Archive for mixed_reality

Mixed Reality Deliberation

The goal of Hub2 is to introduce a deliberative process into community meetings that currently does not exist. Who do this by integrating Second Life into the existing community process. We believe that the affordances of the tool and the specifics of the practice we built around it, we are adding the following:

  • collaboration – allowing a group of people with a shared interest in a space collaborate with one another to create a product (in our case, this is a “virtual sketch” of the proposed park).
  • evaluation – allowing that same group to evaluate their own work, and their own experiences (facilitated by their avatars), instead of simply responding to often confusing plans or architectural diagrams.
  • understanding through experience – by turning abstract concept drawings into “concrete” representations, people have a better chance of making sense of complex spatial dynamics or urban planning principals.

As we continue to conduct these community workshops, and continue to adapt our process to the pecularities of the design process, we are realizing that our main purpose is to help the group most productively realize their role as community informant. The city, the developers and the designers come to the community for input, and unless a deliberative process is put in place, that input gathering can be quite shallow. Currently, communities are forced to respond to a problem or a proposal with limited knowledge and limited information.

We’re watching our every move and assessing whether or not this “mixed-reality deliberation” is in fact working. Based on our current observations, we can say that it is working, even though we are constantly pushed up against the limits of the technology and the political realities of any development project. We hope that by the end of this summer, we can say with confidence that we have designed a process that works, with a technology that’s accessible. And once we do that, we can start to consider the implications of virtual technologies on communities more generally, specifically, how the product of mixed-reality deliberation (the virtual sketches produced) can be meaningful in their own right.

Hub2 Works With Harvard

For the last several weeks, Hub2 has been working on a project in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. With full support from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and funding from Harvard’s Allston Development Group, we have begun work on the community input process around Library Park. Our mission is to augment the methods through which communities deliberate over local issues by making new virtual tools available to them. In short, we are conducting workshops where fifteen members of the community are given laptops and assemble around a projection screen. Our team runs them through a two-hour process, at the end of which they have a community sketch. This does two things: it equals the participatory playing field by integrating a non-verbal game space into the traditional public forum, and it allows the community to produce something instead of just respond to something, which leads to much more informed commentary because they are responding to their own work instead of architectural plans.

In addition to these formal workshops, we also have community drop-in hours at a community space Harvard is providing. We have invited the community to come in to a less formal setting to explore the virtual space, add their comments and discuss the issues. This could be done at home by accessing Second Life, but we are working with the assumption that no one is capable or has the desire to access Second Life from home. These drop-in hours are staffed by local teenagers, who have been trained in Second Life and have become experts in local issues.

We aim for Hub2 to change the conditions of community engagement. We strive for a different kind of openness and deliberation, and we aim to use the best tools to make that happen. We are currently using Second Life, but we are not committed to a single platform. We are committed to a process that will inevitably adapt as new tools come online.

What’s next for Hub2?

We are funded through the beginning of September on this Harvard project. We are studying everything about this process, from the nature of community engagement to the tangled web of politics in the back offices to the apprehension on the part of the architects and the developers to receive more feedback from the community. We hope that through this process, we can develop sustainable models for mixed reality deliberation and for integrating new tools into established practices.

It seems like the BRA continues to support our work. As such, we’re hoping to get ourselves another project in the city of Boston to sustain our activities through the coming year.

Making Money in Virtual Worlds

This IBM commercial seems to poke fun at the whole virtual world phenomenon. Interesting, considering IBM is one of the largest corporate investors in Second Life. Perhaps it’s tongue and cheek, perhaps its ironic – in any case, it’s worth contemplating as a reflection of a cultural moment, where the press, the youth and their parents, are all concerned and excited by the blurring of real and virtual economies.

Mixed Realities Symposium

Imaging Beijing

This Friday, February 8, I will be leading a panel discussion at the Mixed Realities symposium at Emerson College. The panel is titled “Immersion, Presence and Place.” Participants include John (Craig) Freeman, Usman Haque (via Second Life), Pierre Proske (via Second Life), Michael Takeo Magruder, Drew Baker, and David Steele. Each of the artists on the panel will have their work displayed in the Mixed Realities exhibit that opens the night before. With the quality of each of the pieces represented, I’m confident that we will have an interesting discussion. The panel starts at 1pm EST at 216 Tremont Street, Boston, MA and here in Second Life.

Freeman’s piece, entitled “Imaging Beijing,” is an extension of his existing work on the “Imaging Place” project in Second Life. Freeman produces panoramic nodes of the streets of Beijing, where locals describe their personal experiences of that space, and more interestingly, how that space conjures up seemingly unrelated personal experiences. He calls this concept a memory map. The Second Life-based artwork enables avatars to walk in and out of the nodes, capturing and inhabiting the intimate street life of Beijing.

