Tag Archives: Virtual Worlds

The Biggest Problem with “Crisis Maps”

I enjoy thinking about the different analogies one can use to describe crisis mapping. I’ve likened crisis mapping to the Nascza Lines here and to cymatics here, for example. In a recent interview with Reuters/Alertnet (published here), I used the following analogy:

“Crisis mapping is to the humanitarian space what x-rays are to emergency rooms.”

I wanted to find an analogy that would steer clear of technical jargon and capture the public’s imagination. I thought through several analogies before the interview. For example, I debated using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as analogy instead of x-rays since, well, it’s a more accurate comparison.

Why?

Have a look at the first minute of this rather amusing video, which first shows some x-ray pictures and then MRI scans.

MRI scans provide “quantitative, real-time, thermal images of the treated area” (1). All x-rays do is display static, albeit still useful, information. It’s a bit like comparing today’s high-speed digital video cameras with the cameras of bygone days that produced black and white photographs.

I thought about these analogies again this evening while walking home from MIT’s conference on data visualization. That’s when something very obvious dawned on me. The biggest problem with crisis maps is the word “maps”. The majority of the world’s population including myself associate maps with printed maps—no thanks to pirates.

Source: artfiles.art.com

Source: artfiles.art.com

The term “animated map” almost seems like an oxymoron, much like the word “airbus” must have come across when the company was founded 40 years ago. For you fellow Harry Potter fans, perhaps the best way to describe what I’m trying to convey is by referring to The Daily Prophet, the magical newspaper whose articles include moving pictures. Or perhaps the magical Marauder’s map which tracks the movement of students and teachers at Hogwarts in real-time.

Source: newlaunches.com

Source: newlaunches.com

Fictional protagonists aside, Albert Einstein was spot on when he wrote:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

We know a lot about maps but if we were to play the word association game we’d likely come up with static descriptions rather than words associated with moving pictures. The time slider feature on Google Earth is perhaps starting to shift people’s conception of maps. Hans Rosling‘s work with Gapminder is also stirring our imagination since he talks about time series data much like a sports commentator describes a horse race (see his really neat TED talk here).

source: google earth

source: google earth

But we’re even more trapped by our archaic conception of maps than we realize. Playing the word association game with the word “map” may conjure Google Earth’s time slider for a few neogeographers, but I doubt that anyone would blurt out “3D!” for example. And yet, that’s what some of us crisis mappers are increasingly thinking about.

Google invited me to participate in a full-day workshop at their DC office last week and sure enough they told us to expect that all structures (e.g., buildings, mountains) on Google Earth would be rendered in 3D within about 2 years. The team is looking to integrate Mapmaker, My Maps, and Sketch-Up with Google Earth. And we already know they have a great flight simulator.

Source: gizmodo

Source: gizmodo

Now compare the above screenshot of Google Earth with a screenshot of Simcity 4 below. And then, of course, there’s also Second Life, and more recently live video integrated into Google Earth.

SimCity4

In the meantime, the most accurate 3D map of any city on Earth has just been created using very high resolution lasers—some 7 million individual points of light to be exact. You could call this the best MRI of a terrestrial city yet!

I’ve already blogged about crisis maps evolving into 3D virtual worlds with live data feeds and agent-based models for scenario development, simulation and forecasting:

  • 3D Crisis Mapping for Disaster Simulation Training (link)
  • GeoTime: Visual Crisis Mapping in 3D (link)

All these systems are part of the evolving info webs I recently blogged about. But the italicized attributes above hardly come to mind when we hear the word map. And I think this is biggest problem with the term “crisis maps.” Perhaps we should come up with an entirely new term. But coming back to my interview with Reuters/Alertnet, a new more accurate term would simply add more technical jargon and definitely lose the public’s imagination (and mine with it).

So I’ve got an alternative “solution” … maybe. We keep the word map, or rather M.A.P.S. Yes, that’s right “Crisis MAPS.” All we need now is to be as creative as InSTEDD and find a way to fit this acronym with something sensible.

So how’s this?

Crisis MAPS = Crisis Movies and Platform Simulations

Patrick Philippe Meier

The Biggest Problem with “Crisis Maps”

I enjoy thinking about the different analogies one can use to describe crisis mapping. I’ve likened crisis mapping to the Nascza Lines here and to cymatics here, for example. In a recent interview with Reuters/Alertnet (published here), I used the following analogy:

“Crisis mapping is to the humanitarian space what x-rays are to emergency rooms.”

