Smart communities

Virtualisation of communities

Virtual worlds are an emerging medium that is constantly creeping into our lives. Following the success of such gaming worlds as World of Warcraft, The Sims and others, terms like 3D, avatars, chat and real money are rising. For individuals, new forms of interactive entertainment, mostly social, are also pushing virtual worlds. For the enterprise, the drive to save travel costs and the need to gain new customers and retain current ones push this trend even further (Murugensan, 2008).

I maintain that real virtual worlds will, eventually, offer a paradigm shift. What we see now with Second Life, World of Warcraft, Club Penguin and more then 100 other worlds, is just the beginning. In comparison to the Internet age, we are at the “Gopher” stage (Gopher was a pre-browser method to view hyperlinked data).

This budding arena of real virtual worlds has its roots in two fields: virtual reality (Burda & Coiffet, 2003) including augmented reality (Bimber & Raskar, 2005) and gaming worlds (Bartle, 2004; Alexander, 2003; Alexander, 2005; Taylor, 2006). Other related fields also affecting virtual worlds include but are not limited to economy (for example, of virtual goods), sociology (nature of communities), law (copyrights and ownership), biology (new brain based human-computer interfaces), computer science (performance, reliability and scalability) and mathematics (algorithms for 3D rendering and animation). 

I use the adjective “real” to distinguish between v irtual worlds and gaming worlds. “Real” implies a potential reaching further than imagined today . While today’s virtual worlds are clearly used mostly for fun and games, real virtual worlds have the capacity to alter our lives. (Note: for the sake of brevity, I will onward use virtual worlds or simply worlds.) 

I define real virtual worlds as an aggregate of four factors: 

A 3D World – A three dimensional representation, th at is viewable from various perspectives, it is active, and reactive. 

In a virtual world viewers can see objects like avatars, houses, and cars. The world has land, a sky, a sun (maybe more than one), wind, gravity, water, and fire. Avatars move around freely, and the user can examine the world from different points of view. Further, the world is active (including moving objects), and reactive (objects can act in a similar way as they do in the physical world). 

  1. Community – Set of tools that allow communities to operate (i ncluding groups, sub groups, permissions, leadership, friends, etc). Virtual worlds allow users, via their avatars, to meet, chat, shop, watch performances, hang out with friends, team up to fight bad guys, go clubbing ... in other words, to interact in countless ways. Within “community,” I include related concepts such as gro ups, permissions, rights, and roles.
  2. Creation – Set of tools that allow users to create in-world, or import content from the real world. Creation includes actions such as arranging, creating, re-purposing, and performing. Creation refers to both objects and services. Second Life’s (SL) greatest technological achievement was giving users the capability to develop their own objects in world interactively. Users can simply move preconstructed objects from one place to another (say, to furnish a home or set up a nightclub), or they may assemble an object (e.g., a house) from basic components, such as walls and ceilings, and then “paint” them with various textur es. SL’s programming language, Linden Script Language, even allows users to program behavioral attributes for their objects, so that fish can swim in schools, golf balls can arc through the air, guns can shoot, and people can dance (as the script activates the animation).
  3. Commerce – The ability to connect with real money, including payment, transfer of funds from one object/player to another, and facility to transfer money between the virtual world to the real world. As an example, SL’s maker, Linden Lab, has created the Linden Dollar (L$), which has a defined exchange rate with the US dollar (one US$ fluctuates around L$260). This L$ currency is the base for the economy of SL. You can exchange L$ to US$ immediately and at any time at the Linden Exchange. For instance, if you earn L$2,600 from tips, you could exchange them for about US$10, which would be immediately transferred to your real PayPal or bank account. Going the other way, if you need L$5,200 for a new car, you could immediately buy them for about US$20. 