Usman Haque will be talking about the piece “Remote” by Neill Donaldson, Usman Haque, Ai Hasegawa, and Georg Tremmel. This piece produces what he calls a fundamentally “human architecture” by suturing the physical space of a Boston-based gallery with a Second Life space. The human actors in Second Life, combined with the human actors in Boston, have to work together to create a merged space – one that is comprised of the collective efforts of the inhabitants.

Pierre Proske will be discussing his piece called Caterwaul. Essentially, mixed reality wailing wall, is a physical wall built in the Boston gallery that gives people the opportunity to verbally lament the loss of their loved-one’s time in online spaces. The chorus of lamentations will then be transmitted into Second Life, where an identical wall in Second Life will broadcast those voices. By crossing over, it allows mourners to speak to the “dead.”

Finally, Michael Takeo Magruder, David Steele and Drew Baker will be representing the piece “The Vitruvian World.” Stemming from da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Magruder and his collaborators put together an installation where the human intersects with Nature and the built environment. Only now, this is manifested by the intersection of the physical, virtual and the network that connects them.

All of the pieces represented in this panel, while exploring the notion of “mixed reality,” seem to be drawing more significant attention to the “limits of reality.” In other words, where does the physical end? Where does the human end? And, where does the real end? In fact, it is the limits that provide tension in this work. We might be comfortable with a mixed reality, but when we confront the limits of familiar psychological and social categories, we grow anxious. This is what makes the work powerful, and I suspect, this is what will provide some interesting fodder for discussion.

Each of the pieces points to changing notions of place. In geographical terms, place is experienced space. It is meaningful space, enhanced by personal encounter, perpetuated by memories. But when space is “neither here nor there,” but a combination of the two, how does place take shape? Do digital spaces have the same capacity to be experienced as physical spaces? And what’s at stake? We might find answers to this question as we address the concepts of immersion and presence. Do we need to be immersed and present to experience? Consider Heidegger’s notion of dasein, or being there. For Heidegger, being was tied to presence. Human experience was always grounded in da-sein, never just sein. Is dasein possible in a mixed reality?

And finally, we might talk about the problem of attention. Multiple realities, multiple places, would seem to pull our attention in multiple directions. Does this work point to the loss of focus? Is it possible to be present, without paying attention? Or, do we need only to reconsider the current economy of attention? Perhaps, mixed realities points to new structures of attention, where we can distribute our payments for enhanced benefit.

The panel should cover some combination of these topics. If we all pay attention, perhaps we’ll arrive at some conclusions.

Situated Technologies

Situated TechnolgiesThe reception for the new Situated Technologies pamphlet series is taking place this Friday at the Urban Center in New York City. I really wish I could be there, but with the end of the semester fast approaching, I won’t be able to get away. This looks to be an amazing pamphlet series that will surely spark some necessary connections between urbanists, architects, technologists and media producers/critics.

BTW, the first release by Adam Greenfield and Mark Shepard, entitled Urban Computing and Its Discontents is available here as a free download.

Reality: To Augment or Mix?

One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is the premise that the addition of the virtual onto individual consciousness somehow alters that consciousness such that it cannot integrate the virtual into its horizon. Let me try putting it another way: when we interact with screens, we are simply experiencing reality within some context of mediation. However, when we add the element of the virtual (read: virtual world), the real, as a state capable of assimilating mediation into its fold, becomes something that collapses to the point of having to ‘augment’ itself into something different, or mix (sit alongside) something discreet. Why isn’t a singular reality capable of dealing with “reality representations” (in the form of virtual worlds) without having to compromise its integrity or ability to deal with mediation? I think it is. This might sound mundane, but perhaps we should shy away from using terms like reality to define information-enhanced spaces and/or virtual environments. Digital media, like all media, comprise the perceptual material through which we assemble our individual understandings of reality. They don’t sit along side it, or augment it, in ways different from “traditional” screen media. So, whether a narrative is displayed in an urban square, or an urban square is recreated in a virtual narrative space, we continue to assimilate these representational modes in a reasonably cohesive environmental knowledge. In other words, I understand my neighborhood and my city in a particular way – whether it is influenced by virtual immersion, cinematic representation or information, or simply conversations with neighbors and strangers, it is manifested, in practical terms, into a single understanding, or lifeworld.

While I understand that these terms have rich histories in disciplines of inquiry, from virtual reality to augmented reality to ubiquitous computing, I wonder if it isn’t more productive for the humanistic disciplines to assume an integrated reality rich with varied signals. This redirects the problem from figuring how to assemble fractured notions of the real to figuring how to avoid contradiction and displacement. Technologies, from virtual worlds to tiny screens, can accomodate presence and integration, just as much as they can bisect perceptions of the real into two overlapping or juxtaposed fields.