I’ll be talking about Artificial Life + Augmented Reality at Digital Hollywood 2015

hollywoodThe Fall 2015 Digital Hollywood Conference is being held October 19th – 22nd at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey, California.  It’s a fascinating event that explores the intersection between immersive entertainment and all kinds of emerging technologies.

I’ll be attending the first two days of the conference (Mon Oct 19 + Tues Oct 20) as part of my role as Lead Technology Evangelist with Wiggle Planet.  If you’re in the neighborhood and would like to meet up, please drop me a line at john.e.lester@gmail.com or @Pathfinder.

The Wiggle Planet team is developing emotionally-intelligent animated characters that live in the physical world through geolocation-based augmented reality.  These characters, called “Wiglets,” incorporate artificial intelligence, virtual physics and genetic inheritance, and are ideal for educational applications, games and staged augmented reality events.



We’re excited to be spreading the word and networking at Digital Hollywood, and Jeffrey Ventrella (the founder of Wiggle Planet) will also be on a panel talking about real-time design of immersive entertainment.

Hope to see you there.

-John “Pathfinder” Lester


My Interview on The Drax Files Radio Hour – Second Life and Community Development in Virtual Worlds


I was recently interviewed by Draxtor on his highly informative and entertaining radio show “The Drax Files Radio Hour.”

Check out the full show and hear me chat about Second Life, Jibe, Unity, WigglePlanet, and the role of community development in multiuser virtual world platforms.

Take care,
-John “Pathfinder” Lester

Life Connected to Life: How to Revolutionize Environmental Education

[This post also appears on Wiggle Planet’s blog.]

There are many educational games out there that do their best to teach people about the environment.  And many of them do a great job.

For example, I really like how Earth Day Canada put together their EcoKids website.  The games on EcoKids are mostly simple simulations with engaging action and puzzle-based mechanics, and it’s great how they blend the computer-based games with physical-world activities (e.g., play a game on the computer then go outside and do some recycling).  Games that encourage people to make positive changes to their physical world, improving the environment for everyone.

In fact, both the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have sites that promote environmental education through games.  It’s inspiring for me to see large governmental agencies exploring innovative ways to protect the environment and educate the public.

But there’s another level of immersive environmental education we haven’t even touched yet.


First, a key fact about Nature that we often forget.

Nature likes to hide things.  Particularly when something is wrong.  

It’s a fundamental trait that has developed in pretty much every species on the planet.  Are you sick?  Weak?  Injured?  Well, you better hide it as much as possible, otherwise something will come along, notice you’re indisposed, and then eat you for lunch.  This trait also manifests itself in entire networks of interdependent and related organisms (i.e., ecosystems).  By the time it’s easy to observe a systemic problem, the damage is often irreversible.

So, it’s not enough for us to be well educated and observant.  We need superhuman powers to help us visualize what’s really happening in Nature.

I believe artificial life combined with augmented reality is the magic key.  We can help Nature tell us her secrets by creating artificial life forms directly connected to all the data repositories we’ve already created for collecting and tracking environmental data.  Imagine the appearance and behaviors of these artificial life forms changing based on these data, generating powerful human-observable moments.  And finally, imagine these artificial life forms living in an augmented reality space overlaid on the natural world.

For example, take the beautiful concept of the Kodama from the movie Princess Mononoke.

kodama on tree

Kodama are small mystical creatures living in the forest that represent the spirits of all the trees.  Their behavior and appearance in the movie is directly related to the health of all the trees they inhabit.  For example, when the trees get sick, the kodama can be seen falling from the air and dissolving into the ground.

Now, imagine walking up to a tree in the physical world.


Is that tree really healthy?  Not sure, since trees (like most life forms) are pretty good at hiding things (until it’s too late).  Is the forest in which this tree lives getting enough water?  Is the water table polluted?

Sure, you could pull environmental data up on your smartphone and look at graphs and charts and summarized reports.

But those are all cold data, with no sense of life to them.

Rather, imagine watching the data express itself through a family of Kodama that live around the tree.  Imagine looking through your smart phone into an augmented reality space full of artificial life with which you can interact and communicate.

Oh no, all the Kodama are brown and withered!  That means drought!   Oh, they’re all walking over to that other tree.  There must be water over there.  Wait, they’re mutating into something weird.  Some kind of pollution?  The imaginative possibilities, let alone the entertaining and engaging gaming scenarios, are endless.