Ultimately, real virtual worlds arise from the integration of 3D, Community, Creation and Commerce. SL reveals the emergence of this integration (and thus I, like others, use this specific world as the primary example of virtual worlds). In SL you will find prices for objects, permissions (i.e., an object may be restricted from being sold), and ownerships. Commerce is embedded into the world. For example, let us assume that we enjoy Beth’s singing (Beth is a real world singer that performs from time to time in SL) and wish to tip her. We point to her and transfer money by clicking a button. If Beth wants to buy a new blouse, she goes to a shop, points to the blouse of her choice and buys it for L$2,000. The blouse is as a unique object in this world, and Beth will not be able to copy it. The shopkeeper will receive L$500 for the blouse, and the blouse manufacturer will receive L$1,500 (in accordance with a previously defined business agreement between them). At the end of the month, the shopkeeper will pay rent to the landowners, also based on a predetermined agreement. 

Second Life is not the only virtual world with a thriving “real” economy. The Entropia Universe also has a cash-based economy (with a fixed rate of 10 “PED” to one US$), and its maker, MindArk PE AB, has even received preliminary approval for an actual banking license by the Swedish Finance Supervisory. This would allow its users to conduct real-world banking transactions from within the Entropia Universe. (Thompson, 2009). IMVU is another example. 

This integration of a 3D world, organized and managed communities, immediate creation capabilities of objects and services, and a virtual commerce which actually becomes real, is the basic allure of SL in particular and of real virtual worlds in general

 

Author: Yesha Sivan

Service economy

We are moving from a product-based society, in which we ‘give something to somebody’, to a service-based society, in which we ‘do something for somebody[1]. The service sector was already 70% of total employment and value added in OECD member countries in 2005[2]. The increasing relevance of the services does not mean that the products will disappear; the old dichotomy between product and service has been replaced by a service-product continuum[3] recognising that products are service enablers and being transformed into services. This transformation is taking place particularly fast in the software domain, where the speed of the changes has always been an intrinsic characteristic of the sector; while ICT Moore’s Law, the yearly doubling of the number of components in integrated circuits, has been true since 1958 for more than half a century; the number of Internet hosts worldwide has grown from 15 sites in 1971 to more than 650 million[4] in just 41 years.

Architecturally, software types can generally be described as belonging to one of the three basic categories: i) applications, ii) operating systems, or iii) middleware’, ‘a particular category of software is embedded software[5] which is frequently understood as a part of a product. Customised and tailored developments could also be considered an additional category. This software classification has been frequently used for positioning the industry actors according to their core software business; packaged software, products embedding software or computer services. Additionally, in-house developments are frequently justified in many non-software organisations due to the increasing importance for supporting the business.

Networking is dramatically changing the software landscape. The software cannot be understood as something to be delivered in isolated computing islands. Internet has brought a new category of organisations with a core business based on software deployment on the new global infrastructure. Open source is playing a key enabler role for the fast development of Internet based services with currently more than 75% of the web servers based on open source[6]. New requirements addressed by web standards, scalability and optimisation/automation of operation, are leading the development of a new generation of service platforms. Virtualisation technologies are contributing importantly to removing physical constraints for providing software on demand. And a new computing paradigm, frequently compared with a utility, like electricity, natural gas or water, is emerging. However, the increasing penetration of the information technology in the traditional utilities and the role of ICT in powering innovation in many other fields lead to foresee a much higher impact than that from all utilities in the past.

The utility-like (i.e. service on demand) approach for complex software infrastructures have significant advantages for the users. Low entry cost and growth on demand allows for small organisations and individuals exploiting the potential of the new platforms for reaching the global market. The recognition of this fact is leading to a fast transformation of the traditional product oriented software. And in the new context operating system, middleware and applications are evolving to Infrastructure, Platform and Application “as a Service”. Once the operating system is finally moving to the net “as a service” other layers are following. Users, human or machines, can also be abstracted in terms of the services that they provide or consume. In this way, the service concept provides a common abstraction for end-to-end service chains.

