Monday, March 8, 2010

Productive Gaming, Drone Labor, Game-gineering

From Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond blog:
"Play labor. The click machine. The monolithic block of eyeballs. The scam engine. The cognitive surplus."

He's talking about designing game networks so that the hoard of players might actually be accomplishing something while they are playing, the same way that Flickr gets visitors to tag photos as an entertainment.

I would like to add to the notion. Productive gaming.

Verna Allee talks about companies as a productive network so she has a label to use both for companies and for group endeavors outside of the corporation structure. The Open source folks collectively improve the Linux code without getting paid to do so. And the open source Apache server software is a superior product, with the larger market share, than the next competitor from Microsoft. We are not used to non-profit endeavors beating out corporate efforts in industry.

So what would you call mobile network games that had players performing a community service during gameplay for in-game rewards?

For example, a Zoo game App for smart phones with massive bonuses for uploading real pics of endangered species being traded or owned, extra point for including the GPS location. The pics could inform law enforcement and NGOs. The informants could be anonymous, not involved in the trading, and perhaps entirely oblivious to the issue. The game company could incentivize the good citizen behavior without needing to educate, protect or pay the informants. The potential customers for restricted trade animals would have to worry that even their own kid could naively clue in law enforcement. Like Orwell's Big Brother divided into lots of Little Brothers.And like any tool, potentially benevolent and malevolent.

Drone Labor. Displaced Attention. Armchair Daylaborers.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have seen the arrival of the killer robot. The Armed Forces use of drones and robots went from zero to over 5000 units in use. And as it did with the chip industry, the military is buying down the initial setup costs of the robotics industry. Or would that be the Drone Industry? They are buying the costs down for everyone.

The hawkish pessimist view will look first to the potential for hostiles using the same tech on us, oddly enough increasing the US military's demand for more drones. The pacifist pessimist will lament that we are removing the disincentive of bodily risk from the process of waging war. But I am noticing that many of the benefits that drones offer to the Pentagon might also attract the Peace Corps.

When you hear of humanitarian groups leaving a crisis zone, it is usually a safety issue. But drones remove risk for pilots, and reduce the risk for troops in the field via surveillance and bomb disposal. So why can't the NGOs continue to operate in risky areas through drones?

Military robots worry P. W. Singer: they are faceless, making America seem more callous; and they reduce the domestic political backlash for conducting war, inclining us towards more military actions. But there are advantages he doesn't mention.

Robots don't rape or marry the local women. They don't violate local customs on dress, gender relations, music, religion, politics, sexuality, drugs, or alcohol. They don't consume local food, water, or housing. They don't carry disease. They don't colonize, set up criminal networks, steal local cultural artifacts, or take over businesses. P. W. Singer is concerned that the US is telling host populations that we have nothing personal invested in their region by using robot and drones. This may turn out to be mostly a good thing.

The Peace Corps might find this facelessness to be quite valuable. Say they send a robotic well drilling machine into an Muslim rural community. Translation software could allow the local council to tell it where to drill, tacitly lending legitimacy to the project. The townsfolk might admire the technology, but they won't feel inspired to convert to Christianity, drink alcohol, demand democracy, or speak English. The Peace Corps gets to do good while only risking theft or vandalism, and less of that given the cameras on board. The only residue from their departure could be their good works and an appreciation for the US & robotics technology.

The military has been fitting robots into roles that are dirty, dangerous and/or dull. It seems like a lot of humanitarian and environmental work includes one of these aspects. So I foresee a bright future for robotics in humanitarian and environmental efforts in developing countries. And the US population could express the giving aspects of its nature with less risk and unintended side effects.

And how do we adapt the good intentions of the frenetic first world to tasks they think are beneath them? By building a gaming into the control interfaces. "10000 points for each rainwater capture system install. And hurry, because your buddy is about to pull ahead."

So how about some new tags/phrases/memes:
WorkPlay. Carpal Tunnel from tunneling. Arcade Works. Gamegineering. Global Community Service. DroneWorks.

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