Thursday, January 10, 2008

Halting state: ubiquitous computing as VW & ARG interface


In novel the Halting State the crime itself has taken place in a virtual world, a game world distributed across cell phones. Author Charles Stross enlists augmented reality––the blending between real world information and that of the virtual worlds¬¬––to unravel the detective story. His point is that this kind of mixed reality is not so very far-fetched or far off.

Inside the wide concourse, everything looks like, well, the kind of trade show that attracts the general public. There are booths and garish displays and sales staff looking professionally friendly, and there are tables with rows of gaming boxes on them…”Check what it looks like in Zone,” suggest Jack, so you tweak your glasses, and suddenly it’s a whole different scene.
The concourse is full of monsters and marvels. A sleeping dragon looms over a pirate hoard, scales as gaudy as a chameleon on a diffraction grating


Of course we all can see dragons when our x-ray specs are tilted right ;-) Yes, the magic and fun of being in the “Zone” presents a powerful antidote to the humdrum of every day (I think
World of Warcraft has 10 million users now), but the larger point he makes in this story of near-future game worlds it that hyper mediation is already present in our lives and will only accelerate. We are acclimated to the information interface like cell phone and Web channel and in fact we clamor for more. More gear that connects us more of the time to our zones of interaction.

It’s a Digital version of U

Two days ago in RL at
CES, Intel keynote included a real time virtual jam session (ejamming), motion capture, a VW environment and portable photo-image avatars. Big Stage, a new company focusing on universally embeddable “realistic” avatars did a more-or-less live capture and create of an avatar for Smash Mouth’s lead singer. Boring big guy on a bike stuff in terms of the content, but who cares. There point (with visions of $$$) is that you can make it whtevs u want.

Ubiquitous Computing: We’re not in Kansas anymore

In the novel, everyone is all geared up. The cops view the world through information ports that link them to “cop space,” the forensic auditor reads the world through a network of accounting figures, and the hacker sees the world as…code. One of the consequences of constant information interface (the always on of media communication and information exchange) is that the different worlds are more integrated…or infiltrated depending on your pov.
Ubiquitous computing effects this kind of change. The best figure for this crashing of worlds in the book is the avatar criminals (a band of Orcs) ripping off a virtual bank with intense, international impacts in the real world, beginning with the game company loss of millions in stock value. The Wizard of OZ remake for HBO’s The O.Z. also based its story upon the porousness between RL (Kansas) and the O.Z.

You, as a user, never need to sign up for a role-playing game to enjoy the benefits of your locative media device helping you find whatever it is you are looking for in an urban haystack. It is the mapping level of the ARG, the VW persistence, the growth of interoperability, and the viability of one’s alter-ego avatars that have now scaled to actual size. It is
Borges’ parable of the map that grows to be as large as the kingdom.

Here are Stross’ own RL
Halting State moments: VR glasses to market; a "virtual investment bank" in Second Life; Korean military alert against spyware.

Most of us are not leading lives of international espionage cum gold mining. The most important point Stross makes in the book is not the pervasiveness of online gaming or the richness of virtual worlds, but rather the deep change that the Internet has rendered. Under the guise of twentieth-century cities (or medieval ones as is the case of Edinburgh where the novel takes place), IT engineers have laid down a substrata of informatics/data/computable spaces that allows one to interact with one’s environment on a physical, informational, and database level. Information technologists, artists, coders, interface designers, graphical and systems designers are the people who have created the contemporary architecture.

What are the ways your worlds are crashing up against each other?