my writing – because Second Life is a model, a prototype if you will, for our world in twenty to thirty years.  It’s the future that we would make if there were no limits to the possible, if our every fantasy and wish could be made real, and as such, despite furries and demons and aliens everywhere, it offers an insight into the very things that make us human, stripped away of the extraneous deadweight of prejudice and preconception.  Like a non-stop fan convention, all of us in SL were role-playing characters, but unlike a fan con, the majority weren’t playing someone else’s creation, we were playing the person we really felt we were.

It took awhile, and I had to learn how to make objects on my own before I was satisfied, but I am myself in SL now.  I have the body that has been part of my dreams for all of my life, and I have the freedom to go anywhere I choose without having to hide who I am.  Unlike the “real” world, I was not forced to be someone I did not feel comfortable as simply because my genetics had dictated I look a certain way, or because society demanded I act a certain way due to that genetic accident. I could simply be myself.

And that made me think.  Based on some of the proposed technological advancements of the near future, there is an extremely high likelihood of medical technology being able to make such changes outside of a virtual world.  As a trans-sexual, I know that we can currently make a male such as myself into a passable female, but there are limitations that I find unacceptable personally.  Yet those limitations grow fewer every year, and the cost of performing such surgery has dropped as they become more commonplace.

When I look at Second Life, and how the people who populate it express their “inner selves”, I am struck by the fact that a desire to change how we look is one of the most commonplace urges shared by the majority of the human race.  Be it as simple as dieting to lose weight to the extremes of sex reassignment surgery, we all have a desire to make our outer self match our mental self image, and before much longer, we will have the technology to do so at a cost that many will be able to afford.

There are numerous possible methods through which such radical reconstruction might be achieved, such as nanotech, biotech, or cybernetics, but the simple fact that such desires exist is almost a guarantee that some sort of method for achieving such radical alterations in human form will come into being.  Like the evolution of the modern cell phone from the appeal of the concept of communicators in the original Star Trek series, Second Life is a showcase of concepts, expressing the desires of its inhabitants and allowing a virtual test drive of them, so that we can see what concepts work, and which don’t.  From such things as virtual land baronies to virtual banks to the legality and acceptability an adult playing a child like avatar while engaging in adult activities, SL is likely to set the course and policies that will eventually govern the development of “Cyberspace”, the term coined by William Gibson for the virtual reality world which co-exists and interacts with the real word in his “cyberpunk” novels.  Like the communicator/cell phone example above, I believe the simple existence of Second Life will create a demand in real life for the kind of things available in virtuality

It’s simple supply and demand philosophy.  Demands were made that lead to the development of the supplies needed to meet the demand.  Every item made in SL by a player was created to supply a demand, be it as simple as better looking hair to such complex items as large scale virtual space craft.  Using myself as an example, my demand to look exactly as I had envisioned in my dreams lead to my creating a completely custom avatar, in which every item that I wear is my own creation.  I own the intellectual property rights for all of it, and having now met my own demand, I have a supply available to meet the demands of others who wish to look like me, or just like a particular aspect.  In a similar fashion, by the demands being met in SL, I see a demand being created in the real world for what’s available in the virtual, and that means that someone is going to be finding a way to meet that demand.

And it was this realization that first led me to begin formalizing the various observations I have been making for decades into written form. My experiences in Second Life made me begin to look far more closely and deeply into the way in which technological advance actually affect our social and political realities. Having the freedom to actually be myself showed me just how fundamentally different the world would be as that continuing advance forced us to adapt.

And that is why I am sharing that initial experience with you. Whatever you think of me, my desires to be a succubus, or my views about the radical changes we are about to undergo, I’m just a human, like you. It’s just as novel, hard to conceptualize, and even a little unnerving for me too. But I’m willing to face it without fear, and use logic, reason, and an open mind to analyze it,

Jan 16 2012

Le Future According To Val, Part One: When Technologies Meet, Interact, and Things Go Boom.

