Planning for the Future

According to Statistics Canada, the average life expectancy for Canadian men is 80 years. I am now 55, which means (if I am lucky) that I can expect another quarter-century of life ahead of me.

I was curious and I ran a recent photo of me through the old age filter on FaceApp, and this is what it came up with:

Ryan at 80 (from FaceApp)

Seeing this picture was a wake-up call for me. It’s time to be thinking ahead, planning for the future. I still need to draw up a will and a power of attorney, for example. I don’t have a lot of material possessions to leave to other people (my biggest purchases have been my computer and my car). But I do need to set something in place with my final wishes clearly spelled out for my next of kin to follow.

And I am still working on which Second Life avatars I will leave to other people in the event of my untimely death, via my will. You can read the entire saga hereherehere, here, and here on my blog to see how this quest got started! I know it might sound really silly to some of you, but I consider them perfectly valid possessions, and it would please me greatly to know they will still be providing entertainment and enjoyment to others after I am gone. (If you’re interested in inheriting one of my avatars via my will, please contact me and we’ll talk. I still have a selection for you to choose from!) In fact, when the time comes, I may have some Sansar avatars to pass on to others as well (and I am assuming that Linden Lab will set up similar procedures for Sansar as they already have for Second Life). My lawyer is going to have a ball drawing up my last will and testament!

But I will also need to think about much bigger issues that will impact my life. For example, global warming. I will live in a world impacted by climate change, with warmer temperatures overall and increased volatility in the weather. How will that impact my life? Canada’s universal healthcare system is under stress as the Baby Boomers age and make heavier use of doctors and hospitals. What if I develop mobility or vision issues later on in life, or have some other serious medical problem? How will that impact my life? Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future.

The important thing is to make plans for the future, but to be flexible and prepare for any eventuality. For example, if I were to be run over by a bus tomorrow, I currently haven’t left any sort of instructions to let people know my wishes concerning my blog and my show (which I would want to be archived for future historians to pore over). I also have an experience called Ryan’s Garden in Sansar, that I would like to be kept in perpetuity as my personal virtual memorial in the event of my passing. I haven’t given anybody else access rights to my blog to post a message in case something should happen to me. I need to set all these things up. Strawberry Singh (whom I admire greatly) wrote an excellent blogpost on these topics, which I recommend you read. You should be thinking about all these things too.

I also still expect that, at some future point, virtual reality in general and social VR in particular are finally going to become popular and widespread. This will mean I will have to work even harder at providing “news and views” on those subjects on this blog. Yes, I do plan to be here for the long haul! The good news is, at that point I will most likely be retired from my academic librarian job and I can devote myself full-time to blogging, my show Metaverse Newscast, and perhaps other endeavours (a podcast, perhaps?). Social VR and virtual worlds are my joy and my passion, and it’s so important to have something to live for and look forward to after you retire.

How are you preparing for your future?

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Facebook Reality Labs Gives Us a Preview of What Your Avatar Could Look Like in the Future

Have you ever wondered what your virtual-world avatar could look like, 10 to 20 years from now?

A recently published article in WIRED covers the work of Facebook Reality Labs, which is developing stunningly lifelike virtual reality avatars, called codec avatars, which can recreate the full gamut of facial expressions:

Examples of Facebook Reality Labs’ Codec Avatars

For years now, people have been interacting in virtual reality via avatars, computer-generated characters that represent us. Because VR headsets and hand controllers are trackable, our real-life head and hand movements carry into those virtual conversations, the unconscious mannerisms adding crucial texture. Yet even as our virtual interactions have become more naturalistic, technical constraints have forced them to remain visually simple. Social VR apps like Rec Room and AltspaceVR abstract us into caricatures, with expressions that rarely (if ever) map to what we’re really doing with our faces. Facebook’s Spaces is able to generate a reasonable cartoon approximation of you from your social media photos but depends on buttons and thumb-sticks to trigger certain expressions. Even a more technically demanding platform like High Fidelity, which allows you to import a scanned 3D model of yourself, is a long way from being able to make an avatar feel like you.

That’s why I’m here in Pittsburgh on a ridiculously cold, early March morning inside a building very few outsiders have ever stepped foot in. Yaser Sheik and his team are finally ready to let me in on what they’ve been working on since they first rented a tiny office in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood. (They’ve since moved to a larger space on the Carnegie Mellon campus, with plans to expand again in the next year or two.) Codec Avatars, as Facebook Reality Labs calls them, are the result of a process that uses machine learning to collect, learn, and re-create human social expression. They’re also nowhere near being ready for the public. At best, they’re years away—if they end up being something that Facebook deploys at all. But the FRL team is ready to get this conversation started. “It’ll be big if we can get this finished,” Sheik says with the not-at-all contained smile of a man who has no doubts they’ll get it finished. “We want to get it out. We want to talk about it.”

The results (which you can see more of in the photos and videos in the WIRED article) are impressive, but they require a huge amount of data capture beforehand: 180 gigabytes of data every second! So don’t expect this to be coming out anytime soon. But it is a fascinating glimpse of the future.

Would you want your avatar in a virtual world to look exactly like you, and have their face move exactly like your face, with all your unique expressions? Some people would find this creepy. Others would embrace it. Many people would probably prefer to have an avatar who looks nothing like their real-life selves. What do you think of Facebook’s research? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks!