Wetmachine Blog: The Age of Imagination

The fifth era of relating society to technology?

Makers’ Mash-Up

As the nascent VR industry gears up for The Year of VR, the press and pundits are wrestling with how things will break out. There are several Head Mounted Display manufacturerers that will release their first products early this year, and they are initially positioning them as extensions of the established games market. The idea is that manufacturers need new content for people to play on their boxes, and game studios need new gizmos in which to establish markets for their content. The Oculus will initially ship with a traditional game controller. The Vive will provide hand sensor wands that allow finer manipulation. They’re both thinking in terms of studio-produced games.

The studio/manufactuer model is well-understand and huge — bigger than the motion picture industry. The pundits are applying that framework as they wonder about the chicken-and-egg problem of content and market both requiring each other to come first. Most discussion takes for granted a belief that the hardware product market enables and requires a studio to invest in lengthy development of story, art, and behavior, followed by release and sale to individuals.

But I wonder how quickly we will move beyond the studio/manufacturer model.

I’m imagining a makers’ mash-up in which people spontaneously create their own games all the time…

  • a place where people could wield their Minecraft hammers in one hand, and their Fruit Ninja swords in the other.
  • a place that would allow people to teleport from sandbox to sandbox, and bring items and behaviors from one to another.
  • a place where people make memories by interacting with the amazing people they meet.

I think there’s good reason to believe this will happen as soon as the technology will enable it.

Second Life is an existence proof that this can work. Launched more than a dozen years ago, its roughly 1M montlhy users have generated several billion dollars of user-created virtual goods. I think SL’s growth is maxed out on its ancient architecture, but how long will it take any one of the VR hardware/game economies to reach that scale?

Ronald Coase’s Nobel-prize-winning work on the economics of the firm says, loosely, that companies form and grow when growing reduces their transaction costs. If people can freely combine costume, set, props, music, and behaviors, and are happy with the result, the economic driver for the studio system disappears.

I think the mash-up market will explode when people can easily and inexpensively create items that they can offer for free or for reputation. We’ve seen this with the early Internet, Web, and mobile content, and offline from Freecycle to Burning Man.

High Fidelity’s technical foundation is pretty close to making this happen at a self-sustaining scale. There are many design choices that tend to promote or restrict this, and I’ve described some in the “Interdimensional conflicts” section at the end of “Where We Fit”. Some of the key architectural aspects for a makers’ mash-up are multi-user, fine-manipulation, automatic full body animation, scriptable objects that can interact with a set of common physics for all objects, teleporting to new places with the same avatar and objects, and scalability that can respond to unplanned loads.

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Making the Tech Tool Work

A classmate of my daughter was too shy to present her social studies final project. So my daughter offered to record her presentation at home, boost the voice, and give the recording to the teacher. Brilliant. The teacher has accepted.

It’s wonderful that this is not a particular remarkable use of technology these days. But in this case, my daughter and her classmate are special-needs students. I try to take to heart Alan Kay’s maxim that if technology works well for kids, it will work well for everyone, and doubly so for everyone who faces challenges. I cannot express how very proud I am that my daughter is using technology to give her friend a voice.

It takes a lot of work by technologists to make a success like this possible at all. It further takes a lot of work by technology advocates to make the possible a more commonplace part of our everyday culture. We all benefit when every one of us has the widest possible set of tools available to us, and it is advocates that make that happen. It makes me sad that critics of what they call technology solutionism would fail to do everything possible to enlarge everyone’s toolset.

Also posted in Inventing the Future, KidsFirst | Comments closed

Mostly Reliable Performance of Software Processes by Dynamic Control of Quality Parameters

[I wrote this just over four years ago for a conference I never went to. I’m submitting it now in the sprit of my “Disclose This” entry, in which I promised to disclose ideas that I’d like myself and others to be able to use, and not be prevented from doing so by software patents.]

Abstract

We have a complex software application with a number of multi-media subsystem processes. We would like the application to meet certain minimum overall performance criteria. Many of the subsystem processes can be executed at varying quality levels, and these have various effects on system performance. The situation is complicated by the fact that system performance is also dependent on factors outside the software application itself (e.g., processor and network load from other applications). We apply a number of independently-operating standard industrial process-controllers to vary subsystem quality as needed so that performance criteria is met or exceeded when possible.
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Disclose This

When one of my children was learning to speak and to control the world around her, we told her that some behavior was a good idea. (I don’t remember what the behavior was.) She declared, “I do not like this good idea!”

As a software developers, I have ideas all the time, and I think some of them are good and would help people. I don’t want some corporation preventing others from using those ideas simply because they don’t like for others to do so. What would happen to software patents and business process patents if there was prior art in the blogosphere? We now live in a time where every utterance is available to others, and I’d like some good to come of that. So here are a bunch of ideas that I might like myself and everyone else to be able use in the future.

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Also posted in Inventing the Future | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

for thought

Just read this.

What happens when scale meets anything that John wrote?

Also posted in Inventing the Future | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Augmented Reality Two-Step

Step 1: An R/C hoverplane with a built-in camera that displays on the control app (on an iPhone).

Step 2: Remember Rainbows End? Here’s the same as above, adding virtual weapons.

Cool stuff (and somewhat terrifying) from AR Games. Hat tip to Julian for pointing it out.

Also posted in I Fear These Things, Inventing the Future | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Live NMR of the Kali Chip?

A transistor level simulation of the chip-level execution of a program. Looks like a brain scan.. Be sure to click the play button. (Kali reference re Sundman.)

(Thanks to colleague Eliot for tip.)

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The Mother of All Demos

I was able to go to the 40th Anniversary celebration of “The Mother of All Demos.” The 1968 live demo is most famous for introducing its hardware, including the mouse, but it was quite a bit more than that…

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The Imagination Age

This month’s Tech Review has an editorial that begins “Inventing the future…” and end with these two paragraphs:

“Traditionally, Technology Review hasn’t written that much about society. Our subject matter is emerging technologies, and they have historically been purchased by corporations, universities, and governments. That’s because emerging technologies used to require an extraordinary capital investment, one well beyond the means of most people in their private capacities. Nor did most people see the need to experiment with really novel technologies. Thus the personal computer, the local-area network, the Internet itself were all first used in commercial, government, or academic settings.

”But this is changing. The spread of cheap laptops, handheld devices, affordable Internet access, Wi-Fi, and a dozen other consumer technologies has led to a wonderful explosion of new social applications for them. But here’s the really interesting thing: most of these social technologies have simple editing and programming tools that let ordinary folks do innovative things that risk-averse corporations and government agencies would be hesitant to try. We suspect that Technology Review will be writing about the impact of new technologies on society much more frequently. Besides, social technologies are more fun.”

Here’s the letter to the editors that I just sent:

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