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21st Century Science Fiction (Part 2): The Age of Radical Transparency

20th century science fiction is obsolete. 21st Century Science Fiction is about abundance, transparency, individuality, life extension, x-tech, polymorphism, singularity, and synthetic exobiology.

Space travel by spider web?  Space travel using dew collected in bottles?  Space travel using birds and hot air balloons?  Space travel using postage stamp sized solar sails? Space travel using femto needles? As technology changes over the centuries, speculative stories set in the future change.  

20th century science fiction is based on obsolete technology.  While games influenced by popular 20th century franchises like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars and Star Trek have an appealing familiar quality,  space combat based on classic naval tactics is obsolete.  A futuristic world that has not discovered the smart phone is hard to believe.  

This is an exploration of tech mega trends for modern game design and 21st Science Fiction world design.  


This is a discussion of extremely disruptive technological change that may threaten and/or offend people.  Most people have adapted to the balance of 20th century privacy technologies.  The chasm between 20th century privacy norms and 21st century privacy norms is vast and the universal law of conservation of energy means that people will try to fight the change before they accept the change.  

Quick side story: When I was an undergraduate at New York University Film School, I tried to take as many classes as I could at NYU's Graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program.  One of the classes was "Diffusion of Innovation," taught by the lady who was largely responsible for rolling out ATM machines.  The technology I chose to explore for my final paper was pervasive networked security cameras.  It seemed obvious that security concerns are volatile and that this would lead to public acceptance and adoption during times of increased danger.  This professor did not want to hear this Orwellian message, and my work was downgraded accordingly.  It seems ironic that one of the first places to adopt networked security cameras was ATM machines.  Post 911, this idea seems obvious.  

Preview of controversial ideas:  What if I was to say that everyone will be chipped with trackable ID tags?  It's an idea that's easy to dismiss.  The public would never go along with that. Everyone already carries around cell phones that essentially act as networked ID tags.  It seems like that problem is already solved.  Right?  

Here is why I think people will accept chipping.  Pets are chipped.  It is a familiar technology.  Why do people chip their pets?  They are worried that their pet will be picked up as a stray and destroyed or stolen.  What if those chipped could be used to track pets.  It would be an end to lost cat and dog posters forever.  We are entering an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease.  Would you consider chipping your parents or grand parents to keep them from wondering off in their bathrobe never to be seen again?  Would you consider chipping your kids if it meant they would not be abducted by predators?  Is it a good idea to chip all child predators?  What about chipping all violent criminals?  Would you like an alarm to go off every time you child and a predator are in the same vicinity or are travelling together for more than 1 minute?   Do the people who drowned to death during hurricane Katrina wish they were chipped?  Do their relatives that had to worry about their loved ones being buried in an unmarked grave wish that they were chipped?  What about the next big earthquake in California or around the world.  Do the people trapped in rubble wish they were chipped?  How about fire fighters?  Wouldn't they love a technology that told them exactly how many people are trapped in a burning building and where they are located?  In areas with increased threat of illegal organ harvesting, people might want to have all their organs tagged.

Of course stalkers would love the ability to track the object of their obsession.  Celebrities would never be able to shake the Paparazzi.  The mass shooters or serial killers would love to exploit tracking technology for targeting but would need to work within a landscape where their whereabouts are always known.   So crime and crime prevention will be a progression of sophisticated electronic warfare strategies.  

It's actually weirder than that and the infrastructure is already largely in place.  Over the next few decades information age dynamics will keep pushing the world in the direction of track and trace auto-identification.  Wal-Mart and other business leaders have found an enormous value in exploiting RFID tags.  Competition demands that everyone catches up, optimizing processes and reducing friction across society.  Pervasive surveillance of pets could finally lead to a breakthrough in understanding pet language as their subject object verb thinking is illuminated with vast data sets and statistical analysis.  What will pervasive surveillance of yourself illuminate?  What if all your memories were enhanced with video and 3D capture of the actual events?  How would that effect your decision processes?  Would this increased awareness allow you to regulate your mood or drive you insane in new ways?

Let's look at the new normal.  

RADICAL TRANSPARENCY (survey of the world we live in) 

Information wants to be free.  Data attack innovation outpaces data defense innovation.  There is an advantage of first move mixed with ground up asymmetry, creativity, and surprise.  There are no closed systems in nature.  When all citizens carry a device that can transmit information across a global network, any single point data security failure can be catastrophic.  This has profound implications if you consider the following.  

