Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Don't Disturb

Teleportation was never going to work. Forget wormholes, stargates and matter transmitters, the actual road to instantaneous travel was virtual – a combination of telepresence, teleoperation and animatronics.

The earliest steps were uncannily-human robot dolls. Some people think it was all driven by the “adult” market, but a primitive ‘Albert Einstein’, which had the full gamut of emotional responses married to an ‘Asimo’ body, was demonstrated as early as 2009 (see the video below).

As wireless broadband became ubiquitous, it became possible to teleoperate a humanoid form which could be configured to look just like you.

This is how it worked. You climbed into a capsule in your home office and closed the lid. The device would deliver clear visual and auditory input from the remote mannequin, while sensors would transmit movement to the remote humanoid to speak and make gestures. The illusion of remote presence was complete, both for the user and the local audience.

There was only one difficulty. At the end of a meeting, there was usually a “comfort break” in which the people who were actually there would repair to the washroom. Back home, this was also an opportunity to leave the capsule, but what happened to the avatar meanwhile?

People took to providing benches in an alcove near the washrooms where the avatar would be sat down while its operator decamped. To show a lack of ‘occupancy’, there was a special orientation shown below: this was called “Thinking”.

An unoccupied avatar

When an avatar was in a temporary vacant mode, people would say ironically, “Oh, Peter’s thinking”. This really caught on, and became a bit of a joke. People would adopt the posture when they didn’t want to be disturbed.

Funny really. When the whole cumbersome technology became obsolete, that one gesture survived. We still do it today when we want to chill out: face drooping forward, fist under chin ... I’m thinking.