So here we are in the year 2012, which far too many people predict will be the year the world ends. Some believe in cosmic disaster; some believe aliens will make contact; some believe “God” will “return” and magically wipe away everyone who doesn’t believe “the right things”. All of them share a single common problem — a complete lack of evidence of any sort.

Yet even among those who dismiss these “doomsdagry predictions,” you find those who proclaim dooms of a different sort, such as claims that we are fast approaching the “death of innovation” or even the “death of advanced civilization.” Even these predictions are hindered by a lack of any provable evidence, and joined by a single common theme — fear of the future.

There is a reason for this. The future is a very scary place. Not because we have reached an ending, which in reality, we certainly have, but because so few people can see beyond that ending to the birth that will follow. This isn’t a unique situation, as we’ve been through similar processes previously, most notably following the invention of the printing press that lead to the end of the Catholic Church’s monolithic existence by sparking the protestant revolution; made reading a common skill and enabled the Renaissance. More recently, we experienced the industrial revolution that has lead to our current world. It’s this “world” that is reaching its end. But this is neither doom, nor a disaster, even though it will most certainly be chaotic and sadly cost far too many lives as we make a transition from our present reality into an entirely new and different one.

It’s this new and different reality that I see coming that underlies everything I have written, and that has caused some to call me all sorts of names — from wild eyed optimist to certified lunatic. The names are pretty meaningless, because they simply reflect the inability of many to grasp the connections and implications of the various technologies I report on. For this, I must apologize, since there are so many interconnections that it is hard to give a complete picture. That is, however, the purpose of this two part article — to give a brief overview of the connections and describe how those connections interact to produce the end result that I perceive.

To begin, I view the human animal as driven primarily by two instincts, which in combination produce the overwhelming majority of the complex behaviors of the human race. The first instinct is survival. We are genetically programmed to survive. And as part of this instinct, we form collectives, because collectives are a mechanism that promotes our survival. The second instinct is reproduction. We are genetically programmed to compete for sex. Note I specifically say sex because for the majority of history, mankind has been seeking ways to get more sex without the reproductive aspect coming into play. Sex is the universal drive. Actual reproduction is secondary.

It is the interplay of these two drives that leads us to form collectives to promote our common survival, and then to compete within those collectives for sex, which leads to the creation of Pecking Orders. I discuss this far more fully in my blog post, On Government, which also discusses the interplay of these instincts to create the “Status Game” that underlies much of human activity. The “Status Game” is one of the primary drivers that I look at for analyzing any given technology. In essence, I ask myself “how will this technology be used to increase or decrease an individual’s status, and how will this affect the pecking order.” Almost any technology will have an effect on the pecking order, though that effect is not always immediately apparent. There are many other aspects I examine as well, many of them I covered in my H+ article, “A Peek into the Demoness’s Mind,” but my primary focus is always “how will this affect the status quo” Why? Because it’s the social aspects of technology that truly dictate how a technology will be used, how it will spread through society, and ultimately determine what impact that technology has on our world.

And it’s that social impact that primarily determines what technologies I report on, because certain technologies have the long term effect of being what I call “Great Levelers” in that, regardless what of their immediate short term effects are, in the long term they all show the extreme likelihood of “leveling the field” and effectively removing many of the “Pillars” that support the near vertical pecking order of our current era, and will cause that pecking order to essentially collapse into a nearly horizontal one in the not too distant future, which will directly result in a world in which the overwhelming majority of causes of human suffering, war, crime, and injustice will no longer exist.

So with that clarified, let’s see where it all goes, shall we?

In my initial articles on H+, I opened up with a discussion on VR, and how we have arrived at the stage of “good enough VR,” then proceeded to discuss the “Metaverse” — the combined worldspace of augmented reality, virtual reality and the mirror reality. And then, I finished discussing how I saw VR as the “Gateway” to the “Big Three” of Genetics, Nanotech, and Robotics.) Since then I’ve written on the numerous advances in graphene, 3D printers, and the possibility of extreme body modification. Looked at singly, these each have extremely large potential for disruptive upheaval, which I discuss in the relevant article and their commentary, but their largest effects will happen at the intersection where all of these technologies will synergistically magnify their effects on the pecking order. In short, they meet, interact, and things go boom.

