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Tuesday Topsight, June 5, 2007

My month of travel is over, and I look forward to sleeping in my own bed.

• Vote Early, Vote Often: I recorded my KQED Perspectives piece earlier today, and once again was told that I have a voice for radio (they were polite enough not to mention that I have a face for radio, too). I've done a few podcasts, both here and for other sites, so let me throw this out as an open question: should I make a point of doing more? Would it be a good use of my time to add regular podcasts to the menu?

• Sim Eh?: Canada: The New World (aka, HistoriCanada) is exactly the kind of simulation-history mashup I've wanted to see for awhile. Sponsored by Canada's National History Society and the Historica Society, HistoriCanada uses the Civilization III (with Conquest expansion) engine to play out the 16th-17th Century competition between the French, English, Ojibwe, Huron, Mohawk, Algonquin, Montagnais, Mi'kmaq, and Abenaki for the control of the Canadian territory.

Serious Game Source says:

Produced by international media firm Bitcasters, the mod will be packaged with copies of Civilization III and donated to 100,000 Canadian high school students so that they may explore and learn about their country's past and even alter outcomes of historical events.

Developed over a two year time, the game allows players to take control of one of Canada’s early European or Aboriginal civilizations, making important decisions ranging from planning their settlement and crops, to determining when to wage war or make peace.

Civ III has a sufficiently detailed mod system that the game has the potential to offer insights into the drivers for conflict and diplomacy in the era. I haven't played it yet, so I don't know how successful the designers were, but it's exciting to see serious games & simulation systems used in this way.

(I still want to see a real version of Bruce Sterling's "WorldRun" from Islands in the Net, though...)

• Singularity Blogging: The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, like the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and (more broadly) the Lifeboat Institute, is dedicated to examining the potential for civilization-threatening technological advances far enough ahead of time that we can make intelligent choices about how we implement such developments. Regardless of what one thinks about the likelihood of the "singularity" model coming true, the work done by SIAI will help to illuminate the possible pitfalls and traps we might encounter as we develop more and more powerful computers. This is precisely the kind of foresight work we need in greater abundance.

I'm pleased to say that I've been informally working with SIAI, and greatly look forward to presenting at this year's Singularity Summit. I'm also pleased to note that SIAI has just launched a weblog, authored by the SIAI leaders, discussing both the technology and policy issues surrounding advanced artificial intelligence.

This video gives a good overview of the ideas underlying SIAI's work, as well as some of the people involved in the project. Check it out.

• Googlopticon: The Participatory Panopticon got name-checked in a BoingBoing post today about the Google Street View service. Street View isn't a real participatory panopticon, of course (and BoingBoing doesn't suggest that it is), and not just because it's being done by the massive, monolithic information overlord Google. One key element of the participatory panopticon concept is its documentary nature -- it's a way of building a record of what's happening around the, er, participants. The Google Street View images appear to be relatively static: what is shown now for a given address is likely to remain there for months, if not years to come.

And that's something that Google may not have thought through. The layout of a city doesn't change very quickly, so a map is something where a decade-old version is almost certain to be still useful. Business searches on the map can be easily updated by fiddling with a database. But what will happen when the image no longer matches the location? Or there's a fire? It's likely that the Street View images will be broadly seen as only marginally useful long before they get expanded beyond the current highly-limited set of locations.

There's also the "gaming the Street View" question: what will be the first URL intentionally put up in order to show up on Street View?

• Go Hug Your Planet: Today is World Environment Day. Actually, every day is world environment day, so perhaps this should be World Environment Day (Observed).


Related to the streetview: one thing I'd like to see is an option in GoogleEarth to specify the date you wish to view. You can than see how a particular region has altered over the last 20-30 years.

I added here the best Google Street View.

My 2 cents: I have really enjoyed all the podcasts with you I've heard. Once a month seriously deep 1hr podcasts would be my ideal as a listener. More often if they can stay fresh, or if you really enjoy making them. So awesome that you will be speaking at the Singularity Summit. Congrats! (Too bad though that means you will be among the first disappeared when evil AI prevails.)

Hmm. Even yearly updates to street view would perhaps be adequate. There's no reason that Google would be unable to do that.

But consider this. Google is getting campuses all over the place. They already run shuttles for their employees. With some clever route planning and camera mounts on the shuttles, they could update the high-traffic areas of streetview more or less constantly. Vary the schedules and routes to hit the areas you need, and update the image database for free whenever desired.

It's limited to the areas Google services for its employees, but that's a pretty large area anyway.

There's probably reasons this is not feasible, though.

Personally, I prefer reading over listening. That's just me, though.


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