What are different ways these virtual worlds can be used?

Virtual worlds can be used by companies to have virtual meetings, scientists to collaborate on projects, emergency services to run drills and train first-responders. 

Also, a company launching a new product could first launch it on one of the virtual world servers to see how the consumers respond to it before committing to a real life campaign. 

What are the pros and cons?

Hospitals can train their staff in emergencies, companies can arrange and hold meetings across the globe without leaving their home town, and scientists can collaborate on projects, all online in environments similar to Second Life. At the same time, a terrorist organization can familiarize itself with the floor plans of it’s next target before actually putting it’s plan in motion.

Therefore the benefits of a virtual world must be weighed against the possible negative effects  as a virtual world can help a autistic child, it can also be a medium leading to negative outcomes.

For some, the two worlds, the real and virtual, start intertwining which leads to problems in the one world that matters: the real one. As example, a few years ago there was a case where one user’s World of Warcraft account was erased causing the affected user to seek retribution in the real world which lead to their arrest. Spending too much time in the virtual world, which ever that may be, leads to a loss of contact with reality and a further immersion in the virtual.

How do virtual worlds foster creativity?

Virtual worlds give the user the chance to reinvent themselves, and the anonymity of a username spurs creativity. We are restrained in real life by what others may think of us or by social norms, but when hiding behind a username we can be/do whatever we want. As a  simple example, just look at any forum discussing any current event; there will be opinions posted of the strangest kind, and proposals of the weirdest nature. Anonymity gives us wings and where better to fly than the one place where anything is possible: The Internet. 

What do you think the future of virtual worlds will look like?

The Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise… or The Matrix if we let the machines run independently. For those not knowing what a Holodeck is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holo_deck. Why have a Second Life at your computer when you can have it IN the computer. 

If any of these technologies don’t materialize, virtual worlds will become paid service trying to differentiate from one another by making the user feel in the real world and providing services that are not only leisure oriented but productivity oriented.