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Must Love The Internet

// Posted by on 02/04/2012 (7:35 PM)

When I decided to write a blog about this I asked my friends why they loved the internet? Being a bunch of college kids the most frequent response had something to do with how easy it was to look something… Read more

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When I decided to write a blog about this I asked my friends why they loved the internet? Being a bunch of college kids the most frequent response had something to do with how easy it was to look something up be it the definition of caprice, a plot summary, or a long forgotten formula from our days of geometry. People love the internet for many many reasons but most of them boil down into 2 categories; a quick source of information and as a means for communication. Honestly, how can one not love the internet? It has brought us countless innovations in technology simply by allowing people to tinker with it (Spacewar and Kinect hacks). And who can say no to things like facebook and icanhascheezburger?

This generation has grown up with an increasingly easy ability to log onto the internet and do things that range from simply checking an email account to being inspired and creating a website or company of one’s own. Take Jonathan Harris for example, after noticing how people leave their mark on the internet through sites like twitter and facebook he decided to create a program that would save the feelings of people as they post it on the internet from all over the world asking himself what stories they would tell?
Kind of remarkable how we can all be connected within one program, I wonder if people like Stewart Brand, who saw and was instrumental to the idea behind all of our technology being developed out of the Counterculture movement, smile, and think ‘well done.’ The world is more connected than it has ever been all because of this nifty thing called the world wide web and the easy access most of us have to it. I just finished the book From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner, it describes how the philosophies and motives that led to the Counterculture movement influenced the development of the internet. It is a fascinating story and I certainly never connected the internet to the Countercultural movement prior to my reading but he ended with the argument that we aren’t quite living out that idea yet. A key idea from counterculturalists and the makers of the internet was that by being connected to each other there would be no need for the government, that we would bring about a totally egalitarian society. Obviously this has not occurred, and with things like SOPA and PIPA hanging in the air one wonders if this idea would ever come to fruition, or if it is a good idea in the first place? But as Harris’ work suggests we are all more alike and connected on more levels than we even realize, so maybe there is a chance that something like the internet could bring the peoples of the world together. But, in true cliche form, only time will tell. Meanwhile we use what we have and send our emails, write our papers, and post our statuses to facebook and twitter.

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If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.

// Posted by on 01/29/2012 (5:53 PM)

The discussions of “Spacewar” and Stewart Brand’s idea of hackers made me think more about what hacking has become today in both the forms of social stereotypes as well as financial gains. I began to research the broad topic of… Read more

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The discussions of “Spacewar” and Stewart Brand’s idea of hackers made me think more about what hacking has become today in both the forms of social stereotypes as well as financial gains. I began to research the broad topic of “hacking” and found the issue continually being linked to the keywords “national security” and “youth.” It’s interesting that hackers today are reported to be so young and often times socially maladjusted, let alone potential threats to certain global forms of security. I watched a TedTalk given by Misha Glenny on these hacking youths and he reached a somewhat controversial conclusion: hire them.

 

Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

 

I guess it’s a new and improved version of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”… If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em. In the TedTalk Glenny discusses first the group Anonymous, which does not use their hacked information for financial gain. They are more of a social activist network of hackers who are acting with a purpose for change, not money. Glenny then talks about another group, Carderplanet, which began about 10 years ago. Carderplanet is a group of Ukranian hackers who developed a website which Glenny says “lead to the industrialization of cyber crime.” This website invited cyber criminals to buy and sell stolen credit card information as well as was a hub for learning about new hacking technologies and strategies. Glenny describes what Carderplanet became as a “supermarket for cyber criminals” in which people could, for a buy-in fee, gain access to stolen credit card information or sell stolen information they had. The network of hacking knowledge was used solely for financial gain, a major way in which Carderplanet is different from Anonymous. In the discussion of Carderplanet, Glenny talks about a contact he had with one of its members who was making $150,000 a week by using stolen credit card information in ATMs. “Tax free, of course,” as Glenny puts it.

