dinsdag 9 mei 2006

Surviving the Xbox(?)

Daniel Zsukov sent me an article, "Why We Haven't Met Any Aliens", in response to my post on Open Croquet. The writer, Geoffrey Millers, suggests that intelligent life will exterminate itself because of "the Great Temptation for any technological species—to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures, and less to their children. They eventually die out when the game behind all games—the Game of Life—says "Game Over; you are out of lives and you forgot to reproduce."

And that's also the reason why we won't find any aliens. Not because they've blown themselves up like some scholars suggest will happen to every intelligent life, but because "they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain's ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good."

His central point is that "the business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains." I don't agree. Not now and not in the long run, since I believe (or hope..) that entertainment will evolve as well, incorporating "the traditional staples of physical, mental and social development—athletics, homework, dating—" of which Miller says they are being neglected. He says that "the few young people with the self-control to pursue the meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute. Take, for example, the MIT graduates who apply to do computer game design for Electronics Arts, rather than rocket science for NASA." He might be right, but if entertainment will evolve towards integrating physical and virtual aspects, then he's wrong exactly because they will go work for EA rather than NASA.

So this is all a sign of transformation, not an endpoint: "We have already shifted from a reality economy to a virtual economy, from physics to psychology as the value-driver and resource-allocator. We are already disappearing up our own brainstems. Our neurons over-stimulate each other, promiscuously, as our sperm and eggs decay, unused. Freud's pleasure principle triumphs over the reality principle. Today we narrow-cast human-interest stories to each other, rather than broadcasting messages of universal peace and progress to other star systems."

His final question is whether we will survive the Xbox. Yes, we will, and Nintendo's Wii and Sony PlayStation's EyeToy are just glimpses of the reason why. So let's all start building the Metaverse on top of the MySpace community and let the game not be played in front of a living room TV, but use augmented reality to get the kids outside and physically interact.

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