Let us travel to an online world that will be possible sooner than you think.
You come home one day and settle down at your computer for a little online socializing, Virtual Reality style. While you're still stuck interacting with cyberspace using a keyboard, mouse and plain old computer monitor, you've been drooling over the stereoscopic heads-up displays and 3D mice that are starting to come into your price range.
The first virtual environment you decide to visit is your private home in cyberspace, running here on your own PC. It is a comfortable and light room seemingly placed on a small island in the middle of a tranquil, moon-lit sea. In one corner is a small old fashioned roll-top desk. You move to the desk and it opens after you give the passphrase. In the desk are three spherical objects on small pedastals, globes which represent some of your work projects. By clicking on one of the shimmering spheres, you can transport yourself to a collaborative workspace shared with your collegues to communicate and manipulate visual models of your work. Behind the globes is a set of little drawers with brass knobs and small neat labels. By activating the knobs, you can call up various applications: elaborate webs of icons representing email discussions, web and database search agents, libraries of 3D objects, the interface to a distributed music jukebox system hooked up to your home stereo, as well as various other tools and services.
However now you are not interested in working, but in some socializing and relaxing. Checking your bookmarks, you decide to go to the virtual coffee shop. You could be instantly transported anywhere you like in the metaverse, but coffee shop regulars are known for their lively discussion and debate on a variety of subjects. After a mouse click and a couple moments of waiting for things to download, you appear at the entrance to the coffee shop.
Looking around, you see the shop consists of a small bar at one end, several chairs and tables, and a large and improbable-looking collection of instruments being played by a many-armed robotic musician. A cloud of tiny dancing monkeys swarms around the musician. The walls are decorated with the digital artwork of several regulars, but you notice that several panels are blank. Hmm... Her server must be down. You glance about the room for avatars you recognize. Now, the fact that someone looks a particular way does not actually mean he or she is the same person you talked to last week, but a quick cryptographic handshake and checking of public keys verifies that no one is trying to fool you today.
Hagbard (whose avatar depicts him wearing slacks, a tweed coat and a beret) is having a heated discussion with The Mad Jester (a gigantic, creepy laughing clown head) and Veronica (a robot of the 1950s B-movie cardboard box sort) over the politics of government interference in cyberspace. They are pretty into it, and you decide not to get involved quite yet. So you walk over to the bar, you order a virtual cup of coffee from the bartender-agent. It's purely a symbolic gesture, but it adds to the coffee shop ambiance. You settle into a corner to watch the argument.
Spotting an acquaintance, you guide your avatar over next to him. Unfortunately, Chuck doesn't seem to be paying attention to his terminal right now — he has a sign floating above his avatar's head that reads "lurking". You look around the room a bit more, taking a minute to appreciate the pulsating fractal that adorns one of the walls. Noticing the background music has stopped, you click on the robotic musician. The playlist agent presents you with a list of songs it has, or the option of playing a song from your own computer's jukebox system. You decide to put on "Cascade" by the Future Sound of London, and everyone connected to the room's music stream begins to listen.
In the middle of the room Hagbard and The Mad Jester have given up on civilized discourse and started throwing furniture. In the process, a cup of coffee is knocked flying. The cup rolls across the floor by your feet, still full of coffee — flying furniture is one thing, but simulating liquid spilling all over the place would take too much processing time and bandwidth! The altercation only lasts for a moment, as The Mad Jester turns off his physics simulation and flies up to the ceiling. He hovers by one of the slowly spinning ceiling fans and begins to flood the chat channel with obnoxious laugher. Moments later he vanishes, delinked from the world. It seems he forgot Hagbard was the sysadmin for this room.
Conversation turns to other subjects, and you lose interest. You were considering going through your bookmarks and jumping to another world when you notice a cupboard placed against one wall that you had not seen before. On a hunch, you walk over and fling the doors open. Sure enough, your network usage spikes as the data for a new world is downloaded. Still standing in the coffee shop, you peer through the cupboard portal out into a forest. It is a beautiful bright day. Through the pine trees are rolling wild meadows, buzzing with insects and birds. Just beyond a rise, you spy a tall white castle. What looks like a dragon lazily circles the castle, high up in the air. Feeling adventurous, you step through...