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What is a virtual world, why is it important?
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Last Thursday I spent most of the day at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, starting with a morning forum and ending with a tour of the Food Processing Technology Division.


During the forum we discussed five topics:  Using Virtual Worlds in Education, Biotechnology, Innovation, Community Wireless and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. I am writing about three of these today and will cover the others later.


Some older folks might wonder, “What is a virtual world?”  Before the meeting I went on line and found it defined as “an online 3D space where an explorer can move around and have an impact on the world they are exploring.”


The personal explorer is called an “avatar (a virtual representation of the user).” 


Most of our teenaged children and grandchildren spend time in virtual worlds where they play games and compete with their friends. I have observed war games, SWAT teams and even football played in virtual worlds. 


It is estimated that 34 percent of American teens visit virtual worlds at least once a month. Eighteen states have developed full virtual charter schools.  Virtual worlds open up a multitude of educational possibilities. Education through virtual worlds has been shown to be especially useful for kids who have trouble engaging in a traditional classroom, or who have a history of absenteeism. 


Students in a virtual Spanish class can float down the Amazon River while listening to a Spanish-speaking guide teach them about the culture of the area. 


The students can actually practice their Spanish with natives. Educators like to teach in virtual worlds because they can demonstrate, for example, what the separation of different parts of an atom actually look like, or help students understand Newton’s Third law by allowing them to experiment in a virtual zero-gravity lab.


What a wonderful way to learn history, geography, chemistry, geometry and the other subjects we want students to learn as they grow to become responsible members of society. You can tell that I am enthusiastic about the use of virtual worlds.


Over the past several decades, the field of biotechnology has become one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. It includes “any technique or technological application that uses biological systems or living organisms to create or modify products and processes of food production, sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry.”  


Biotechnology has become an important American industry in terms of job creation, research investment and public and private revenue. 


Between 2001 and 2006, the biotechnology sector accounted for about 7.5 million American jobs. Georgia is ranked seventh in biotechnology investment and development.


In 2004 President Bush declared that, “This country needs a national goal for...the spread of broadband technology.” 


He proclaimed the need for “universal, affordable access for broadband technology in the United States by the year 2007.” 


Well, it is 2008; how well have we done?  The United States is ranked 15th in the world for per-capita broadband Internet coverage. This means that almost 80 percent of Americans have no access to high-speed wireless Internet; they are left with dial-up or no Internet access at all. In a world where important aspects of daily life such as banking, education, finding a job, and more requires a fast Internet connection, these Americans are left isolated, creating what has been coined the “digital divide.” 


Most of the affected citizens cut off from the benefits of high-speed, mobile Internet technologies are less affluent or are in remote, rural areas. Internet Service Providers find it unprofitable to provide a cable broadband service where there are few customers per mile.


With the growing demand for widespread high-speed Internet, the state and several local governments are exploring public, community-wide wireless Internet as a solution to the digital divide. Georgia has various programs for funding and overseeing economic development projects involving the use of high-speed Internet.  Athens and Adel have networks in operation. Macon and Savannah have networks under construction. Eight other networks are under development.


Here in House District 9, Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth counties have joined with White and Union County to explore bringing high-speed, fiber optics up Ga. 400. 


Our wire-based DSL is just not fast enough to transmit the data required by most new industries. We need high technology companies to provide jobs for those living in our community. High-speed Internet is one of the absolute necessities. If we build it, they will come. As Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, bringing fiber optics to North Georgia is one of my top priorities in the next Legislative Session.


The recent referendums on ad valorem property tax relief for senior citizens and those permanently disabled passed overwhelmingly in Lumpkin and Dawson counties. Those of you who qualify need to apply for the increased Homestead Exemptions for the 2009 tax year at your county tax office between Jan. 1, 2009 and April 1, 2009. 


If you have any questions about applying for these new ad valorem property tax Homestead Exemptions in Lumpkin County, contact Lumpkin County Tax Commissioner Jean Grizzle at 99 Courthouse Hill, Suite E, Dahlonega, GA 30533, (706) 864-2666. 


Dawson County folks should contact Dawson County Tax Commissioner Linda Townley at 78 Howard Avenue, Suite 140, Dawsonville, GA 30534, (706) 344-3520.    

  Amos Amerson can be contacted at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533, (706) 864-6589, e-mail