Glenny goes on to discuss the facts surrounding what we know about how hackers come to be; people learn hacking skills in their early to mid teenage years, generally have advanced skills in math and the sciences, and do not demonstrate very good social skills in the real world. These are important facts to note because the young age as well as diminished social skills indicates that their moral compass has not had a chance to fully develop when they are learning these new skills. They feel somewhat of a disconnect with their surrounding social environment and may not even be fully aware that what they are doing is wrong. This is one main reason that Glenny feels it is wrong to incarcerate these young hackers–instead, he suggests that we “engage and find ways of offering guidance to [hackers] because they are a remarkable breed–if we rely solely on the criminal justice system and the threat of punitive sentences, we will be nurturing a monster we cannot tame.” Essentially, if you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.

This idea, in theory, is not a new one. Although it is illegal to hack, I personally believe that it will always exist. Just as people will always break the speed limit, people will always hack. An important question can then be asked: could teaching basic forms of computer science to children in early years of school create hackers that may cause more harm than good, or will the children who will eventually become hackers find their way to it anyway? If it were a possibility that making computer science a part of early schooling would create more opportunities for children to become hackers, would it still be worthwhile? Do you agree that we should hire the hackers to work for us? Do you think this strategy would work?

 

Misha Glenny TedTalk: Hire the hackers!


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Spacewar: “A Flawless Crystal Ball”

// Posted by on 01/23/2012 (10:08 PM)

In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the… Read more

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In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the world of gaming explode). So his report didn’t credit Spacewar as part of a natural progression of software or even hacking, and Brand definitely did not view it as genuine piece of the technology revolution puzzle, but it was still fun.

What Brand did acknowledge about Spacewar was (as quoted from Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums):

  • It was intensely interactive in real time with the computer.
  • It encouraged new programming by the user.
  • It bonded human and machine through a responsive broadband interface of live graphics display.
  • It served primarily as a communication device between humans.
  • It was a game.
  • It functioned best on, stand-alone equipment (and disrupted multiple-user equipment).
  • It served human interest, not machine. (Spacewar is trivial to a computer.)
  • It was delightful.

So Spacewar was a crystal ball… how?

Recently I stumbled upon this gem of a TED Talk:

Now I am probably the furthest thing from a gamer, so McGonial’s theory was eye opening, even if I didn’t really buy it.

My disclaimer before I get into Spacewar’s prophecy, if you will…

I apologize to any mother whose gamer also stumbles upon Jane McGonigal’s talk. Much to your and Marie Hemming’s (see comments on McGonigal’s Talk and you will quickly learn why) dismay this will only encourage his/her gaming.

Now onto the “how”… (based on McGonigal’s theory)

Spacewar was interactive:

  • COLLABORATORS: at every level and mission, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you
  • EPIC STORY: inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing
  • POSITIVE FEEDBACK: leveling up, plus-one strength, and plus-one intelligence

 

Spacewar encouraged new programming:

McGonigal created three games that that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures:

  1. World Without Oil: an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage
  2. Superstruct at The Institute For The Future: the premise was a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet.
  3. Evoke: if you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator

Spacewar bonded human & machine through graphics:

photo by Phil Toledano

 

Jane McGonigal explains the above gamer expression, photographed by Phil Toledano, as:

“a classic gaming emotion… if you’re not a gamer, you might miss some of the nuance in this photo. You probably see the sense of urgency, a little bit of fear, but intense concentration,deep, deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem… If you are a gamer, you will notice a few nuances here: the crinkle of the eyes up, and around the mouth is a sign of optimism, and the eyebrows up is surprise. This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win.”

McGonigal hopes to make it as easy to achieve an epic win in the real world as the virtual world.

 

Spacewar served as a communication device between humans:

Games like World of Warcraft make gamers virtuosos at: WEAVING A TIGHT SOCIAL FABRIC

“There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, they’ll stay with the game until it’s over. And so, playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.”

 

Spacewar was a game:

Games can save a civilization, as McGonigal explains through Herodotus’ story of Lydia during an 18 year famine which eventually lead to the Etruscans. Games allow us to ignore real-world suffering because they are engaging and immerse the player in satisfying blissful productivity. McGonigal believes if we game long enough, we can eventually solve real-world problems instead of virtual ones.

 

Spacewar served human interest:

McGonigal claims that if we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. We need to answer these questions:

What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work?

 

Spacewar was delightful:

Games like World of Warcraft also make gamers virtuosos at: URGENT OPTIMISM

“Think of this as extreme self-motivation. Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying, and trying now”

 

So, the question then becomes: do you think gaming can save the world?

 

Jane McGonigal: How gaming can make a better world


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