Mixed Reality

Ursula Le Guin appearing at a Second Life mixed reality event

An article on Friday by Des Moines Second Life Music Examiner Jen Harvey raises an important issue: the growing reality of mixed reality.

If you don’t know what mixed reality is, don’t feel badly. It’s going to be a huge factor in our lives in coming years, but so far few people know what it is, and even many of those who’ve experienced it don’t know what it’s called.

Mixed reality is what results when virtual worlds and the physical world is combined. One form it can take is an event like the one Jen Harvey writes about, where a musical performer plays in the physical world for an audience of humans while the performer’s avatar performs in a virtual world for an audience of avatars.

Another event is the one in the picture. In this March 2009 event, which you can read about here, famed author Ursula Le Guin was reading from her work at the Potlatch conference in Sunnyvale, California. Simultaneously in this mixed reality event, video of her reading was streamed into Second Life on two screens before a crowd of avatars. Avatars in Second Life were able to ask questions and Mrs. Le Guin answered them and was able to see the Second Life scene on a monitor in Sunnyvale.

The medium is only beginning to be explored. Some potential uses are for demonstrations at trade shows, classes with students who are both in the physical and a virtual world, and international appearances, such as when President Obama was recently beamed into Second Life from Ghana and was followed by a question between experts and an avatar audience. This writer wrote about the event in two articles, the speech and the interviews that followed.

Another example was Ray Kurzweil‘s appearance last month at the Second Life Community Convention in San Francisco. He wasn’t physically at the convention, but was in Second Life while convention goers in the St Francis Westin’s Grand Ballroom watched him on projection screens. This writer wrote about it here. In addition, many of the conference workshops were themselves mixed reality, with avatars in Second Life able to watch the San Francisco event and in some cases ask questions.

Mixed reality is still in its infancy. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you will. It’s coming and it’s going to be a huge factor in our lives.

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