Sunday, July 02, 2006

When Will 3D Cyberspace Be Ready?

I've been constantly pondering on the question of how a commonly usable 3D cyberspace might be created on the current Internet. There are of course many technical and social issues involved, but a pretty basic question is: can it be done at all?

My answer to that question now, is more towards the 'yes' (of course, how else will I make meaning out from my current existence. ;) Just a matter of to which degree. To answer this question in a more objective way, we will need to look at three basic factors: 1) can 3D graphics support the cyberspace we want to make? 2) is the processing power enough? And 3) do we have the sufficient bandwidth?

Considering the myriad of 3D games on the market today, the answer is definitely 'yes' to the first two questions. And consider the success of MMOG, the answer to 3) is also partially 'yes'. I put it as 'partial' because MMOG is not yet universally usable by the majority of computer users.

So what needs to be done to make 3D worlds more ubiquitous? It's fairly safe to say that, as long as all the 3D contents are on a user's computer, engaging 3D worlds can be generated without much problem, so the main issue really is, whether the 3D contents can be delivered to users computers, in real-time.

I have the following predication, about when 3D cyberspace will become common: it's when the amount of data necessary to generate an interactive scene at a given moment can be downloaded with a given bandwidth on the common user's computer.

To put that in perspective, a friend who's making game told me that, a simple 3D scene might require about 5MB of content to render, yet, most user's broadband is probably still in the 256kbps (32KB / sec) or less range. SecondLife (a social MMOG based on 3D streaming) currently uses only around 70-80 kbps on average, and 100kbps maximal for bandwidth, according to its CEO Philip Rosedale. Obviously we probably wouldn't need all 5MB all at once, but given a maximum of 100kbps of bandwidth, you still need around 400 seconds (that is, more than 5 minute) to download a 5MB content. But say for example, we would like to enter a new virtual world within 10 seconds, that makes our bandwidth requirement to be 4000kbps or 4Mbps. So in this secnario, the predication would be that when over 4Mbps of bandwidth becomes common, the infrastructure will then be ready for universal 3D cybersapce.

The average bandwidth in South Korea, last time I checked was mostly between 2-8 Mbps. So perhaps we aren't really that far off.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A theory for Fundamentalness

Today I had a new theory while thinking about some problems: that behind every problem, there are some fundamental issues/aspects that will be relevant to a wide number of other problems/issues.

The reason I thought of this idea, was that I've been thinking and trying to understand: why some research are considered as more important / influential than others?

Of course, there are some common-sense answers to this question, such as: the work is the first of its kind (field-setter); the result is applicable to a wide range of problems; it solves some long-standing, difficult issues; it provides a simple theory to complex phenomena that either explain the mechanism well, or allow us to make better predications, etc.

There's also the joke that, the importance of a scientific work is judged by whether your name is spelled with lower case letters as opposed to upper cases. For example, newton, joule, watts, etc. (they're the units for force, energy, and electricity).

Today, there are more metrics/tools for accessing the degree of influence/importance of one's research work, and one such tool is the number of citations to one's work, indicated by metrics such as the Science Citation Index (SCI), Social Science Citation Index (SSCI), and the recently launched Google Scholar.

But upon closer examinations, one may find that this subject can be highly controversial and there are no simple or straightforward answers.

For one, while citation may indicate the interests or relevance of a work in the past few years or decades (since such data can be tracked by computers and databases). It will not indicate nor access the importance of a work in the coming years or decades, let alone the relevance of a work after a hundred years (the story of Mendel's chromosome theory should serve us well).

Citations might also indicate different aspects of importance, for example, SCI only indexes works that are of journal-quality papers, while Google Scholar attempts to find all references of a work available on the Internet. A famous P2P research work called Chord scores 35 citations in the 2004 SCI (which is relatively high, but works in other scientific fields have citation numbers run in the hundreds), yet its Google Scholar search result is very impressive (more than 2,500 citations, which is much higher than most scientific works). The difference is caused by the nature of computer science where most works are published in conferences/workshops as opposed to journals, and also that Google Scholar indexes not only papers published, but also that of master and PhD thesis, or technical reports. Plus the fact that computer science works have a higher likelihood of being available online and thus indexed by Google.

There's also the question of the definition of importance/relevance. While some importance are associated with fame (as in Einstein), other influential work are less well known (for example, the inventor/discoverer of laser is probably not very well-known by the public).

But I suspect that ultimately, importance, relevance, or influence is measured by how many people, or how long a period, does a work affect (of course, for people, one can also consider just the research people, or the population at large). In this sense, all the previously mentioned forms of importance / influence are broadly included (citations, fame, or range of applications)

If we can accept this loose definition for now, then the next question (at least for research people) becomes: how does one do important / relevant works?

Turing Award winner Richard Hamming had given some of his thoughts in a 1986 Bell Lab seminar "You and Your Research." But if importance is judged by how widely it is applicable to (in terms of people, duration, or tasks), then it will not be surprising to see that, in many, perhaps even all, daily problems or situations we face, there are certain aspects which a n existing important work is applicable or is in fact already applied.

