Monday, 2 March 2009

How Social Data can Manipulate Society

What are the implications of storing a complete record of your life online?

More than likely, you'll be halfway towards this already. Facebook has your friends. Google has your search history, your emails and your documents. Microsoft has your chat history. Last.fm has your taste in music. Delicious has your interests. Twitter has your random thoughts. And all this is voluntary. Imagine what they may be doing with this data, when it's all brought together, what will it tell them about you? It's no surprise that Google is buying everything.

Of course it's worrying, but I suppose it's not the end of the world if some big corporation has your information. It's not even anything new, credit card companies have been doing it for decades.

The issue now though is that the information mined is more detailed and complete than it's ever been before. And it's all owned by American companies. Companies who, thanks to the patriot act, have to hand over any information the US government asks for.

However, the problem is not what they will do with one person's information. It's what they will do with all of it.

Social control is a relatively simple practice. It's been done for centuries, convincing societies to go to war, to do the bidding of the elite.

If a government or political entity knows enough about its society, it can play off its fears, play up to its desires, and essentially manipulate the populace with counter-information spread via media, both social and mainstream. It can drive sentiment, spread rumours, and shape the information people have access to.

This is not a new practice, but it has become a lot easier, a lot more specific. Now that various aspects of our personalities are recorded, it has become much easier to focus in on specific hopes and fears. It should not seem far fetched that this information could be used for very specific political purposes.

Monday, 1 December 2008

How Technology is Advancing too Fast For Art


Retro gaming is a bizarre phenomenon. Being a technology driven medium, games go through generations in just a few years. However, the differences between generations is more profound than technological advances. It seems that more advanced possibilities change the entire landscape of gaming culture.

Retro gaming is a growing trend, but it is becoming hard to define. There are so many generations of games now, all differing so significantly, that the definition of retro changes according to age, tastes, and personal nostalgia. It's not enough to simply say "Retro means old" any more.

The reason for this blurring of definition, is that games advanced so fast, that human creativity couldn't even keep up. To understand this, remember how old 8-Bit games had such primitive sound, yet the creators did what they could to make the sounds good. We still remember the old music with fondness, not as impressed by today's music that was created with no limitations.

It was the limitations that made the old games so good. It forced the creators to focus on gameplay, and on doing as much as they could with the little they had. Of course, as technology advanced so rapidly, game creators didn't need to do this for long. It's this limited time frame that seems to have inspired the retro-remake scene.

Just as there are some people who perform entire concerts using the original Game Boy, there are others who are remixing old music in a modern style, yet keeping the original feel. And now, the entire community of Street Fighter fans came together to make an updated, but still-true-to-its-original-form, version of Street Fighter 2.

What these ventures go to show, is that there is a lot of potential for art if we look back at opportunities missed. There is so much left unexplored because of the incredible acceleration of technology. There are so many possibilities that have passed us by, not just in art, but in culture, and in application of technology. A prime example of this would be the Nintendo Wii, it ignores the advances of technology and focuses on providing new experiences, new solutions.

So why not stop waiting for tomorrow, and take a look around? Why not try and do the best we can with what we have, embracing limitation for a moment before eradicating it?

Otherwise, the doors will be broken down before we've had a chance to explore the room.



Thursday, 20 November 2008

Turning VR Inside Out



This video shows how RFID can help improve control over stock inventory both in real world and virtual world situations. With the current state of virtual reality, it's unlikely that virtual supermarkets will take off. They're just too...clunky. However, one distinct possibility is a reversal. Computer controlled reality.

RFID will play a large part in this. The data it will provide will change the way we look at reality. By reporting and recording our locations and activities, it will digitise us - turning us into real life avatars.

In virtual reality, everything we do can be recorded. The software can record our every movement and interaction. This will soon be possible in real life, thanks to RFID and our interactions with computer interfaces.

