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?
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.
VR is about to reach mass usage so we are focusing on text in VR, specifically for knowledge work, for the 2022 Symposium. Similarly, we look at AI methods for augmenting text since this is also becoming mainstream.
In order to unleash text in VR and text using the power of AI, we will need to upgrade the infrastructures of text, something which will benefit traditional digital text as well.
The potential of digital text has been left largely untapped after it was demonstrated to us by the pioneers in the 1960s–once digital text became mainstream the question of what it could be faded from public imagination. Now that we are entering the whole new world of VR we have a chance to fire up our imagination as to what richly interactive digital text can be and how it can help us think and communicate. This moment won’t last forever, once VR is commonplace we will likely see the same fading of curiosity as to what text and be and what it can do for us, so let us use this time wisely.
Book & Symposium
The full record of the Symposium, including presentations and Q&A/Dialogue, will be published in ‘The Future of Text’ Vol III: Future Text Publishing.
When & Where
The Symposium was held on the 27th and 28th of September 2022, at The Linnean Society, London, UK, and Online via Zoom.
Abstract. Presenters will submit an abstract which will be distributed to all the attendees 1 week before the symposium, on the 20th of September, as a special issue of our Journal. There is no restriction on length, format or style though there are some suggestions in the ‘Information for Presenters‘. Attendees, are also invited to submit a brief outline of their thoughts on the subject or what they expect from the event, which will also be distributed. This will be included in the ‘Future of Text’ book, unless requested otherwise.
Presentation On The Day. On the day there will be 5-10 mins for presentations, which may be exactly the same as the submitted abstract, a summary or a new presentation on the same topic, then 10-15 mins dialogue, for a total of 20 mins per presenter. This is a deadline we hold rigorously, to make the flow more relaxed for everyone 🙂 The presentation and full Q&A/Dialogue will be transcribed and included in the book.
Comments. Everyone is welcome to submit a comment on their own, someone else’s or a general comment a month later. This will also be included in the book.
The hosts and curators: Frode Hegland, Vint Cerf, Ismail Serageldin, Dene Grigar, Claus Atzenbeck & Mark Anderson.
Why a symposium on text? To be more effective at our work we need more effective ways to interact with the masses of text we come across in our work every day. Very little has improved since the first graphical word processor of the Macintosh in 1984 – let alone Doug Engelbart’s Augment of the 1970s – though we have vastly more text to deal with.
This is why we convene for The Future of Text, because the history of text is not over and the future of text has not yet been written.
We don’t define text rigidly as this would artificially constrain this future. The essential element of text is its symbolic meaning, which even the first red dot in the cave provided – giving it the property of communication over time. Further is the grammar which connects pieces into greater wholes. As for the rest, let’s look into that together.
While face to face discussion, getting to know people and learning how to be great collaborators are supremely important (hence the symposium’s very existence to start with), we feel that the documents we communicate through for the day to day business of knowledge work needs to massively improve – it’s simply not enough to try to stay on top of information, it can no longer be a valid excuse that there is too much information – we must develop more powerful ways to interact with, and through the information, allowing the information to be a resource, not a drag on our abilities to think and communicate. We need to dive into the pool of meaning to collaborate effectively to improve the world we live in and which we want to present to future generations.
The focus is by no means about text in isolation, in a column, on a page. The focus is on expanding the usefulness of text as symbol manipulation and communication, with rich interactivity and high levels of visual control and use of the high-bandwidth human visual field. In other words, let’s keep the core notion of the power behind the symbols but let’s blow the doors away with what that might actually mean.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” Eleanor Roosevelt