Almost all of our modern home appliances, which help us to solve our daily problems, are the results of accumulations of research works and engineering efforts in the past. When we turn on the computer and browse the Internet, the underlying messages, protocols, encryptions, are all influential works done in the past, of which we're currently been influenced.

I therefore find it possible that, underlying perhaps all daily problems you face, there are some aspects or potentials that a solution (if it is not yet found) can in fact be quite influential and applicable to other problems as well.

We all know the story of Newton discovering the laws of gravity after an apple hit his head, or perhaps the story of the accidental discovery of penicillin.

Whether one actually pays attention to perhaps even the seemingly mundane/trivial problems or phenomena during a day and seeks to find some general solutions for it, is however, another issue.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Laws of classical physics describe how things will work in a mostly mechanical, deterministic way, absent of any unpredictability. Later theories of quantum physics make uncertainty a central aspect and concept in the physical reality they attempt to describe. For most people, the common sense is that the non-living behaves in more or less predictable fashion (like a rock falling), unless the system gets complicated (like weather). However, when living beings are in discussion (like humans), things become unpredictable again, especially with the behaviors of people.

However, macroeconomics and psychology have been attempting to draw theories/predications, even laws, on the human behaviors when they're considered collectively. The idea is that, while individual behaviors are difficult to predict, certain properties (or emergent properties) would arise when enough people are being considered. The same might also be said for the predications for physical matters (that is, while it's difficult to predict the movements of an atom, it is much more easier to predict the movement of rocks or planets, which are atoms collected in much larger quantity).

These are all well-known knowledge and views of modern day intellectuals (esp. scientists).

However, today I was pondering at the unpredictability of human behavior, and its association with free will. The issue at heart is: while individual behavior is hard to predict, I've also heard the seemingly reasonable observation that if something is technically feasible and doable, then it will eventually be made/created by man. In other words, as long as something is physically valid to do (not violating any physical laws), and there's a demand/incentive/wish by some people to do it, then it will happen, eventually. Eventuality is a key word here, indicating that certain wild ideas might not be realizable within the feasible timespan of an individual's life. However, that also means, in the long run, certain creations, if their occurrences will bring benefits to some individuals, then they will happen, no matter how difficult, how absurd, or how scary.

Some case in examples include the cloning of human beings, Star Trek-like teleporting of people to remote places (by first decomposing a person into bits of atoms), basement/garage labs capable of producing biological or nuclear weapons, or perhaps self-replicating intelligent machines that may one day replace humanity.

If, this view is true, that all things can be created, will be created eventually, then what does that mean for humanity, in the long run?

Or, perhaps due to the forces of free will, social and moral dynamics, humans will choose certain paths instead of others, will restrain themselves from doing certain destructive behaviors as opposed to performing them. Thus, in the long run, we will still be survivable.

This brings out the ultimate question that, is our future eventually fixed? Or maybe there are still different/alternative endings to the humanity story? If our ends are still open, what are the forces that will shape their directions? Or perhaps, despite all the illusions of free will and unpredictability, collective human behaviors are actually fairly predictable in the sense that we're on the path to more productions, consumptions, advanced technologies, and complexities, until perhaps one day, the entire race finally meets its end, as the Oracle in The Matrix once said: “everything that has a beginning, has an end?”

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Social-phobia and Identities

A friend of mine was telling me the symptoms of being a social-phobic: difficulty in breathing, discomforts while being with a crowd. As a result, my friend usually acts as a quiet listener/observer when many people are around. Yet for my friend, it is not as difficult to express thoughts and communicate with people if these things are done over the Internet. This brings up an interesting experiment: if people with social-phobia in the real world could actually communicate and express themselves quite well in social virtual worlds such as Second Life, There, or perhaps even while playing in children-oriented virtual environments such as Disney's Toontown, then can they still be called social-phobics, or perhaps they are simply just unused to the physical aspects of human interactions, while being fully capable in engaging meaningful, perhaps even diverse modes of social interactions?

A bigger issue related to this question involves how we define ourselves and our relations with the world around us. Usually how we act, perform to expectations, or interact with others, depends not just on the external entities (people, animals, environments) involved, but also how we perceive ourselves at the moment: whether we're good or bad, pretty or ugly, smart or dumb, capable or ineffective, etc. In other words, what we do often can be the results of the interplay between our sense of identities and the external entities. It would not be surprising that once a different identity is assumed, behaviors can be dramatically different.

Yet, multiple identities are in fact not foreign to us. All of us have multiple identities at different times of the day, depending on who we're interacting with, what the social atmosphere is, or simply what moods we're having. What today's virtual worlds and related technologies offer, perhaps, are additional and more diverse ways to assume various identities and explore who we are in previously unavailable ways.

If my friend finds that social interactions in virtual worlds, perhaps even ones involving large crowds, are easily handled, we might then be able to look at other ways where traditionally undesirable personal or psychological traits, could in fact be given new meanings, with the help of new methods to explore our identities.