Terra Nova has a post up about using virtual worlds for testing systems and recognizing patterns in systems:
Bob McGinley ponders how we might make people productive while they are virtual.
“Lets say we want to study a pandemic emergency, and try to contain the breakout of a new virulent virus strain. These types of simulations already exist to show containment speeds and mortality rates, what they lack is insight into the effectiveness of containment steps and quarantine. Introduce the simulation into the virtual world and allow communities to apply variances to the model, and patterns begin to develop. As the masses collectively think through a problem, knowledge is gained.”
This reminds me of a story back in October of 2005. A bug caused a virtual blood virus to spread from an isolated instance in World of Warcraft out into the general population infecting players and non-player characters alike. It was a very interesting and enlightening outbreak to say the least, as many of the players did not know what was happening. People are attached to their virtual selves, and many panicked as people around them started to die, fearing for their own virtual lives. Others teleported into capital cities to try to spread the disease to others.
NPR radio did a segment on this (audio clip embedded):