1. As the information age progresses, sensors and computing power are becoming cheaper and cheaper. The movement of information is now increasingly cheaper than the restriction of information.

There is a proliferation and convergence of networked intelligence and sensor technologies.  The entire landscape is embedded with intelligence and sensors: anti-counterfeit technologies, anti-theft technologies, auto-authentication, supply chain track and trace, anti-crime surveillance (microphone arrays to auto-locate gun shots, security cameras with CV biometrics), cell phones (microphone, camera, accelerometer), multiple GPS systems, RFID, smart cards,  Blue Tooth, Wi-Fi, drones like the rhumba, robot cars, toys, industrial robots using range finders and LIDAR, weather and temperature sensors, structural sensors in building materials, and gesture based operating systems such as living room Xboxes.  Big data cloud computing technologies allow for greater processing and synthesis of this information.   

2. Post 9/11, the military is concerned about inside the envelope attacks and pushes for total transparency technologies. New optical technologies allow for new sensor capabilities such as seeing through walls and seeing through clothing at a distance.  Concern about inside the envelope homeland attacks push the proliferation of new sensor technologies to homeland security, the police, private security, and data monetization industries.  To add intelligence to sensor networks the military encourages the proliferation of advanced sensors in consumer goods and continues to experiment with gamifying intelligence collection.

Swarm technologies replace stealth technologies as self-assembling self-replicating robots become a real threat.  As weapon platforms (swarms) begin to resemble weather patterns, weather patterns become camouflage and weather tracking technologies and military tactics based on micro fluidics and turbulence become more important.  

Hacking and decapitation attacks (botting) is more cost effective than macro scale military destruction. This is creating a new arms race of data attack and defense technologies.

3. Genomics, Connectomics, Metagenomics, Metaproteomics are public data.
The average human sheds 200,000-300,000 skin cells per minute.  We are transmitting our DNA, into public space 24/7-365.  Scientists can now harvest stem cells from urine.  Metagenomic pioneers are now taking shotgun samples from sewers around the world.  Privacy for DNA is not supported by physical reality.

The use of DNA and other biometric measurements (metagenomics, metaproteomics and etc) is becoming fast, cheap, and more sophisticated.  Your dynamic medical metrics are valuable to insurance companies, advertisers, loan officers, employers, software designers working on anticipatory computing, and medical technologists working on epidemiology, cloning, organ culturing, DNA parts libraries, and neuron culturing. 

The additional information is used in control systems to reduce risk and reduce costs.  Reducing risk creates risker behavior.  When circus performers have nets they do more elaborate tricks.  When Football players wear more pads they attack each other with more force.  Not everyone shares the same risks or the same costs so there will be competitive and inconsistent shaping of cost and risk across the world.  Anyone familiar with the book “Guns, Germs and Steel” knows that inconsistent proliferation of technology across the world shapes the landscape of winners and losers. 

What does this mean for world design?

With pervasive transparency, common situations where people lie will need to change.  If no one can lie to their boss, and all love triangles and affairs are immediately detected, social boundaries will need to be re-negotiated.  New social contracts will emerge.  

If every bad thing you've done in your life is there to haunt yourself identity, and embarrass you  in front of the world will this motivate you to lead a good life?  -Or will people use their pervasive history as a score card and compete in new levels of questionable behavior?  

If everyone has the equivalent of a black box flight recorder for their life, instant replay will be available to all.  Will settling disputes be easier, or will it merely change strategies of deception?  Many people have a Kinect box in their living room right now.  It will take one small app to turn this device into a parental referee tool.  Put a 30 minute video buffer on the device and instant replay can help settle living room fights.  Who started it? 

What does crime look like in a world of automatic track and trace based on face recognition?  

When all items are tagged, a thief can walk by a car, a house or a person and know what to attack.  Is this different than the world we already living in?  Some people love to display wealth.  Wealthy people cluster in neighborhoods, does this help criminals target wealthy homes?  Forbes publishes a list of the richest people.  Does this lead to more criminals targeting Warren Buffett? 

Tagged items means that counterfeit goods are harder to pass off as the real thing.  It means that people won't lose things.  It means that stolen property will also need to be hacked, and it will need a counterfeit history inserted into the system.  Statistical analysis would make this process more difficult.  

Much has been made over recent advances in invisibility cloak design and there have already been significant advances in methods used to identify spoofed data.  This marginalizes invisibility or video cloaking as a decorative technology or therapeutic  technology.  

