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Shared lucid dreaming. A way out of the dull persistence of physicality.
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Jewish admonition to “choose life” in a children’s book about Jewish culture. There was a logic to it, since death would come soon enough, no matter what, so choosing life was at least a reasonable bet.
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There are only five ways to divide a sphere with perfect regularity. This had been known since ancient times, and the flat-faced versions of the five solutions are known as the Platonic Solids. Plants had no choice but to work within the constraints of these forms.
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The first half was an interview with Gregory Bateson
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Computer Lib/Dream Machines, by Ted Nelson.
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Ivan Sutherland’s amazing work.
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Imagine the universe with a person-shaped cavity excised from it. What can we say about the inward-facing surface that surrounds the cavity?
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A sense of cognitive momentum, of moment-to-moment anticipation, becomes palpable in VR.fn2
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Virtual reality peels away phenomena and reveals that consciousness remains and is real. Virtual reality is the technology that exposes you to yourself.
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Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings
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“Cybernetics,” by contrast, proposed only that computers and people would have to be understood in the context of each other.
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Turing Moore’s Law * (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner) = Zombie Apocalypse
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That dark metallic flavor of modern paranoia that is so familiar in the work of William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, the cyberpunk school—indeed in most modern science fiction; it all started with nonscientists freaking out when a few scientists bragged about power trips in the lab.
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Behaviorism has been reduced to gadgetry in pop culture. You tweet for an instant treat, for attention, even if you’re the president.
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If you want to get a feeling for the paranoia still in play when I first studied computer science, I recommend the original version of the movie The Manchurian Candidate.
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“Film requires a swarm of decisions,” I went on. “It’s real work. If each person must direct the comprehensive film of one’s own life, then there would be no time for any life. Film would choke off everything else and would create a stasis, a still image. If, instead, someone else was to direct, then fascism would result, because that someone else would control memory, and so would control everything. Therefore, we must not film everything.
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We must forget enough to be free.”
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The nonviolent movement was often the scene of social experiments, and one of these was “consensus decision making.” It’s like a wiki, except everybody has to be happy. There’s no Wikipedian elite crew to shut people down. So the meetings take a really long time. You start daydreaming about what fun libertarians would be having by now.
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There was also an interior problem with activism. You start to find your own worth in the cause, and that’s too narrow a formulation. Activists start to fudge a little to reinforce each other. You pretend you’re having more impact than you really are, and that you agree more than you really do. Some of my best friends in the “cause” became depressed from time to time, and a few committed suicide.
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Idealist techies might have been enchanted by Buckminster Fuller and his notion of world games, or of the Allende regime’s lost cause to create a cyber-Marxist utopia in Chile.
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George used his book Hero with a Thousand Faces as a template for Star Wars.” As if this guy was best buddies with Lucas. “Wait, you know Campbell?”
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I’ve noticed that kids balance their use of VR in a healthier way than they do with videos or games. More research is needed before you should let me get away with claiming victory, but this is exactly what we all thought would happen back in the early days. TV and video games draw people into a zombielike trance, and kids, especially, get stuck in it, while VR is active and makes you tired after a while.
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It’s a subtle issue, best understood through personal experience; VR only exists because of subjectivities, but I will try to convey the feeling. To be an observer exclusively in VR is to be a phantom, a subordinate ghost who cannot even haunt.
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Psychedelic utopias have an automatic quality that later turned out to merge well with the technolibertarian sensibility. Gone was the old Marxist (or Ayn Randian) sense that one needed to struggle toward utopia.
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I remember Marvin talking to Margaret, his daughter, and me about his take on Alan Watts. It’s hard to imagine a philosopher who might seem more distant from Marvin than the gurulike, Asian-leaning Watts, and yet Marvin thought Watts was remarkably wise about death. I recall Marvin discussing Watts’s idea that reincarnation is the wave way of interpreting people instead of the particle way.
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one of the few great books about computers, The Mythical Man-Month,
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You might not know about these early Silicon Valley institutions. The Suicide Club was a punk urban adventure club that would do things like climb the Golden Gate Bridge illegally. It was one of the progenitors of Burning Man. That’s where “Leave No Trace” comes from.