Real life benefits will get us to adopt the data collection methods without question. Contact lenses or eventually brain modifications of some kind could provide us with a computer interface while in the real world. In the meantime, we'll have to make do with the iPhone. Right click a person on the street to see that person's shared details - subscribe to their Twitter feed or download their blog. Perhaps they could, from time to time, broadcast from their own eyes, allowing you to essentially inhabit their body. Extreme sports participants could make a fortune out of this, especially once physical sensations can be shared.

The information recorded about us will then take a similar shape to credit card records of the present, only far more in depth. This is not conspiracy paranoia, this is based purely on the corporations' desires (and our own) to record our data. Our purchases already provide a profile of us. In the future, our travel could be logged to provide "statistical data" for the authorities. Our work history and qualifications could be recorded in new and interesting ways. An extremely in-depth analysis of our health could be recorded on a continual basis and shared with our doctor. With enough information about enough of our actions, and the profile that is put together could eventually create some serious possibilities. What if our past could be mapped out so accurately that our future could be predicted?

Think about it; if you know the exact position, mass, and direction of every particle in the universe, in theory you should be able to predict their next moves, based on what is around them and the current laws of physics. Although chaos theory puts a dampener on this, human beings are far more predictable. With enough historical and psychological data on a person, which can be collected post hoc in a triple blind test method, we can provide immensely powerful speculation techniques. Prediction of entire populations needn't be far behind.

But you don't need me to tell you about this. Isaac Asimov's been talking about it for years. I just don't think he imagined we'd make it so easy.


Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Future of Tele-Coverage

I noticed with interest the difference between:

Michael Anissimov's review of how Second Life and IRC affected Transvision 06
and
George Dvorsky's comments on Twitter's impact on Convergence 08.

There appears to be a number of advantages and disadvantages to each medium. While Second Life allows those not in attendance to interact with the conference, it requires a lot of commitment. Resources need to be invested in an account, downloaded client software, a powerful computer with a lot of hard drive space, and a good net connection. Even if those things are not an issue, Second Life requires your full attention, you have to control your avatar, its camera, and inventory. Even for a seasoned veteran, the interface is extremely clunky (albeit powerful).

Twitter on the other hand provides a very casual way to stay in touch both in and at the conference. It can be accessed in many different ways, including RSS reader, phone, browser or desktop client, as well as the webpage. It's simple and it gives the user a choice, with little commitment. By all accounts it also provided a great feel to the event.

So, is this the future? Are we no longer interested in fully immersed virtual worlds, instead content with streams of text? What has the world come to?

It certainly seems to be the case. Look at the rise of RSS over the past year. We want our information without the frills. And we want it personalised.

The generic virtual world has failed to evolve with the rest of the internet.
It's lagging behind and dooming itself to extinction.

There's talk on the net of the next generation of virtual worlds being server generated. There will be no need to download clunky software, a simple browser is all it will take to have photo-realistic graphics. Ease of use and low commitment are desperately needed to keep virtual reality alive. However, the most desperate requirement is a larger step away from reality.

That's not to say that the worlds themselves should become less realistic, but the interfaces and the features need to be brought more in line with current trends. The closest Second Life comes to what I'm talking about is the mini browser within it. There should be far, far, far more integrated services. RSS feeds, interaction with blogs and forums, and data inputs should be a given. A necessity is improved interaction. The reason Second Life is losing so much ground at the moment is because it's so hard to use, and more casual virtual worlds are emerging. Creating simple objects or performing simple gestures should be easy.

You should have access to your virtual world account and everything about it without having to invoke the virtual senses. In other words, you could be present in the virtual world without an avatar, and without being able to see the world where your presence is residing, but you will still be able to interact with the conversations in that area, make transactions, and perform actions relating to your virtual account.

So what, in that case, would be the point of the virtual world? Well, the interface still offers a level of interaction not found in text based communication. It transmits body language, atmosphere, and imagination. It allows the user to be anything, and to do anything, and to go anywhere. Technically, it has the potential to provide a rich environment to interact with remote events, but it's currently falling desperately short.

Perhaps VR still has a part to play in tele-coverage and communication, but at the moment it's just taking a break, waiting for both the technology and the people behind the software to come up with new and innovative virtual concepts.