Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

So I’ve been monitoring that State of the World 2011 conversation on The WELL (with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowski), learning about design fiction (see also critical design) and watching an awesome video about Claytronics (programmable matter). Sterling, on his blog Beyond the Beyond: “Check out this bonkers Discovery Channel treatment of some Carnegie Mellon nano-visionary weirdness.”

The video made me think that what we currently do in Second Life and OpenSim is sometimes a kind of design fiction, making people used to programming virtual matter, preparing them for the day when we actually program ‘physical’ matter. When could it become feasible, when will it have an impact on the economy? I’ve no idea, but I asked on Quora (skipping for now the question whether we’ll be happy in such a world, and how long it will last before doomsday becomes reality).


On an even more general level: if programmable matter would become mainstream, would that be an event which we could call ‘technological singularity‘, would it be part of that? Talking of which I recently stumbled upon a fascinating conversation between Robin Hanson (George Mason University) and the economist Robert Russell, contemplating a situation in which worldwide output would double every two weeks instead of every 15 years (the current situation). What would it mean for the return on capital, on labor? What about the environment, security and so many other crucial aspects? You’ll find the long audio discussion on the Library of Economics and Liberty.

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0 Responses to Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

  1. Prokofy Neva says:

    I gave this event a pass — I won’t go on my main account because this requires abiding by a completely skewed TOS written in a few minutes in reaction to me being harassed — it’s insane (see my blog for details). And while I might put an alt on just to listen live to these things, on this one, I just didn’t want to go and here yet another rehash of what we’ve seen now over and over again, which amounts to this:

    “Why can’t you let us huge corporations cannabilize you, first by promoting our fifth columnn opensourceniks against you, and then taking over?”

    The idea that proprietary software is “insular” and not legitimate as private property that helps protect IP and value in an economy is an idea that belongs to a) voracious and hungry corporations that want to eat smaller ones b) extreme copyleftists. I never realized how the two make common cause until I came to Second Life and saw it play out in living colour.

    Qwag?! I saw this demo’d, and while it looked interesting, I don’t think near the ordinary customer usability and entry-level for amateur content that Second Life has. It’s a very elitist sort of thing for scientists and enterprises.

    Zee is right that growth is in islands, and you don’t need premiums for islands. But still, premiums going down isn’t a great sign. THat’s why they are cheapening land and glutting it to raise the premiums, as those people pay more tier per sim. An island only pays $295. Pack 16 people paying $25 per sim, and you have $400 in tier — why should the Lindens let the land barons make all the money — possibly their reasoning goes.

    I think Mitch, like all tech writers, is elitist at the end of the day, as much as he tries to be a mensch. He is out to promote corporate use, not ordinary customer use of SL — and so it will feel wanting if corporations don’t eat it up. He has trouble justifying to his own bosses why he spends as much time on it as he does.

    Corporate virtual worlds are inherently dull by nature. They will have to be restrictive in all kinds of ways. They hoot and holler for VWs to become opensource, but the first they themselves want to do is get behind a fire water and wire down their own proprietary data, it’s hilarious.

    People will go on needing and using second lives for all kinds of reasons that will be hard to stop. It’s good if there are competitors to LL, because they are arrogant, and essentially a cult — they feel they must be, to accomplish what they have done. They will be evened out, and humbled, but I don’t seem them exiting the market.

  2. Mitch Wagner says:

    Thanks for attending and writing up this event. Couple of points in elaboration:

    – The statements in your first bullet point were by me, rather than Steven.

    – I agree that premium accounts are not a very meaningful measurement of user commitment. However, LL does — or did until recently — release the number of users who spend one or two hours a day or more in-world, and that is the number that’s alarming — it has been, as I said, flat since December.

    – Contrary to what Prokofy said, I do not measure the success of SL by its corporate adoption. Regular people are not adopting the platform – that’s LL’s problems. I’m afraid I don’t understand how Prok’s comments on open source, elitism, etc. relate to anything I said or any views I hold.

  3. admin says:

    Thank you for your comment. I rectified the first bullet point.

  4. Ciaran Laval says:

    Prok I take the issue on streaming media to indicate that only Quicktime is currently supported, there are other forms of streaming media available and people use them now in plenty of ways.

    I’m looking forward to reading the transcript of this or watching the reply later. I’m a bit disappointed that Zee isn’t communicating his thoughts to the community and that I have to find out LL’s thinking via an event like this.

  5. The video and audio are now available at SLCN:

    The part with Zee is at the end. While many of the criticisms are familiar, there is a good deal of new information in Zee’s response.

    The backchat is also great. Well, I know the first half was. I missed the second half, because in a delightful irony my viewer crashed midway through the show, while still keeping voice up and running so that I could continue discussing SL’s reliability with the guests.

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