Ghost in the machine: crowdsourcing the meaning of life

September 13th, 2010 by

Ghost in the machineRecently there has been a lot of controversy over claims to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. It seems everyone wants a piece of his legacy.

This got me thinking about visionaries in other areas.

If the world of videogames has an “I have a dream” man, it is surely Chris Crawford. Already well known for his foresight, in 1992 Crawford made a dramatic speech, where he outlined his dream of using videogames for artistic expression (and talked about dragons a lot). When he finished this speech he drew a sword and stormed out of the conference, leaving the traditional videogames industry forever. (Apparently this is how people who think about videogames all day behave.)

Tell me I’m dreaming
Since this speech, Crawford has been working on a program called Storytron, to simulate human emotions, motivations and personalities.

In this endeavor, he is not alone. Jason Roher’s games Primrose, Gravitation and Passage are more art than action. Although the graphics are extremely primitive, a Wired columnist said ”More than any game I’ve ever played Passage illustrates how a game can be a fantastically expressive, artistic vehicle for exploring the human condition”.

Roher tried Storytron, and decided he could deliver a more interesting and compelling interactive experience. The problem, as Roher saw it, was the inadequacy of the artificial intelligence. His solution was simple: put a human in the place of it. ”A human” he said, ”could be in charge of creating believable reactions from characters and modeling their mental state and so on.”

What he came up with is called Sleep is Death/Geisterfahrer. The name is based on a German term used to describe someone driving on the wrong side of the road – literally a “ghost driver”. The game is an unparalleled experience in interactive storytelling. While one player tries to maintain cohesion in the world, the other tries to tear the fiction apart. It has the feel of a videogame, but with the potential to be something far greater.

The intelligence of the crowd
It is this use of human intelligence in videogames that interests us most at Microtask. It is not a new idea: players of MMORPG’s or competitive multiplayer games like Modern Warfare 2 interact with other players all the time. The difference is that these games do not really explore emotions, motivations or personalities like Ghost Driver does.

We believe that crowdsourcing human intelligence is the next evolutionary step down this path. Perhaps no one encapsulated the possibilities like Crawford did when he said:“I dreamed of the day when computer games would be a viable medium of artistic expression — an art form. I dreamed of computer games expressing the full breadth of human experience and emotion.”

With crowdsourcing, we believe this is possible.


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  • http://twitter.com/mikape Mika Peltola

    Thanks for a great post and for pointing me to Sleep is Death/Geistrfahrer.

    Indeed, true intelligence will require human involvement for a long time to come. The Turing test will not be passed anytime soon.

    We’ll probably start to encounter many situations where the AI seems suspiciously good, only to realize that it wasn’t AI in the first place. Brings to mind the original “Mechanical Turk” (not the Amazon one): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turk

  • http://twitter.com/mikape Mika Peltola

    Thanks for a great post and for pointing me to Sleep is Death/Geistrfahrer.

    Indeed, true intelligence will require human involvement for a long time to come. The Turing test will not be passed anytime soon.

    We’ll probably start to encounter many situations where the AI seems suspiciously good, only to realize that it wasn’t AI in the first place. Brings to mind the original “Mechanical Turk” (not the Amazon one): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turk

  • http://www.parliamodivideogiochi.it Tommaso De Benetti

    Even because the surge of AI complex enough to be indistinguishable (but independent) from human intelligence will bring with it serious ethical issues, as any Sci-Fi fan knows… As much as I’m intrigued by that scenario even from a philosophical point of view, I’m not completely sure it’s a desirable outcome. At least, if you are not too fond of Cylons ;)

  • http://www.parliamodivideogiochi.it Tommaso De Benetti

    Even because the surge of AI complex enough to be indistinguishable (but independent) from human intelligence will bring with it serious ethical issues, as any Sci-Fi fan knows… As much as I’m intrigued by that scenario even from a philosophical point of view, I’m not completely sure it’s a desirable outcome. At least, if you are not too fond of Cylons ;)


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