computers, games, computer games, and the future

Humans play, explore, learn/teach, create, bond with other individuals, become part of a social structure. Computers help us play and are becoming the primary distributor of entertainment. It has changes what we mean by playing and what we expect from our entertainment. We are learning differently and trying different teaching techniques because of the availability of computers and internet and the related availability of information on demand. We are using computer as a tool to create art. We are interacting (or sometimes not) with others – even those close to us – in different ways. Though initially it allowed long distance relationships to feel closer, now some physically close relationships feel far apart. The social structure is broader now but maybe weaker.

Humans live life. Computers are part of all aspects of our life. Sherry Turkle’s essay published in 1984 was full of possibilities while later in life she has become more concerned about the price we unknowingly pay. Her conclusions seem to be based on anecdotal evidence gathered through interviews so one is left wondering if these conclusions have wide applicability. Computer has morphed from being just a office tool, to becoming a house work tool, to providing household utility to becoming an irreplaceable part of our life – personal, official, social.

The 1984 essay (part of The Second Self) is on computer games and its holding power. Again lots of generalizations some I agree while some felt a bit stretched. One that I agree with is that games are not mindless (are they mindful – I guess that depends on the player). The world of computers and associated games has changed since 1984. Computer power – specifically computer graphics processing power – has grown exponentially. The realism that one can ‘code’ into the virtual games keeps on increasing. So you can be part of a fantasy world of orcs and elves with the rendition being so life like that you are able to immerse yourself into a ‘real’ fantasy world. Games allow you to control that fantasy world unlike movies where you are a passive observer (I found it strange how many of the writers in the past talked about giving control of the story/movie to the reader/watcher via discrete forks in the story – now you can control the story in a continuum).

Internet connection and speeds have grown exponentially as well. We now have MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Now you can immerse in a fantasy world or historic world with your real friends or form new real virtual friendships.You and your friends can be a unit which stormed Normandy beach – what better way to experience history (it obviously depends on whether you are mindless or mindful).

Mobile computing has changed the concept of computer gaming. You can now play anytime – anywhere. This has led to a growing concern about the addictiveness of these games and the wasted time (similar to earlier concerns with computer games – though there are probably redeeming factors now as well). Currently, these games are not as realistic as PC/consoles games but it is only a matter of time – my phone has more power and better resolution as compared to computers from just a decade back.

Finally motion controllers and virtual reality is now becoming a reality. We can now play games by moving ourselves rather than typing or mousing. It is fun to be able to box or balance or toss a ring or shoot a bullet just by making actions similar to what we would do in real life. The technology for managing our view based on face position is still quite expensive and seems cumbersome but low cost game oriented technology should be around the corner. The final piece of the puzzle is sensory feedback which may take a while. If and when we have neural feedback we can join a Matrix of our choosing! I hope to be part of the future!!

That future will be judged by some to better while some may rue the loss of the present – all that matters to me that it will be different and change is never dull.

Multi-dimensional multi-scale visualization of information

It is strange how most of the articles we are reading are about the non-computational part of the computer. The focus is still on the non-human part of the computer but more on the non-physical part and on the ability of computer to so something humans can’t do on their own or with other tools. As an engineer it is at first disconcerting to summarily defocus from the computational part but it does seem that computations are really the grunt job for computers anyway. Yes, generating the terabytes of data from simulation of complex system using the electricity that can power a small town is great. But parsing the data fruitfully to understand the physics behind simulated results is priceless. The parsing includes viewing the results from different perspectives, sometimes seeing it using multiple perspectives at the same time. It is difficult process but one that defines expertise.

One line of thought that reemerges in this weeks reading of the article by Nelson is the ability of the computer to zoom in and out of a perspective and the ability to link in a multi-dimensional way. Instead of having an atlas of the world, and America, and wildlife in America, and road map of New York, and best restaurants in NYC, we have google earth/map and other similar multi-scale, multi-dimensional systems. In some way we want the computer to behave like human brain. Human brain seems to have the ability to do multi-dimensional connections at multiple scales. If I trust the author, I should say that we want the computer to behave like the human brain before its abilities are attenuated by our educational system.

This reading was quite difficult for me, probably because I have only read news, scientific literature, and fiction in the last 20 years. It is difficult for me to combine the interesting logical flow of ideas and dreams with the random (to me) social commentary. The other primary focus on many of the articles that muddles the logical flow for me is the need to have computers do what we want it to do rather than have some higher authority – government, computer programmers, or some other evil entity – control it. But it should be clear from my blog that I am getting better at combining logical single-dimensional flow of ideas with multi-dimensional commentary. I did take a potshot at the author above while trying to maintain logical flow … The article is from 40 years ago and I presume things are different now, for better or for worse. Would you rather have computer programmers deciding what is allowed or would you put your trust in corporations?