I wanted to find an analogy that would steer clear of technical jargon and capture the public’s imagination. I thought through several analogies before the interview. For example, I debated using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as analogy instead of x-rays since, well, it’s a more accurate comparison.

Why?

Have a look at the first minute of this rather amusing video, which first shows some x-ray pictures and then MRI scans.

MRI scans provide “quantitative, real-time, thermal images of the treated area” (1). All x-rays do is display static, albeit still useful, information. It’s a bit like comparing today’s high-speed digital video cameras with the cameras of bygone days that produced black and white photographs.

I thought about these analogies again this evening while walking home from MIT’s conference on data visualization. That’s when something very obvious dawned on me. The biggest problem with crisis maps is the word “maps”. The majority of the world’s population including myself associate maps with printed maps—no thanks to pirates.

The term “animated map” almost seems like an oxymoron, much like the word “airbus” must have come across when the company was founded 40 years ago. For you fellow Harry Potter fans, perhaps the best way to describe what I’m trying to convey is by referring to The Daily Prophet, the magical newspaper whose articles include moving pictures. Or perhaps the magical Marauder’s map which tracks the movement of students and teachers at Hogwarts in real-time.

Source: newlaunches.com

Source: newlaunches.com

Fictional protagonists aside, Albert Einstein was spot on when he wrote:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

We know a lot about maps but if we were to play the word association game we’d likely come up with static descriptions rather than words associated with moving pictures. The time slider feature on Google Earth is perhaps starting to shift people’s conception of maps. Hans Rosling‘s work with Gapminder is also stirring our imagination since he talks about time series data much like a sports commentator describes a horse race (see his really neat TED talk here).

source: google earth

source: google earth

But we’re even more trapped by our archaic conception of maps than we realize. Playing the word association game with the word “map” may conjure Google Earth’s time slider for a few neogeographers, but I doubt that anyone would blurt out “3D!” for example. And yet, that’s what some of us crisis mappers are increasingly thinking about.

Google invited me to participate in a full-day workshop at their DC office last week and sure enough they told us to expect that all structures (e.g., buildings, mountains) on Google Earth would be rendered in 3D within about 2 years. The team is looking to integrate Mapmaker, My Maps, and Sketch-Up with Google Earth. And we already know they have a great flight simulator.

Source: gizmodo

Source: gizmodo

Now compare the above screenshot of Google Earth with a screenshot of Simcity 4 below. And then, of course, there’s also Second Life, and more recently live video integrated into Google Earth.

SimCity4

In the meantime, the most accurate 3D map of any city on Earth has just been created using very high resolution lasers—some 7 million individual points of light to be exact. You could call this the best MRI of a terrestrial city yet!

I’ve already blogged about crisis maps evolving into 3D virtual worlds with live data feeds and agent-based models for scenario development, simulation and forecasting:

  • 3D Crisis Mapping for Disaster Simulation Training (link)
  • GeoTime: Visual Crisis Mapping in 3D (link)

All these systems are part of the evolving info webs I recently blogged about. But the italicized attributes above hardly come to mind when we hear the word map. And I think this is biggest problem with the term “crisis maps.” Perhaps we should come up with an entirely new term. But coming back to my interview with Reuters/Alertnet, a new more accurate term would simply add more technical jargon and definitely lose the public’s imagination (and mine with it).

So I’ve got an alternative “solution” … maybe. We keep the word map, or rather M.A.P.S. Yes, that’s right “Crisis MAPS.” All we need now is to be as creative as InSTEDD and find a way to fit this acronym with something sensible.

So how’s this?

Crisis MAPS = Crisis Movies and Platform Simulations

Patrick Philippe Meier

Virtual Worlds Explained

My interest in Virtual Worlds was recently sparked by Caja Thimm’s fascinating research on Second Life (SL) and Larry Pixa’s intriguing work on simulation platforms for disaster training. I was therefore eager to read David Wyld’s new report on “Government in 3D” which explains the in’s and out’s of virtual worlds.

What follows is a series of short excerpts that I found particularly interesting. These range from terrorism and money laundering to game-wide epidemics and the role of the media in virtual worlds.

