From FAS Virtual Worlds Almanac
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bombs. These scientists recognized that science had become central to many key public policy questions. They believed that scientists had a unique responsibility to both warn the public and policy leaders of potential dangers from scientific and technical advances and to show how good policy could increase the benefits of new scientific knowledge.
With 69 Nobel Laureates on its Board of Sponsors, FAS provides timely, nonpartisan technical analysis on complex global issues that hinge on science and technology. Priding itself on agility and an ability to bring together people from many disciplines and organizations, the organization often addresses critical policy topics that are not well covered by other organizations.
Harnessing Virtual Worlds for Arts and Humanities Scholarship
In recent years, scholars in the arts and humanities have begun to embrace emerging technologies to overcome persistent obstacles and advance their research. New generations of technologies are already on the horizon, promising further capabilities to help arts and humanities scholars address important research questions. One such technology is next generation virtual world (VW) platforms. VW platforms have already been used to enable experts from higher education, museums, and the performing arts to collaborate in creating persistent simulations of objects and sites that played a key role in the history of art and culture. VW platforms may also permit entirely new dimensions of scholarly communication, overcoming barriers to communication and collaboration among humanistic disciplines and between the humanities and sciences.
These potential scholarly payoffs of VW-based inquiry are predicated on the possibility that VWs can generate "conceptual collisions," as previously disconnected knowledge sources and research techniques are brought into contact. Such conceptual collisions, and the sustained research and learning opportunities in them, hold great promise for advancing scholarly work in the arts and humanities. With them, VWs become a remarkable new platform for advancing humanistic and other scholarship; without them, scholars may have few or no sustainable incentives to use the technologies. Our long-range objective is to explore the question of whether these conceptual collisions in fact exist, and in sufficient quality and quantity to drive sustainable scholarly interest. The best way to find out is to build a VW, populate it with projects that are highly likely to generate such collisions, and observe and analyze the results.
The FAS Learning Technologies Project, in partnership with SRI, International has embarked on an eight-month planning project to convene a series of three summit meetings that will bring together leading international humanities scholars, digital humanities researchers, college and university IT staff, digital library experts, and experts in VW technologies.
The objectives of this project are (a) to establish a coalition from among the participants that is committed to building and using a VW-based digital research environment to address a set of interesting and important research questions in the arts and humanities, and (b) to formulate a set of design requirements for VWs that are highly likely to create conceptual collisions that illuminate important research questions in arts and humanities disciplines. In addition to the learning generated by the summits, the cumulative result of these sessions will be a proposal for a virtual worlds project having the potential to frame and inform further work and scholarship across the humanities.