One of the most radical uses of pervasive sensor data is in simulation.  Humans have a vast amount of unique biometric identifiers.  Even our use of language is unique and could reveal information about our brain architecture.  This analysis could be used to create a data exoskeleton and could be one pathway to mind uploading and polymorphism.  

There is already an arms race of competing anticipatory strategies using our wetware.  We plan for the future against a world where everyone else plans for the future to some degree.  This sort of interactive anticipation is studied in game theory and is the phenomena behind the ups and downs of the stock market.  Stock prices include information from speculative simulated future worlds in the price.  How will this dynamic be changed by vast data sets of the real world and the ability to synthesize this information into useful strategies?  What value will be unlocked as powerful realtime data analytics systems identify and lock into new Nash Equalibriums accross the entire population. Will the aggregation of all the data about an individual lead to realistic virtual simulations?   

If we are able to create virtual polymorphs of all our social connections, we will be able to simulate important decisions before they are made?  This could be used to create a Groundhog Day effect where people are desensitized to embarrassment.  We will be able to act out all our fantasies using simulations of the actual world.  

In a world where everyone can see in the dark using AR HUD glasses, will headlights or city lights be necessary?  If everyone can see through walls and clothing and every private moment becomes a public spectacle, will competitive exhibitionistic behavior take domestic life in new directions?  Will competitive body modification become more important?

What does this mean for game design?

If your business model is based off of data security (using walls to limited supply  to create a false scarcity and drive up prices) you are managing the losing end of an arms race.  New business strategies will need to be developed that use inclusion and excitement to win customers and captivate their interest.  21st century mass media is about intermediation and facilitation rather than broadcasting.  Businesses that use premium content to anchor crafting culture to their brand will be the first to find these new opportunities.  

If you realize that we are already in the world of radical transparency, you will design your games to collect and use information about your players.  You will design decisions to measure your players risk and resource management and test your players ability to delay gratification.  If you do not monetize this information, your business partners will.  New business strategies will be discovered by following the value chain through all your business partners all the way to your customer and encouraging collaboration.

Competitive monetization: An attempt to secure customer personalization data may already be a lost cause.  Anyone that is part of your system can potentially scrape this data, including hardware and software partners.  A TV or monitor can infer information from what is outputted to the screen.  An operating system or browser can tap into your customer information and monetize it.  If you make the first move in monetizing this information you can offer discounts to your players and gain market share.  If you expose this data to your customers and offer them value and easy tools for them to collaborate with you, you can create a virtuous cycle and brand loyalty. 

Personalization as Entertainment value: At very least you should consider using this personal information to engineer software that better maximizes your products entertainment value.  If you are developing a game in a transparent world, you would be expected to reach outside of the magic circle and design the game worlds and game characters based on your players interests and design game levels based on your players schedule.  

Self-Surveillance offers a big opportunity for offering the player value, if you mix diagnostics and simulation you can help your players learn to regulate their affect and improve their decision making.  What if Sims was based off of some ones social network?  What if Sim City was based off of real world data and could be used for community improvement?

Big Brother, the EFF and protecting privacy

The world of radical transparency is alien and scary, right?  Big brother can use this technology to turn everyone into zombie slaves, right?  

In general zombies are less productive than motivated individuals.  Serfs out competed slaves.  Free citizens out competed serfs.

Big brother is based in the 20th century.  At very least 21st century information technologies makes the book look quaint.  It was also written before Wikileaks, Anonymous, and the Arab Spring.  Looking at national power, one must consider that a state exists in balance with horizontal and vertical pressure.  Top down state control is vulnerable to inside attacks like Bradley Manning. They must also push back against outside attacks from other nation states (Stuxnet), take over attacks from transnational corporations and emerging from bottom up attacks from defectors.  This means that they must also evolve to a transparent landscape.  What will Big Brother look like in a world with no state secrets?  What will citizenship mean in a world where governments know every human on earth intimately and can curate its population on an individual basis?

In general, I support the EFF %100.  There needs to be an organized negotiation of transition to the world of transparency.  Pushback from consumer rights organizations can help manage moral hazards caused by power imbalances between individuals and super aggregated organizations like governments and transnational corporations.  That said, much of this world is already here and we are dealing with a real change to our basic assumptions about reality.  Privacy and transparency will be wrestling for years to come.  Data camoflague and proliferation of junk data will be in a race against new methods to manage the signal/noise ratio.

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