Effective learning and true understanding comes from emotional resonance.

And nothing resonates more with human beings than life connected to life.

Take care,
-John “Pathfinder” Lester

Wiglet Diversity: A Spectrum of the Wonderfully Strange

This post also appears on Wiggle Planet’s Blog.

strange-011The first thing you’ll notice about Wiglets is that…well, let’s be honest, they look kind of strange.


That’s because Wiglets are not hand-drawn cookie-cutter characters.

They’re artificial life forms that look and behave a certain way because of their genetics.


They’re neither homogenized nor pasteurized.

And unlike video games where you have limited character creator options (Choose from these 5 hairstyles!  How about these 7 different noses?), a Wiglet’s DNA can recombine through breeding to create a highly unpredictable range of physical and behavioral diversity.


Kind of like real life.

Which is exactly the point.


In the near future you’ll be hearing more from us about a Wiglet breeder app that will let you experiment with just how diverse they can be.

We think you’ll fall in love with their quirky appearance and behaviors.

Not because they look like something familiar and common.

But because they don’t.

– John “Pathfinder” Lester

My Keynote at e-LEOT 2014 – “Augmented Mind: The Evolution of Learning Tools from Language to Immersive Reality”

The 1st International Conference on e-Learning, e-Education and Online Training is being held September 18-20 in Bethesda, Maryland.  This conference will assess a wide range of progressive ideas for the future of e-Learning, focusing on the idea of technology as a means to education rather than an end in itself.  The conference organizers have lined up a wonderful range of interdisciplinary speakers and are planning to attract a wide group of heterogeneous scholars and practitioners.

I’ll be attending the entire conference, and I’m honored to be giving the opening keynote presentation.   Here’s what I’ll be talking about:


“Augmented Mind: The Evolution of Learning Tools
from Language to Immersive Reality”

Innovative educators are constantly facing the challenge of matching pedagogical goals with complementary technological tools.  Unfortunately, given the wide range of technologies and devices that vie for consumer attention, the right choices are not always clear and are typically obscured by media hype. In this presentation, John Lester will describe how focusing on the way the human mind interacts with the world and other human beings can help identify the right tools for the right jobs.  From a mind-augmentation perspective combining constructivist and behaviorist approaches, John will explore web based tools ideal for knowledge management, augmented reality based self-animated autonomous agents, and finally the unique (and sometimes over-hyped) affordances of perceptually immersive multiuser 3d virtual worlds for collaborative learning.

My goal will be to tell an interesting story with examples and demos of technologies that I think really leverage how our minds naturally embrace the world around us.  One such technology that I’m currently exploring and that you’ve probably never heard of are Wiglets.

Visit Wiggle Planet to learn a lot more about Wiglets.

Visit Wiggle Planet to learn a lot more about Wiglets.

Wiglets are autonomous, evolving, self-animated and self-motivated agents that can exist in both completely virtual and augmented reality environments.  They exist at a wildly creative intersection of artificial life, art and gaming.  And perhaps best of all, you can interact with them directly through touch and gestures.

Another topic of discussion will be the affordances of multiuser 3d virtual worlds, especially how one can reduce the barrier to entry for people interested in leveraging them for educational purposes.  ReactionGrid has recently developed some new tools that integrate with the Unity3d-based Jibe platform to provide on-the-fly content editing in a simple yet powerful way.  I’ll be giving a sneak preview during my presentation.

Want to easily change this web-based 3d environment on the fly without having to muck around in Unity?  
Now you can. I’ve got some new tricks with Jibe to show you.

I’ll also be discussing and giving examples of innovative uses of commonly used virtual world technologies such as Second Life, Opensimulator and the Oculus Rift.  If you plan on attending and would like to connect with me at the conference, please drop me a line on Twitter or email.  And if you’re looking to interact with the organizers and other attendees and speakers, be sure to check out the e-LEOT LinkedIn Conference Group.

After my keynote I’ll be updating this blog post to include my slides and links to any recordings.

