Course : Thinking & Deciding
Graded with an 8.6 by Martijn Mulder
Course : Thinking & Deciding
Graded with an 8.6 by Martijn Mulder
Course : Model-based Intelligent Environments
Graded with an 8.5 by Dr. Michel Klein
Course : Seminar Cognitive Neuroscience
Graded with an 8.5 by Dr. Artem Belopolsky
I have written a final essay to wrap up the course Serious Games. In the essay, I briefly describe the evolution of play within higher order animals, and how our technological advancements relate to these evolutionary biological systems. For a short overview of the essay, please turn to the one slider uploaded earlier. This page is not only a stand alone piece of information, but also adds some crucial points about my final project not highlighted in the essay. However, I suggest you’d just take your time and read the whole piece. The essay is downloadable through the following link :
Going to Uni. It was one of the only certainties I had whilst growing up. I liked that certainty. It felt as a safe and wise thing to do. What could possibly go wrong once you’ve obtained that long awaited diploma?
Now that I am the proud owner of said diploma, I realise that many things can go wrong. For starters, choosing a subject that fits you. We choose a bachelor’s degree at the age of 18. Supposedly, we’re educated and informed enough (in reality, I spent 30 minutes with my school counsellor and went to two open-days) to know what ‘we’ as adolescent youngsters truly want in life.
Although I am extremely glad to have picked psychology at the time, as it is still one of my biggest interests, roughly 30% of all students switch tracks completely at least once, which is rather disturbing. We can safely assume that many more stick to their original plan, but are unhappy doing so.
Secondly, many diploma’s do not provide people with any real-life job opportunities. Instead of nudging my interests towards cognitive science, I could’ve chosen the master Clinical Psychology, only to find myself waiting in line – unemployed – to get any further training as a clinical psychologist (nobody cares about your master degree in Clinical Psychology – unless you make really good coffee).
So in the worst case, our university model forces adolescents to make decisions they are not well equipped for, only to leave them with a diploma they do not want and no job that fits the diploma. Rather disappointing.
Based on this, there is a growing consensus that the model of the university itself is in dire need of revision. My professor of Serious Games gleefully joined in on the canon, and kind of stated that we need to de-school society.
According to his view, or at least what I understood from it, our current university system, like other man-made institutions, are made to control the behaviour of people, and since people need more freedom, we are almost ready to abolish many said institutions. Bolstered with the supposed lack of teaching effect within universities (very low), or at least not as good as what you would expect for the highest form of education within our world, people like him make quite a good case.
Personally, I do not agree with this view. Besides the irony that my professor obtained part of his knowledge by intensively studying several subjects at universities, this view heavily rests on the assumptions that individuals – by default- are true autodidacts. Although this might be the case (philosophical debates aside), it assumes that all people will start learning stuff just for the sake of learning and to obtain (practical) truths about the world. Although some around us readily do this, many more of us don’t. This lack of will or interest is then attributed to the way material is presented within a curriculum – sluggish, boring and slow. Again, the university or institution is to blame.
Are they though?
If we for one, were to assume, that the university as we know it disappears, and everyone starts learning what they want by following their own combination of MOOC’s, what would we expect?
I would expect that both the problems we encountered earlier still exist. People of young age still have no clue what they want (with choice-stress only skyrocketing if everything is available to everyone at any time) and many people would still chose combinations of MOOC’s that do not lead to any combination of marketable skills. If we would want to have any form of quality control (which is one of the primary functions of a university), it would probably take on a form of a digitalized university based around our current models. Therefore, de-schooling society more or less sounds like digitalizing society.
Then of course, it is not the universities only job to teach people certain marketable skills, more so to get them acquainted with a certain mind-set or intellectual way of thinking.
This is where I see the greatest of issues. When universities get fully digitalized, and interactive MOOC’s designed by the university staff takes over most of the curriculum, would youngsters truly grasp this way of thinking?
Since these MOOC’s will operate in the same location as all the other digitalized experiences with the internet increasingly being filled with user generated content, we first need to ensure that our new students of life can accurately tell high and low quality information apart, as this was one of the implicit goals of the university. For most untrained people, it is already impossible to discern between bogus facts and information that are actually obtained by valid scientific inquiry. These human factors that come into play , even more complex and intricate than those encountered while designing expert systems such as self-driving cars, should not be undervalued or overlooked, simply to make ‘learning’ more fun and engaging.
