Elon University

One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Malcolm Williamson 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

Williamson HeadshotMalcolm Williamson is a geospatial and visualization researcher with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas. Since 1993 he has pursued research in geospatial applications and development and scientific visualization. He works closely with the EAST Initiative to develop new approaches in geospatial and visualization education, leading a team that supports 10,000+ students in approximately 240 schools.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? Commercialism. And basically anything that takes away from the ability for people to feel that they can freely and equally gain access to the internet. I have some misgivings, and I realize from a practical business sense this may not be good business, but in a social sense it is essential. In the town where I live, a local banker had one of the first free local public (internet) kiosks in the country, and I think that kind of concept – free and open access – is what’s needed to make it a social equalizer.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? The ability to involve other senses than vision and hearing is really what would revolutionize social interaction as we know it over the network. Somebody would be able to smell the avatar next to them. They say that smell is the strongest of our senses in terms of subconscious communication. So touch and smell and the ability to use those other senses over the internet would absolutely revolutionize long-distance communication as we know it. That’s my biggest vision there.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? The idea that the world can be recorded and presented virtually through the internet will revolutionize everything. The idea of geographic privacy is already pretty much gone. It’s too easy to see where things are or where people are… that’s going to impact everything. It also provides a multitude of really positive opportunities. As you’re walking down the road being able to look at your telephone and see what’s close to you and see what kind of tree, is that where is that restaurant, what’s the flock of birds flying over? I think the idea of making that information available virtually everywhere, being able to share knowledge based on where you are could impact everyone.

What do you think policymakers should do to ensure a positive future for networked technologies? The whole idea of ownership of content on the network and control of what’s allowed to flow between countries. Keeping the internet as open as it’s been historically is totally essential to insuring the future to be what we’d like it to be. We’re already seeing instances of there being more than one internet experience depending on where you are geographically, and we need to work towards removing that if possible.

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