School Astride the Metaverse - Expression Capture Day

 

EduTopia EduSystem_nodes 00294-00310: Edu-Network hub facility Physical School “San Clemente,” ages 8-18, California South Region, Capistrano Unified District.   

ANOTHER NORMAL FIRST SCHOOL DAY FOR MS. CHANG.

“Stop fidgeting this’ll be done soon.” Ms. Chang soothed, her slender face covered in a warm smile, her bright eyes smiling too.

“I already made a avatar at home why do I need a new one?!” the young subject whined.

“Now Erik, you know why, the school needs the highest quality and we can’t have fibbing!” Ms. Chang replied.

Of course the teachers all fibbed in their avatars, de-aging was the classic; maybe they thought the kids didn’t notice, hah!

Luckily fidgeting wasn’t a huge issue; the 360 camera rig instantly captured all angles to build a detailed 3D model of each student, down to every pore and hair.

“Ok Erik, keep your head still and don't move that cute little face!

Good, now look sad. :( 

Now look angry >:(

Now confused :X

Now smiiile! :D

Now laugh! XD

Very good haha!”

The kids usually hammed it up during the expression capture part. The system did its best to smooth out the input but it always led to the kids’ avatars being a bit overly expressive. It better reflected their spirit, Ms. Chang had always thought.

“Aaaand you’re done!” She tapped on the upload button at the console and the school cloud got to work rendering Erik’s avatar. He scampered away without a goodbye.

“Next!” Ms. Chang beamed.

On and on the students were digitized. 

Each gave their expressions then ran off, many with hands fluttering in mid air, or swiping over control watches, or loudly sub-vocalizing with their untrained vocal cords emitting almost audible words.

"Next!" Chang rang out after each capture. 

Each kid so different, many with darker skin and lighter eyes than Chang remembered from her youth. America continued to melt together its human contents, despite the scary vocalizations of those who did not understand the concept of humans as a single species. When Ms. Chang did watch the news she often just felt sorry for the bigots, after all their biology education had clearly not taken.

"Next!"

Her heart welled up as a new kindergartner awkwardly climbed up the stool in the digitizer array and blinked at the brightness of the lights. Chang smiled brightly at the girl then snuck a glance at her parents waiting back in the shadows of the auditorium: all eyes on their daughter with that adorable mixture of pride and terror and love and hope and devotion.

Really that look summed up the reason Ms. Chang loved each school year’s Expression Capture Day: it was a moment to feel great surging hope.

When the last of the students had been digitized, Ms. Chang retired toward the teacher’s lounge to relax into being Jackie Chang and make herself a coffee. Single serve and wasteful but, finally biodegradable casings on the things at least.

Every year she reminisced, and every year it seemed to get more interesting to reminisce. Jackie had been a student and later a teacher at San Clemente when "expression capture day" was still just quaint 2D picture day. In her first years the kids still just read books and she had to work very hard as a performer to get them interested in anything. Now things were different. Now the kids could dive into the concepts, get their hands literally around ideas, and toss around hypotheses in real time! It just keep blowing her mind how much these kids were able to create now, and how fluidly they swim in the tools. 

Yet there was increasingly a tinge of sadness for Jackie since expression capture day was often the last time she saw many of the students in phys-space. Many of them had personal VR goggles or Hybrid Reality specs these days so they just beamed into school as their avatars. Most only rode the auto-buses into the physical school for their mandatory yearly avatar scan. It was not entirely the kids' choice of course.

As the economy continued to get more aggressive and competitive parents now had to move constantly chasing tasks on the open markets just to keep their footing in the legendary "middle class". Many parents had become labor nomads since the modern well-paying jobs ironically could not be done over the internet: installing solar, building levees and other projects needed physical labor. Each region of Earth would see a groundswell of labor influx, a retrofit of the infrastructure with some settlers while the rest moved on to chase other retrofit jobs. 

Knowledge work was not a growing field, AI kept biting into the need for human minds for most work, there were only a few human theorists and thinkers, the rest was essentially spam. Thus many parents' kids might never go to the same school campus twice. At least they had the eduSystem. At least they could keep their friends all across the globe.

Jackie had been in on the ground floor of the eduSystem as a designer, but she did not think to take an ownership stake, which her mother reminded her of every Christmas.

Jackie had helped to build the object handlers that allow the eduSystem simSpace to be made of voxels with properties. The thrill when she and the team goggled into the first beta version of the multi-property voxel sim! Tom Stevens, the project lead, had immediately brought up his control panel and programmed a bowl of {liquid} to be “water” and a block of {solid} to be “potassium”, dumped the block into the water and laughed maniacally as it erupted into the wonderful fire sim that Don Brown had helped get looking so dangerously real.

Now kids could learn about fire without ever being at risk! Imagine a generation of young scientists experimenting infinitely without the danger of harm! Plus we’ll merge it all across every school in the world!

