High Fidelity: Body Language through “Telekinesics”

June 2, 2013

Human communication demonstrates the usual punctuated equilibria of any natural evolutionary system. From hand gestures to grunts to telephones to email and beyond, human communication has not only evolved, but splintered off into many modalities and degrees of asynchrony.

hifi-logoI recently had the great fortune to join a company that is working on the next great surge in human communication: High Fidelity, Inc. This company is bringing together several new technologies to make this happen.

So, what is the newest evolutionary surge in human communication? I would describe it using a term from Virtual Body Language (page 22):

Telekinesics is a word invented to denote…”the study of all emerging nonverbal practices across the internet, by adding the prefix, tele to Birdwhistell’s, term kinesics. It could easily be confused with “telekinesis”: the ability to cause movement at a distance through the mind alone (the words differ by only one letter). But hey, these two phenomena are not so different anyway, so a slip of the tongue wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Telekinesics may be defined as “the science of body language as conducted over remote distances via some medium, including the internet”. 

And now it’s not just science, but practice: body language is ready to go online…in realtime.

And when I say “realtime” – I mean, pretty damn fast, compared to most things that zip (or try to zip) across the internet. And when we’re talking about subtle head nods, changes in eye contact, fluctuations in your voice, and shoulder shrugs, fast is not just a nicety, it is a necessity – for clear communication using a body.

Here’s Ryan Downe showing an early stage of avatar head movement using Google Glass.

Philip Rosedale, the founder of High Fidelity, often talks about how cool it would be for my avatar to walk up to your avatar and give it a little shoulder-shove, or a fist-bump, or an elbow-nudge, or a hug…and for your avatar to respond with a slight – but noticeable – movement.

It would appear that human touch (or at least the visual/audible representation of human touch) is on the verge of becoming a reality – through telekinesics. Of all the modalities and senses that we use to communicate, touch is the most primal: we share it with the oldest microorganisms.

touch_avatarWhen touch is manifest on the internet, along with highly-crafted virtual environments, maybe, just maybe, we will have reached that stage in human evolution when we can have a meaningful, intimate exchange – even if one person is in Shanghai and the other is in Chicago.

small_earthAnd that means people can stop having to fly around the world and burning fossil fuels in order to have 2-hour-long business meetings. And that means reducing our carbon footprint. And that means we might have a better chance of not pissing-off Mother Earth to the degree that she has a spontaneous fever and shrugs us off like pesky fleas.

Which would really suck.

So…keep an eye on what we’re doing at High Fidelity, and get ready for the next evolutionary step in human communication. It just might be necessary for our survival.

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Nano Avatars

June 8, 2012

(This blog post is re-published from an earlier blog of mine called “avatar puppetry” – the nonverbal internet. I’ll be phasing out that earlier blog, so I’m migrating a few of those earlier posts here before I trash it).

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The other day, Jeremy Owen Turner told me about NanoArt. Here’s a cool nano art piece by Yong Qing Fu, described in Chemistry World.

nano

We started imagining a nano virtual world. Jeremy pontificates on avatars as works of art, avatars that can take on alternate forms, including nano art. I started thinking about what an avatar that consisted of a molecule might be like.

Some illustrations of the hemoglobin molecule look a bit like the flying spaghetti monster. Which reminds me, Cory Linden’s avatar in Second Life is based on the flying spaghetti monster.

Spaghetti

We’ve seen avatars hanging out among virtual molecules

avatar_in_molecule

but what about avatars that ARE molecules? Stephanie H. Chanteau and James M. Tour of Rice University created anthropomorphic molecules.

NanoKid2

But I’m not so interested in how people make anthropomorphic molecules. I’m interested in avatars that live a molecule’s life. Check this out…

scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is set up in a magnificent auditorium.

STM

The microscope’s subject matter is projected onto a giant video screen. An audience of thousands watch as a team of five molecule-avatar controllers sit with computer mice and keyboards and mingle in a virtual world that is actually not virtual. In the middle of all the flamboyant machinery is a tiny nano-stage, a performance dance floor where five molecules show something rather strange and new

Since the STM can be used for atom manipulation as well as visioning (a consequence of the Observer Effect), the very technology for seeing the avatars is used to control them.

