In January, 2005, David Smith was on stage at Kyoto University, speaking in a panel on the future of Croquet. Slouched in his chair, he pulled an iPod from his pocket and threw it on the table, along with his old-fashioned styled spectacles. “In twenty years, that will be the computer. Maybe earlier. Wearable computers and micro-projection display already exist. Virtual Croquet worlds will be layered onto the physical world around us.”
At the same time, in San Diego, CA, author Vernor Vinge was wrapping up “Rainbows End,” a novel set in 2025 in which the common person’s view of the world is augmented by wearable computers overlaying virtual worlds onto contact lenses. The central denizen of the worlds in the story is a troublesome white rabbit, which also happens to be a common avatar in the Alice In Wonderland themed Croquet worlds.
The point is not to claim any sort of priority, but to emphasize that there’s quite a bit of consensus on how all this might be used. Indeed, Vinge’s “True Names” is one of the earliest stories of cyberspace (1981). It was followed the next year by William Gibson‘s Burning Chrome, credited with the first appearance of the term “cyberspace.” Gibson’s “Neuromancer” (1984) cemented the concept.
To many folks, Neal Stephenson‘s “Snowcrash” (1992) is the most complete imagining of the kind of virtual worlds we have today – i.e., without commonplace augmented reality of layering the virtual world onto the physical. Everywhere I went to discuss Croquet, people told me I had to read that book, but it was a few years before I finally did. “Snowcrash” was even the centerpiece for the Intel Developers’ Forum keynote on “Virtual Worlds – The Rise of the 3D Internet”. In the book, a brilliant programmer named Da5id has led a team to create The Metaverse.
When I started, I had a hard time explaining what I was doing. Julian always began demos with a verbal explanation that ended with him saying that, “Like The Matrix, you have to experience it.” (Indeed, the Croquet Collaborative distribution starts Croquet by clicking an Alice/Matrix “Blue Pill.”) I now know that Snow Crash, Neuromancer, and Rainbows End make a pretty good jumping off trio for background reading.
But as Gibson said, the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed. Thanks to Second Life, I don’t have to explain the concept of virtual worlds so much any more. It’s becoming an identifiable market segment. But before the business books get written, I still prefer the science fiction trio for summer reading.