Similarly to the services in the physical world, digital service economy is driven by the interaction among services based on value propositions. The worth of the data that a service is able to provide is its value in the digital service economy. The network allows for capturing, processing, analysing data and translating it in actions through global service chains. And the concept of a digital economy, anticipated by Nicholas Negroponte (1995)[7], that used the term for representing the shift from processing atoms to processing bits, is rapidly emerging. The possibility of instant generation, replication and global movement of data entities removes the physical barriers of the traditional economy. According to IDC, in 2011, the amount of information created surpassed 1,8 Zettabytes[8] (1,8 trillion gigabytes), more than doubling every two years, and with 70% of the data created by the consumers[9].

 

The new scenario is pushing artificial intelligence technologies to the main stream; human language, information analytics and machine learning are currently key technologies for service development. In the same way that interpersonal communication can be recognized as an important factor in the development of the human intelligence the communication among systems is leading to the digital intelligence. Watson Jeopardy contestant, Siri iphone assistant, Google Now, or Samsung´s S voice are some examples of emerging services building on the web data set and approaching users in human language. This entails a revolutionary change due to the potential of the ICT for providing services previously limited to humans.

The transition of the software main stream from product to service has many other implications as it entails redefining the relationship between software and humans. The transference of ownership in a product entails loosing o reducing substantially the relationship with the user however, in the service approach, the interaction is continuous. The adaptation of service platforms to the users drives them to be social while the user is, for the first time, recognised as an individual. Privacy and security are critical needs in this context[10] as well regulation for avoiding social lock-in risks. The interaction with the real world through service platforms increases their social responsibility in providing a transparent perception of the world. Projects such as SixthSense[11] from MIT Media Lab are representative examples to understand the trends of explicit interface actions being substituted by the natural human behaviour for an intelligent and seamless integration of real, real-virtual, and pure virtual environments.

The digital intelligence powering services based on large data sets seems driving the most important change in the human civilisation. In parallel, the progressive transference of virtual properties to the physical world is making the physical vs. virtual conflicts more visible. In a context of the significant social challenges addressed in this Roadmap it is a great opportunity for our society having such a powerful tool, but it also entails relevant challenges for managing the integration of a world with different behaviour rules.



[1] Revising Europe´s ICT Strategy, Report from the Information Society Technologies Advisory Group (ISTAG), Final version - February 2009

[2] The Service Economy, OECD, Science technology forum, Business and industry policy forum series

[4] www.netcraft.com

[5] Innovation in the Software Sector. Douglas Lippoldt, Piotr Stryszowski. OECD, 23 Nov 2009

[6] www.netcraft.com

[7] Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

[8] 1021 bytes

[10] Designing a Digital Future: Federally funded research and development in networking and information technology. Report to the president and congress. Executive office of the president. President´s council of advisors on science and technology, December 2010

Knowledge-based society

In recent years the sheer amount of information and knowledge available has changed society. As we first spoke of an information society, we can now speak of a knowledge-based economy. It is regarded that information becomes valuable and meaningful because of its context: knowledge.  The timely, easy and reliable accessibility to knowledge can facilitate people in their lives and can speed up the evolution of existing knowledge and the creation of new knowledge.

Entertainment

The main trend of « entertainment » domain can be probably resumed by:

« Anything, anywhere, right away, on any device »

Work efficiency increase so much that we can say we are reaching a society of leisure. Thus, the organization of the society leads to an incredible development of entertainment industry under different forms (TV, audio video, game, communities...).

Indeed, mass entertainment has never been so ubiquitous. Supply of content (films, series...) keeps increasing while access to content has been greatly facilitated (development of fixed and mobile broadband) and made available on an increasing number of devices.

Entertainment activities are key to national economies; they provide an overall positive contribution and often receive significant political support for their cultural aspect. They have a very positive impact on the influence of a country globally and allow creating local, high value added jobs contributing to the local economy.

