So I was pondering the crisis over MP’s expenses and started thinking about how difficult it must sometimes be when you are supposed to be serving your constituents but are also expected to attend important debates in the house of commons. This is fine if your constituency is in London but if it is in Cornwall then you need to get on a train and waste lots of time traveling, and then you get into owning a second home in London, or renting somewhere at great expense.

Now you will never remove the need for MP’s to visit the commons in person, which is why I’m in favor of the commons running its own guest houses for MP’s, but it may be possible to reduce the demand on MP’s to visit London by employing some clever technology.

What I’m talking about here is basically video conferencing but for something like the government it might need to be slightly enhanced – but I’m making a shed load of assumptions from here on.

The basic idea is to try and apply high quality video conferencing technology to the house of commons in a way that allows MP’s to attend debates without leaving their constituencies. What I imagine is most important here is that firstly the MP’s experience is immersive enough so they are not too distracted by the technology, for example by having to watch a small screen with poor quality bitty video. Secondly the MP needs to be seen to attend so their image has to be presented in the debating chamber in a way that does not diminish their presence as compared to when they are their in person, but is also not distracting for other people there. You need to be able to stand up and address the house effectively when you need to.

These two things add up to a requirement for some very high definition video feeds so it is likely that the best way to do this is with dedicated communication links to handle the date and keep it secure. You also need the right environment for the visiting virtual MP to sit in, basically a studio with video projections to give you a view of the chamber, preferably all the way round so you feel immersed in the experience and with enough quality for you to recognize a face from across the chamber.

Now it would be unreasonable for all this kit to be installed in an MP’s chosen office so probably the best place would be in regional council offices. You have a potential problem of how to accommodate lots of MP’s with a limited number of cameras – you want to ensure that when you speak and people look at your image that from your perspective they appear to be looking at you. With these video studios in regional centers you could design them to accommodate all the MP’s in that region so that ought to reduce the number of cameras required in the commons chamber.

So it would take some serious video tech to get this to work, and it would probably benefit from lots of testing but you would also have to convince the MP’s that it is worth using. You might also want to extend it to allow for meetings in private and other committee work. Not there may be a place for robot one day (I just had to get them in somewhere) to allow you to take a walk around the houses of parliament and talk to people using a tele-presence robot.

Summing up. I’m sure things like this will happen eventually but this seems like a good chance to start to consider it, particularly as the technology is maturing. My view in general is that high quality large scale images are critical for giving a sense of actually being somewhere else, and if you can do that with some of the emerging 3D screen technology then that is even better!

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