By Denise Montgomery
A new study released by Cisco Systems in September 2011 reveals that one-third of young people today place the Internet firmly at the base of the hierarchy of human needs — right alongside food, water, shelter and air. And fully half of those surveyed said they could not live without network connectivity.
While these results may seem shocking to a generation that remembers when telephones with curly cords and printed encyclopedias that ate up multiple paychecks, they come as no surprise to Will Wright, the godfather of immersive gaming.
In 2009, Wright told Scientific American, “…it's hard to separate humans from their technology, which is developing so rapidly. Intelligence is embedded in the tools we surround ourselves with. Whether it's GPS (global positioning systems), cars or even automatic light dimmers in our homes, we're building a technological exoskeleton around us as a species and starting to off-load more and more autonomy into it. We're basically delegating more and more decisions to the technology around us.”
And while science fiction has long painted heavy reliance on technology as the first step on the path to unmitigated disaster — think of "The Terminator," "Blade Runner" and "Battlestar Galactica," all tales in which machines engage in cataclysmic revolt against their inventors — Wright sees the keys to the future evolution of education and human intelligence.
Ignoring the message of such cautionary Hollywood tales, Wright’s latest endeavor, The Stupid Fun Club, is in fact dedicated to developing even smarter versions of those ubiquitous sci-fi villains: artificially intelligent robots.
Wright rose to prominence as a paradigm-smashing pioneer in the design of videogames. Unlike traditional games, with predetermined storylines and conventional storytelling structures that are constrained by a predetermined beginning, middle, and end, Wright created a series of wildly successful “software toys,” like SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. In his games, created during his tenure with game giant Electronic Arts, players quite literally play God — creating immersive worlds, populating them with creatures born out of their own imaginations, guiding their actions, and sometimes, letting them interact with their surroundings without direction, simply to watch what happens when they exercise “free will.”
Wright’s games broke through barriers in both design and in sales, cementing Wright’s position as a singular luminary in the electronic entertainment industry.
Today, however, he’s predicting a whole new mission for videogames. Wright believes they can do far more than entertain; he suggests they are fundamentally transforming the way generations of young people learn.
In 2008, Wright told the Sunday Times, “The problem with our education system is we’ve taken this kind of narrow, reductionist, Aristotelian approach to what learning is… It’s not really designed for failure, which is… something games teach. Trial and error, reverse-engineering stuff in your mind — all the ways that kids interact with games — that’s the kind of thinking schools should be teaching. And I would argue that as the world becomes more complex, and as outcomes become less about success or failure, games are better at preparing you. The education system is going to realize this sooner or later.”
Further insights from Will Wright are just one of the highlights of a gathering of visionaries being brought together by The Atlantic Media Company and UC San Diego Extension this fall. The October 17-19 “The Atlantic Meets the Pacific” event will feature three-days of thought provoking conversations addressing new frontiers in science, medicine, art, technology and energy.
Founded in 1857, The Atlantic is an iconic American magazine that is greatly concerned with forward thinking. For many years the Atlantic Media Company and The Atlantic, along with the Aspen Institute, have annually gathered the nation's intellectual leaders to discuss the ideas and trends shaping American’s future as part of the Aspen ideasFestival and the Washington Ideas Forum. The Atlantic Meets the Pacific expands upon that tradition.
The new West Coast partnership seems a perfect fit. Nestled on the Pacific Ocean in the enclave of La Jolla, UC San Diego is one of the nation’s most accomplished research universities. Renowned for its collaborative, diverse and cross-disciplinary ethos that transcends traditional boundaries in science, arts and the humanities, the university’s award-winning scholars are experts at the forefront of their fields with an impressive track record for achieving scientific, medical and technological breakthroughs.
In addition senior editor Alexis Madrigal interviewing Wright, editor James Bennet will interview guru Deepak Chopra, responsible for bringing Eastern spiritualism to the Western world, and Caltech physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow, a recent collaborator with Stephen Hawking.
The civic and corporate leaders who attend the event will witness innovation first-hand.
The event includes behind-the-scenes tours at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego’s Calit2 digital media laboratory and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., Salk Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark. Attendees will spend a half-day at each of these sites. The aim of the event is to engage a national constituency of CEOs, philanthropists, civic officials and media leaders in some of the most exciting developments shaping America and the world, linking the strengths of the traditional achievements of the Atlantic Coast with the promising ideas and opportunities emerging from the Pacific Coast.
Is Wright concerned that such innovation, including the intelligent robots he is working on today may one day rise up and overthrow against humankind? Hardly.
Explaining intelligence — both human and artificial — to Scientific American in 2009, he says that robots cannot begin to approach the discriminating, functional intelligence of the human brain.
“If you actually look at the amount of data coming in through all your senses, there's something like 100 million bits of information coming in every second through your visual system and another 10 million bits coming through your auditory system and another one million bits coming through your tactile system. …We can manage this, because our conscious stream is only aware of a very tiny fraction of that sensory input, maybe a few hundred bits per second. Most of our intelligence is really a filtering process.”
“The Atlantic Meets the Pacific” aims to be the ideal forum for this distinctively human intelligence, in which the imagination, inventions and innovations shaping the future will be engaged by thoughtful, influential citizens from across America.