That was Tom’s claim when he had pitched to her the idea of the eduSpace.

Jackie had been unconvinced and replied “I like ideas too, but what would run this program?” Tom had just winked and said “I know a guy at Nvidia, we’ll program it on a tensorWeb3 then we can get tensorCloud time at half cost and full available exponent of performance/time scaling for ten years!”

Jackie had squinted at him and moved closer. He had stayed locked in place and in eye contact with a smile on his face. They had stayed that way for a moment, Jackie using her intuition to try and detect if he was bullshitting, then Jackie had exclaimed, “yes! I’m in!”

And so she had helped make future history. 

The eduSpace worked so well that Tom got sucked into the megabiz world of fantasy experiences and intention tracking. He never got around to merging the schools of “the world” into one holistic whole like he used to dream. He quickly became surrounded by the mediocrity of money-chasing and fell back into nationalism. After all, borders mean trade gradients, and trade gradients make money. 

Bet he’s fully 50 IQ points lower than he used to be. Poor rich bastard, Jackie snorted in contempt. 

At least the eduSystem existed now. At least the North American public school system became a networked whole. Thank God for that at least.

At least the kids could still belong to the same class groups anywhere on Earth so the transitions to new locations weren’t entirely alien. Now that all the schools are networked when kids move they can blend their old friends with their new friends and classmates. 

The friend/learn social network of a modern kid is fascinating. They swim in a sea blending avatars projected in hybrid reality glasses mixed in with the world around them, plus time spent in vast VR chill realms that can defy all laws of physics. Rich endlessly generated oceans of digital reality woven into the world itself and populated by networks of far-flung homies and phys-space crew. 

Though stretching for joy with these thoughts, Jackie couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. She had been convinced of the reality of virtual reality through her experience and knew that the lessons the kids got were real. She was more counselor than teacher and the kids sometimes came away with real trauma along with real pride. 

Still she would not shake her core belief: there is a primary reality that is real. This is where the generation lines seemed in the act of drawing, Jackie realized. This is how she knew she was old: she still believed in the value of having a single objective reality!

As if on cue, Don Brown wandered in and started making a single serve coffee packet: extra caffeine. A hotshot teacher, Don kept up with the kids in sim, and even showed them a thing or two. She had long felt toward him an enjoyable combination of jealously, affection, slight annoyance and attraction that varied in intensity along those axis depending on the moment.

His emphasis specialties overlapped with Jackie’s; they were both sociology, psychology and practical neurology certified, but Don also had talents in creative thinking and design. Jackie was more practical in logic concepts and programming. The two of them were absolutely inspiring, and the kids took their examples and ran.

“Maybe I’m just old-fashioned Don, but I worry about these kids perceptions of reality,” Jackie mused as she moved over and plopped down in the more comfortable of the two ratty tan suede couches. “They don’t even care what kind of reality they’re in, its all the same to them.”

“You're just sad because you're obsessed with phys-space still like an old," he said in a mocking kid tone, Jackie shot Don a sarcastic mean look and he carried on more seriously, "don’t be so down, think about how many more kids we get to mentor now!” His cleanly trimmed mustache curling up in a smile. Don was the optimistic type. “Plus,” he added, “you know what they say, ‘reality is perception!’” and added a wink.

Unlike Jackie, he had a home VR rig and would even hang out in the edu-space after hours. Jackie loved his enthusiasm, even if he was a bit disconnected from her notion of reality.

“Ya, I should be thankful. When my dad was a 20cen teacher he only ever got to see a handful of kids and he just talked at them.” Jackie putting emphasis on the at, “now we get to converse and go exploring with hundreds!”

Don nodded as he sipped his extra strong coffee. She suspected that he would still make another.

The change in schooling brought on by VR and Augmented Reality was really quite beautiful, epic really.

Over her career starting with small classrooms she had become a primary coach and mentor for an entire age bracket 8-30 west south district cluster, over 227 students in her responsibility sphere, which she shared with a few other teachers. Every day she helped guide anywhere from one to all of her cluster through the eduSpace challenges. Watching the students problem solve was amazing and hilarious. Some patterns of failure just seemed part of the human mind, but occasionally the kids did something beyond her reasoning. Those were the moments she lived for.

“Keeps me really happy for the future,” Don added, well in sync with her musings.

“Ya it really does,” she sighed contently as she settled deeper into the couch, suddenly feeling quite tired from wrangling the new kids for their avatar scans.

“Hey, I almost forgot,” Don said, “ I’ve got a group coming online from midwest-south. You should stop by the archeology sim space if you want to take your kids for some unstructured time. The midwest-south kids are really good at archeology digs, a few of them have done it phys-space even and my kids love learning from them.”

“Oh that sounds like fun!” Jackie replied, “I love how collaborative the kids are in the exploration and discovery sims.”

