Tag Archives: talks

Virtual Worlds and Technology Futures

Last week I was privileged to be invited to give the closing keynote at an event called ReLIVE 11 (Research and Learning in Virtual Environments) at the Open University. This was certainly a big deal for me as I was in the company of some brilliant academic minds and some tech celebrities – plus, the OU is an important and well-known institution (despite the fact that I heard Leo Laporte say that he’d never heard of it on the MacBreak Weekly podcast I was listening to as I drove to Milton Keynes last Tuesday evening!).

I’d previously explained to the organisers that I hadn’t spent so much time exploring virtual worlds lately as I was doing three or four years ago at the height of IBM’s involvement with platforms such as Second Life and our own internal Metaverse. Having said that, I have spent more time with gaming platforms such as XBox and the Nintendo 3DS since then, and more recently also Minecraft. Naturally I did have that business perspective and story to share… and, as the closing keynote I had the interesting task of pulling together the threads we’d covered during the breakout sessions at the conference, as well as attempting to look ahead to what trends might be important in the future.

The video is online via the Open University website and the talk with Q&A lasted for about an hour. More coverage of ReLIVE 11 is aggregated on Lanyrd.

Summary

As I noted in the opening and closing sections of the talk – predictions of the future are a hit-and-miss affair. We may now have tablet computers arguably even cooler than the Star Trek padds and communicators, but I’m still waiting on my hoverboard. Nevertheless, I tried to frame the story of IBM’s exploration of virtual worlds and 3D environments with some discussion of trends. It also gave me an excuse to talk about Back to the Future, and a cool ad that Nike recently released tying back in to the movie.

I want to reiterate (as it may not have been clear from tweets that emerged during the event) that these were very much my own thoughts and not the views of my employer – in fact, I was attending the event in a personal capacity. So, per the presentation, my thoughts on trends to watch in the next five years:

  1. 3D Printing: I’ve seen RepRap and other 3D printers more often in the past couple of months than ever before, and it is clear that prototyping and fabrication are coming within financial and technical reach of more than just the early adopting minority. That’s not to say this is something I see going “mainstream” – but as access opens up, expect to see many more interesting things happening here.
  2. Social broadcast: I think “TV” is rapidly giving way to a more generalised broadcast media that is being consumed across multiple devices, remixed, shared, etc. I also think that social streams are adding to the experience of how these media are being consumed, as evidenced by hashtags broadcast on BBC programmes, and the ways in which conversations form online around events and video streams.  A nod to my friend Roo Reynolds too, a man constantly way ahead of his time…
  3. Touch and Gesture: we already know that the ways in which we interact with technology is evolving fast. Watch any child approach a large screen and attempt to press the screen, expecting their cartoon hero to become interactive. This is not going to stop – Microsoft have some amazing technology in this space with Kinect and we should get used to and embrace the changes as they happen if we want to evolve.
  4. Big Data: a nod to my own organisation’s Smarter Planet story, and an acknowledgement that every one of the major tech firms is investing in ways to store, mine, slice and analyse the increasing amounts of data flowing in from the environment and our personal signals. This is just a continuing story, but we’re at a point where it is a red hot topic. It would have been a good point to mention Watson, if I’d thought on my feet quickly enough!
  5. Identity: this is not so much something where we will see technical progress necessarily, as an area I think will be a threat, and difficult to resolve. The nymwars of Google+ are one edge of the issue. I believe that there is a real tension between the freewheeling days of the earlier Internet, the desire of individuals to make their own choices about identity (often for valid social reasons, other times for vanity), and corporations and political entities that want to close this situation down. This is going to be a tricky one.

So what of virtual worlds? Three words: Not Gone Away. They may have morphed, lost their early shine, the bubble burst – but we have a range of immersive experiences (and social, but not necessarily immersive ones) through which we interact. I mentioned Minecraft and how that is being used for teaching. I talked through IBM’s work with serious gaming. I spoke about the IBM Virtual Center briefly, and that’s online and used today – in fact Jack Mason just posted a nice deck on that which carries some statistics, if you want to learn more.

Thoughts on education

I clearly was not the most experienced individual in the room when it came to discussions about teaching and education, and I particularly enjoyed hearing different presenters at ReLIVE11 talk about how they are using OpenSim, OpenWonderland and other platforms. However – after my recent post on Raspberry Pi and my exploration of the Brighton Mini Maker Faire I’ve been thinking increasingly about Maker culture and how we could bring technology teaching back around to practical matters.  I was disappointed to read the Government’s (lack of) response to John Graham-Cumming’s recent letter on the same subject, though.

One of the things that I called out as a barrier to the adoption of immersive worlds and new technologies at work is something I’m calling The Empty Room Problem – the fact that unless you build it and then populate it, they will not necessarily come. I’ll be writing about this some more shortly, prompted by Derek Jones’ great blog post.

During the Q&A session I gave an answer to one of the questions which contained some ideas I’ve had on a possible curriculum – I’ll try to expand on those in the near future as well.

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IMPACT 2011 – and the Unconference

This week is the last before I hop on a plane a head over to The Venetian in Las Vegas for this year’s IBM IMPACT conference. I’ve been privileged to attend the last few of these customer and user conferences, and I’m always happy to have the opportunity to meet users and techies, as well as to talk to new folks about what is happening in the WebSphere Messaging portfolio.