The Past and Future of Virtual Worlds

  • The US military originally developed the term “serious games” as a more acceptable way to talk about war games with Congress and the public.
  • Simulations for military training can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire, with Roman commanders’ “sand tables” which were a small copy of the physical battlefield used by commanders to test their battle strategies.
  • Just as the radio gave way to the more immersive experience of television, today’s flat, single-user websites will morph into more interactive, immersive multiple-user experiences.
  • There is a growing belief that virtual worlds may well replace the web browser as the way we interface with the Internet. The web allows you to call up information but the virtual environment allows you to experience and visualize data.
  • The word avatar has a specific historic and religious significance, taken to mean in the Hindu tradition the physical embodiment of a divine being.
  • There will be a market need for helping people manage their digital identities.
  • One of the distinct challenges for organizations operating in virtual-world environments will be to make their interface and content available on mobile devices.
  • There will be a need for verifiable data on virtual worlds and activity within them. This will present a collosal market opportunity for firms seeking to become the “Nielsen Ratings” equivalent for virtual worlds and for companies that make it easier to capture quantifiable metrics from these sites.
  • Research will in time become one of the primary products of virtual worlds as we’re building petri dishes for social science with environments such as Second Life.
  • If in five years, Second Life experience is as good as watching the movie Shrek, there will be uses for it that we don’t understand yet.

Intelligence and Terrorism in Virtual Worlds

  • The new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) office is setting up a virtual world code-named “Babel Bridge” in which members of the intelligence community could securely meet, interact, and exchange information such as audio files and images from spy satellites. This “digital war room” is expected to facilitate collaboration and decision-making.
  • Second Life has drawn attention from the FBI and other agencies on matters such as gambling and money laundering.
  • Terrorism in one form or another has been a part of Second Life for some time. Among the terrorist incidents in-world have been bombings at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s headquarters and the Reebok store, a shooting at an American Apparel store, and a helicopter being flown into the Nissan building.
  • Real-world terrorists’ use of virtual worlds is a growing concern. Intelligence experts have speculated that virtual worlds will be conducive for real-world terrorist groups to recruit, organize, and even simulate possible attacks.
  • The “Reynard Project“, a proposal by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (ODNI) would seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
  • Some are concerned that virtual worlds provide terrorists with an anonymous arena in which to swap information—and even funds, as virtual-world currencies can be potentially used to move money around the globe in a relatively hard-to-detect manner.
  • The Maldives, Sweden, Estonia, Kazakhstan and Serbia each have embassies in Second Life.

Training and Simulations in Virtual Worlds

  • Crisis response training in virtual environments can provide unique learning strategies. For example, if first responders in a simulated environment fail to put on their reflective jacket when approaching the scene of an accident, their avatar may be hit by a car—a negative reinforcement that could not occur in a real-life training.
  • A disease called “Corrupted Blood” was unleashed into World of Warcraft in 2005 to be a hindrance to act as a hindrance to high-level players as they battled a powerful creature named Hakkar. However, the infection quickly spread by characters moving throughout the game (as in a real-life epidemic), causing an uncontrolled, game-wide pandemic. This episode was addressed as a case study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, showing lessons that could be learned by real-world epidemiologists and health professionals.
  • In-world activities can pay positive health dividends for the real person behind the avatar. Indeed studies have shown that individuals having their avatars excercise in virtual worlds are more likely to engage in excercise in real life.

Finance and Economy in Virtual Worlds

  • Visitors in Second Life (SL) can exchange their real dollars for Linden Dollars and vice versa. The size of the SL economy has been estimated at $300 million or more, meaning its virtual economy is larger than the gross domestic product of some real nations.
  • There is more trade in Linden Dollars and exchanges between Linden and other currencies than many real-world currencies.
  • There have been well-publicized success stories of Second Life entrepreneurs, including most notably Anshe Chung, a German citizen, who is the first real-life millionaire based on being one of the largest owners of virtual real estate in Second Life.
  • An analysis published in the Harvard Business Review estimates that in-world sales of virtual goods dwarf the external trade of such items−by 20 times more.
  • Second Life had difficulty with “banks” operating in the virtual world, unfettered by real-world banking regulations, reserve requirements, and interest rates in the low single digits. In fact, it had been labeled a “Wild West” financial atmosphere, replete with banks appearing and disappearing, and with virtual bank runs.
  • One of the biggest parts of the Second Life economy in its formative stage was gambling.

Media and Film in Virtual Worlds

  • The news media today are not just reporting on Second Life; they are reporting directly from Second Life. The Reuters news agency has embedded a reporter in-world for over three years. CNN launched a bureau in Second Life, a virtual version of it’s I-Report, whereby Second Life residents routinely submit their news stories and photos of in-world news and events.
  • Machinima is a new type of computer animation (or videos) created entirely within the confines of a virtual world. The term is based on the phrase “machine cinema” and machinima videos can either capture unscripted, live action or can follow scripts and actual plots as determined by the machinima filmaker.

Patrick Philippe Meier