Replicate the physical

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Shopping at stores in the virtual world Second Life (Image copyright 2003, Linden Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Many virtual places are likely to resemble physical places. There could be virtual art galleries, or virtual stores that looked like physical stores, where you could virtually stroll the aisles and fill your virtual cart with tokens of goods. We would understand how to deal with this through analogies to familiar physical places. However, eventually virtual places will develop patterns that have no physical counterparts. Virtual spaces could have wild geometries and counterintuitive features, as when a small house on the side of the street is much larger inside, or when immediate jumps take you to widely separated virtual areas. Arthur C. Clarke describes a virtual assembly hall where each participant views the assembly from a position directly in front of the speaker's podium, and sees the other members sitting around. (Clarke 1956) Such a hall could not exist in physical space. Such fictional examples provide promises of a supposedly great future, but that future will bring surprises. It is awkward to read 1950s science fiction in which a far future hero suddenly pulls out a slide rule. Our visions of virtual reality may eventually seem as outdated, but the moral and political issues the fictions raise can still be important.