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Tech Q&A

Wagner James Au

Describe your latest project.
The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World is my book about the creation of the 3D, user-created virtual world called Second Life. For three years, I was a contract writer with Linden Lab, the software company that built it — they hired me as their "embedded journalist" to chronicle its development as users (called Residents) began entering, and forming a society within it. I left to write the book, and continue following the world's evolution on my own blog, New World Notes. I cover the wars the Residents fought, the societies they built, and the businesses, art, and other innovations they made, to turn it into a real place with real wealth and sense of community. In the process, hopefully I explain why Second Life gets so much media coverage, and why many people believe it's a glimpse of the Internet's next generation.

  1. The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World
    $0.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Au's book is full of rich details about some of Second Life's most important people." New York Post

    "[A] comprehensive account that shows why Second Life may be the next great frontier and why it is so appealing to individuals and enterprises worldwide." Library Journal

What inspires you to sit down and write?
The Residents (i.e. subscribers) of Second Life, who constantly surprise me with their inventions, creativity, and dynamic culture. I love writing about what they do for a larger readership, and pointing out how these subjects relate to important issues in the broader Internet and the real world — because they often do.

Chess or video games?
Video games, of course.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
Douglas Adams, but I have to give Scott props for making an appearance in Second Life where he let fans clobber his avatar. Of course, a guy showed up as Dilbert and assaulted him.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
Consumer-priced 3D printers, which will do a lot to revolutionize our basic forms of goods production. Imagine designing a tool or piece of furniture you need in a 3D world like Second Life, then being able to print it up and use in a matter of minutes. Imagine doing that for someone on the other side of the world.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Richard Feynman; I've always admired his eternally curious intellect which jumped from subject to subject. All his wild partying would be fun, too.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
Believable and efficient artificial intelligence. But I'm also a little afraid of what happens when our AIs are just as appealing as real people.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
The US is still ahead, but unfortunately, that's often in spite of ourselves — we don't support our educational system enough, in my opinion, but there's still abundant ambition and drive in this country (especially among recent immigrants) to maintain an edge. In the next ten years, however, here's an interesting thought: Virtual worlds like Second Life will be seen as independent countries, and they will be on the cutting edge of science and technology. I know of numerous first-rate programmers, engineers, and physicists who use SL as their laboratory now (NASA has a whole virtual base there), and that trend will only continue in the coming years.

Wagner James Au

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Wagner James Au has written about high-tech culture for more than ten years, and has been, at various times, a freelance reporter, a metaverse consultant, a game developer, a screenwriter, and most pertinent, a white-suited avatar named "Hamlet Au," the first embedded journalist in a virtual world, beginning in 2003. His work in Second Life has been cited or profiled in the New York Times, the BBC, CNN International, NPR, Wired, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post, among many other publications and television programs. Originally from Kailua, Hawaii, he now lives in San Francisco, California.

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