UPDATE Sept 19, 2014

Here are my slides:

Presentation at 2012 Follow the Sun: “Integrated Reality and Next Generation Virtual Worlds”

Follow the Sun 2012 is a free online conference that runs from March 27-30.  Here’s a summary from their website:

“Digital Futures Institute, Beyond Distance Research Alliance, Athabasca University, and our commercial partners are proud to provide this year’s 48-hour, online learning festival at no charge to all participants. The theme of this year’s conference moves beyond educational technology to examine knowledge development and exchange across the disciplines.”

I’ll be giving an online presentation on Thursday March 29th at 2:30am EDT (yes, that’s 2:30am).  The topic will be “Integrated Reality and Next Generation Virtual Worlds.”

Here are my slides on SlideShare to give you a preview of what I’ll be talking about, and I’ll update this blog post with a recording of my presentation after the conference is over.

Update 3/29/2012: Here’s the recording of my presentation.

John “Pathfinder” Lester
Chief Learning Officer
ReactionGrid Inc.

ReactionGrid invited to present at the U.S. Coast Guard’s “Innovation Expo 2011” in Tampa, FL

The U.S. Coast Guard holds an Innovation Expo each year, and ReactionGrid has been invited to attend and present at this year’s Innovation Expo 2011 in Tampa, Florida on October 25th.

If you’re attending the Expo, or if you’ll be in the area and would like to meet with us, please drop us a line at create@reactiongrid.com.

The USCG Innovation Expo creates an environment for Coast Guard Innovators to resolve organizational challenges by showcasing their initiatives in a rich collaborative learning environment alongside other innovators throughout DHS and across Government, industry and academia.

One area of interest is 3d simulations and virtual worlds as platforms for immersive learning.   I’ll be giving two presentations on Tuesday, October 25th:

Keynote Speaker #2
11:30am – 12:00pm (Oct 25)
“Learning Through Three Dimensional Simulation and Virtual Worlds”

In this presentation, John will share his experiences using virtual world technology to enhance education and his current work at ReactionGrid to create web and mobile-based virtual word platforms for learning. He will describe best practices for creating effective alternative reality learning scenarios, common pitfalls when exploring immersive learning technologies, and ways to effect cultural change within an organization by using online collaborative environments.

Breakout Session #1
2:00pm – 3:00pm (Oct 25)
“Alternative Reality Learning: The Potential of Virtual World Platforms”

In this breakout session, John will lead a group discussion and hands-on demonstration of the potential of virtual world platforms for immersive learning. Specific examples of virtual learning environments using ReactionGrid’s Jibe platform will be presented, running on both the web and mobile devices, and attendees will be walked through a typical virtual world development workflow using the Unity3d editor and 3d mesh models. Attendees will also learn about the unique affordances of virtual worlds when they are integrated with existing social media (e.g., Facebook) and web-based educational content.

You can learn more about the Expo here and here.

Take care,
-John “Pathfinder” Lester


5-minute Video Tutorials on Jibe and Unity3d

I’ve written a bunch of tutorials and general articles on how to use Jibe and Unity3d.  Many people have told me they have found these articles helpful.  Thank you again for the feedback.

Now I’d like to start an additional project.  I’m going to build a library of short and very focused tutorial videos for Jibe users.

The catch: each video will be 5-minutes long.  No more, no less.

I’m limiting myself to 5 minutes because I think that’s a critical threshold for most people.  And I want these videos to be very easy to digest.

Here’s my new YouTube channel.  Please subscribe if you’re interested.  I’ll do my best to post a new video every few days.

And if you have any suggestions on specific topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know.  I want to create videos that are useful!

Creating these videos will be both fun and a challenge for me.  It’s always much more difficult to create something concise than it is to create something with no limits.

Which reminds me of a memorable quote by Blaise Pascal.

“I would not have made this letter so long except that I do not have the time to make it shorter.”

Here’s my first video: “What is Jibe?”

Take care,
-John “Pathfinder” Lester

Peru and the Future of Virtual Worlds

Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) is the #1 ranked university in the country of Peru.

It is also home to a wonderful research project called Grupo Avatar.

Read on to learn more.

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Making the Most of Meeting in the Physical World: Evocative Artifacts

MIT’s Technology Review recently published an article on how CardCloud Spells the End of Physical Business Cards.

As someone who spends most of their professional life immersed in the online world, I tend to agree that physical business cards are not an ideal tool for information exchange in the physical world.

But I have a slightly different idea about why I feel that’s the case.

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