The Future has arrived

Advanced technology of Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to permeate all aspects of our lives: medicine, engineering, security, entertainment and education. Robots are already being incorporated into some dangerous work. For example, Packbot helps Police and Armed forces to identify the location of criminals in barricaded buildings or find concealed bombs and mines. Controlled by a human, this robot helps the police enormously with minimal risk for their lives.

iRobot_Negotiator_on_stairs_360x269

Packbot can climb the stairs, flip over and move in any direction

A similar type of robot is represented by Swarm-bot – multi robot systems which consist of mostly simple physical robots1. Opposed to the Packbot which is design to work alone as an individual, Swarm-bots operate as a team, thus being more efficient.

start-double-chain

Swarm-bots making a dynamic chain for navigation

An ‘Eel-Lectrifying’ Future for autonomous Underwater Robots; Robots Take Over Inspection of Ballast Tanks on Ships; Magic Tricks Created Using Artificial Intelligence; Cats and Athletes Teach Robots How to Fall; Using 3-D Printers to Print out Self-Learning Robots. Scrolling down the article headlines of online science and high-tech journals one might think that we live in a digitised world surrounded by cyborgs that do all the work for us. Of course this is far from being true or at least so I think.

A non-expensive robot doing all the undesirable work as hoovering, cleaning and ironing would be very much appreciated by many… not least myself.

The breakthrough discoveries in science represent limitless potential of AI. Someday our children might live in a healthier society, where there will be no illnesses; they will come up with anti-aging remedies and learn the secrets of immortality. Our future might look like a science fiction movie where humans are surrounded by robotic devices. We will talk to our furniture, make orders to our kitchen utensils and take care of the robotic pets.

Nowadays AI machines have the intelligence of a cockroach, in the near future scientists will be able to produce machines with the intelligence of mice; the next step for robots will be learn to learn and cumulate knowledge from experience.

The reason why scientists are so eager to create a self-sufficient operated robot is to make the robotic machines replace people at monotonous work places, such as construction. Honda corporation has been working over 27 years in order to produce ASIMO robots for domestic use and elsewhere for practical reasons. The latest version of ASIMO can run, jump, hop on one leg, walk backwards and even conduct the orchestra.

asimo_2049641b

ASIMO opening a bottle and serving a drink

However the very notion of AI sounds scary to many people. The stereotypical portrayal of super human monster has been used immensely in literature (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; He, She and it by Marge Piercy, Legion of the Damned by William C. Dietz, etc), cinema (The Terminator, American cyborg, RoboCop, Nemesis – to name but a few) and animated TV series (Bionic Sis, The Big O, Krypto the Superdog).

The consequences of uncontrollable clever machine could be disastrous2. What if the created attacks the creator? The mouse become the master? Will AI eventually outsmart humans? These questions remain unanswered, however some scientists and writers are already concerned by the rapid AI development. Thus, James Barrat argues in his new book Artificial Intelligence and The End of Human Era: Our Final Invention3, that super-intelligent machines require a thorough scientific study for better understanding their activity. The key point of the book is that some AI machines are already more intellectually advanced in navigation, data mining, search and theorem proving; therefore if the scientists continue creating them, ultimately these machines might use their intelligence in a different way and take the entire control of the humanity.

Meanwhile most progressive innovators are inclined to change the world of education forever by implementing AI into online courses. When Udacity opened a new course “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”, it gained 160,000 students globally4. The reality is that soon the course might be taught by electronic tutors, which on the one hand could be beneficial for students` creativity, curiosity and general background. On the other hand, this education model lacks personal approach, which is only applicable during face-to-face interaction.

An interesting example of how AI may change the life of an ordinary person is described in the movie “Her”. A mere purchase of a talking operating system with AI turned the life of the main character Theodore upside down. The OS could adapt and evolve, taking the attributes of an ideal Self of Theodore and ultimately he falls in love with the OS. We cannot but wonder: Is that going to be our future? Will the AI machines substitute humans or are they just manifestations of our idealistic worlds?

1Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarm_robotics

2Hendry, Erica What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Turns On Us? Smithsonian magazine, January 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/what-happens-when-artificial-intelligence-turns-us-180949415/

3Barrat, James Our Final Invention. Artificial Intelligence And The End Of The Human Era, Thomas Dunne Books, 2013

4Vanderbilt, Tom How Artificial Intelligence Can Change Higher Education, Smithsonian magazine, December 2012. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/how-artificial-intelligence-can-change-higher-education-136983766/

Advertisements

Virtual Worlds and safety (responding to blog Virtual Worlds – http://internetrequired.wordpress.com)

“Anyone who is worried about the effects of virtual worlds on social interaction should direct their concern at television long, long before they look at virtual worlds”

-Richard Bartle

 8c634618815d7d3bcfcc694be392631b

How safe are we in our digitized world? 

It`s time to think about our safety!