Just then, irony appeared on her notification watch; one of the students in her responsibility sphere, "student_Jerry00192", was being pushed around again on the tiny looping video feed on her wrist.

A hallway camera had detected commotion and read distress from facial recognition, forwarded it to her watch. Oh Jerry, she thought, he climbs the lessons so high so fast. Bullying had always been Jackie's bane, as a student and a teacher. 

His geolocation was on campus, so that meant that Jackie could do something about it, thank God. The system could not track bullying outside of the geofence of school campuses. It stopped tracking at all once the student turned 18. Jackie had cried about all this more than a few nights. "The compromise" had been a hard fought battle, and neither side knew if it was right or not. Certainly Jackie didn't. At least she could be a hero for the kids who showed up to her school. 

“Gotta go Don,” Jackie clipped as she quickly rose to leave and pulling her hairband down over her brow, where a prism popped out over her right eye, activating her heads-up display.

“Say no more, see you in a sim or the big sim!” Don said to the back of her head as she briskly left the lounge.

Jackie might have heard him but could not be bothered to reply. Her fingers were fluttering in space just above the notification watch interacting with the system, already thinking out toward Jerry which her displayband linked to the system interpreted as *locate student_Jerry00192*  

 -> found, physical space, coordinates -> the text on the display read, with an arrow appearing in her prism pointing in Jerry’s direction. She was Ms. Chang again.

Video started streaming into the prism as well. She normally hated these visor things, but today she she was glad she wore it at school.

The computer vision package gave her a verbal and video summary from a minute or so before real-time, with emotional peaks emphasized and possible action vectors of the kids shown super-imposed on the video feed. The system vendor claimed the military used the same tech. Very data-rich stuff, probably overkill since it didn’t often take analysis to get the gist: bullying. 

Two older students, both 12, Tom and Frank, were harassing Jerry, a scrawny 9.

These two again. She’d dealt with them before. They were outside of her direct responsibility sphere, but Jerry was within hers and in discipline matters the protector teacher had authority of action. Dipping outside ones responsibility sphere was compensated appropriately and automatically by the payroll system. But too many actions outside of one's sphere would trigger an action audit by an actual human, so it was a balancing act for teachers.

Chang picked up the pace as the video stream neared real-time.

When she got there she found Jerry on the brink of tears, but in a decidedly defiant stance.

“You gonna fight us you little autie?” Tom leered menacingly.

“Can’t even stand in the real world, look,” Frank gave Jerry a shove, who shifted a bit but was actually quite steady.

“Enough!” Chang’s voice flared up from behind them and watched their bodies tense and their shoulders rise up their necks in near unison.

Busted.

“Tom, Frank come here now!”

“We were just playin’,” Tom weaseled.

“I saw everything, don't you remember that I see everything here?” Chang was annoyed, then concerned “Jerry are you alright?”

“Fine ma’am, these meat-bags are mad cause I smoked them in-sim the other day. Sucks to suck!” Jerry obviously felt emboldened by her presence. Not a smart move on his part though, since he'd pay for it later, perpetuating the cycle.

She glanced up at her prism for the system's guilt verdict, video from just before the beginning of the altercation, which showed her that Jerry had not started this, the other kids had come up behind him and shoved him. Quick crime, quick justice.

“Now Jerry, don’t be a sore winner. Run along.” Chang shooed him away.

And Jerry departed, hands fluttering in mid air interacting with his unseen AR packages, occasionally grunting commands.

Chang turned her attention to the troublesome tweens.

“You two, come with me,” She ordered. They complied with heads lowered to bury defiant eyes.

On the way over to the counseling building she had time to muse–she certainly didn’t want to engage the two sorry looking specimens trailing in her wake, not yet at least. And maybe that's what getting old is too, always wanting to check in on perspective.

She thought back to little Jerry skipping away into his own world. Most of the kids were getting immersed in AR visors and glasses so early now. Some even had the new EEG brain activity reading models; still others were starting to get the newest contact lenses, although they were still quite expensive and supposedly limited to 18-year-olds.

It worried Jackie, but she saw the benefits too. With even an old gesture-based AR visor on, a kid had more access to just-in-time knowledge and expressive creativity than had ever been imagined. Everything a Wearing kid looked at was analyzed by ‘helper brain’ software riding along in the visor and data-layers floated up with contextually relevant info. Every stroke of their hands and grunt of their voice could trigger more visuals and audio from vast generative libraries of globally sourced content. Holograms, songs, 360videos, sounds. Kids threw confetti videos at each other for fun and danced trails of light, told each other stories with holographic animations and 3D video mashups. And did a lot of less beautiful things, but Chang focused on the positives.

Embedded in so much information and possibility from such a young age, no wonder these kids' culture seemed beyond her understanding sometimes. They were still kids though, scraping their knees and learning social order just like in her day, so it seemed to balance out.