Teaching effects at the university might be sloppy, but how do we ensure that our (future) generations of multi taskers are actually paying attention to that what they are viewing on their screens, while dozens of other applications call for attention? How do we make sure that a digitalized university, truly uses its authority in the production and spreading of high class knowledge? How do make sure that the curriculum is not dumbed down to such an extent in order to make it fun, that people cannot discern anymore between real science and the rubbish we encounter at thespiritscience.net? Already, the internet is starting to become an echo chamber of misinformation. We can only imagine what would happen if our universities would fully enter this fray where clicks and attention work as a currency.
After all, isn’t fun highly overrated?
Of course, I am just exploring the extremes. Chances are, that many theoretical lectures will indeed become MOOC’s very soon. Virtual reality will probably bring some nifty innovations to the table. Augmented reality might suffice for doing practical’s at home.
Still, as a student, I love being at Uni. It inspires me, to think about all these bright minds walking around. And although change is definitely needed, as it is always an invited guest, we should be wary of these changes. Yes, university might be boring and uninspiring for many. However, maybe we shouldn’t ask the question how to make university more engaging, but why so many of our fresh new minds seem to lack the wonder that makes the university such a vibrant and wonderful place.
From Animal Play to Transformative Experiences through Life-Like, Hyper-Realistic Full Immersion VR environments infused with serious games elements
Step 1 : Mammals and birds have the brain capabilities to play (games) in order to simulate future stressful situations. This will help them adjust their stress response as to be more successful in the future when shit gets real.
Step 2 : As acts of play cannot possibly simulate every important situation within environments, animals developed the ability to dream, that is, to simulate an infinite variety of future (stressful) scenarios based upon the trained neural network acquired through observation and play
Step 3 : Since dreaming is involuntary – its contents volatile and often ridiculous – homo sapiens developed the ability to convey future stressful situations by means of stories, narratives if you will, inevitably leading to the birth of human-invented drawings, art, plays, theatre and literature. Often, these outbursts of human creativity had its origin in the (actual) dreams of the creator.
Step 4 : These new inventions were inherently passive and knew few interactions. It merely consisted of absorbing the prepared information in the hope it was put to good use by the receiver. The next step was to build these narratives within the framework of an actual video-game, giving rise to the interactive and immersive qualities of the stories that unfold while playing video games. These video-games, like regular board games, also introduced the concept for playing ‘just for sheer entertainment’, while all other forms of human narrative telling had the function of teaching other humans something important (drawings of dangerous qualities of wild animals, Greek tragedies, romantic novels), which could of course be enjoyable alongside its main function.
Step 5 : The incredibly stable exponential growth of computing power rapidly turned the visual capabilities of video-games and digitally generated content into almost life-like 3D visualizations projected onto 2D screens. The gradual improvement of not only graphics, but game design, mechanics and psychology, led to the development of serious games, alongside a widespread cry for new ways of learning. Like video-games, serious games can be enjoyable, but their primary goal is to prepare or practice certain skills more efficiently than was otherwise deemed possible. Step 5 is where we currently find ourselves
Step 6 : Although ultra-high graphics, plausible interactive scenarios, sound psychological theories and attractive ways of visualization ensured that serious games had decent training effects on most humans in many different fields of application such as the military and healthcare, many overlooked how serious games could train soft skills as well as hard skill. The Forest was the first serious game to actively pursue the goal of improving cognitive, inter-and-intrapersonal skills of human beings, preparing them for the 21st century. It did so, by using virtual reality (VR), moving away from the standard way of viewing information from a 2D screen, and actually immersing oneself into a parallel, life-like reality.
Step 7 : Like video-games, VR was rather crude at first, and has seen a learning curve for developers and designers. After sufficient time, humans have created such vast amounts of (gamified) virtual environments and scenario’s and have seen such a steep rise in performance and technology, such as haptic technology, brain-computer, sound and olfactory interfaces, that like dreams, there is an almost infinite amount of possible environments and scenario’s where anyone with a VR-set, regardless of background, can equally practice, play, prepare and learn, significantly reducing human errors and suffering within actual reality. We are all animals. We all like to play. If we can all play together in our virtual reality, we can also play together and get along in the game named Life.
