What does philosophy tell us about virtual reality and virtual worlds? I’d like to start with some people who do not belong to the typical college overview of classical philosphers, people who started thinking about the augmentation of human intellect and human emotions such as Vannevar Bush (As Ae May Think, 1945), J.C.R. Licklider (Man-Computer Symbiosis, 1960), Douglas Engelbart (Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, 1962), Theodor H. Nelson (Computer Lib / Dream Machines, 1970-1974)… all authors and texts which can be found in The New Media Reader (MIT).
What they have in common is the awareness that the world becomes a complex, rapidly evolving and dangerous place. In order to keep up with the challenges we need to augment our intellectual capacities, not only our rational reasoning skills but also our ability for compassion and empathy. Computers in their many forms are a crucial part of that augmentation.
The texts in the New Media Reader are often decades old. They are chosen not only because the authors were able to predict the path of technological change, but also because they show us that those authors had ambitions and visions which have not been realized yet. In other words, they still inspire us to create new things which may be beneficial for the planet. I’m convinced that augmented and virtual reality are offer possibilities in the context of augmenting our faculties – for instance by enabling us to build 3D information structures.
There are many more authors and texts in this hugely inspiring book, among them also more “recognized” philosophers (at least in continental Europe) such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980) and Donna Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the late Twentieth Century, 1985).
I participate in a group reading those texts, and trying to develop practices and even tools in this context. The group, Metacaugs, lives primarily on Slack, if you’re interested have a look at our Orientation Guidebook.
This video illustrates two things: first the interesting stuff the Isovista people are doing and second how difficult it is to translate the Oculus-experience into a 2D-video.
What is obvious is how one can immerse oneself into a virtual art exhibition and use clever tricks to navigate around (follow a green path) or to show various art works one after another (walk through ‘boxes’ to trigger the appearance of new art).
The environment is also rather original as they experiment with for instance floorless spaces rather than trying to imitate physical world buildings.
Isovista.org is a group of 3D-design people who build and show art accessible using an Oculus Rift but you can also visit the gallery in your browser (powered by Jibe and using the game creation system Unity 3D) and eventually meet other people there.
Bringing together Jibe and Oculus in one project seems interesting. For now you walk or drift alone in the Oculus-experience while the Jibe-environment of this project feels like a primitive version of Second Life or OpenSim – but sophisticated enough to meet others and to text chat and speak. So wouldn’t it be nice to have collaborative and social futures inside an Oculus Rift environment?
After Facebook acquired Oculus Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that this technology would enable students and teachers all over the world to share a classroom. These days one can use the Oculus in collaborative spaces such as Second Life, but the interface is not yet adapted for an easy and natural user experience – we’ll have to wait for the new Second Life to get that, I guess.
These are Isovista’s goals:
– Provide opportunities to show virtual work and help students, recent graduates and young professionals develop their design skills in virtual media.
– Create new innovative 3D virtual works in Data Visualization, Interaction Design, Education, Music and Social Interfaces through a blending of HCI/Usability and Digital Fine Art.
– Record the rich history of virtual design, connecting the broad academic disciplines that have explored the domain of 3D virtual space and design.
– Connect educators, professionals, and students to support innovation, create opportunities, share examples, and break the new conceptual ground.
Isovista wants to become a 501(c)(3) charity and create a library and marketplace for 3D work and educational content. “Becoming a self-sustaining non-profit that supports independent innovators, students, and the community as a whole is our overarching goal.”
I just supported (very modestly) the Kickstarter project of Radiotopia – and if you care about storytelling, radio shows and podcasting, you should consider it too. The Kickstarter campaign for this new kind of public radio still runs for 4 days as I write this. The goal of $250,000 was attained and right now Radiotopia got pledges for $529,673 which means they’ll be able to ‘level up’ as they explain on the Kickstarter page.
If you think it’s important to enable podcasts about subjects which would have a hard time finding money on the commercial market, you should support this project.
I particularly like 99% Invisible, a show about “design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.” Roman Mars (@romanmars) is the creator of 99% Invisible.
I discovered the project via my friend Charles Maynes, a Moscow-based podcaster. You can listen to one of his fascinating stories on 99percentinvisible about the composer Arseny Avraamov who heard music in the cacophony of the modern world…
… in your phone, and what you could do with it as a developer… Imagine the games, the education projects, consumer and business projects…. These are exciting times, as Google says about its Project Tango. Google has built a prototype Android smartphone that can learn and map the world around it – what would you do with it?
