Thursday, December 4, 2008

Near Future Predictions

Unfortunately, I do not think that the near future will be as technologically advanced as I hope it will be. I think that my ideal job will be a highly aesthetically pleasing and also advanced form of interface design, but whether or not that is what I will actually go on to do remains to be seen.
I feel that corporations and government are inseperable with one another today and that new laws need to be introduced to protect human rights against their influence. Hopefully as the relationships between the two become more publically visible (governments being sponsored by Starbucks, etc), laws will be enacted to help protect citizens from being taken advantage of (any more than we already are).
I think that larger percentages of the population will become disillusioned with religion, and the smaller population of people who are enthusiastically religious will become even more radical and righteous in response to this.
I can truly only hope that fashion and style in the United States will improve. Flip flops are not appropriate footwear beyond a spa or bathroom, and pajamas should never be worn in public. I hope one day to have a nice shade of gray skin and fiberoptic hair. I think it would also really help if a variety of unusual looking alien races were discovered, and people could broaden their horizon of what they find to be truly “unusual” looking. The concept of race will be close to obsolete, and gender identity will become recognize by a majority as something different than biological sex.
Biomedical engineering has been making major breakthroughs for disabled people to perform various tasks with the help of technology, including transmitting images directly to the visual cortex of people’s brains and bypassing eyes entirely. This will allow for browsing of the net without actually using our eyeballs! Hooray!
3-d Printers will become extremely common, and handmade items will become considered luxury items. Computers will replicate and spritz various aromas when playing video games and doing other simulation activities in order to add another layer of realism. Cybercrime will soon become a Big Deal. I think if cars get any smaller, they may just become a hard plastic body shaped shell that one straps themelves into and is propelled by a motor down the street. Universal currency and RFID chipped identification cards issued by the federal government are likely, no matter how depressing.
As far as fun stuff goes, I hope that there are real life LARP games like SPOOKS mentioning in Halting State. I think simulation will become more intense, realistic, and play a much bigger role in society than was ever expected. It will be used for education as well as recreation. Perhaps the beginnings of quantum transportation, which we are seeing today with quantum computer, can be used to transmit more than data through space.
If I could pick one invention which I think would play one of the largest roles in future society, I would pick the Holosuite. With a perfectly realistic 3d simulation that one can be trained to do a large variety of things with, I think it would improve the quality of most everything in our society, from healthcare to mechanics. People would be able to be taught almost any skill from software.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Government Watch Lists

1. Contains people nominated by a member of the FBI or NSA
2. These people are nominated due to a background of terrorist activity or membership in extremist group
3. The list is not publicly available
4. Oftentimes people with similar names are detained
5. Most common form of detainment is air travel checks

Technology, Security and The Government

It didn’t take reading Little Brother for me to have a pretty serious distrust in our government and the steps that they take to ensure “security.” I’m already required to give my drivers license number up to be able to buy a box of sudafed. I spend insane amounts of money ordering medication from Canada in order to get a medication that has been used as the treatment standard for a health condition that I suffer from, but the FDA won’t approve for semantic reasons, despite it having been used in Canada, Mexico, and most of Europe for over 30 years. I can’t find soda with normal sugar in it, only super-saturated diabetes inducing high fructose corn syrup, because the government’s in the business of subsidising the corn industry. BG&E violates me with a steel pipe on a monthly basis, despite utilities being “regulated” by the government. Insurance companies are allowed to take lots of your money for when you “need it most” and then do everything they possibly can not to give any of it back to you, and the government lets them do that too. The government’s been in the business of lining its own pockets for years, and it’s come to be all that I expect from them.
There’s lots of monitoring going on in present day society and I don’t think it’s anything new. Maybe due to the ubiquity of technology, it is affecting more people, but I think there are lots of instances where people are being and have been monitored without it. Spies can come in all forms. Projects such as ECHELON or Room 641A have brought to public attention the very real possibility that the government is able to monitor most Internet communication. Congress has been unable to affect the actions of the NSA, which I found to be most aptly expressed in this headline from “Congress: Let's investigate the NSA's spying program. NSA: Die in a fire. Congress: Okay, that's fine then, nothing to see here”
The inability of Congress to affect the actions of the NSA is pretty disturbing. Google has also been emerging as a possible future metaverse superpower, and its new Medical Records feature has me wondering how soon we will be chanting the mantra “I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords!”
I was able to speak with someone who was a Network Administrator at the NSA for a number of years in the 1990s. He told me that the greatest accomplishment that his “team” was known for was the ability to intercept (via satellite) all telecommunication traffic from the middle east during Desert Storm, decrypt and copy it to a local drive, and then send the traffic back to its destination in a mere 17 seconds. While this was clearly in the interest of security at the time, it does make one wonder exactly what the NSA is doing to monitor our networks today, especially with the inclusion of the Patriot Act.
The lack of oversight and potential for abuse makes me nervous. Even though the NSA is accountable to various military figures, I’d like a civilian there to decide what is and isn’t acceptable forms of treatment for “suspects.” I’m sure that a large variety of military actions are taken on a regular basis to ensure the safety of this country, utilizing highly secretive teams like Delta Force, that probably violate handfuls of international treaties, the Bill of Rights, and possibly even the Geneva Convention – and all for good cause. I don’t think anyone would deny that it’s okay to save millions of lives by doing something slightly illegal. However, it’s such a slippery slope that it’s one I am even afraid to approach. Where does it end? How far is too far? To what extent is surveillance okay? I honestly don’t have an answer.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Halting State

