Philip Rosedale's Second Life with High Fidelity

"Moore's Law means that at some point the richness and detail of virtual and augmented reality experiences will rival and surpass the real world," Rosedale says.

Dan Farber
2 min read
High Fidelity and Second Life founder Philip Rosedale Dan Farber

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Philip Rosedale's second act could be a 3D virtual world that will feel like real life in terms of the speed of interaction, use body tracking sensors for more life-like avatars, and apply the compute power of tens of millions of devices contributed by end users, rather than tens of thousands of servers, to power the world.

Rosedale, who created Second Life in 2000 and which still has about a million users, spoke at the Augmented World Expo here Tuesday. He declined to say exactly what his new company, High Fidelity, is up to, but gave several hints about what he is obsessing about as his new virtual world environment evolves.

"We have to capture enough data to make the connection between two individuals work," Rosedale said, regarding the virtual interactions. He is counting on Moore's Law, which posits transistor densities doubling every 18 months, continuing, which means more horsepower and bandwidth available to reduce latency.

"Moore's Law means that at some point the richness and detail of virtual and augmented reality experience will rival and surpass the real world," he proclaimed. "With millions of computers, not even the rainforest can hold off what we do."

Surpassing the real world has its limitations Rosedale admits. "There are aspects of the human experience and thinking, and one-to-one interaction, that we will never capture. Smell is hard to do, but sound and visuals...if the latency is low enough, we can make it as good as or better than the real world. There are all kinds of problems with sound -- the way it bounces off walls or if people turn away, and I can fix that," he said. By low latency, he means 50 to 100 milliseconds. By comparison a cellphone has about a 450 millisecond lag between speaking and receiving.

Rosedale expects that within five years, any mobile device will be able to interact with massively detailed virtual worlds in real time. "The impact of the virtual world and fusion with real world...all of this stuff is early and its not small. There are so many places to push hard on," Rosedale said.

High Fidelity is pushing hard and Rosedale is eager to see what becomes of his new creation, and who or what becomes the first "winner" in the new virtual world. He pondered whether the colonizers who survive and thrive in the new world will be like the pilgrims of Williamsburg in America, or will they fashion a more simplified version of earth. "It's a fascinating question. The future [of virtual and augmented reality] is infinite and almost completely unexplored," he concluded.

Early High Fidelity demo of avatar controlled by sensors

Rosedale doesn't have a timeline for introducing his new virtual environment. "We have 10 people and we are experimenting. It depends on how successful we are with the sensors and servers," he said.