You are likely all aware of Moore’s Law and the exponential increase in computing power it has successfully predicted for decades. What you might not be aware of is that once we begin incorporating graphene and CNTs into advanced processors, that law is going to be obsolete because the rate of increasing computing power will likely leap several orders of magnitude almost overnight. That massive increase in computing power in and of itself may not seem that significant until you begin to realize many of the other potentials inherent in the use of graphene electronics, some of which I covered here in “Here Comes Film Computing.” Graphene is not merely useful for making processors, but displays, cameras, lidars, solar cells, and basically nearly every single form of electronic device we currently have figured out how to make. But beyond its uses in electronics, graphene has amazing structural properties. A sheet the thinness of cellophane would be strong enough to support the weight of an elephant while still retaining near perfect optical transparency. As such, it has the potential to replace nearly every material we currently use to construct almost every manufactured product from knick-knacks to skyscrapers. When you combine both of these uses, you might begin grasping some of the massive impact graphene will begin having in the very near future as we begin manufacturing massive quantities of it. Carbon is only the single most abundant element in the world and roll-to-roll manufacturing of massive sheets of graphene has already been accomplished.

So to truly understand the impact that graphene will have requires looking at it from several directions at once, most of which many people find brain bending in the extreme. Imagine a world in which nearly every single manufactured product is not only constructed from graphene, but incorporates graphene electronics, and in which nearly every single visual characteristic is controllable, and likely many non-visual ones as well. Imagine a toothbrush that has bristles you can make soft or stiff as you please, clothes that change their fit and appearance depending on whether you are at work or at the bar. Imagine a world in which all these things are available for minimal cost because they are all made from carbon; and produced on demand using fractions of ounces of actual material. A world in which everything is programmable, customizable, and interactive. Imagine cars that you have to place weights in to keep from blowing away in a strong wind, but which can bounce like rubber when you somehow manage to crash head on into another car, absorbing almost all of the force of impact without harming the passenger while taking no damage from impact. A world in which nothing ever needs a repair because if something malfunctions, you toss it into the recycler and print out a new one. A world in which no product of a material nature has any value at all because it can be instantly reproduced, copied endlessly, and improved upon by anyone, where any product manufactured out of iron or wood or stone is considered junk because it is such an inferior, clunky, and unintelligent material to build from.

Then I would like you to consider the next layer. Add to this world of ultracheap carbon based products, a “Mirror” of reality, a cyber universe that merges the virtual and the real, in which the very world you move through is an interactive computer interface. A world where every person you look at, talk to, or interact with is just as programmable, customizable and interactive as the scenery around you. Where your “personal space” is as malleable as a dreamscape. Imagine a world in which a combination of prosthetics, bioprinters, and even mere virtual costumes could make it possible for every single person in the world to be their own personal “perfect” self, regardless of what that self might be, or even if that self changes from day to day. Imagine a world in which you record your every moment of existence to enable you to possess perfect recall; where even the very sensations you experience could be recorded and replayed whenever you desire. Visualize a world wherein the entirety of all human knowledge is available; in which everyone from adult to child has access to the finest professors of every subject at a mere inquiry. Visualize a world in which science itself is no longer the play-toy of a few; where knowledge is no longer a commodity available to only those who can pay; but free for every single human being on the planet to pursue to their hearts content. Think about a world in which every single desire and fantasy can be fulfilled, in which all the darkest, most secret fantasies you ever masturbated to could be simulated.

That last one probably threw you for a loop, didn’t it? But it really shouldn’t have, because I did say at the beginning of this article that sex is one of the primary drivers of human behavior. Seriously, I am a succubus precisely because that fact. I assure you, sex will be a major factor at play in the creation of “perfect selves,” regardless of if that self is merely a perfected version of your basic appearance or if you choose such a radically different appearance such as myself. And this is where the social aspects of all of this technology really begin that synergistic mixing that leads to boom.

