I’m surfing a rather strange mood right now. I got home from gaming 20 minutes ago, feeling strangely bemused and disappointed with the world, largely for broad social and political reasons than for anything one particular thing.

I’ve been grappling a little of late with the troublesome conflict between ideas of social fairness and communal action versus libertarian ideas of avoiding coercion and maximizing freedom. Both sides offer attractions, but both have drawbacks – freedom and self-determination are desirable, but do they trump the Rawlsian desire for fairness and equality? Always? Never? Sometimes? Where do you draw the line?

Obviously, compromise between the extremes of these positions is necessary, and I know thinkers out there have formulated amalgamations that seem to offer a way forward. My concern is that society at large doesn’t seem able to follow sophisticated hybrid policies, and tends to leap to extremes – we’re either ignoring a problem, or flooding it with ill-considered, wasteful solutions. While the barely competent rule of the fickle crowd is perhaps measured and appropriate for some issues, it seems foolishly slow and indecisive for others.

However, this isn’t all that’s bugging me. Rather, it’s a contributing and compounding factor in a mangled mass of disappointing trends I discern – the tragedy of the commons wrought large on global resources. What happens next?

It seems my attitude towards the future ranges from measured optimism to resigned pessimism. I guess this to be expected – we live in truly interesting times, and I really can’t tell if that’s good or bad.

Maybe I just shouldn’t listen to essays about existential risk when I’m tired..

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via George,

An amusing take on what entertainment might be like 50 years from now.

How plausible is full sensory experience and interface like this by the date offered in the video (2062)?

Right now, it might look like far future fiction, but I’m fairly sure that’s not the case. Enabling technologies necessary for virtual reality of this level either exist already, are in development, or are at least theoretically possible.

The nanomachines necessary seem almost inevitable, particularly as the necessary components for these (antenna, propulsion, power) are in development, with experimental devices either complete or nearing completion. Similarly, the computing power necessary also seems easily achievable.

So, to me, the main remaining obstacle is complexity. That is, while we can create the necessary devices, and produce the necessary content, can we string these all together into the necessary engineered systems? We’re pretty awful at this sort of thing when it comes to building large scale software solutions, largely because of the need for rapid change and adaptation. It seems that brain interfaces of this fidelity must adapt quite precisely to the neural topology of the individual, and it would seem that these must vary widely at the level of neurons, meaning that any engineered system interfacing with the brain must be heavily customizable to accomodate this.

This, by the way, is my general concern with some of the technology ideals before us – I trust our ability to invent and create devices, but I don’t trust our ability to coordinate them.

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Finally, it is time to rest.

Last Wednesday, I randomly wandered in to visit Seth‘s office, where he’d just discovered a design competition for applications using Google’s new programmming environment for smart phones, Android. He had an idea of sorts which turned out to be similar to something else I’d been working on, and was keen to enter if he could find people to help write it. It sounded like fun, and I figured it would be nice to learn a bit about the toolkit. Details of our effort are in his blog.

Long story short – after about 70 hours of coding across four days, we submitted our entry this evening. If, through some miracle, we’re in the top 50, we get US$25,000. If not, well, I now know a great deal more about Google Android than I did before I started.

That wasn’t the end of the madness, though – after finishing work on it at about 5pm today, I raced off to the new and improved Christchurch Game Developer’s get together that I had organized with the help of Jeff Nusz from Zodal. Turnout was awesome (20+ people for an event I expected 5-10 at), and the response was great. I led a design discussion talking about Aquaria(review) and ran a panel of sorts talking about the games industry in Christchurch, the ways in which events like that could inspire people and grow a community, and then a bit about how we could eventually start to market the group and lobby government for industry development support. There were several volunteers to host the next one, so hopefully the ball will keep on rolling.

Now, though, I’m going to sit down, watch a few episodes of Yes, Minister, and decompress. Tomorrow’s another busy day, so rest sounds pretty good right now.

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I’ve been sitting in on Robert Kraut‘s online communities course. He’s a visiting lecturer from CMU with a background in social psychology, and consequently, the course is heavy on theory and empirical studies. In it, he discusses how theories of social psychology can help us understand and build online communities.

So far, we’ve covered community structures, motivations for contribution and ways of encouraging it, the ways in which newcomers assimilate into the community, and the ways in which relationships can form within a community. We’ve also talked a little about groups within communities, for example as sources of motivation and social loafing, shared identity and discrimination.

Recently, while talking about the last of these, discrimination, someone mentioned ‘Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes’, a lesson taught by a teacher, Jane Elliot, to classes of 3rd graders in Iowa during the years following Martin Luther King’s assassination. In it, she teaches them about discrimination by dividing them into brown and blue eyed groups, then praising one group and criticizing the other.


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Try this experiment. Read the following passage, once only. Then, click through and read the rest of this post.

With hocked gems financing him, our hero bravely defied all scornful laughter that tried to prevent his scheme. “Your eyes deceive,” he had said. “An egg, not a table, correctly typifies this unexplored planet.” Now three sturdy sisters sought proof. Forging along, sometimes through calm vastness, yet more often very turbulent peaks and valleys, days became weeks as many doubters spread fearful rumours about the edge. At last from nowhere welcome winged creatures appeared, signifying momentous success.


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