Tuesday Topsight, October 10, 2006
It's End of the World time at Open the Future Topsight!
MADH -- Mutually Assured Dark Humor: DEFCON proclaims itself to be the "World's First Genocide 'em up," and that bit of ad copy should tell you everything you need to know about the underlying attitude of this game of global thermonuclear war. The graphics are chilling, looking like General Buck Turgidson's "big board" mashed-up with a first-person shooter: as the missiles hit home, the numbers of dead float for a moment above each impact point, then evaporate. The goal of the game isn't to win -- as the web domain proclaims, "everybody dies!" -- but to lose the least.
When I first stumbled across this game, I thought it was a parody, but it seems to be quite real. Up to six people can play over the net, and there's even a "diplomacy" mode. The demo offers a single opponent (AI or network) and the standard play mode only. In a week where the nuclear weapons are on the front pages, it's only appropriate to give them their due.
Political Games, Part Deux: If blowing up the world isn't your schtick, how about just the Strait of Hormuz? In the game "Counter Strike" -- not the Half Life mod -- players try to plant bombs on an oil tanker in order to sink it in a way to block the waterway, thereby cutting access to about 40% of the world's oil supply. Oh, did I mention that it was a product of state-funded Iranian game designers, intended to demonstrate how such an act could take place?
There's not much info about the game other than a single Reuters piece, but the commentary among the "serious games" crowd has been interesting. Ian Bogost at Water Cooler Games muses about how to categorize the game (propaganda? education? videogame diplomacy?), asking whether it is the 'first example of a videogame-based geopolitical act." Nate Combs at Terra Nova riffs off of Bogost's observations, and links to the larger question of the purpose of building virtual worlds. (The comments at Terra Nova are less edifying, unfortunately, as they include at least one participant who seems to insist that any discussion of this game other than condemnation is implicit support for the Iranian government.)
Because Nothing Could Go Wrong With Armed Computers: If you don't have the stomach for global thermonuclear war or system disruption terror, maybe we should just take people out of the loop entirely. At least, that's what a group within the US Department of Defense wants to do, according to Jane's Defence Weekly:
A proposal, unveiled publicly in September but never before publicised, would give "armed autonomous systems" the authority to shoot to destroy hostile weapon systems but not suspected combatants. Accordingly, any people killed or injured in the attack would be considered the collateral damage of a successful strike on a legitimate target.
There are so many things dizzyingly wrong with this proposal it's hard to know where to start.
Nanomaterials to the Rescue!: So how about some good news, then? Researchers at Clemson university have figured out a way to use carbon nanotubes to render weaponized anthrax spores effectively harmless!
The Clemson team used carbon nanotubes as a platform or scaffolding for displaying sugar molecules that would attract the anthrax spores. [...] When sugar coated, the carbon nanotubes bind with the anthrax spores, creating clusters that are too large to be inhaled -- stopping their infection and destruction.
Sun said a similar approach using sugar-coated carbon nanotubes to stop the spread of E. coli bacteria was tested successfully in 2004. He sees this new method potentially as a way for first responders to contain anthrax in an office or mailroom setting using a water-based gel, foam or aerosol spray, and he thinks it has potential application on the battlefield in larger quantities.
You can find a very cool image of Anthrax spores covered in sugar here.