Consider a reality in which everyone is Superman. One in which everyone is a “hottie;” in which every single person in the world looks like a porno model, regardless of race sex or species. Because with the combination of graphene processors, 3d printed carbon based “smart materials”, VR, and biomodification via stemcells, that is the inevitable direction I see things progressing.

If you are like many people, you are probably screaming no at the top of your lungs; certain that a world so very radically different than the one you are used to will ever be possible. The problem here is that you don’t truly understand how the “status game” works.  The pecking order exists to enable our DNA to merge “the best” (itself) with “the best” (a mate with superior DNA).  How this drive manifests itself differs in each gender, as well as in how strongly it manifests from person to person, but that is meaningless to the “pecking order,” which is how we decide “superior” from “inferior.” We compete to determine who is “better.” Wealth, power, good looks, and a thousand other “markers” have been created merely to allow our DNA to find and merge with the best other human DNA it can find. That’s it. Everything else is complications we’ve invented as smart apes to hide from each other the fact that all we really want to do is get into each other’s pants. Even us geeks want our chosen mates to desire us for our “big brains” so that we can bump uglies as often as we can. You might want to deny this fact, but I’ll lay you odds that the reason why you want to deny it will be because you will be afraid admitting this truth could lead to less nookie.

So, now that you are suitably outraged, let me direct your attention to an H+ article by my friend Hank Pellissier on Sexbots.

I particularly recommend reading all of the comments, and yes, I am aware it is a very long read since there are a lot of them, because they cover an enormous set of issues, not the least of which is the depth to which people will lie to themselves about sex and gender roles. However, to save time for those of you doing the tl;dr thing, I will quote the original point I made in response, which is far down the page.

“Sex is everywhere. No-one in our culture can avoid being exposed to it. But at the same time, we deny it constantly. Its okay for a kid to watch the cold blooded killing of a hundred people in an action movie, but heaven’s forbid he watches Debbie Does Dallas. Go online, and well, as everyone knows, the internet is for porn.

And even that isn’t the craziest thing we do. Our teens are raised to view dating as a war between a girl trying to stay a virgin, and the boys trying to get her to put out by any means possible. Any girl who fails to stay a virgin is a slut, and any boy who fails to get laid is a faggot.

We worship action heroes who treat the opposite sex as momentary pleasures, and who’s ability to get between their co-stars legs is taken for granted. We tell our kids in every single way possible SEX IS GOOD, while hypocritically trying to tell them it’s bad.

Second Life is often times ridiculed as a “pornoverse” but to be brutally honest about things, SL has sex poses, fetish gear, and everything else you can think of to appeal to the pervert in you for one reason, and one reason alone.

PEOPLE WANTED IT THAT WAY.

Released from the restraints of public hypocrisy people want to release their pent up libidos.

And now we are going to be entering the age of VR. As Joe Quirk said in the latest issue of H+, we’re looking at a future where clothes are going to be a joke. Between those sext messages you sent on your phone, scanning technology that will map your body to the nanometer of accuracy for 3d modeling, and AR that can put those two together to create an “X-ray” app, your modesty will cease to exist.

Sexbots? As controversial as they may sound now. we probably won’t even notice them growing more popular. To many VR people like me will be busy breaking down social taboos and inhibitions to make sexbots seem like much of anything.

And when those sexbots can act as surrogates? XDDDDDD

Needless to say, every last bit of tech applied to sexbots will also end up as a cybernetic enhancement option as well. Can we say the end of erectile dysfunction and the death of K-Y?

So, as a succubus, you could just say I’m simply preparing for the inevitable, and definitely highly sexual, future.”

I am making this point because the ability of all of this emerging technology to create such a “leveling” effect as I discussed earlier is tied into this basic driver of the “Status Game.” Personal appearance is a marker because it determines “sexiness” on one level and “genetic superiority” on another. Wealth is a marker because it is another sign of “genetic superiority”. At every level, the higher up the “pecking order” you are, the more our genetically driven instincts make us want to have sex with you. Additionally, the higher up the pecking order you are, the greater the demands you make for tribute as a reward for being “superior” and the greater the number of people you find to be undeserving “inferior” beings. We are programmed to desire greater status and instinctively embrace anything we perceive as granting it. It’s a pied piper we have chased for all our existence, equaled by only one other desire… immortality.

