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A Fresh Voice for AMI
November 6, 2007

The AMI has provided a forum and a voice for those in the innovation community for over 27 years.

But what happens when "the voice" brings new ideas?

It's predictable. The group’s indicator of energy level hit max at the October 2007 Alexandria meeting when a new member (a banker whose business card title reads "inventor") introduced some new and disruptive ideas to the membership. and he would not let us ignore them or their implications. There was no escape for the members.

Many of us have been reading or hearing about the use of Virtual Reality (VR), and even our children or younger staff have probably made us aware of this trend, but the language used and the images generated did not allow us to communicate openly. For many there was rejection (we saw the downside first). Others were curious and a smaller but lively group was shaking their heads in agreement.

Historically, in March 2001, the AMI heard from an evolutionary biologist who founded a start-up company called ViOS in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and perhaps the AMI's first introduction to this topic known as VR. The title of Dr. Julian Lombardi presentation was "Virtual World," and he offered free patented software and licenses to firms. He was also selling space on billboards in his VR space – a city.

The October 5, 2006 issue of The Christian Science Monitor listed 60 schools and universities having set up shop inside Second Life. "There are so many communities within Second Life where my students can learn more about what they couldn't in the real world," reports Sarah Robbins, an English Instructor at Ball State. "Second Life gives us the capability to really have a classroom experience with the students," says Charles Nesson who is teaching the first class at Harvard using the Second Life website. The website allows teachers and students to build avatars (animated graphic characters) of themselves which attend classes – and interact with one another – inside a virtual classroom. To bridge the generational divide, Prof. Nesson, a law school professor, is teaching the class with his daughter, Rebecca, a recent Harvard law school graduate.

"It's still a pioneering space. We’re still trying to figure out how to use it best," states John Lester, community and education manager at Linden Lab, the company that owns and operates Second Life, now in its third year.

In May 2007 Sodexho decided to skip the phone-screening process for potential job candidates. Instead, the Gaithersburg food and facilities management company took to the computer-based virtual world, where job-seekers were invited to create avatars of themselves to be interviewed online by avatars of Sodexho recruiters. While it's not a replacement of any part of the recruiting process, the team says it views ventures into innovative places like Second Life as an enhancement to their process. By the end of 2011, 80% of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a "second life", but not necessarily in Second Life, according to the Gartner Group.

How will this technology impact human interaction as we know it - or as we want it to be?

Why do all the VR games using avatars seem to be about destruction? The role-playing game World of Warcraft, in which players work together to accomplish missions, defeat enemies, and become even more powerful has millions of players worldwide. Why not peace games (not just war games) where the subtleties of negotiation and the give and take of diplomacy are explored (and learned)?

But you have to hand it to our resilient group of innovators. A sub-group of the membership want to give it a try. A "virtual meeting" is planned for January – avatars and all.

It is my prediction that one of the positive unintended consequences will be a prototype meeting we have been talking about for years – a cross generational meeting to better understand language and experience differences across the generational divide. Some of our members will be forced to go to their children and/ or younger professionals in the work setting and ask "How can I do this avatar thing?" Then they will listen, and then they will learn.

What are the social implications?

Technology has been a factor of isolation, now technology will aid reconnection.

It is my belief that technology, which many believe has separated us from the larger community, will bring us back to this basic human need of community. Driven by this need is increasingly sophisticated networking technology. In a world influenced by the Internet these forces are reshaping the social landscape.

Whenever thousands of people are social networked inside a firm and/or around the world, we have a "spot market" for human capital.

To use a phrase, the future of social networking is "not our father's network."

Stan Gryskiewicz

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