Suddenly, an odd thought struck me while I was reading one of Terry Pratchett’s books. That happens sometimes, but more often when reading a Pratchett. When it struck me, I thought: “in a virtual world, you can easily do things that are virtually impossible”.
Virtual literally means “not physically existing”. A virtual world is synthetic because it is artificially created by software. Software that runs on clouds perhaps. Fairy tale style magic would be very plausible in a virtual world. Anyone could do it. Nothing special. Hardly marvelous at all.
When something is virtually impossible to achieve, we mean to say that we will probably not succeed in achieving that something. Virtual now has the same meaning as “almost” or “potential”.
Today, in our current phase of human evolution, we can only theoretically “beam” people from one physical location to another. It has been researched, and so far the scientists can only beam a single hydrogen molecule. In the process of doing that, the original molecule is taken apart and a snapshot of its complete physical and energetic state is stored in memory. Then a new molecule is constructed and “revived” with the snapshot that is in memory. The details are probably a bit more complex, but the process boils down to the above. Here’s why it is virtually impossible to beam people: we don’t have enough memory yet to store the snapshot of a single human being, nor the computing power needed to conduct that beaming process in mere seconds.
But in a virtual world “beaming” is trivial. So it is virtually possible. But then again, our current virtual worlds are pathetically unrealistic. Sure, they will get better and better over time. But something tells me that the rendering of a virtual world which humans can’t distinguish from the real one is going to be virtually impossible. Or not, because if I extrapolate my absurd reasoning, rendering a virtually real world could be virtually possible.
For those who were waiting for the point: there isn’t one. I was just being virtually philosophical.

Mark Nankman is a UX Architect and Web 2.0 thought leader at Capgemini. His public brain waves can be followed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mnankman