Challenges are ahead in the entertainment industry. It is an exciting time for consumers, as innovators develop new platforms and devices to entertain, inform and connect users in ways that were only dreamed of a decade ago. The entire industry has been largely transformed by the digital revolution and it appears we are only in the midst of a period of unprecedented media innovation.

Thanks to Hyper-Connectivity, Mobile services are now becoming everywhere and we are entering in a « Connected Society ».

Everybody and everything (Connected ‘things’) will be connected to a network (fixed or wireless). Billions of devices will be interconnected.

The focus on IP television and broadcast streams is getting much stronger. The fact of the existence of a multi-screen environment in the consumer household demands solutions to address on one hand the different format requirements and therefore technologies but also the different preferences for content of the household members. There will be a shift from the traditional, add-financed television to more hybrid IP-based solutions allowing a mixture of Pay-TV, VOD and add-funded free-to-air

People will be able to produce and consume any type of contents on any type of devices according to their location and this consuming trend will bring people to see or hear everything instantly when the event occurs.

Users of interactive television can select from hundreds of channels, thousands of videos and an   increasing number of services including catch-up TV offers, video on demand or various forms of electronic program guides.

This means that video contents will become richer and live contents will grow.

In addition people will ask for more and more high quality contents. After HD and 3D contents at affordable prices, Ultra HD will become certainly a reality.

On this new media world, video content will be king and will certainly bring strong constraints by overloading access networks.

Moreover Contents are massively delivered through Broadcast as well as Unicast (on demand) to satisfy the customer needs, but the access is also migrating from asymmetrical to symmetrical.

Internet connectivity becoming the standard feature in almost all consumer devices in the near future and is getting prepared accordingly.

New end-user devices can also appear bringing new requirements:

  • TV will be live, on-demand and downloadable, with all user actions (such as search, personalization, user settings, recommendations, and favorites) managed in a cloud-based account management environment
  • User will be able to record on any platform, consume on any platform, and access his or her content and account settings on any platform
  • The way that users discover, organize, select, access and watch video will be personalized as much as possible
  • Future media 'consumers' will simply have music, films, TV shows, games, VoD, podcasts, news feeds, podcasts etc. in the cloud paid with either subscription or attention (ads)

 

To allow these evolutions several main researches axis must be taken:

  • Find very efficient compression technologies in order to improve the quality and decrease the required bandwidth, but also to reduce the latency time, mainly for live contents and for immersive applications such as videoconferences.
  • Enable content adaptation in the networks or the access gateway for seamless consumption and adaptation to the devices.
  • Optimize the network connectivity thanks to Next Generation Access Networks, such as LTE/4G and Fiber to the home and symmetrical access.

 

Another paradigm is the multiplication of video contents available everywhere, video services moving in the cloud allowing “pay-as-you-use” business models.

This new trend consisting for broadcasters and operators but also end-users to switch progressively from a capital-cost basis to an operating cost basis will bring additional constraints on content security and bandwidth network management. Another challenge will be also the manipulation of huge databases named “Big Data” thanks to enhanced search tools enabling finding and selection of the right content for end-users.

This concept will allow also people to forget about device compatibility.

 

Broadcasters and operators will have to face the following trends:

