- Related Stories
IBM to give birth to 'Second Life' business groupDecember 12, 2006
Dell sets up 'Second Life' shop, offers PCs to residentsNovember 14, 2006
IBM's chief steps into 'Second Life' for incubator launchNovember 13, 2006
Reuters' 'Second Life' reporter talks shopOctober 26, 2006
Taking 'Second Life' to the next levelOctober 18, 2006
Sun rises in 'Second Life'October 11, 2006
Wladawsky-Berger was exposed to high-end 3D visualization technology from his supercomputing background. He believes that Second Life--even though its computing infrastructure is "painfully slow" today--is an example of how graphical interfaces will transform how humans deal with computers and with each other.
Rather than slowly processing information from e-mail and Web browsers, immersive 3D environments communicate on a deeper level--what Wladawsky-Berger describes as "broadband into our brains."
He's involved in IBM's January launch of a new business focusing on what he described as IBM's "3D Internet and virtual-world efforts."
The only IBM site in Second Life, a mock-up of its Almaden Research Center, offers helpful pointers for Second Life newbies who want basic control of their virtual representations, called avatars. Tips include how to handle objects, chat with others, gaze around a room or teleport to new locations.
The virtual incarnation of Wladawsky-Berger spent an hour in CNET's Second Life offices talking to News.com's Stephen Shankland and fielding questions from the audience.
To start, why don't you tell us what you do at IBM and how you came to be interested in Second Life.
Wladawsky-Berger: I am vice president of technical strategy and innovation at IBM. I have been very interested in visualization for a while now because of my association with supercomputing, where visualization is commonly used. As game technologies have become increasingly popular for advanced visualization, including MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games), I have become very interested in SL.
I have seen a lot of sophisticated visualization in science and engineering applications, but they have not been immersive in the sense of (having) people and avatars in the picture. The appeal of Second Life and similar environments is that they are both visual and immersive.
When I first heard about Second Life, I was skeptical that it was more than a glorified chat room. But now having tried it, I feel like there is a bit of a sense of place--more than just me sitting behind a keyboard. Do you agree?
Wladawsky-Berger: Yes, totally. There is something very human about visual interfaces. I almost think of text-based interfaces, including browsers, as "narrowband" into our brains, whereas visual interfaces are broadband into our brains. Our brains are wired for sight and sound--that is what makes Second Life different from chat.
How long have you been in Second Life?
Wladawsky-Berger: I have been in it for a couple of months now. I saw it in use for a few months beforehand, and then I took the plunge around October or so.
Do you have an official role at IBM, trying to bring others in--either other IBM employees or others in the industry?
Wladawsky-Berger: Not really an official role, but I have been playing a strong role in helping us start our 3D Internet and virtual-world efforts. We are launching a new EBO in this area in January--that is, emerging business opportunity--much like we did with Linux and grid (computing).
In the Second Life area specifically?
Wladawsky-Berger: Second Life is one of the main areas, but not the only one. I really believe that highly visual and collaborative interfaces will become very important in the way we interact with all IT (information technology) applications in the future.
This may be one of the most revolutionary changes in IT because it changes everything and transforms the applications. Second Life is a very good platform for collaboration, but there will be other styles of visual applications as well.
How will Second Life be integrated with other parts of the Internet? Right now, there's not too much overlap.
Wladawsky-Berger: It has to be integrated. We need to make it easy to interoperate with other virtual worlds on the Internet and be able to go back and forth between virtual worlds and Web sites in an easy way. The problem now is the lack of standards like we had with HTTP, HTML (languages for sending and describing Web pages), etc. We need to create them across virtual-world platforms as well as Web sites.
You oversaw some of IBM's early work with the Internet, correct? E-commerce for example. Do you think that Second Life is just an extension of that, or is it qualitatively different?
Wladawsky-Berger: I think that virtual worlds and collaborative worlds like Second Life are a major extension to the Internet. That is what it reminds me of the most. Do you agree?
I see it as an extension--the revolution already happened.
Wladawsky-Berger: You mean the Internet revolution?
Yes, the Internet revolution. The real change was moving to online communities and virtual communication. A virtual presence.
Wladawsky-Berger: I honestly think that as we learn more about visual interfaces, we will have another very serious revolution in field after field and industry after industry, because changes in interfaces invariably are followed by major changes in applications.
I'm willing to be persuaded.
Wladawsky-Berger: Well, it takes time for these things to unfold. The tools are still very primitive. We are just learning at this stage, but I am pretty convinced that profound changes will come in science, business, engineering, medical, learning and training and, of course, entertainment.
IBM's Almaden island is open to the public, and I understand that you'll open up a dozen more in the next few days. What will Big Blue use all those sites for?
Wladawsky-Berger: We will use them for a variety of purposes: some internal, to hold internal meetings among people with IBM--the "intra-islands"; some external to have meetings with clients. Some will be for experimentation. We wanted space for all kinds of activities.
We have some audience questions that are relevant here. Gwyneth Llewelyn asks: Can you give a good example of a "killer application" that could be deployed by IBM inside Second Life? I understand that internally, it's being used for employee training. Would training or e-learning be the killer application for Second Life?
Wladawsky-Berger: For sure, learning and training will be one of the major killer apps, but not the only one. For example, we like the idea of creating virtual branch offices for our people in the field. Close to 50 percent of our work force is mobile--mostly sales or field people. That is very efficient, but it can be lonely. It would be nice to have something like the old branch office, where people can congregate to work, chat and just plain hang out.