Virtual Worlds (VW) give us enormous opportunities for work, development, education, entertainment and communication. We can officially declare that VW change our world, life and mentality (see https://olgavasileva2014.wordpress.com). Nevertheless, very often these opportunities may also bring in some risks. And although this blog post (http://internetrequired.wordpress.com) and one of my own (see above) covers several valuable advantages of VW, now I would like to focus on the flip side of this phenomenon.

Fun of being a Griefer

Everyone knows who an online gamer is but very few of us know what the word ‘griefer’ means. So who is a griefer? In the context of online environments this relatively new term means someone who plays to make others cry. A more scientific definition of a griefer is someone who is “purposefully engaging in activities to disrupt the gaming experience of other players”1. Griefers stalk, hurl insults, extort, form gangs, kill and loot. Although a tiny percentage of the millions who play online games, griefers are prolific in sowing distress and driving away thousands of devoted gamers.

At their genesis, online gamers were thought to adhere to a code of honour, but instead they quickly descended into anarchy. Stealing, killing, taunting and other forms of bad behaviour against online characters mushroomed overnight. Experienced players would stalk novice players (aka newbies) and kill them repeatedly.

For most of us it might sound surprising, but for a griefer, it`s not the killing that is fun. It`s the misery it causes other players. Pushing social limits becomes their obsession. Griefers can even form virtual mafia, blocking access to desirable areas of the game and demanding bribes.

Interestingly, griefers themselves do not associate their activity with deviant behaviour. Griefers in Second Life (i.e. another form of VW) insist that Second Life should not be taken seriously and their activity has to be considered within the context of play.2

Are the kids safe?

Nowadays children are surrounded by gadgets day and night. Therefore, the audience playing online games and exploring VW is becoming younger; the amount of time spent online is rapidly increasing, especially among the children aged 2 to 5.3

Undoubtedly, VW and online games can be very useful in education; recent studies4 have shown that games teach children about cause and effect relationships, complex system behaviours, the use of obstacles as motivation and the value of persistence.

However most of the MMO environments are designed for an excessive number of hours play. Consequently this may lead to the addictiveness, that may be damaging to mental health and general well-being. Researchers at the University of Plymouth did an experiment with 362 online gamers; it proved that almost a quarter (23%) of them are addicted to online gaming.5

“OK. I am addicted to online gaming, so what?” – one might say. There are so many addictions today, that one more probably makes little difference. VW provide an easy escape from our daily routine, household chores and lousy relationships.

Many of us would say that escaping the reality once in a while wouldn`t do any harm to our health and behaviour, but what if a gamer loses control and neglects moderation? What if one forgets about an important meeting or deadline? Or misses school and ignores their family and friends?

Moreover, there is a certain relationship between excessive hours spent in VW and poor performance at school. Even one hour a day of online gaming negatively impacts grades.6

Do games make us more violent?

Can we relate excessive online gaming to the increase of violence and aggression in our society? Of course, the exposure to violent scenes, bloody fights, unlimited shooting and a choice of various weapons on daily basis might cause some health issues and behavioural changes.7

When I was at school online games were gaining in popularity globally. I remember a few classmates would skip classes to play the World of Warcraft. Those students who had greater exposure to violent online games seemed to be more aggressive and more likely to fight with the peers. Subsequently their grades and the overall performance rapidly deteriorated and finally some of the boys were expelled.

Trolling in social networks

Another issue is anonymity. It seems to me, that the very fact that the person knows it`s impossible to trace him back gives confidence to post offensive comments, threaten and harass. For some of us anonymous trolling is unbearable. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are notorious for trolling and cyber bullying. Celebrities can become most vulnerable victims in social networks. Robin Williams` daughter Zelda announced that she was deleting Twitter and Instagram because of “cruel and unnecessary” comments left by internet trolls.

I was raised in a small town where street fights and attacks were common. People used to be frightened to go outside in the night time (not anymore, as the era of corrupt police is over). Terrible as it sounds, but at least people could encounter the attackers, look them in the eyes and most often come to some resolution. Whereas virtual offenders feel invincible disguised by their anonymous identity.

 20a219791452ad22d0ffa1f576565674

Making VW safe is our responsibility!

Regardless of such issues, VW has become a huge part of our lives. But we should not forget that we are the ones who decide whether WV harms or benefits us. The locus of control has to be within us and not outside. It is not the VW that determines us, but we, who are in charge of our digital past, present and future.

1. Mulligan, J. & Patrovsky, B. 2003. Developing online games: An insiders`s guide.

2. Bakioglu, B. 2009. Spectacular Interventions in Second Life: Goon culture, Griefing, and Disruption in Virtual Spaces

3. NDP group. 2011. The Video game industry is adding 2-17 year old gamers at a rate higher than that age group`s population growth. Retrieved from https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/pressreleases/pr_111011c.