And it’s the lure that will pull us inevitably towards faster computers, better VR, greater ability to manipulate our own bodies, and better sex. And that is where the consequences come in.

To be continued.

Dec 06 2011

Why Second Life Has Succeeded Beyond Anybody’s Wildest Expectations

A recent article on Slate proclaims “Why Second Life Failed.”  Assuming you buy into the author’s overall viewpoint, it makes a decent case. In essence, SL was touted as a “revolutionary solution” for a job it really wasn’t qualified to do. The problem is that this viewpoint shows a profoundly limited understanding of what Second Life is compared to what it was hyped to be.

Giulio Prisco and I have discussed this previously in commentary on his blog, and he makes some very good points about why businesses didn’t do well in SL — causes ranging from a lack of needed controls over their “space” to prevent griefing to a need for greater stability to better conferencing, but there is one very big reason that I believe explains why most current “business models” failed in S. It’s one I’ve discussed in my H+ article on 3d printers adding our way to abundance. SL is a prototype of an economy of abundance, and as such, inherently hostile to business strategies based on scarcity. It is not a “business tool” that the majority of current corporate structures can use simply because those structures are dependent on levels of centralized control and restriction to access to product that are impossible to maintain in a world in which everyone has access to the same basic ability to manufacture any desired item.

Modern businesses are essentially based on the “gatekeeper” model. They offer a “product” that they know you want, but which is either not easily made by you, or which cannot be obtained except through them. The example used in the Slate article is the “Milkshake.” We could easily make milkshakes at home, provided we had the ingredients and a blender, but the effort involved for most of us is prohibitive. It’s simply easier to go to the local fast food place and buy one than it is to go to the store and get all the ingredients and make them ourselves. As silly as saying that may sound, it’s true. (yes I know that is not the point made by the example made in the article, but I’m discussing factors that they are overlooking.) The point is the “business” provides “access” to something in a manner that is more convenient than making it ourselves, setting up a “tollbooth” between us and the item we desire.

This same “gatekeeper” model underlies nearly all current business models. It works so long as the “product” is easier to get by going through the “gate” than by making it ourselves or acquiring it from some other source. It’s this business model that doesn’t work in SL because in many cases the “product” is easier to get by either making it yourself, or by finding a nearly identical product offered by a different “vendor” for less than the prices demanded by the “Brand Names.” In fact, given the innovation and ingenuity displayed by some designers in SL, many of those “Brand Names” came up severely lacking. Coupled with the lack of those features Giulio discusses, I am not surprised that the originally hyped dreams for what SL would become failed, and failed miserably.

So yes, if you buy the model used in the Slate article, it is easy to claim that Second Life “failed.” But if you look at it not as a business platform, but as what it truly is — a “Virtual Reality Prototype Testing Laboratory” in which many of the issues we will face in the not very distant future as VR, nanotech, genetic manipulation and robotics technology begin to invade our day to day reality are already under investigation, then I would have to say that SL has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

No, it is not a perfect “prototype” because it does indeed fail to incorporate many activities that have become commonplace, like the social networking abilities of Facebook, or the ability to add in modular “apps” and such, but considering that those “products” came into existence after the creation of Second Life, that’s forgivable. What is remarkable is the prescient way in which the 3D manufacturing/nanofactory revolution is present in the object creation system, enabling anyone to have access to the “means of production.” While this system does require knowledge to use, the availability of online tutorials is phenomenal, and many of them use Second Life “actors” as tutors. Additionally, as time has passed and enhanced features have become available, such as better scripts, sculpted prims and the latest addition of meshes, the range of items that can be created has expanded enormously. And despite the massive variety of items and scripts already available, there are still nearly unlimited possibilities for a creative designer to create a unique and desirable product. This ability is the very reason that the “gatekeeper” model of business is impossible to implement in Second Life.