Halting State showcases a variety of very plausible near-future technologies. Metaverses, “specs,” and alternate reality games in particular are based on technology intrinsic to today’s society such as social networking tools, head-up displays and massively multiplayer online games.
“CopSpace” is a metaverse, which interacts with reality in a similar way to Google Earth. Google Earth is a software program that allows the user to view satellite imagery of the majority of earth, composited onto a zoomable globe, navigable by latitude, longitude, address, and landmark. Keyhole Markup Language can be used to create interactive visual location-specific information. Markers can be placed over points of interest that expand to display a customizable amount of information when the user clicks on them. Transparent overlays can be applied to current map imagery to compare social and historical trends based on geography. There is even an overlay available which shows a historical photograph of the 99th Street School and the community surrounding it, which was build over Love Canal – a site used as a dumping ground for 21,000 tons of toxic waste. The area since then has been declared unfit for humans to live in.
CopSpace also provides location specific information similar to Google Earth. Markers can be added to places that can be expanded to display additional information. Additionally, it also records any interactions that an officer may have throughout the day – not only with superiors but also with potential witnesses and suspects, eliminating the need for videotapes or cassette recording technology, or even written records. Information that would normally require database access can be shown in an officer’s visual field, via head up displays, so that one is able to access information with as little effort as possible. Unfortunately, in highly populated areas, this can get confusing: “You blink back red overlays - the airport is a kaleidoscopic blur of too much information in CopSpace...”
The extension of cell phone usage in Halting State is also worth noting. Cell phones now record interactions, as well as track its users locations. Spooks is an ARG that is played via anonymous cell phone conversations, in a manner somewhat similar to Live Action Role Playing, but on a 24/7 real time global scale. The contrast between the new forms of entertainment and infringement of one’s privacy rights via cell phone usage is somewhat ironic, and very realistic as we are able to recall news stories about missing people being discovered via triangulation of their cell phone signal.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Social Aspects of YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates

YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates (often referred to as YPP for short) has a particularly different sort of gaming dynamic than that described by Mark Stephen Meadows in Second Life. Some of the main differences are the lack of corporate presence, almost no social interaction based upon sex, and the lack of in game player status based on experience or levels.
Second Life is a game known for its corporate presence. W Hotels and American Apparel are two major companies which have created an in game presence. W Hotels tests out architectural prototypes in the virtual world. American Apparel sells virtual versions of their real-life clothing for people to use and outfit their avatars with. YPP is completely devoid of any major corporate entities (with the exception of Three Rings Design, its parent company). One possibility for this is due to the in game setting – pirates tend not to partake of much consumerist culture, and their role in society is that of an anarchist. Pirating is a form of theft and therefore pirates are fairly impervious to a majority of material desires influenced by corporations.
The various forms of player sexual interaction, domination, and submission which Meadows describes in I, Avatar are notably absent in YPP as well. The avatars which players are provided with are unable to be nude (even if a player has no clothing, “rags” are issued to them to prevent any form of exposure). The control of an avatar’s actions is fairly limited as well (most actions are indicated by a representative symbol appearing above the avatar’s head, such as a sword for players who may be swordfighting), and used mostly for transportation from place to place than visual cues to one’s actions.
One of the most notable features of YPP is the range of player abilities and experience. Player “levels” are not used in game, and a brand new player has the ability to perform just as well on any given puzzle or task as a player who has been around for years. There are very few items in game which can’t be bought with a very accessible amount of PoE (with the exception of familiars, which are rare), and a fair number of PoE “sinks” (all clothing and weapons eventually wear out and turn to dust, those who are ship captains earn a higher percentage of booty but also have to keep a ship stocked with Rum and cannonballs, etc) which keep even very wealthy players from having an unfair advantage over those with little money. While dubloons can be purchased with money, PoE that a player has earned can also be converted into dubloons, allowing it to be a free gaming experience if a player chooses. However, there is virtually no exchange of PoE or dubloons for “real life” money due to its relative availability.
Most puzzles being played can be stopped at any time without penalty, which helps add to the immersive “feel” of the game – you can stop and start playing at any time you like. Also, the relative familiarity with pirate culture and customs helps players pick up lingo quickly. The line between the real and virtual is likely to blur less, I think, because the interaction is very much limited to casual puzzle games for enjoyment.
I can only hope that some day virtual worlds will become an all encompassing thing. Since 1999 I have been a part of the usenet group Alt.Gothic – it has become very much a “real life” experience to me now because of a variety of events (such as Convergence, a weekend con that revolves around clubbing) and connections with people in real life that have lasted regardless of where I’m living.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Problems of Interactivity

In Puzzle Pirates, there is an array of different virtual worlds to choose from. These are referred to as “oceans” and come in a variety of types. The first main distinction is the type of player oceans – there are subscription oceans and doubloon oceans. In order to participate in a subscription ocean, a player must pay a monthly rate, where as doubloon oceans are free to all users but certain game features require badges, which are purchasable by using doubloons, which may be purchased using USD or exchanging in game PoE (pieces of eight, the standard currency) for doubloons. Since I went to New York City last weekend I will be using this as a source of comparison (and excuse for why I’m on a doubloon ocean instead of paying for a subscriber ocean).
The environment in Puzzle Pirates is somewhat responsive than one finds in NYC. There is a surprising number of similarities – people gathered in public places just waiting to Brawl or Swordfight based on the slightest provocation, sketchy goods for sale at low prices on the main thoroughfares by individuals. There is as much of a variety of pirates as is seemingly possible (with the exception of corporate pirates and software pirates), from shipwrecked deckhands to aristocratic buccaneers. While I have the option to start various forms of combat (sword fighting, brawling, drinking games) with other users, I can also speak with them, view their items, and add them as my “hearty” (or friend). There are a variety of NPCs around to offer help or guidance or even to engage in a friendly game of sword fighting with, to up my ranking. Every avatar having a name label causes a dissonance with reality, as well as helpful tips that pop up during games or when performing various duties on a ship. Also, when a skill ranking is increased, I am notified of this status change as well.
The avatars used in puzzle pirates are somewhat oversimplified. They are more cartoon character versions of pirates than realistic graphical depictions. While clothing can be bought in an endless variety of color combinations, the clothing items themselves are not particularly numerous. My avatar can be, at best, a vague approximation of my actual physical appearance.
The forms of reaction available to me are mostly interaction with other players or NPCs, puzzles, and textual conversation. Like the interactive video, this depends on the architectural strategy of the program (Hershman 645). The most common areas for interaction to take place are taverns, where open interaction between members occurs, and the Bulletin Board, which contains a variety of tabs that list missions, puzzles, and jobs available to each user, as well as ships run by the NPC island’s “Navy,” in addition to user created and manned ships which are seeking ‘jobbers’ for a journey.
One of the main ways that the puzzle pirates world might “fall apart” would be when a player gains enough ranks to captain a ship. While a player may be highly skilled in the navigation puzzle, without a crew (or a crew of only NPCs) they are likely to be no match for actual human players.
Despite any obvious flaws in this virtual world, it's still extremely likely to be the closest I'll ever get to being a swashbuckling rumrunner myself.