4. Prensky, M. 2006. Don`t Bother Me, Mom, I`m Learning.

5. Sanders, B.G., Furnell, S.M., Dowland, P.S. 2009. Online gaming: an emerging avenue for exploitation?, Proceedings of the Fifth Collaborative Research Symposium on Security, E-learning, Internet and Networking.

6. Chan, P.A., Rabinowitz, T. 2006. A cross-sectional analysis of video games and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in adolescents.

7. Li, D., Khoo, A., Choo, H., Liau, A.K. 2012. Effects of digital game play among young Singaporean gamers. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research.

8. Blog post http://internetrequired.wordpress.com

Does a virtual world make our world better?

Very few of us can boast about being the masters of our lives. Many of us complain about things seemingly out of our control, such as: lack of education, work and money; dependence on parents, employers and state. Virtual World (VW) is a computer-based simulated environment, largely synonymous with 3D. Other terms such as Second Life (SL) are also used. For simplicity I only use the term Virtual World. This phenomenon can help you become the CEO, CFO and the creative director of your ‘alternative life’. You choose to be anyone you want, meet who you like and have anything you fancy. While this may seem as a way of escaping reality, for some, it is their only chance at self-expression.

Imagine your entire world was restricted by the borders of your room where the only faces that you saw on a regular basis were doctors. Such a place does not stimulate creativity and imagination. In this is situation the VW may be a saviour; a source of communication, education and creative development.

I worked for two years in a Moscow language institute as an English teacher. We specialised in online courses for students from all over Russia. I often wondered why so few students had their cameras on during webinars. Then I got an email from a student thanking me for treating her the same as everyone else. Little did I know that she had a disability and it took her much longer to prepare for classes.

Surprisingly it never occurred to me that for so many Russian students online education was the only way to become certified and ultimately work from home in such a vast country. I imagine their relief and excitement if they had an opportunity to get an avatar instead of a blank with a question mark. The option to design their own character would enhance their imagination, creativity and confidence – all of which are essential in education.

VW education is becoming more attractive to some students over regular online education. In a VW students are able to interact similar to the real class experience through their ideal avatar. The emergence of 3D Virtual Worlds with powerful visual impact, allows people to freely programme behaviours into objects. Recent studies1 have proved that VW used as a platform for teaching a programming language benefits novice students. In another experiment2 some MBA students claimed that the VW experience helped them to better meet course objectives. Consequently many favoured VW inclusion in the curriculum.

Other research3 shows evidence that VW can significantly enhance team creativity; which is evermore in demand by innovative companies. For example IBM uses VW environments to train global teams. This research suggests that experiences within VW will influence ideas for how information interactions in the real world might similarly become more immersive, interactive and participatory.

Another advantage of VW is that it affords people with disabilities the ability to be more creative. For some it becomes the only place where they can develop their artistic and communication skills and forget about physical constraints. Patients suffering from Parkinson`s disease report feeling physically better, and that their motor functions improve when they watch their avatars move freely in the virtual space of VW4. This is of great interest for medical researchers who study the positive influence of virtual experiments on Parkinson`s patients.

Another example is people with communication problems. They can suffer from social anxiety disorder and fail to make friends in real life. It has been shown that these people can successfully communicate in VW, acquire new hobbies, make friends and generally overcome their fears5. As a result of the anonymity provided by the avatar, people are inclined to share their true thoughts and talk about themselves more freely.

We must mention the obvious negative repercussions of VW addictions. Not only can addicts waste much of their time and money, but also they can lose touch with their family, friends and reality. Confidentiality, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, electronic harassment – to name but a few – are issues that people potentially face while ‘living’ their second lives. Researchers from the University of Nottingham6 claim that bullying in VW is as rife for those who move into the VW as it is in the real world. In their cyber-based focus group discussion they found that newcomers to VW are often subjected to griefing (online bullying) when they first enter the domain, in which people communicate through instant messaging.

While these issues have damaged the public`s perception of VW, it is imperative that its emancipatory power is not unnecessarily constrained.  After all, human development requires safety and creativity. As Sir Ken Robinson said: “Everyone has huge creative capacities. The challenge is to develop them. A culture of creativity has to involve everybody, not just a select few.”

 

1Esteves, M. 2009. Using Second Life for Problem Based Learning in Computer Science Programming. Virtual Worlds research, 2, 25.

2Daniels Lee, P. 2009. Using Second Life to teach Operations Management. Virtual Worlds research, 2, 15.

3Alahuhta, P. 2014. Fostering Team Creativity in Virtual Worlds. Virtual Worlds research, 7, 22.

4Turner, J., Davis, D. 2013. Second Life`s Second Life for Social Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

5Schwartz, D. T. 2009. Second Life and classical music education: Developing iconography that encourages human interaction. Virtual Worlds Research.

6Coyne, I., Chesney, T. 2009. Griefing in a Virtual Community: an exploratory survey of Second Life residents.