Vernor Vinge notes

A few notes on Vernor Vinge Paints the Future at Austin Game Conference as they pertain to some topics near and dear. I found the comments as transcribed to be interesting enough to frame a few thoughts around.

The superhuman / post-human / technological singularity
Probably one of the most contestable characteristics of networked publics and the social formations that arise from nearly persistent, continuous, ubiquitous linkages amongst human agents. The weak signals are stronger than suggested — MMORPGs (not a huge fan), photo sharing (love it), blogging (the paleostine of networked social formations).

Upside of “superhuman” (awful choice of language on Vinge’s part, imho) capabilities derived from networked social formations? The communities that form around these sort of activities have promise for the way they teach us about participation, engagement and the importance of various kinds of dialogue. They are connectors in the broadest sense, reminding us of the value of communities beyond the physically local. Our actions here have effects there — we distribute the results of our decisions in ways we might not anticipate.

Downside of “superhuman” are that large formations of people do not always make normatively ethical decisions about how they behave. Just because people are able to network and communicate and form groups means little about their ability to do right by those either inside or outside of that group. Like, the Janjaweed, for example. Or the US Congress.

Technology Leads The Way
In thinking about this, I have several steps or types of technology that lead into it. First of all, starting with the 1980s, we have embedded systems, things like microcontrollers in our typewriters. It’s a great economic win, because it allows us to substitute software for moving parts engineering, and so embedded microprocessors at this point are pretty ubiquitous, to the point that it can be kind of scary. Now, we’re entering an era of networked embedded systems, of devices able to talk to each other and to us.

Hmm. Strong allergic reaction to describing the path toward a possible future through technologies as if they roll off manufacturing assembly lines by themselves. Of course it’s a great economic win. It’s a great economic win because the episteme that floats the expense of making these technologies only makes things that are great economic wins. Economic wins aren’t dumb luck (most of the time.) Wal-Mart didn’t spur the development of massly manufactured, cheap RFID tags cause they’re cool. Right? So, why tell the story this way? It’s just wrong.

4kx4k Head Mounted Displays Ubiquitous As Earphones?
I’m a bit torn on this point. Earphones and microphones are all over the place because they facilitate a relatively sane social practices — communicating, listening. Steve Mann not withstanding, I’m not (yet) convinced that we’ll want to occupy the kind of visually immersive worlds that a decent head mounted display suggests. But, on the other hand, shared visual worlds are intriguing, for instance, Sascha’s Flickr camera that takes someone else’s photo for you. Or omnivorous, ubiquitous camera projects. (Omnivorous backward facing backpack camera or Waymarkr.)

VInge describes concensual imaging, which I find promising as a little nugget to begin thinking about what shared visual environments might be like. I guess I’m less convinced by starting with a technical fixation (4kx4k..head mount..) than the social practice that might yield something that makes sense.

Inside Out — Cyberspace Is Leaky
This stuff I like to think about. What happens when all the transactions and interactions and repositories of human-made digital bits are untethered from their moorings? What happens when we can form bridges between 1st Life and the bits flipping on our desktop network interfaces, or the bits in concrete and steel data centers? What will the world be like when there are more bridges between 1st Life and 2nd Life worlds? When 2nd Life worlds and 1st Life worlds are well-linked?

Good question. I can enumerate five things that I can think of:

1. Renewed definition of the body politic.
2. A reconfiguration of what counts as leisure & entertainment.
3. A withdraw of the apparatus from view, along the lines of an ambient engagement with networked social practices. (JSB & Heidegger)
4. Resurgence of the DIY / Maker sensibility.Somehow I think that productive linkages between 1st Life & 2nd Life will happen from the fringes of creative art-technology practices. Already there are innumerable (although many make wonderful attempts at enumerating them) projects that are creative, socially and politically consequential, and playful linkages that express 1st Life in 2nd Life or 2nd Life in 1st Life. More needs to happen in this area.
5. Ways of revealing the linkages between 1st Life actions and consequences can be made sensible in ways that have been previously impossible. New forms of networked interaction, participation & engagement that are not just about lightweight atoms & bits, RSS, and WoW raids, but about heavyweight action, the consequences of supra-atomic activities such as driving cars that are too big. If I could have a heads up display kin to what WoW heavyweights have, but indicative of the relationships amongst a whole matrix of parameters that relate to my 1st Life that would be really significant.

Jobs & Games
The coal mine of the near-future is here — “gold farmers“.

Why do I blog this? Just notes for a chapter in how to live in a pervasively networked world.


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