Sunday, August 21, 2005

ArmadilloCon 2005: When and How Will the 21st Century Get More Interesting?

What this panel was supposed to be about, according to the ArmadilloCon program book: "The 20th Century saw great advancements in technology and many cultural changes, but the new one's been pretty dull. It may even be going backward. Seen any moonwalks lately? Is there interesting stuff we just haven't noticed, is good stuff about to happen, or is the highlight of the century going to be a multiple-button mouse from Apple?"

Panelists: Alexis Glynn Latner, Sean McMullen, John Moore, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Mark L. Williams

Chris Nakashima-Brown rejected the premise that 21st century so far hasn't been interesting. On one hand, he admitted that cyberpunk becoming the reality turned out to be pretty dull: nobody gets excited about online billpay. But the geopolitical scene, he says, is quite a bit more interesting. We live in a Lord of the Rings world, where there is Mordor and medieval stateless necromancers. (He tossed the phrase "stateless necromancers" around in the last year's ArmadilloCon, too, and I actually expected him to bring it into this discussion. I anticipated that Chris Nakashima-Brown will focus on the geopolitical aspects of the 21st century, and how can you do it without medieval necromancers? And I wasn't disappointed!)

Sean McMullen. We've been concentrating on minutia. But I don't want a jet car, I don't want stupid [people] flying over my real estate. They are damaging enough in 2 dimensions, I don't want them in 3 dimensions. Nutrition pills? Bad idea: I like eating, I like drinking. Just because something is possible doesn't mean people will pay for it. We could have been on Mars in 1980. Being viable and having a good reason to do it in the first place is not the same thing.

Peak oil or sex robots?

John Moore asks the audience which of the two likely realities of the 21st century they would like to talk about: peak oil or sex robots? The audience goes for the less disturbing topic, sex robots, and the positive aspect of it: the demand for them will drive robotics and a lot of other scientific disciplines. After all, sex has long been driving technological change: in the last century porn created enough demand for photographic chemicals so they started to be produced in factories. Before that, you had to mix them yourself. And blue movies provided a critical mass for VCRs. And, of course, porn drove the rise of the internet.

Sean McMullen is convinced robots and virtual reality will never replace live interaction with other human beings because they won't provide the same richness of experience. "Look at what's on a video game. It's nothing like reality. People who put those games together, they are totally out of sync with reality. Real environment, if you're over here, plug into the virtual reality thing; on the other hand, there is a party next door, and there are nice people; You're not guaranteed to score, but those nice people may change your life. So I would take the real life adventure every time."

Relationship of real and virtual words is not as cut-and-dried

People from the audience argue that the relationship of real and virtual words is not as cut-and-dried. One audience member says that the virtual community of his MMPG is having a real life barbeque tomorrow. The novel form of interaction is mixing the two worlds. He plays a female character, even though the players know he's a guy, and it has been a wonderful experience. He bonded over it with his daughter. It's been a liberating concept. He's now one of the girls. They invite him to those things and just have the girl chatter.

John Moore. When you're watching Motorcross on television versus real life, virtual reality improves upon reality. Things that are tedious and not interesting in real life can be made more interesting in virtual reality. Like motorcycle jumps when shown with a camera.

A discussion ensues whether we will see radical, drastic technological changes, or will technical advances be more of an incremental kind, like "progressing" from Word 2000 to Word 2003.

Some of the stranger ideas, tossed about by Alexis Glynn Latner, was that maybe 9/11 scenario was inspired by the violent special effects in movies and video games. "Could 9/11 have hapepend in a world where there were no special effects in the movies?" she asks. She thinks the terrorist used this particular scenario, crashing planes into buildings, because it provided very violent visuals, the kind they must have seen in the movies and video games.

Left to right: John Moore, Alexis Glynn Latner and Sean McMullen. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2005 can be found in my photo gallery.

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