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TED Thoughts: Where Gaming is Taking Us

TED is the type of conference where you’re drinking from the fire hose and, with the 18-minute talks marching onward every few minutes, you have little time to reflect on what you’ve heard before you’re onto the next. It’s been two days now, much of it spent in travel, reading and reflection and I’m starting to string a couple of thoughts together that I find at the very least interesting. At the most disturbing.

On the technology side, there were three talks that made me sit back and consider their repercussions, especially as I think of their tracks vectoring in on each other.

It’s a pretty interesting time that we live in; where giant databases are learning about us by applying Myers-Briggs testing to millions of people through a game, where both software and hardware can self-replicate, and where you can control virtual actions and physical items with your mind.


I’ve been playing computer games since I was about 8 years old, when a friend in Nairobi got a Commodore-64 and I learned how to use those dastardly cassette tapes to bring fantastical new realities to life. What happens when a gaming generation looks at the tools and devices being built? I don’t think any of us know quite yet, but sometimes, in the minds of sci-fi writers that we see a future that could be.

On the flight back I read the book Daemon, by Daniel Suarez. It’s a mixture of hacker and gaming culture set in a fantasy world of techno-pessimism and a doomsday scenario that will get a geeks blood flowing. Well worth the read, a perfect airplane book.

Now I’m on to Fun, Inc, a book about “gaming being the 21st century’s most serious business”. It’s a $40+ billion dollar industry, and it’s not slowing down. Virtual worlds and currency are here to stay.

In Milo, I saw what looked like a fairly unimpressive game, but one with a very impressive gaming and AI-training engine. It’s next iteration will be significant indeed.

I talked to Tan Le about the Emotiv device and how I thought that her ideas of it being used for practical purposes like closing shades and turning on lights, though sounding less juvenile, would likely be overshadowed by its use in the gaming world. In fact, I can’t wait to see the first big gaming companies using the Emotiv SDK to create new user interactions, HUDs and options in popular games.

All of these vectors of technology are, at once, both exciting and scary. I don’t know where gaming is taking us. What I can’t help but think is that gaming, and possibly the culture behind it, will be the vehicle that drives mainstream technology use and growth of the talks and demos that I saw at TED.


  1. Nice read, i watched the Milo trailer (and indeed the parodies) and i must say that if that video is a true demonstration of the capabilities of A.I programmers these days then there is a lot to be excited but also worried about.

    Given that like you said databases increasingly collect our own attributes and behavioural tendencies then i can forsee a future where we can create gaming characters that share/mimic our personalities.

    This would be great in making work easier, as it would be possible to delegate to these epersonalities our repetitve tasks like shopping as they would theoretically know what we would like to buy through complex correlations and permutations.

    However like with every great technology there is an opportunity for people to abuse it, like living their entire lives through their profiles. A good example is that South Korean Family which took care of their virtual baby while neglecting the real baby to the point of starvation.

    Lets see what happens next as gaming just reached another level.

  2. Thanks for the hints on the books and those TED presentations!
    I agree with you: gaming will drive mainstream technology. And gaming will shape our world more and more.
    Have you seen this TED: Gaming can make a better world?
    Since I saw it (a couple of month ago) I can’t stop thinking that there are serious possibilities, mostly unexplored yet, to leverage what the game industry is producing… to serve other goals than “pure fun”.

  3. Erik,
    A coworker just IMed me this link this morning, and it hits a bit on what you’re saying here: http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/702668/dice-2010-video-design-outside-the-box.html. His whole point is that game-like incentives have started migrating out of the video game and into real life: social network reputation points, FourSquare mayorship, Xbox Live Achievements, and the like. So at what point do these things, combined with the decreasing cost of components like ULV CPUs, flash memory and GPS, start to hit other mainstream areas of life? It starts getting a little whacky when he talks about being plugged into dreams at the very end, but the point is good and he’s a really engaging speaker. It’s from a few months ago, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch, if only the middle 15 min.

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