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One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Will Harvey shares his thoughts on the networked future

This page contains one of a set of 24 transcripts including remarks made by interview participants at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit at Stanford Research Institute in May 2006. Each person was asked a series of five questions regarding the future; only the most “telling” responses were transferred from the recordings into these transcripts, thus, some of these interviews will include five question-answer sets, some will have four or fewer.

To jump to another interviewee’s set of answers, click on the person’s name below.

Bridget Agabra Randy Farmer Jerry Paffendorf
Betsy Book Guy Garnett Marty Poulin
Corey Bridges Will Harvey Robert Scoble
Iveta Brigis Daniel James John Smart
Jamais Cascio Raph Koster David Smith
Helen Cheng Mike Liebhold Sibley Verbeck
Esther Dyson Julian Lombardi Malcolm Williamson
Doug Engelbart Bob Moore Ethan Zuckerman

  >> Return to Metaverse interviews lead page for links to recordings of these comments

Harvey HeadshotWill Harvey, founder and CEO of IMVU, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and game programmer. He began in the video game industry when he was just 15 and still in high school. His latest work is with IMVU, an instant-messaging company. He is also the founders of There, Inc., an MMOG company. He studied computer science at Stanford University.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? It’s hard to think about negative things … In the computer business the very medium we work on in creating things like the metaverse gets cheaper and faster every year by enormous leaps and bounds and that means the types of things we can do every year make astoundingly fast progress. So it would be hard for me to even cite a worry.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? The types of things we’re working on are the types of things that can be important on the scale of entire century. People are going to interact with people online. You can say this is a pretty unarguable statement If you’re going to interact with each other in a visual world, then you’re going to have an avatar. And that’s what the definition of an avatar is – something representing you online visually. So, creating the kinds of companies that create avatars is the sort of thing that will matter for the entire next century. And when you think of it, creating a technology that can last a century – that’s an important and incredibly unusual opportunity. So when I think back over the last century to the five or six companies that made the biggest difference, I don’t know, Ford, Disney, Microsoft – for better or for worse – a few others, IBM, and when I think forward of this century I am convinced one of the companies that will be on the list of the top five will be a company that created avatars or virtual worlds.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? Technology, particularly in the area of virtual worlds, will effect your life on many different levels. One of the levels is just who you are. This is so significant. When you start out as a kid, you think of kids, they can be anything. They can be multiple things at once… by the time you’re an adult you’ve pretty much trimmed off all of those possibilities about who you could have grown up to be or who you are. You dress a certain way, you associate with a certain group of people, you use a certain language, you consider yourself fitting into society a certain way. You end up a very narrow sliver of all of the potential of the identity you began as. The first thing about virtual worlds and the way that they effect your life is that they allow you to expand out from that sliver or if you’re kid continue it instead of narrowing into a sliver because you’re not restricted … On the very personal level of people’s own identity, technology in the next 10 years as virtual worlds and avatars will allow people to live a far more fulfilling life than in most cases people are able to do in the real world.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? I don’t think of an individual event happening on a technology scale. What I think will happen is a tipping point of participation (in synthetic worlds) among people all over the world. So virtual worlds today – a small business. Online games? Relative to virtual worlds they’re a large business, relative to real-world economy, they’re still a small business. So vision for what we’re going is to be a large business. We can imagine (in 10 years) the amount of interaction that people are having with each other online is more hours a day than their interaction in the real world. As soon as you acknowledge that that’s at least plausible, then you can acknowledge also that it is plausible that the amount of commerce and the amount of objects or virtual items that people own in the virtual world will be as much as the amount of commerce or the amount of real objects in the real world that people own. So, if you can believe that, if you can buy that step number two, then the scale, the magnitude of the economic potential for companies in this virtual-world space when it becomes a mass market instead of a tiny little niche market is absolutely astronomical. So when you ask what is the most important event that may happen say 10 years or more out, the event is the Malcolm Gladwell tipping point where instead of it just being a small minority playing around in virtual worlds it’s a small minority of technology Luddites who refuse to because you pretty much have to to be successful in the real world.

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