Seth Rosenblatt on CNET has pretty interesting background information. Movidius’ Remi El-Ouazzane explains in an interview how his chip firm is more than just another partner in Google’s mobile 3D-mapping project — it’s at the center of a revolution in how computers process visuals. The chips can be used far beyond smartphones and tablets: think wearables, robots, autonomous cars, drones…
Google itself mentions various possible applications: interior design, helping the visually impaired, but also immersive gaming – mixed reality style.
There are advantages of working for an established newspaper. Like having a salary, infrastructure, lots of news-addicts around you. But it’s becoming ever more important to look at how media companies from a streaming tradition innovate. Wire services such as Reuters for instance build rivers of news. Justin Ellis on Nieman Journalism Lab says Every page is your homepage: Reuters, untied to print metaphor, builds a modern river of news.
Ben Adler at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses Streams of Consciousness: Millennials expect a steady diet of quick-hit, social-media-mediated bits and bytes. What does that mean for journalism? Adler:
I found four overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, trends:
Proliferation of news sources, formats, and new technologies for media consumption Participation by consumers in the dissemination and creation of news, through social-media sharing, commenting, blogging, and the posting online of photos, audio, and video Personalization of one’s streams of news via email, mobile apps, and social media Source promiscuity Rather than having strong relationships with a handful of media brands, young people graze among a vast array of news outlets.
One of the most interesting coders/philosophers of the rivers of news is Dave Winer. He explains why every news organization should have a river. It’s about the curation of streams, not of stories: the streams one monitors oneself in order to produce media, the streams produced by bloggers who collaborate or even by those who are competitors, the streams the own organization puts out.Another one by Winer: 11th hour for news nets.
Great story about a start-up, Gittip, getting a call from TechCrunch. The guys from the start-up react by saying they want to stream the interview in real-time and publicly. TechCrunch was not amused. Read about it on the blog of Gittip. Even famous blogs have problems adapting to streams.
I found some great folks on Google+ wanting to discuss media in the era of streams. I asked them: Suppose today you got 15 minutes to either follow your social streams (Facebook, Twitter, Google+… ) or read a newspaper. What’s your choice? Answers on my Google+ page…
What is the role of cooperation in evolution and how does cooperation itself evolve? That’s the topic of our discussions during the course Literacies of Cooperation, facilitated by Howard Rheingold.
The report about the first session can be found here (exploring the biology of cooperation).
We had a second live session about The Evolution of Cooperation, which also is the title of a work by professor Robert Axelrod. Let me quote Howard:
Axelrod’s work is fundamental. Thinking about cooperation, evolution, game theory, and computer simulation led him to use what has since become the e. coli of cooperation studies, the computer-simulated interated prisoner’s dilemma game, a strategy game that probes the ways human react when given the choice between assured self interest and potential but not guaranteed benefits of cooperation. Axelrod’s “Three Conditions” brings the gist of his research to a practical level that can then be used as a lens for looking at collective action online: what are the most important conditions for ensuring cooperation among strangers in a competetive environment.
But first something about the way in which we organize the live sessions in Blackboard Collaborate. One of the neat aspects of these sessions is that Howard incites people to take up certain roles: a lexicon team, searchers, contextualizers, mindmappers, session notetakers en wikimasters. People can propose questions during the chat, and people can jolt short answers on the whiteboard (this involves yet another task: question wrangler).
On the wiki we gather session notes – making life easier for those who missed part of the activities during the week. We’ve a growing collection of mindmaps and resources about stuff such as Honeybee Colony Thermoregulation, the symbiotic relationship between golden jellyfish and algae and cleaner wrass eating parasites from larger fish. One might well ask what all this has to do with human societies in this century, but this will become more obvious – I hope.
Cooperation in a competitive world
Robert Axelrod and W.D. Hamilton found that cooperators can thrive in a competitive environment… if they can find each other and establish mutualistic relationships. We can see how sometimes environments which are dominated by competition can at a certain point harbor colonies of cooperation, and then grow to a situation in which cooperation becomes the dominant theme, only to break down to the previous phases and go into a cycle.
Computer simulations of ‘evolutionary games learned Axelrod and Hamilton these characteristics for success:
– Be nice: cooperate, never be the first to defect.