The audience collectively winces as the avatars try to, um, walk. Okay, maybe walking isn’t the right word. What exactly do these avatars do? They combine to form supermolecules. They jump and twitch. They split and reform. They blink and chirp. They fall off the edge of the stage and accidentally get stuck on carbon atoms. It may not be elegant. But hey it would be so cool to watch.

When the performance is done, the avatars take a bow…or something. The audience applauds with a standing ovation. A new genre is born. Constraints define creative boundaries and therefore creativity. And the limited repertoire of molecular interactions define the social vocabulary of these agents. Kind of reminds me of Flatland.

Avatars are embodiments of humans (or human intention) in virtual worlds.

“Seeing” a molecule is a problematic term, in the same sense that “seeing” a planet in a distant star system is a problematic term. It’s not “seeing” on a human scale. It’sprosthetic seeing. And so, just like a software-based virtual world, there must be arenderer.

molecule

Our most distant ancestor is a molecule that accidentally replicated and thus started the upward avalanche that is called Evolution. Dennett’s intentional stance can be applied on all levels of the biosphere. Molecular avatars represent the most basic and primitive expression of agentry. And unlike the constraints of C++, Havok, and OpenGL, in virtual world software programs, the constraints in this molecular world are real.

It may yield some insights about the fundamentals of interaction.


A Future Man Experiences Sex as a Female

April 20, 2012

I am a heterosexual male, happily married, and by most accounts, normal and healthy. This blog post is a what-if, extrapolating upon the idea of having a virtual body…..

THE MIND

Frank Zappa said that the dirtiest part of your body is your mind. It is hard to disagree with this. Your mind is capable of generating some serious filth (unless you never bathe, in which case, it is possible that parts of your body may actually be dirtier than your mind).

Obviously, the body has something to do with sex. But there is indeed a psychological, cognitive, emotional, imaginative dimension. It seems that these mental aspects of sex become more important as we get older. One obvious reason: aging. Entropy! Deteriorating, wrinkling, flabbifying, and weakening our bodies. But our aging minds are often as sharp as ever, and capable of higher dimensions of love and romance (and filth). It’s a shame that youth must be wasted on the young. I am referring to us in our earlier years when we had great bodies and great physical strength…but OH how immature we were.

Ray Kurzweil and other futurists suggest that virtual reality will be fully-integrated into our lives in the future. One could also assume that virtual sex will continue from its current occasional manifestations of phone sex, sexting, and avatar play in virtual worlds. There are already non-technological forms of virtual reality such as imaginative play, role-playing, etc. It’s only recently that technology has evolved enough to enhance the experience (or ruin it…depending on your vantage point).

Fantastic Sex at Age 100

The difference between mortality and immortality will become fuzzier in the future. Humans may achieve a certain kind of immortality by having their brains uploaded into a virtual reality when they are physically dead (or transformed into a cyborg, whichever comes first). This of course is based on the assumption that one can still experience a continuous life, having nothing left but a brain, and that this brain can be uploaded to some renewable medium…highly-debatable at this early juncture. But let’s roll with it anyway. I can imagine that a 100-year old future human might engage in sex with all the vigor and muscle tone associated with youth (think Jake Sully in Avatar who got his legs back as a Na’vi). Think of this youthful sex…but with the imagination, wisdom, and capacity for love that only a 100-year-old could possess.

I’m a software guy, not a hardware guy, so I can’t say much about nanobots and teledildonics and other technological enhancements of human physicality. But I can imagine that given the appropriate virtual reality enhancements, I could experience something akin to being a female. If nanobots are indeed a part of our future, they might be able to stimulate the brain chemistry and bodily sensation associated with female thoughts and feelings.

Is this a good thing? It is a bit creepy. But I say it is a good thing. Here’s why: human imagination has no limits. Human creativity knows no bounds. The desire to understand how others experience the world is based on empathy and natural social bonding. Technology can be used for this purpose.

An earlier blog post I wrote explores the question of how we might experience non-human embodiment, and body language, through future virtual reality technology. Within the realm of human society, there are still a lot of experiences and perspectives that can be shared. It might help us understand each other a bit better. Empathy could be technologically-enhanced; generated through simulation and virtuality.

And it might make for some awesome sex.

One can only imagine. (That’ll have to do for now).

Here’s a piece by Robert Weiss about the pros and cons of virtual sex.