I have dreamed about virtual reality since I was a teenager. In those dreams, I am floating in the darkness of empty space, but with no need for a spacesuit. On my belt there are tools; I use one to create great walls made of stone. I move and size them effortlessly, like using the Force.
On waking, I wondered what such a place would look like if many other people could do the same things. I imagined some economy that would unify all this work into a single, unknowable space. Whether it was tinkering with body suits or building networked software, I've spent my working life chasing that dream.
In 1999, right when broadband internet access became available, I created Second Life, my first attempt at making this dream real. And it did become something amazing: with a land mass about the size of Los Angeles and about a million people creating manydesigns and experiences. But the problem was that it was too hard.
The mouse offers only two degrees of freedom: up and down, side to side. To use that mouse for design, particularly 3D, you must learn to map your ambitions into those two degrees. That fact has stopped almost everyone from using it for spatial design.
But that is all about to change. By the end of 2016, you'll be able to buy two high-quality VR devices with full motion capture of the hands, in addition to head-mounted displays. For a designer, these devices will offer 18 degrees of freedom, in comparison to the two you get from a mouse. Just watch the amazing videos of Disney animator Glenn Keane usingTilt Brush to draw Ariel floating in space, and you will immediately get it.
This is barely scratching the surface: in the coming months, software engineers will figure out the best ways to do everything we have historically done with the 2D tools in 3D painting, sculpting, drafting and other kinds of design.
We will need to re-learn some things to take advantage of this revolution. Our brains will probably need to learn, for example, to move our arms and bodies as accurately as we've learned to move our mouse-holding wrists. But there is plenty of evidence around neural plasticity to suggest this will be nothing but a small bump in the road.
Three-dimensional artists and designers will now have a tool that is articulate, predictable and, perhaps most importantly, delightful. At our offices in San Francisco, we see this delight any time we strap the HTC Vive on to an artist for the first time.
In fact, we are about to see a Cambrian explosion of widely available 3D content. The rapidly expanding availability of VR equipment (almost certainly there will be millions of active creators in the next two years) and live places to build inside (which is what we are working on at High Fidelity) will allow almost everything you can imagine to be built, in a manner similar to how YouTubecreated an explosion in online video content.
Want to walk around inside the pyramids? Hundreds of people will have built them for you. Or dive amid those strange glowing fish? This will all be built within the first few months.
If we connected together, as servers, all the desktop computersnow connected to the internet, it would already create a space the size and detail of Earth's surface. And then we'll rapidly fill it with our creations. This Cambrian explosion in creating spaces may result in digital places that are far larger, more complex and more unknowable than the world we call home today.
Our fecundity in digital design may leave us removing those funny helmets to return to a physical world that we begin to regard as quaint - but no longer the place we go to imagine the future.
Written by Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life and High Fidelity