Within ten years, virtual worlds will be bigger than the Web itself. So says Philip Rosedale, the man who invented Second Life.
Speaking at the Stanford Summit, an annual tech industry conference, the Linden Lab CEO predicted that a completely-open virtual world architecture – much like the one he’s touting for Second Life - would result in an online alternate universe several times larger than today’s internet. ”In ten years, virtual access will be more prevalent than web access,” he said, evangelizing alongside several other virtual world mavens, including the godfather of alternate reality, Berkeley scholar-in-residence Jaron Lanier.
Considering the massive amounts of computing power required by these 3D worlds, Rosedale’s future virtual landscape would sit atop a hardware infrastructure that makes Google’s network of servers look piddling. “Google now has about 100 thousand machines,” he said. “In ten years, virtual worlds will have hundreds of millions.”
But that was hardly the boldest prediction of the morning. Craig Sherman, CEO of Gaia Online, said that within “two or three years,” an alternative online universe like Second Life would provide real-time 3D graphics rivaling the digital effects in today’s Hollywood blockbusters. “You’ll see the kinda stuff that Transformers is doing today,” he said.
Meanwhile, IBM vice president Irving Wladawsky-Berger and Sun Microsystem’s in-house virtual world guru, chief gaming officer Chris Melissinos, lauded Second Life as an important tool not only for consumers but for big business, as Sun and IBM have said for for months now. Then he pointed out that his home is equipped with 42 gaming consoles.
[Wow, Wladawsky-Berger, Mellissinos and Rosedale in one room. I feel less productive just reading about the event - Ed]
As you might expect, Lanier is no less bullish about the future of Second Life and other virtual worlds. He’s spent the past twenty years talking up alternate realities. “I still believe all the ridiculous stuff I said so long ago,” he explained.
But when he asked Mellissinos and Wladawsky-Berger how companies like IBM and Sun could actually generate money from Second Life, they couldn’t give him much of an answer. Wladawsky-Berger said that, just like the web of the mid 90s, virtual worlds would boost IBM revenue by “significantly expanding” the number of people who use IT. “The more people who use IT, the more money we make,” he said.
Lanier was quick with an attempt to paraphrase this argument: “So if more people use software, it’s more likely it is to break, and they’re more likely to need consultants like IBM?”
In the end, all Lanier could do was cling to the notion that the world’s population – that’s the real world - could support itself by selling computer graphics. “In 25 years, robotics will be so good, we’ll have no more manufacturing jobs. Software will be so good, there will be no more consulting jobs. But we will all get rich buying and selling virtual goods.”
Pointing to his fellow speakers, he added: “In my opinion, all of you are saving civilization.”