Bullies were the unfortunate constant, but the tools for dealing with them had changed a bit since her dad was a teacher.

Finally she and her catch made it over to the counseling building. When they were seated in the ‘safe space,’ a room with comfortable chairs and pixel-walls showing fluffy clouds against a perfect blue sky all around, she put the visor back up on her head and addressed the boys.

“What’s going on you two, why are you harassing Jerry over a game?” Chang scolded.

She waited a beat while they fidgeted.

"Well..." Chang prodded.

“You didn’t see Ms. Chang," Frank Blurted out, "in sim last year Jerry was always a big jerk, thinks he knows everything!”

“Ya plus he spent all summer coming into our simspace and cheating to win whenever we were there," Tom blurted right after, "we told him to leave our space but he wouldn’t!"

"We just wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine that’s all!” Frank added.

“He might be a little prince in sim but he sucks in real life!” Tom exclaimed to finish off their little defense. 

Chang tisked at that and the smiles that had crept onto their faces vanished.

Classic brawn vs brains.

In the VR games, brains triumphed, but phys-space was still the purview of the jockish types. So bullying happened now across realities with every kid at a slightly different advantage or disadvantage in each. Kids like Jerry could get a bit megalomaniacal inside the metaverse, where they found themselves in complete power as opposed to the physical world. It was becoming a bit of an issue really, kids’ personalities could become very split; a tiny minority of them would put the VR goggles on and become someone else entirely.

She had taken some guided learning expeditions into a few popular VR game environments with some of the other teachers, including Mr. Brown, over the summer exploring the symptoms and causes of “Virtual Reality / Physical Reality Personality Dimorphism.” It was interesting stuff. It actually made her glad that AR visors were getting cheaper, at least now kids were playing outside again, even if it was in a hybrid kind of virtual and physical reality. It combined the brains that won in VR with the brawn that won in phys-space. Mr. Brown in particular had been optimistic that the new paradigm might remedy the dimorphism all by itself. Ms. Chang was not so sure.

A whole new paradigm to adjust to, again! Just when she had started to figure out VR!

When her dad was a teacher in the roaring 1980s he had used the same few textbooks for his whole career. And he got a pension!!

Ms. Chang just shook her head at it all.

“We’ve been over this before, just because someone is mean to you doesn’t mean you can do it back. You two are supposed to be the role models for the younger ones,” Chang said calmly.

Both were looking down silently. Her visor would have shown their emotional state as 'angry and defiant' from reading their heart-field data, but Chang didn't need a machine to tell her the obvious.

“Do we need to empathy sim again?" she added, "I know how it affected you last time boys...” She recalled the tears from them both on the other side of the 'Being Bullied' simulation and could sense that their defiance softened.

‘Walk a Mile In Another’s Shoes’ sims were the bane of bullies. They were very real, and didn’t just throw back what the bullies had said; they created whole scenarios where the bullying was quite real. The computers knew what got under every kids’ skin; the words and scenarios the program crafted really could hurt. In truth Chang was a bit worried they were too scarring, but they did tend to affect kids and stop bullying, at least for a while.

“No Ms. Chang,” the two answered in sullen near unison.

“Good!” She replied cheerily, “Here’s what we’ll do, I’m going to assign you both as separate mentor shadows for some very young ones, Tom you'll help Mr. Jarvis and Frank you'll help Mr. Troy. You’ll help them manage their 6-8 year bracket sim classes, then I want you to report back to me here in phys-space and we’ll talk about what you learned by helping.”

“Yes ma’am,” they groaned, again in near unison.

Straight punishments like "time outs" and "detention" or the most foolish, expulsion, were never used anymore; they just made everything worse. But Chang also tried to avoid the empathy sims.

Always best to give bullies a constructive responsibility role. They rarely admitted it, but study after study had shown that kids tasked to mentor shadow got a big boost in fulfillment. And Chang didn't need to analyze to see the change in their personalities as they grew up.

"Now off with you, check in with the teachers I connected you with before the end of today or you'll get dinged system points," Chang said over the sound of suddenly moving chairs and the two kids' rustling escape.

The system had listened and added new responsibility stars to Tom and Frank's school mission constellation, and also informed Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Troy to expect some troublemakers in need of a little perspective. 

On the desk in front of her a 2D text prompt asked Chang what the follow up was to be after their day of service was done.

Chang said "have them come back here," out loud and the 2D dialog grew up into a 3D render of the counseling building with a check-mark over it and then vanished.

She could have had them meet in a counseling sim after and spared them the walking over, but she believed in the power of physical presence for matters like this. No hiding behind avatars all the time, especially when discussing one's feelings. It changed the nature of a person's responses, Chang had seen, even if the neuro-psychologists claimed otherwise…