In the long run, it is clear that entertainment and interaction in virtual worlds will become commonplace. What's not so obvious to many is that much of this interaction will be between avatars of ourselves, realistic representations of us conversing and interacting.
The boom and subsequent failure of Second Life (although until 2018 it continued to declare 800.000 monthly active users) showed that the idea of avatar-based virtual worlds was at least intriguing, even with what we would now consider embryonic technology (and with little connection speed).
Virtual worlds for work
The true potential of avatar-based virtual worlds probably lies in the world of work.
High Fidelity, the subsequent venture of the founder of Second Life Philip Rosedale, recently closed its virtual social network and will now focus on providing virtual office space.
A few days ago spatial, which offers a "holographic" collaboration platform where team members work together in virtual spaces using AR headsets, raised another $ 14 million, with existing customers such as Mattel, Nestlé and BNP Paribas.
Here is a taste in the video below.
I have long thought that it is inevitable to start collaborating through virtual spaces and worlds.
Years ago I worked in an Information Technology center and imagined a completely virtual bank room: brokers and customers were seated (or standing) wherever they were in the world, but appeared and interacted in the only virtual space. If nothing else, he wouldn't have moved home to get a mortgage, I thought.
Only now do we have (almost) the technology to make a vision like that a reality.
We will put our face on it
One of the great successes of the now defunct virtual world of High Fidelity was the use of webcams on the PC to map facial expressions and gestures to be transferred on the avatar, making them enormously more realistic than the static ones on Second Life.
However, the current obstacle to overcome is that VR or AR glasses to be worn to participate in virtual spaces mask the facial features.
Companies like Facebook try to solve this problem with solutions that include cameras inside VR headsets, which can for example show if people "smile with their eyes" and not just with their mouths.
Switch to a world of virtual collaboration
The advent of comfortable, good-looking glasses with AR functionality will be a huge enabling factor for virtual collaboration. It will make it easy to see remote colleagues in the same room you are in, as he is proposing spatial.
The quality of body and face mapping appears to be improving rapidly, but will need to progress further.
Long-term, I'd say in 10-20 years, we may come to consider it difficult to distinguish between the appearance of someone in person and in a virtual world.
I remain cautious about the estimated time to adoption of this technology, for one simple reason: it took some time even before videoconferencing became standard practice in many organizations. It is not only the ability to display realistic images that matters, but also the ease of use. It will take time until it seems completely normal to have business discussions in a virtual world.
Get your best version forward
One of the advantages of working in virtual spaces is that you can make your avatar look the way you want. You don't have to worry about hair, clothes or makeup. Realism will however be welcome: especially in a working context people will want to feel that they are interacting with a person, not with something similar to a cartoon.
Virtual worlds to work together
It is most likely a fairly long journey from here, even taking into account the fact that Second Life was founded in 2003. Progress will be relatively slow, as time goes by and amid skepticism, technological advancements, innovative companies experimenting with and adopting virtual collaboration worlds, and proven results that carry us forward.
Yes, at some point we will find a common and daily place to work and collaborate with colleagues from all over the world in virtual worlds.