“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” – Alan Turing
Can you guess how many hours the world spends each week on videogames?
Got a number in mind? Great! Let’s first explore what makes these darned things so interesting, why they’re important to creativity and then we’ll look at the answer. OK?
Games have been an integral part of our development. In between hunting for food, preparing food, procreating and fostering our children we made up simulations of the world in order to practice our abilities.
Take a game like tag. It’s got simple rules, it’s a friendly competition that lets us play both as the hunter and the prey. Something that our forefathers had to contend with on a regular basis. Also, great physical exercise that has benefits in real life as well. Maybe not as applicable in modern society.
We’re still operating on the same prinicples today, only difference is that it’s become more complex and moved into the digital domain. We’re doing kind of the same actions involving the same brain regions. Solving problems, hunting, gathering things to let us progress further etc.
Why do we need to do this? Since the industrial revolution we’ve made life really comfortable. Sure, we’ve made progress before that too, but not on the same scale. A lot of our previous work has been automated and taken over by machines. We’ve gotten a lot more free time to focus on other issues than making sure we’ve got food for the day and somewhere to sleep. I realize not all people on the planet have these luxuries. But many of us are lucky enough to have that covered.
We still have an innate need to challenge ourselves mentally and physically. I think that’s why games and sports have become such giant industries. These things make our bodies produce the same chemicals that let us feel things like the rush we only used to get from things like hunting.
In games we’ve got boundaries of what we can do. These are the rules. What’s the first thing we do? We try it out. And then what? We try to break the game. It’s like our mind goes: “OK, so this is fun. How can I make sure I win each and every time?”. You see why we’ve automated so much of the stuff? We want to make sure that we can win all the time. Not that it shouldn’t be challenging! If it’s not challenging we lose interest. Fast.
A good game needs to get incrementally harder as our abilities get better. If we get really fast at running we need to find better runners to compete with, or make it more challenging. Hurdles anyone?
I was talking to a music producer and friend of mine, Kid Belton, about videogames. He was talking about his experiences in World of Warcraft and how it could be improved. One thing he said was about the Player vs. Player aspect being the only challenge left for people who’ve finished the main quests. The replayability of missions was not that high.
That got me thinking about something Alan Turing said: “A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human”. We’ve already got computers running software that can learn from interaction with humans.
What if we just put it into a game like World of Warcraft? Let the players interact with it and see how it develops. Let’s say you put the function in a boss. The first time you beat the boss it analyzes which tactics the player or players used. The next time it’ll have learned how to handle that tactic. It beats you, you go back and draw a new plan. You beat it again, it learns some more. This has been done with computers playing chess, why not bring it to MMO’s?
This goes on and on and challenges the player who feels that they need to do what humans always do. Making sure that we always win. Games are the perfect testing ground!
So, what was your answer? How many hours do you think we spend a week on videogames? If you said 1 billion, you’d be wrong. Two billion? Sorry mate. It’s 3 billion hours of gaming!
Imagine that, 3 billion hours! If you’re lucky enough to live 100 years, that makes 876.000 hours. It doesn’t even leave a dent in that! Three billion hours is 342.465 years.
As a species we spend more than 300.000 years on videogames, A WEEK! Most would gasp at that and say: “What a waste of time!”. But what if we could put it to good use as well?
There are projects like Folding@home which harness the power of computers spare processing power. The processing power is used to simulate the folding of proteins which can help the research on diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer among others.
That’s a really great way to make good use of the spare power in the machines. What if we could do the same with our spare brain power?
We’re going to play videogames regardless. How about we find a creative way of making use of them? This is where the rubber meets the road. If we can create a character with the ability to learn in a videogame the data extracted could benefit future AI-features in our appliances and applications.
We could incorporate real world problems into our casual games. While scientists are working in the laboratories the rest of us could spend our 3 billion hours on the next “Candy Crush Saga” while feeding data that otherwise would take years to gather.
It’s only a matter of time before this becomes reality and it’ll take some of the brightest minds in all fields to make sure that the games are valued by the people who play them while also giving science something of value.
For now we need to accept that machines are still only as smart as we program them to be. Creativity is only as creative as we deem it to be.
Let’s make sure that we bring the best of both worlds as we move into the future!
Hod Lipson – Robots that are “self-aware”
Alex Wissner-Gross – An equation for intelligence
Peter Bock – Emergence of creativity in Artificial Intelligence