The future of gaming

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A nice article in The Economist on video gaming. It refers to Marc Prensky’s games2train, (discussed in the first edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships), which develops video games for corporate training. Marc originally developed training games for Bankers Trust, the now-defunct highly aggressive trading bank, whose young traders had no time for traditional approaches to training. Its role in entertainment is massive and growing, as represented by the oft-quoted statistic that gaming revenues exceed global movie box-office take (though neglect to point out that total movie revenue including videos, DVDs and licensing is still far higher than that of gaming). Current negative attitudes to games will shift. Steven Johnson’s latest book Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter makes the case that gaming develops the skills that are most valuable and relevant in today’s world. However the big frame around gaming is very simply that it will be embedded in many aspects of our future. Movies and games will merge (far more than they have already), and gaming technology will be used to create immersive environments for, among other applications, high-bandwidth collaborative spaces, and visualization and access of information. A lot more fun – and effective! – to search the world-wide web inside a 3D game than through the stark Google interface we use today.

Who is watching you?

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Last week I was interviewed on Australian national breakfast television, on Channel Nine’s Today program, on the rise of public surveillance cameras. In the wake of the London bombings, Australian cities – and many others worldwide – are rushing to install video cameras everywhere. On the program I was interviewed together with the Lord Mayor of Perth, the Australian city which has the most public video cameras. These are subtle issues to address in a popular television format, yet ones that everyone should be engaged with. I am not against having some public video cameras in some circumstances. However it is a knee-jerk reaction to decide suddenly that more video cameras must be better. A rapid rise in video camera installation, together with more sophisticated monitoring and recognition technology, could well mean it is not long before every individual’s movements can be tracked, while recording everyone they interact with in a public space. What value do we place on anonymity? What are we prepared to give up for greater security, and to what degree does this scrutiny actually protect us, particularly against suicide bombers? The world 20 years hence will be vastly different from today. What our governments do today will shape that world, as loss of privacy is almost always a ratchet, not something you can regain. As in many other debates of today, many are taking a black-and-white stance on a subtle issue. However, today, the primary danger is that ill-considered actions lead us swiftly into a world where continual surveillance of our every move is accepted as normal and inevitable.

Media jamming in the presidential election

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Howard Dean’s post-Iowa primary “yeagh!” is now famous. This has provided the opportunity for musicians (and geeks) to rework and remix his speech to music. At last count there were 45 remixes available for discerning political pundits. All it took was one person to come up with the idea to do a remix of Dean’s speech, plenty more jumped on board, and it became a media phenomenon.

This is a fantastic illustration of what I call “media jamming”: taking media and playing with it, improvising variations and twists, then feeding it back into the media system. We can now all participate in the whole media infrastructure by how we rework and reinterpret what flows, building it into a ever-evolving feedback loop instead of simply a one-to-many broadcast system.

The other great example of this recently was when Cherie Blair sang the Beatles tune “When I’m 64” in response to demands for a song at a Chinese press conference, and it was remixed as an Ibizadance hit. Her song was also rumored to be available as a mobile ringtone.

These are some early and evident examples of what will develop into an entire world of media jamming. This promises lots of fun in store!

Terrorism, technology, and an open society

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Having just returned from a quick five-continent round-world trip, I am frequently asked about the mood around the world. Wherever you are, it is characterised by uncertainty. The focus is very short-term; people find it hard to think beyond a few months ahead. If we do stretch our minds a little further, there are compelling issues that will shape our future as humans. Terrorism is in the forefront of people’s minds, and the nature of technological development and the flow of information is such that ever-more frightening tools are becoming broadly available. Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy harkens a world in which “how-to” guides to create deadly self-replicating viruses are freely available on the Internet. Joy himself has suggested that research be stopped or constrained in potentially dangerous fields. Others—especially governments—want to watch us all very, very closely, leaving privacy as a historical concept. One of the key choices the human race faces is how to respond to these challenges. A recent article in Salon.com provides an insightful perspective. To try to constrain knowledge will lead to a far more divided society. What has created the most pressing problems on the planet today is division—of wealth, opportunity, and access. If we turn our backs on an open society, if we have a future, it will be deeply unhappy. We can only respond to the risks if we know what they are. There is certainly a balance to strike, but if we err, it should be towards more rather than less openness.