IMPACT 2011 banner

This year I’ve been given the task of talking about what’s new in WebSphere MQ (hint: if you look at the whole WMQ family, there is a lot going on); and to talk about our Smarter Planet protocol, also known as MQ Telemetry Transport.

As before, we have a social aggregator where you can follow the conference. One particularly exciting addition this year is the idea that we’ll run an unconference within IMPACT itself, and we’ve carved out the Thursday in order to do so. If you’ve never been to an unconference before, the concept is that the organisers put up the venue, framework, and support, and the attendees build up the actual agenda. The call for participation is open now… if you are really a techie or an architect and don’t want to be bored by the business-oriented stuff, you need to be at the unconference. It’s for developers, by developers (actually – that’s YOU).

WebSphere Unconference

The ideas will be posted at Impact 2011 April 11-13 using the wall grid posted onsite, where you can continue to submit and vote on ideas. The Unconference is held on April 14th from morning through afternoon. Sessions will run about 1 hour with several rooms open during each time block. The kick-off is at 8:30AM with a special guest speaker. The format of sessions is up to speaker(s) to decide – go solo, pair up or make a roundtable with a group. Make it your own.

There’s a slightly different way of doing things here, as instead of only having folks nominate themselves to present on the day, we’ve got a forum where you can suggest and vote on topics right now.

If you don’t believe that this thing is going to be “the place to be” on the Thursday of IMPACT, here’s what I actually consider the second best part (apart from the conversations with developers themselves): RedMonk. The guys are going to be all over the Unconference, including a keynote by James Governor, and a breakout session with Stephen O’Grady. Listen to @monkchips:

James Governor: Developers should be excited. The pendulum is swinging back… you are the new kingmakers, so what are you going to do about it?

For more on the unconference, you need to be following Ryan Boyles and Kathleen Holm. Oh, and if you’re coming to IMPACT, and you use Twitter, give Lanyrd a try – it’s a great way of sharing what you’re up to.

Lightweight Messaging and Linux #lca2011

I’ve just delivered my talk at LinuxConf Australia 2011Lightweight Messaging for a Connected Planet. Unlike any of the other “spins” of the MQTT overview talk I’ve delivered before, this one really talks in more detail about the coding side, with shout outs to many of the members of the MQTT community and their projects. Special mentions here to Roger Light and the mosquitto project, and Nick O’Leary and the Arduino client. There has been a huge amount of discussion of Arduino and home automation (and sending Tux to the edge of space with an Arduino on a balloon… unrelated to MQTT but awesome) at LCA 2011 so these aspects turned out to fit really well.

Do let me know if you start to play around with MQTT as I believe there are some really funky things happening (some of which are highlighted in the slides). I’ve had some particularly great conversations with Andy Gelme who helped to run the Arduino Miniconf at LCA2011 and I hope to see things moving forward on his open hardware router project, too.

Barcamp. London. Seven.

This past weekend saw a first for IBM South Bank as it played host to Barcamp London 7, the seventh time a the Barcamp unconference had been held in London (I know this, because I asked @thehodge why it was called Barcamp London 7, and he said it was because it was the seventh one… cunning!). South Bank is not often used for events at the weekend, and certainly not for events of 200 excited techies, creative types and those wanting to run their own talks on subjects as diverse as Failure, the TV series Lost, CSS design, niche bands you should be listening to, a photography project involving a rubber duck, life drawing, and Enterprise Software Patterns.

The IBM side of the event organisation was largely the effort of Zoe Slattery, although a host of us volunteered to help support the external organisers, and several IBM folks attended. Attendance at a Barcamp is free and the event is supported and funded by sponsors. It was great to mingle and chat with people I’d met at similar events, friends, and others I was connecting with for the first time.

Don't break my stuffThe scheduleIs THIS Mr Duck?Coffee loungeYepDuckpond

The way that a Barcamp is organised is that there is no set agenda – attendees turn up and volunteer to speak for 20 minutes on a topic of their choice (and these topics can be very diverse). We used something like 12 or 13 rooms and I believe we had nearly 200 available session slots spanning the 2 day period from 10am on Saturday through until 5pm on the Sunday. By the end of Saturday almost the entire session “grid” was filled. It is a Barcamp tradition that first timers are expected to give at least one session… in the end, I gave two.

There’s an event on Slideshare where the decks for those that used slides are being collected, but there was a huge range of different topics and styles (including my own favourite, Ben Fletcher’s Fingerspelling lesson, which had us learning the alphabet in British Sign Language at increasingly higher speeds!)

The overnight stay went well – there were a few party games and many, many discussions on Saturday evening. A good time had by all, judging from the tweets and photos.

The staff at South Bank were exceptional, working the weekend and remaining in great spirits, helped by the sunny dispositions of the Barcamp attendees. All in all it was a great success, and I hope that we’ll be able to get involved in more of these kinds of events!

Zoe and Ben also have some nice write-ups, and the Flickr group of photos is filling out nicely. Thanks to Adewale Oshineye for this cool photo of me!