Dr. Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at UC Davis, has done some innovative work using Second Life to help educate people on schizophrenia. I referenced Professor Yellowlees in an earlier blog posting about virtual worlds technologies that benefit the real world. I contacted Peter to get some more information about his research and his thoughts on virtual worlds, Web 2.0 and the future.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself? I am a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis in Sacramento California, and I also run the UCD Health Informatics Graduate program, where we currently have over 40 graduate students enrolled in our masters and certificate programs. I trained in medicine in London, England, then spent 20 years in Australia, before being offered a position at UC 5 years ago. I am married to Barb and we have 4 grown children, and one “furry daughter” – a puppy called Lucy who thinks she is human.
- Tell us how you are using technology (including virtual worlds) in your research? I use it to teach about the experience of schizophrenia. It is hard for students to imagine what it is like to hallucinate – to hear voices and see visions – and the capacity to have the avatar undergo those experiences is very helpful for the students and lets them understand about the lived experience of psychosis.
- When you heard of the concept of a virtual world, what was your first thought? I have been working with virtual reality for more than 10 years – I started with a CAVE (collaborative virtual environment) in Australia and developed software applications for that type of environment, and then moved “downscale” to the much cheaper more available internet environment when I came to the US.
- Besides Second Life, do you participate in other virtual worlds? Not currently, although I am constantly looking at other software systems, particularly the ones used by USC to model the Iraq war environment and treat PTSD.
- What’s missing in virtual worlds technologies that could benefit your research efforts? In SL the main missing element is the relative lack of realism of the environment – it is still rather cartoon-like and can’t compete for “reality” with the very expensive VR games that are now widely available. I would also like to see the avatars being able to change more easily on the fly, although the creation of avatar bots is great.
- What Web 2.0 services or social networks do you participate in? I blog regularly at http://informationagehealth.blogspot.com and am also on facebook and twitter. I have recently published a couple of ebooks at www.smashwords.com ( one of them is free) and have my own website at www.informationagehealth.com that is set up to both support patients that I see in the real world, as well as to promote my book on internet healthcare – “your health in the information age” published by iUniverse and available through Amazon and most online and f2f bookstores
- Do you see benefits of social networks as they relate to your research interests? I am very interested in them and would really like your readers to comment on how they think that social networks could be used in healthcare – they clearly can be a support and information system for patients but I feel they should have more capacity than this and am looking at how they can be combined with mobile environments - I carry both a blackberry and an iPhone for instance, and am interested in how they could be used for monitoring behavior and symptoms.
- What are related fields of science that could benefit from virtual worlds? Certainly the social sciences – also probably genetics, by allowing us to link with unknown family members better…and many others…
- What does the future hold? Read my book!!!! – go to www.informationagehealth.com – the last chapter is all about the future of healthcare on the internet – lots of fascinating areas, and I think visualization of large data sets is particularly important – in 3D in virtual worlds – allowing scientists to literally get inside their data – amazing possibilities.