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Month: August 2022

Notes on VR, AI & Knowledge Work

This symposium looks at the future of text in VR from the perspective of knowledge work, powered by AI. It seeks to explore practices, policies, and possibilities that present are now and are laying ahead so that those working in this area of scholarship can lend their voices to the ongoing development of VR technologies and find effective ways to incorporate them into our work.

To clarify, this is about knowledge work in VR outside the clearly mapped 3D systems such as CAD and outside the social side of work, as well as games and entertainment in general, which are receiving investment already. Further, we do not expect VR to be the exclusive medium through which we interact with text, but rather that we will interact with text in VR alongside traditional digital as well as analog media in a ubiquitous computing environment.

We define AR as a subset of VR, one which the user will in the near future be able to toggle between, but which which will nevertheless have different use modes and use cases.

We Ask: What will text be when expressed in VR environments—when words are evoked through touch, interacted with through bodily movements, and is immersed with us in 3D space? How can working with text in VR augment how we think and communicate?

Since entering VR will be a much more personal experience than we are used to through flat screens, we ask how will VR change us and how might we need to change to flourish in VR rather than disappear in VR. What will it mean to be human when we are fully immersed in a digital environment? Can we build VR to connect us closer to each other and the natural world or are we bound to use VR to further isolate ourselves?

What will it be like for children of the future to grow up in worlds with no distance and with infinite possibilities? Will their reach be extended or will they lose perspective?

In other words, how might VR be developed to bring out the best in us?

Why You? A better future will not be automatic. Developments which only a few decades ago would have seemed like magic, or at least like science fiction are just around the corner, the results of massive investment by large companies.

We try to look at what aspect of work in VR can not be taken for granted because they can not be expected to be developed by the commercial developers of VR systems since they will not directly benefit the cashflow of these companies.

The needs of knowledge workers do not perfectly overlap those of the companies producing the VR experiences.

Goal: The goal of this symposium is to spark dialogue around potential opportunities and issues of working with knowledge in VR and using AI augmentations.

Issues concerning text in VR

Along with questions listed above and questions raised by you, there are two aspects which become prominent and underlay how we can develop VR environments which are open and connected:

• How addressability will work in VR; how locations, time, applications and locations in knowledge structures can be addressed. (you can’t address something if you can’t ‘address’ it). How will we move from one environment to another?

• Issues around infrastructures, ownership and compatibilities of knowledge products in different VR environments. Will we be able to take what we build in one environment into another, or will we have the same issues we had with compatibility we have experienced in traditional environments?

The Future of Text Vol 3

Introduction [draft]

Welcome to ‘The Future of Text Volume 3’ where we focus on VR/AR and AI.

VR (including AR) is about to go mainstream and this can offer tremendous improvements for how we think, work and communicate.

There are serious issues around how open and VR environments will be and how knowledge objects and environments will be portable. Think Mac VS. PC and the Web Browser Wars but for the entire work environment.

The potential of text augmented with AI is also only now beginning to be be understood to improve the lives of individual users, though it has been used, in various guises and under various names (ML, algorithms etc.) to power social networks and ‘fake news’ for years.

More important than the specific benefits working in VR will have, is perhaps the opportunity we now have to reset our thinking and return to first principles to better understand how we can think and communicate with digital text. Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and other pioneers led a ‘Cambrian Explosion’ of innovation for how we can interact with digital text in the 60s and 70s by giving us digital editing, hypertext-links and so on, but once we, the public, felt we knew what digital text was (text which can be edited, shared and linked), innovation slowed to a crawl. The hypertext community, as represented by ACM Hypertext, has demonstrated powerful ways we can interact with text, far beyond what is in general use, but the inertia of what exists and the lack of curiosity among users has made it prohibitively expensive to develop and put into use new systems.

With the advent of VR, where text will be freed from the small rectangles of traditional environments, we can again dream of what text can be. There will again be public curiosity as to what text can be.

To truly unleash text in VR we will need to re-examine what text is, what infrastructures support textual dialogue and what we want text to do for us. The excitement of VR fuels our imagination again–just think of working in a library where every wall can instantly display different aspects of what you are reading such as outlines and glossary definitions and images from the book are framed on the wall, all the while being interactive for you to change the variables in diagrams and see connections with cited sources. This is an incredibly exciting future once headsets get better (lighter and more comfortable as well as better visual quality). Because this cannot happen without fundamental infrastructure improvements, what we build for VR will benefit text in all digital forms.

This is important. The future of humanity will depend on how we can improve how we think and communicate and the written word, with all it’s unique characteristics of being swimmable, readable at your own pace and so on, will remain a key to this. The future of text we choose will choose how our future will be written.