I am Google
The title of this article must be outright flattering to its founders. Although one could replace Google with Firefox, Edge or any other search engine, you cannot pivot around the fact that people usually use Google to install these other search engines. That Google gracefully takes part in this process of knowingly potential business suicide says enough about its grandeur.
Google was founded 20 years ago when I was only 4 years old. The age at which a human being starts to form it’s early forms of consciousness. From the first moment I started using the internet, around the age of 8, Google was there. It has always been there, and mostly been benevolent, transparent, friendly and most importantly – extremely helpful.
Google, since I can remember, has been the most important tool to obtain information, that slowly matured into knowledge. Although this information was already out there in the world, Google was the mechanism that made sure this information hit my retina. Even at a very young age, I can remember I was sort of addicted to it. Although many people at the time went on to tell me that you “shouldn’t trust everything that you read on the internet”, and “Wikipedia was a distrustful source of knowledge” because everyone could edit it, I wasn’t so sure. Couldn’t I trust myself in discarding that what was absolute gibberish from that what was worthwhile? Of course, I couldn’t, I was 12, but at least I tried. And through learning how to use Google for basically everything, I have come to see the transformation of the Internet, and that of Google.
The uncanny realisation is that, since I use Google for basically everything, Google also could in theory, or does basically, know everything about me. Like the A.I. pictured in the 2013 movie Ex Machina, whose knowledge base and human understanding is based upon all the search inquiries made within the biggest search engine that exists within that world, I am basically Google.
Google is everywhere once you take into account the companies that they’ve bought throughout the last couple of years. Wikipedia tells us that since 2001, they have bought up to a whopping 189 companies, about 12.6 mergers a year. Companies that, once bought, help to strengthen Google’s position within the markets that they (want to) operate in. Online search, advertisement, online video’s, communication, social media and office environments are all fields they (want to) excel in. Not to mention all the moonshot companies Google owns, now operating under the name Alphabet. Besides, the sheer realisation that the world is increasingly going mobile, and Google, together with Google Maps, is installed in millions of phones. When no encryption is involved, they could possibly know almost everything about your every move, presuming you extensively use your smartphone (something that most people seem to do).
Of course, almost all this data can be regarded as completely useless, since we lack the skills to usefully interpret or analyse it (yet). On top of that, there are way too many laws that protect people from such privacy infringement. But what if these laws change? What if the people’s opinion changes? What if our data mining and machine learning techniques advance dramatically? What if then, there is a extremely powerful company with lots of personal information, that gets (forced) into doing the wrong things?
One can only imagine, and Hollywood could probably write a successful dystopian sci-fi about it. For now, I’ll continue to love Google like I do. I do not care that Google in theory knows everything about me. Without Google, I wouldn’t be the knowledgeable person that I am today, and for that, I should thank them.
Second layer editing
“What did you do last night?”, asked my unsuspecting colleague. Faithfully I return the favour by providing a brief glimpse into the moments that played out yesterday. A brief glimpse, since telling him every piece of information that I have actually experienced would result in an outright awkward social situation, and the risk of never being asked such a question again. So then, what does someone supply you with when confronted with such a dilemma?
“I went to do X with Y and Z and after that we went to A together and meet up with B”.
Within a split second, you have reduced an entire evening of experiences, into a single sentence. You exposed just enough information as to keep the door open for further inquiries, without harassing someone with unwanted details. On top of that, you have just created a story line, that does not necessarily resemble that what actually occurred, but nevertheless became an entity on its own and is now living on inside the mind of the other, functioning as the only available piece of information about what happened to you on that particular evening.
So, in a sense, we are all living our subjective lives as if they are screenplays.
the script of a film, including acting instructions and scene directions.
Like real screenplays, our narratives are unstable, and very much open to reinterpretation. We ourselves of course, are the editors. We engage in this act every single time we tell a story, whether this story is directed to yourself, or others. In fact, we engage in this act every single time we experience something out there. Every piece of incoming sensory information needs to be conceptualised and categorised into meaningful representations that we can later recall as memories. Not surprisingly, people differ in their editing skills, which leaves some narratives blank and hollow, while others are filled to the brim with depth and life. The fact that people also differ in their conceptualisations, categories and representations, based on their unique life experiences makes it even even more complex.