But even that pales compared to the social impacts that morphological freedom will have on humanity, and it is so integral to Second Life that even the Slate article mentions it in passing. I’ve discussed this frequently in other articles, but it bears repeating. There is no better laboratory in the world today for exploring the potentials and consequences of the ability to reshape our bodies as we wish. There are endless articles on “Digital people” and other “non human” entities that populate Second Life, offering us insights into what the reality of such “shape shifting” abilities will bring. Indeed, we are already beginning to see such “pop icons” as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, (and, of course, Rachel Haywire) sporting hair styles and fashion designs that seem very SL inspired.

So yes, if all you think of Second Life as is a “business platform”, it’s easy to view it as a failed technology. But if you look beyond such a shallow framework, and look at the deeper implications of this “prototype of the future” it’s hard to see it as anything but a very rare and valuable opportunity to study the challenges and promises of a future beyond anything we have ever experienced in all of history. It’s the closest thing we have to a “working model” of Post Singularity reality, a simulation which could enable us to foresee the perils and pitfalls, to make mistakes and find solutions, all without suffering the consequences of making those mistakes in “First Life.”

It’s basically a matter of whether your only concern is immediate profit or the long term benefits it could provide to the entire human race.

 

Sep 07 2011

From “Dirty” To “Pristine” Uses Of Technology

 

I wrote a line on the Acceler8or Facebook page that went ‎”I look for the ‘dirty’ uses of technology, and then trace backwards from them to the ‘pristine’ uses.” R.U. wanted me to explain that line a little more and discuss exactly what I meant by it.

So I’d like to start by discussing why I stress “being a succubus” as part of my articles, because it’s part and parcel of those “dirty uses” I was talking about, and it gives me a chance to talk about myself and how I see this coming about in a manner that might sound a lot less like “wishful thinking” than most of you probably think possible.

So, first off, let’s start by examining the end result: Valkyrie Ice, 7 foot tall Amazon succubus. She has batwings, cloven hooves, a long prehensile tail with a spaded tip that can act as a third hand, pointed ears, upper and lower fangs, and rams horns. Why I want to look like this isn’t important. I simply do, and I am willing to go to great lengths to get my way because I’m human, irrational, and don’t give a flying fuck about whether you approve of my desires in any way.  Pretty much like most humans. The big difference is that I’m actually willing to be honest about my desires instead of keeping them concealed out of fear of being socially acceptable. You might not find succubi attractive, but I know for a fact that there are many other people out there besides me who do, and while “the majority” might raise an eyebrow at me, that still leaves millions of people in the “long tail” who are going to be perfectly happy chasing mine.

If you are not familiar with “The Long Tail” it’s the marketing term for the ever smaller demographic divisions that lie outside the “mass market.” It’s the “niche” market, the subdividisions between 1 person and “everybody.” Everybody likes food. Not everyone likes “Aunt Wheezies Real Coon Squeezins!” (No, that’s not a real product.) The “Long Tail” is what powers Amazon and EBay, finding the other people who want that still packaged 1st edition Jawa with vinyl cape and basically catering to desires that are too “small” for the big guys to bother with. The “Giant’s” can’t concern themselves with anything that won’t sell to everyone, and this has been the model for the entire industrial revolution. If “Everyone” doesn’t buy it, it’s just not worth making. However, in the age of the internet, the “Long Tail” is proving to be a market many times larger than the “Mass Market” and some companies are beginning to realize diversity is the future, not the old “You can have it in any color you like so long as it’s Black” mindset of the megacorps.

And with so many numerous technological developments ongoing, understanding the “long tail” is crucial to any attempts to predict the future. In short, any future predictions that assume that the current corporate ideals of “You take it our way, or you get nothing” will continue to remain in force are flawed. Any assumption that the “majority” will prevent the development of “odd and strange” technology to cater to individuals like me is based in the illusion that there actually is a “Majority” when in truth, every single one of us belongs to one small subsection of the “Long Tail” in one way or another. You may not want hooves and tails, but you might love to have a new nose, or to look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. You might want neon hair, or just hair that is curly, but everyone has some desire that is not  universally shared.  

