Imagine being able to have a digital replica of yourself stroll from one site to another.
When Google Earth launched in 2005, users were exhilarated to type in their home address, see the earth as if they were floating in space, and then swoop down to view a satellite image of their house or apartment. These days users have moved on to upgrading Google Earth with their own photographs and three-dimensional digital replicas of buildings. But one day they'll be able to alight on a Google Earth street and meet someone else there--and even have a conversation.
That sort of encounter is still a few years off, but it's no pipe dream. Google, Second Life creator Linden Lab, IBM, and a bevy of additional companies are moving toward the day when you can stroll around a 3D Web--and not just their own sites--using a virtual replica of yourself that you've created. They are working to establish technical standards, open to all programmers, that would allow the entire Internet to become a galaxy of connected virtual worlds.
In this future scenario, you could go mall shopping with a gang of friends during a lunch break, even while you remain miles apart. In reality, you'd all be pinned to your work terminals, but on that screen you would be transported to a digital replica of the shopping center. As you walk by a sale at a virtual jeans store, Web cameras in the real store let you see how crowded it actually is, in case a popular item is selling out. Your avatar, set to your body's measurements, tries on the jeans and spins around to show them to your pals. You might buy the pants online or visit the physical store later. Either way, you'd have had a fun afternoon without leaving your cubicle.
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