Just as the answer I gave my colleague could have been constructed of entirely bogus information (I could have just as much stayed at home to binge-watch a new TV-series instead of going out with friends – my colleague doesn’t have to know), even though I told the truth with conscious deliberation, so can the edited stories of your personal experiences that you tell yourself consist of completely misinterpreted bogus information. Firstly, we are not perfect observers of our own environments , situations, feelings and states of consciousness we find ourselves in. As a human, we are always unconsciously biased as to which information gets stored, marked, enhanced or inhibited. As long as you, the grand-editor of your narrative, are able to provide seemingly coherent and logical after-edited stories, there is actually no way of telling whether you are factually lying to yourself, and therefore to others.
Our narratives also contain acting instructions and scene directions. These acting instructions tell us behaviours. When to speak out, hold back, engage, walk away or simply put – any acceptable way of presenting yourself for a given environment. The scene directions tell us which environments we are familiar with and are comfortable in to execute such instructions. So, imagine that one would have infinite accurate knowledge on someone’s actions and perceived environments and infinite amounts of paper to write on, you could in theory write out an entire life as a screenplay which could resemble the truth. Yet, we would still run into a major problem. How do we know if our interpretation of these observed life events are factually true? Even if the person in question promises to speak the truth and nothing else but the truth, how do we make sure that the person in question was not lying to himself throughout this entire duration? It seems, that we can conclude, that our screenplays, our narratives, are nothing more than just that. An at times (very) accurate approximation of what truly happened, booby-trapped with occasional (deliberate) lies.
It therefore seems, that one of the most important currencies in human interactions is trust. The colleague that trusts his other colleague to be presenting the truth of what played out that particular evening.
So what happens, when this process of conveying supposedly trustworthy information, plays out on a screen, instead of the boundaries of physical contact? What happens when people have another layer of editing, much more calculated than the quick and forced answer I was guilty of providing my colleague with?
Look around you. We’re already living in a world that is dominated by screens. Screens that show us information that has carefully been selected and edited as to present a certain viewpoint, just as the scene directions within a film’s screenplay. A world wherein screens come in all sizes and formats, but coincide on only one matter. The information that you view on these screens, has been edited, not once, as is usually the case in normal social interaction, but twice, thrice or more.
Most people are already aware of such a reality. Newspapers, radio and storytelling are based on the same principles and have been around for a long time. However, currently our own personal lives are starting to become more like newspapers, a mere selection of all that that could in theory be shown as news.
Opposed to our offline narratives, our online narratives are even more remote from that what is actually happening. We have created a world in which it is easily possible to only show a tiny glimpse of your heavily edited persona, or in some cases, throw it all out there. This world of screens makes it even more difficult to know if someone or something is factually close to the truth or not.
Although one could readily fail to accurately assess a strangers personality or traits based on a inquisitive conversation, it is far more difficult to distil an accurate understanding of someone based on their online social media presence. On the same level, it is far more exhausting to know if someone is speaking the truth or is being genuine in a WhatsApp conversation (even at the age of 12, I would often send a message that I was going to take a shower when I simply felt that the conversation was boring), than it would be in a face to face talk.
This second layer editing that we can (un)consciously employ to alter our screenplay and narrative enables us to do things we couldn’t before, and become things we couldn’t possibly dream of, often at the dispense of perceived honesty and brings with it increased personal complexity. Although many people might deny it as means to protect their personal righteous screenplay narrative, all people lie on a daily basis. Already, it takes quite some effort to remember and keep track of who knows what and who doesn’t. With an online, double edited alter ego, one might be able to control some of these information flows, along the way risking to lose oneself in the double edited narrative. Losing that what is really there when you solemnly close your eyes at night.
We use screens, because it puts another safe layer between our inner world and the outside world. A layer in which we are free to select and promote that what we like and neglect or hide that what we don’t want (people) to find out. Through normal human interaction, most of us are already experts at this. However, the fact that we are scarily good at editing our own life narratives, does not mean we shouldn’t be seeking truth within ourselves and others instead.