Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Virtual millionaires

Congratulations to Anshe Chung (in real life: Ailin Graef, a German citizen originally from Hubei, China), the first capitalist whose virtual holdings in Second Life are valued at over a million USD (using current exchange rates from SLDs to USDs).

See this Fortune article which discusses Second Life and how Ms. Chung became a successful real estate developer there (thanks to our correspondent Malcolm for the tip). The lengthy comment section is particularly amusing, with many commenters showing a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of money and value, and a visceral disdain for virtual reality.

While I don't have time to visit Second Life, I wish I did. It seems like a tremendous outlet for people's creativity. Why shouldn't an island or skyscraper designed by Ms. Chung be worth some amount of "real" money? What exactly makes the $20 bill in your pocket valuable, except other people's willingness to exchange things for it?

Sure, there are problems with scarcity -- Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, could flood the virtual world with copies of any object, or new real estate, but the Fed could also decide to increase the USD money supply as well. (Perhaps to inflate away our $1 trillion in obligations to China!) Among the comments you can find discussion of legal and financial issues: Should the IRS tax virtual profits? (certainly, if they are ever converted back into USD), Will Lloyds insure virtual homesteads? (why not? just compute the expected cost of such a policy and charge a big premium), Can I be sued for killing your avatar? (Unh... not if it's allowed by the rules!)

What I want to know is, when can we start having physics conferences and seminars in (the improved HD, 3D, holographic, immersive) Second Life, so I don't have to schlep around in economy class and deal with baggage screeners all the time? Note some companies already have Second Life offices for meetings and marketing purposes!

Podcast of talk by Linden Labs founder Philip Rosedale. Another, with their VP of product development.


Anonymous said...

Does Second Life have it's own physics or is it slaved to our own branch of the multiverse?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see the liquidity of the Linden exchange;
How would the exchange ratio behave if she and others convert to USD ...

Anonymous said...

It would be neat to attend a physics lecture and have complicated or perhaps dangerous demonstrations done right before our eyes. I'm curious if concepts would be easier to teach or labs easier to participate in if the world it all took place in was governed by software...

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is, when can we start having physics conferences and seminars in (the improved HD, 3D, holographic, immersive) Second Life, so I don't have to schlep around in economy class and deal with baggage screeners all the time?

A related discussion over at Lance Fortnow's blog:

Steve Hsu said...

Hmm... I guess I posted about virtual meetings some time ago:


Due to our simian heritage, it ain't gonna fly until we have fatter pipes, better monitors, etc. I can't imagine a conference in the current version of Second Life being as useful as the real thing. But it's only a matter of time!

rz said...

I've been trying to pin-point what exactly is it about in-person meetings that makes them more worthwhile than virtual ones. Any ideas?

Certainly a small pipe's lag makes a virtual meeting very different from real life. However at places like Universities the pipes big enough that one should be able to do a reasonable quality video conference and similar things. This becomes less of a limitation by using good algorithms to distribute the video (not that I know about it in detail, but see Prof. Reza's work at the UO CIS dept, for example).

If the flow of information benefits from all parties smelling the same things there is some more work to do :-).

Steve Hsu said...


Latency is of course a big issue, but so is any other effect that reminds our ape brain that the other person isn't really right next to us. I, also, am not sure what the most important factors are (resolution? sound quality?).

If you google around you can find information on virtual conference rooms built by (I think) HP for a few hundred thousand each, which allow the best VR interaction presently available. They have special sound systems, high-res monitors, dedicated pipes, etc. Lots of organizations have found them useful enough (they save on travel expenses and time) that they've ordered them for various locations.

For geeky, Aspergian scientists a lower level of fidelity might be enough, though :-)

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