And this is what leads to the Law of Unintended consequences, technology version. “For every developed technology, there will be the ‘intended use’ it was created for and an unknown number of ‘unintended uses’ that will be found for it.”

So let’s look at my desires to be a succubus again, now that we understand that those desires are neither unique nor universal, merely one demographic among endless others in the “Long Tail.” In fact, if you go to SecondLife and do a search for “demons” you will find there are hundreds of shops dedicated to… well, horns, hooves, spaded tails, wings and everything else “demonic.” In fact, one of the most successful long term shops in all of SL is Grendel’s Children, a shop exclusively for non-human Avatars and accessories.

So I’m going to set aside long term futuristic developments in biotech and such which could lead to my physically becoming a succubus, and even set aside such “dismissible” technology as VR to look at how I could physically look like a succubus inside of ten years. We’re going to let our imaginations go wild and think like a Hollywood makeup technician with free reign on methods and an unlimited budget, and design a “succubus suit” that would allow me to walk onto a set looking like the demoness I want to be. That shouldn’t really be a huge stretch, since it’s already been done with Tim Curry in his role as “Darkness” in Ridley Scott’s Legend. I will however add one caveat, I’m going to assume the use of a lot of “in the lab” technology that could enable me to act in this suit exactly like I really had this body without any “digital” effects being added in post processing or needing a crew of puppeteers to control.

So, first off, let’s start with the body suit itself. I’m going to want it to be lightweight and unrestrictive while still supporting wings, horns, hooves and a tail. It’s going to have to fit to my form and allow me to “be naked” while still being “in costume.” It’s also going to need to be tough enough to stand up to stunts and to contain its own animatronics for the wings, tail and hooves because I’m expecting to be filmed using 360 degree camera technology and I can’t have cables and power lines connected to the suit or it will ruin the “no post processing digital effects” rule. In fact, I want this suit to look so realistic that I can walk down the street in it and not have people be able to tell it’s a suit. I’m even going to want it to be wearable dancing… and even during sex.

I know, I’m so demanding. I’m making this nearly impossible… or am I? The fact is, I’m deliberately setting the conditions to illustrate that there are numerous “in the lab” technologies that could make this a reality, with only minor modifications to suit my “other than intended” uses.

Let’s start off with the actual body suit, because it should be obvious that it’s going to require some pretty sophisticated materials to make. Metal and plastic are just not going to cut it. Traditional servomotors won’t do either. So we look to the labs, and we see a lot of developments in metamaterials. There’s a variety of potential materials to chose from, graphene being one of the most promising, although boron carbide is also a potential choice, or possibly even Kevlar. We’ve even got Aluminum foam, aerogels (and artificial muscles made from spider-silk, CNTs, and various polymers. That makes it pretty clear that while I cannot specifically say which of the various laboratory-made metamaterials will be cheap, easy to manufacture, or which will be easiest to use in a 3d printer, I can be pretty sure that one or another of them will be available to do the various things I’m going to need this suit to do.

The first thing is that it has to be skin tight. If I look at the artificial muscles being worked on, I can envision the possibility of a suit made from them that will “shrink to fit” perfectly. And as they are extremely lightweight fibers, there’s a good possibility I can make it transparent. Additionally, given the strength of said “muscles,” making a harness to keep the wings firmly attached to my back, tail firmly attached to my rear, and make sure my hoof shoes and horns fit without wobbling should be pretty easy as well. As these parts would be made out of extremely lightweight but superstrong materials, as discussed above, they should be fairly easy to keep tightly fitted to the body in the appropriate areas, especially if we have the entire suit being actively controlled to maintain optimum fit by minimally expanding and contracting as it senses my body motions.