  • Channel Aggregation: The creation of channel families will be one major goal. In reality this means one main channel with several thematic sub-channels (e,g, M6 with W9, Téva, Premiere, etc.). These channels can be delivered either via traditional broadcast or IP, based on the most conveniently available infrastructure. Also those channels could be, depending on the market, country and legislation either free-to-air or Pay-TV or mixture of both.
  • Catch-up TV: more nonlinear content will become an important source of revenue. The delivery will be via Internet portals, Smart-TVs and apps for tablet or phone. Same as before based on each market the content could be offered as subscription or for free on different content platforms.
  • Content Rights Management, Content Protection: If content is offered via third party portals (IP) solution have to be found to prevent content aggregators from eliminating logos, water markings or other identifiers. This kind of branding is highly important for the protected content the group owns rights for.  Currently many aggregation platforms eliminate the owner identification and violate by this the initial producer and broadcaster rights.
  • Add protection: Commercials and ad’s are vital for mainly free-to-air programs. Add blockers however, allow eliminating them and by this putting the relevant business models at stake. Solutions are needed to prevent this and weld the commercials inseparable with the content and by this making it impossible to fade them out.
  • Intelligent add management: Based on viewer behavior, ad’s should be made available. For instance the amount of commercials during a program should be adapted to the tendency of the user to switch channels if they occur. Also the type of commercials should be targeted according to the user profile but also the way an add is presented on the different screens taking into account that some adds look different on big high resolution TV screens and on Smart phones.

 

On this new ways for end-users to produce and consume contents, we must also notice several major modifications carrying new available services:

  • We foresee that TV will just be a screen (and not the main screen- so the definition for the “second screen” will become more vague) and all the value will be in the cloud, because that is where the content is going to be stored, searched, streamed, and shared.
  • End-users will ask for enhanced interaction between devices such as TV displays, Tablets or smartphones and why not game consoles, but also interaction with the content itself. Intuitive interaction and ease of use is predominant in this future. The younger generations are expecting the same ease of use on their TVs as in their mobiles and touch‐pads. Multi‐touch screens, audio/speech interfaces and more futuristic brain/machine interfaces will create a more direct dialogue between users and the machine. We can also foresee, in the same spirit, than Apps, which have made a big impression on smartphones and tablets, will become the preferred method to lead consumers to new entertainment and information services via connected TV devices. These Apps must help the navigation and route people to on-line contents.
  • End-users will wish also to get immersive shared experience, which will become feasible thanks to technological advances mixing real and virtual environments and adding geo-location facilities for example in Tourism and Cultural sectors.
  • In addition to these major trends, the connection between personal entertainment and social networks will become probably very strong and will allow, for example, new content recommendations systems based on community networks.

 

However, even in this evolving context, television is still the number one media worldwide. With an average global rate of almost 9 TV sets per 10 inhabitants, television is by far the most ubiquitous mass media globally. And opposing common beliefs, the Internet has a positive impact on TV, as it enables the reception of TV on computers and mobile end devices (smartphones, tablets...). It paves the way for two new developments: TV as a mobile experience and the simultaneous use of TV and Internet.

To make this happens; there would be obviously plenty of societal, economic and technical challenges.

Societally, the so-called "generation Y" is leading the way with new technologies and applications of social media in how they view content, both on and off-line. However, previous generations are adapting at a slower pace and taking more into consideration all the side impacts of this ubiquity (less privacy, security...). The TV producers/broadcasters will have to adapt to these different needs.

Economically, digital content distribution is becoming increasingly complex with different business models introduced to create value for both content owners and distributors. Moreover, this will be true at the world level, as the industry is increasingly eyeing emerging economies.

Technically, emerging technologies, which give the opportunity for new and existing players to add more value to the industry, drives most of these challenges.

For instance, in order to offer consumers to watch one’s favourite series on any device anytime, TV operators will need to migrate part, to all, their infrastructure in the cloud.

Besides, operators are increasingly able to tackle the "beyond HD" world, thanks to the emergence of more efficient codec (e.g. HEVC) and new distribution approach (MPEG DASH).

To cope with this increasing use of video, the network will have to upgrade as well thanks to the advent of new technologies (LTE, Wimax...), especially in the emerging markets.

We can already see "where the puck is going". Tomorrow’s television will be connected to the Web, one’s friends, and the smart home’s consumer electronics. It will be everywhere – anytime, anyplace, on any device.

 

Author: Patrick Schwartz

Contributions: Claude Perron, Damien Alliez, François Rabaey, Frank Jaeger, Gürkan Üstünkar

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