– Be provocable: return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation.
– Don’t be envious: be fair with your partner.
– Don’t be ‘too clever’ or too tricky.
A group with cooperators – whether or not those cooperators pay a cost for that – can have an evolutionary advantage, they can survive and reproduce more effectively. Small differences in that regard can make big differences in the very long term.
Cooperation can involve direct reciprocity, but also and maybe even more importantly indirect reciprocity. This simply means that I can consider doing a favor to someone who never before did a favor to me – but others may signal that this person is cooperative and reliable. Hence the importance of gossip – some even think that language was developed so as to enable our ancestors to gossip and in that way establish reputation when the groups became too big for one individual to keep track.
Of course, these days we have alternative systems to establish reputation as demonstrated by eBay for instance – one of the questions of the course will be whether these online developments are radically changing our possibilities to adapt to a changing environment.
I thought it was interesting that Nowak talked about language being the big way of fast-forwarding evolution and the introduction of reproduction of culture/ideas/
In that same text chat also Carver Mead‘s book Collective Electrodynamics was mentioned. He was quoted as saying:
In a time-symmetric universe, an isolated system does not exist. The electron wave function in an atom is particularly sensitive to coupling with other electrons; it is coupled either to far-away matter in the universe or to other electrons in a resonant cavity or other local structure.
Shadow of the future and other topics
We also discussed the notion “The shadow of the future”: individuals will cooperate more if they know they’ll meet again in the future. Question in the chat: what are the communication mechanisms of initiating reciprocity? Are there ways to predict success or failure of cooperation? or sustaining cooperation?
What about kin selection? Would you jump in the river for two siblings or eight cousins – what about one brother? Read also The New Yorker about Kin and Kind.
Talking about gossip and social grooming, there are quite some studies about the notion of fairness among pre-speech children and primates. Watch this video about capuchins rejecting unequal pay (primate fairness):
We discussed the role of religions: stories inciting the group to act cooperatively and eventually to sacrifice their individual self-interest (because of the reward in the after-life or compelling examples) could enhance the chances of such a group in the competition with other groups. Read also: Wikipedia about Darwin’s Cathedral (read also this book review and here is the book itself).
Evolution and the future
Culture is what we learn from each other based on biological evolved attentional and social capacities. This evolved capacity for social learning was particularly adaptive during times of radical environmental change. Learning capacities also created processes that changed the selection environment in which genes develop. E.g. cooking meat selects for those with efficient digective chemistry.
One of the question asked by the co-learners was whether one can design for cooperation? If so, through what tools? But also, what are the outside factors that can disrupt cooperation? How do systems protect and resist these forces?
We continued talking about the channeling of tribal instincts via symbol systems. This involves cultural transmission and selection that continues the evolution of cooperative human capacities at cultural rather than genetic level and pace.
Cultural tools channel innate sociality into cooperative arrangements. Institutions may be punishment, language, technology, invidual intelligence and inventivenesss, ready establisment of reciprocal arrangements, prestige systems, solutions to games of coordination (which could involve our newish web-technologies)…
In this regard Howard mentioned the book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright. Wikipedia says: It argues that biological evolution and cultural evolution are shaped and directed first and foremost by “non-zero-sumness” i.e., the prospect of creating new interactions that are not zero-sum.
Three courses, three different formats. The first two courses are about education and digital media. It seems the first one is a MOOC along the connectivist ‘tradition’: distributed on various web media, putting the learners in charge of their own experience, facilitated by what is called in this case ‘conspirators’. The second one is organized on the Coursera-platform, which normally means a more classical, top-down learning experience. However, the participants are invited to co-create course content and the organizers want to involve the “wider social web”.
The last course is not necessarily about education, but about literacies of cooperation. The organizer, the virtual communities and digital culture expert Howard Rheingold, does not want this to be a ‘massive’ experience, instead the course is limited to 35 learners (and you’ve to pay a fee). I participated in previous editions, and I can assure you it’s pretty intense.
#etmooc is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about educational design and media.
Welcome (Jan 13-19): Welcome Event & Orientation to #etmooc
Topic 1 (Jan 20-Feb. 2): Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy
Topic 2 (Feb 3-16): Digital Storytelling – Multimedia, Remixes & Mashups
Topic 3 (Feb 17-Mar 2): Digital Literacy – Information, Memes & Attention
Topic 4 (Mar 3-16): The Open Movement – Open Access, OERs & Future of Ed.