Wait a minute, you say, how is it supposed to do that? Well, that’s where printable electronics comes in. Stanford University just perfected a means to make a “decal” out of an electronic circuit that can then be applied to any material. That suit could be literally controlled on a thread by thread basis to ensure perfect fit. In addition, it could be adjusted to provide support, like a bit of tummy tuck and breast support. While wearing it, my body could look as perfect as it’s possible to look, while (hopefully) still allowing for a “nude” look and full freedom of motion. And those same “artificial muscles” could be used to mimic the actual muscles that would be found in batwings, making them able to extend and flex just like a real one. With properly made wings, the “bouncing” effect seen in many mechanical devices that use servos could be eliminated. Also, the same “muscle cloth” could be used as the wing membranes. As for the tail, well Festo’s already created a robot “elephant’s trunk” arm, meaning a full prehensile tail is quite feasible.

In fact, the hooves might be one of the more difficult things to properly make, because it has to keep my foot on tiptoe, provide support to keep it that way without sacrificing the ability to bend my ankle, as well as control the actual hoof to keep the base of the hoof aligned to the plain of the floor to ensure good footing. This likely means a bit of exoskeleton will be needed, essentially making the hooves a prosthetic device that fits over my foot and compensates for the stress of walking like a ballerina all day. (And yes, I could, if asked, draw a potential design sketch.)

But how to control it? Well, Epoch’s Emotiv EEG headset is already available, so we simply include a version of it into the skull cap that is snuggly fitted to my head, keeping my horns solidly in place, and viola — with the proper control software and some practice, I have a “Succubus” suit that fit’s like a second skin. But we still need to provide power for all those electronics don’t we? Lucky me that several dozen different breakthroughs in ultracapacitor batteries (Google it as there are far too many to link), as well as flexible solar have been in the headlines recently, no? Those wings, with their large surface areas would make great solar collectors and there are multiple flexible storage solutions that could be sandwiched into the membranes as well.

Now a lot of this would be difficult to make right now, but with the likely advances in 3d printing over the next decade, we can certainly assume that while my suit might not be “cheap” it is likely going to be within the realm of technical feasibility. So, now that we’ve shown how we could potentially create such a suit, we have to look outside the narrow demographic of “people who want to look like succubi” and see if there’s a much broader demographic that could use this collection of technology as a solution to a much wider range of issues. I can certainly think of several. For example, the wings and musculature is likely to be seen first in a next generation model artificial arm or leg. The “skin suit” has applications as a replacement for the current “pressure suits” worn by pilots who experience high-g’s. Combined with graphene or boron carbide and some clever design, it could even be a means to create a form fitting “Ironman” exoskeleton type suit for soldiers, police, firemen, and even athletes.  Combined with an Epoc, it could possibly even be a means to enable the paralyzed to control their bodies again (prior to stemcell regeneration of nerves.) And that’s not even to mention the clothes that true “skin tight” cloth could make possible. So we can be pretty sure that a good possibility exists for the creation of the “skin suit” for reasons much less “kinky” than my demoness fetish. So now we have the “pure” uses of this technology, i.e. the uses which are broad enough to be “intentional,” and thus more likely to be developed than my rather narrow uses.

However, there is yet another factor to consider. What other demographics in the “long tail” would have alternative uses for the same technology? And I can also find plenty of those, from transvestites wanting “girl suits” to furries who would add an animal facemask with animatronics and video camera eyes to the rest, to motorcyclists (the “armored” version would probably act like a full body helmet) and even to more modest uses like “control top” panty hose that actually could act like a girdle without sacrificing important functions… like breathing.

So now, here we are, with a whole bevy of technological puzzle pieces, and a few potential ways they could be fitted together to make a variety of “solutions” to various “problems.” Will they be put together this way? Who knows? But there is a demand for products like these — or very similar ones — regardless of whether everyone shares in the demand or not. And as the “long tail” grows ever more prominent as more and more “niche markets” find their customers, I don’t doubt that my succubus suit, or something very like it, will come to be. After all, I’m a human with a desire, and willing to pay to have that desire filled, and sooner or later, someone is going to create the supply to meet my demand.

And when they do, I’m going to have fun getting my tail chased.