Topic 5 (Mar 17-30): Digital Citizenship – Identity, Footprint, & Social Activism
At Coursera: E-learning and Digital Cultures – Jan 28th 2013 (5 weeks long). This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Follow this course at #edcmooc. This course will consist of viewing short film clips alongside associated readings, as well as discussions and group collaborations amongst participants. Interesting: “E-learning and Digital Cultures will make use of online spaces beyond the Coursera environment, and we want some aspects of participation in this course to involve the wider social web. We hope that participants will share in the creation of course content and assessed work that will be publicly available online.”
Howard Rheingold is convening “Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Studies,” January 24 -March 1.
A detailed syllabus: http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/cooperation4 a six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.
(warning: philosophical nerdiness)
It is funny how one can keep encountering strange, weird words such as ‘ontology’ – which means something like ‘the study of what there is’ – but the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that this is just a first approximation. Anyway, I stumbled long ago on this word while studying philosophy. Ontology is part of metaphysics, which is another weird word.
This is how Wikipedia tries to bring it all together:
Ontology (from onto-, from the Greek ὤν, ὄντος “being; that which is”, present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimi “be”, and -λογία, -logia: “science, study, theory”) is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
Only many years later I realized ‘ontology’ is also used in information science. Ontologies in that context are structural frameworks for organizing information and are used in artificial intelligence, the Semantic Web, systems engineering, software engineering, biomedical informatics, library science, enterprise bookmarking, and information architecture as a form of knowledge representation about the world or some part of it. The creation of domain ontologies is also fundamental to the definition and use of an enterprise architecture framework. (Wikipedia)
Now I encountered the word ‘ontology’ in the About section of a company site of two co-learners of mine at the Howard Rheingold courses and projects.
Their company is called Ontologique – The Ontology Boutique. This is how their About section starts:
Ontologique is the collaborative brainchild of Joe Raimondo and his co-venturer in the wilds of the semantically aware web, Doug Breitbart. Our firm is dedicated to pursuit of an array of shared passions and convictions about technology in service to enhancement of meaning, understanding, knowledge and improvement of human productivity and the human condition, rather than the other way around.
In this context they do stuff for large companies but also for new or early phase or turnaround ventures that find themselves at the convergence of Web3.0, social media, gaming and game theory.
One might be inclined to consider all this consultant mumble jumble but I’m convinced that, in this case, it is not. Joe and Doug are intensely involved in this pursuit of meaning and clarification of meaning. More of us should be – this was one of the big messages of LeWeb 2012 where people such as cyber anthropologist Amber Case talked about converting big data, real time streams and mobile technology into stuff which actually is meaningful. Going back to my philosophical roots, I’d say that enhancing meaning helps us attaining eudaimonia – the Aristotelian notion which means not so much happiness but rather’human flourishing’.
These last few days I’ve been experimenting with Siri, Google Now and a number of similar services and apps. I’m more and more convinced that the next phase of the mobile revolution will be about meaning. How do we design smartphones, tablets and whatever other wearable devices in such a way that they can function as elegant organisms, rather than as a bunch of disconnected, shallow and addictive applications. How can we organize these services in such a way that they convey something meaningful? That’s the challenge for the designers, dreamers and techno-philosophers of this day and age.
I did not make it to the LeWeb conference in Paris, France, but I’m looking at the abundant streams of tweets and blog posts about the event. I won’t talk in this post about the Instagram-Twitter drama – it has been covered widely on so many other places. My personal interest is in the more abstract, almost philosophical side of things, and so I was very happy to discover this video of the presentation by Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist and entrepreneur.
She talks about big data, the internet of things, the quantified self and geo-location. The ideal technology, so she explains, is ambient and invisible. So forget those dramatic images of machine-human cyborgs. The future cyborgs won’t appear carrying any gear at all – but then again, they actually do, and it will interact with their environment, and it will enable them to add more meaning to their lives rather than making it more superficial and empty.
Talking about the quantified self, the Canadian artist, scientist and intellectual Ariel Garten showed a EEG (Electroencephalography) headband to help you to find inner peace! But not only that, it is very conceivable that we’ll be able to improve gaming or avatar behavior by monitoring and steering our brainwaves. Take that, Kinect! Not only we’ll interact better using gestures, but also by being mindful of our brainwaves!