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The visceral realness of human presence within an avatar is the most dramatic sensation I have felt in VR. Interactivity is not just a feature or a quality of VR, but the natural empirical process at the core of experience. It is how we know life. It is life.
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Alan Kay had called computers “bicycles for the mind,” and in the case of VR, the metaphor was doubly informative. Tim Leary and a few early VR researchers were already imagining VR to be “electronic LSD,” but actually it takes attention, effort, and skill to enjoy VR. Like a bicycle, not a roller coaster. Also, I always wanted to emphasize personal connection between people over superhuman noospherianfn5 concepts. Maybe we’d collectively create a global virtual space, but even then, the connection with another individual should remain more cherished.
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At any rate, here is a principle that is good and true: Bluntness is good in the design of information devices. Power relationships are unavoidable, but are always more ethical when they are stated clearly.
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If a camera is looking at you, it should be visible. If the world you are wandering is not real, that should be made obvious. The human mind has a profound capacity to engage in fantasy, so we don’t give up much if an illusion isn’t perfect. At the same time, since fantasy comes to us so easily, it’s usually good citizenship to emphasize the edges of an illusion.
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My guess is that there will be a lot of VR in self-driving cars. It’s almost intolerably boring to be in one, and we’ll all be stuck in them for hours.
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I wonder if people without property will spend a lot of time in VR, being driven from place to place because it’s cheaper than standing still.
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There might just be a gigantic payoff if we can bridge the uncanny valley, at least in VR headsets and avatars. It might make remote collaboration work better, and that might reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.
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Straightforward camera-to-camera contact, such as in the familiar Skype experience, can do a lot, but not as much as we might like. Remember when I mentioned that there’s a subconscious information channel between people that’s transmitted by head motion? Add eye motion, skin tone, tiny changes in expression, and undoubtedly other factors we are not yet aware of. MIT’s Sandy Pentland dubbed these the “honest signals.” Without them, we perceive each other with less openness and ease, especially so between strangers.
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(You’ve probably heard of Randy, not for his work in VR, but because of his famous Last Lecture, about living and dying well. Randy and I were about the same age, but Randy died, as close to a secular saint as one can get, in 2008 of pancreatic cancer.)
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This will quickly become a political problem. A new wave of journalists are looking to spherical video with a utopian glint. Oh, how this reminds me of the old days. I used to predict that the intensity of spatial video capture would create peace on earth. Amplify empathy. People would really see the awfulness of violence, of war, and would not be able to stomach it. Peace would ensue. We shall see. The more intense a communication technology is, the more intensely it can be used to lie.
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Before World War II, the radical dramatist Antonin Artaud used the French phrase réalité virtuelle in his discussions of a “theater of cruelty.”
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Susanne Langer (who came up with “virtual world” in the 1950s) or Artaud.
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VR engaged a new generation of journalists, like Steven Levy, Howard Rheingold, Luc Sante, and Mondo 2000’s Ken Goffman, aka R. U. Sirius.
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Kevin thinks that objects we perceive to exist in software really exist. I do not. He believes in AI, and that a noosphere not only exists, but might have gained a kind of self-determination now that computers are networked. I do not. Kevin thinks technology is a superbeing that wants things. He perceives grace in that superbeing. I was delighted to provide a blurb for his book What Technology Wants, stating that it was the best presentation of a philosophy I didn’t share.
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The World Wide Web went viral, to use the contemporary term. That’s not the way we talked at the time. Terms like “viral” and “disruptive” still sounded negative and destructive. We hadn’t yet hypnotized ourselves into Möbius-Orwellian tech talk.
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Much later on, companies like Google and Facebook would make hundreds of billions of dollars for the service of partially mapping what should have been mapped from the start.
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The Lawnmower Man was a science fiction film that used real VPL gear as props. It was about a VR company being taken over by a shadowy conspiracy. Pierce Brosnan played, approximately, me.
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It is the miracles we build, the friendships, the families, the meaning, that are astonishing, interesting, blazingly amazing. Love creation.
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listen to an Art Tatum solo;
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This destiny for virtual reality is what I call postsymbolic communication. Instead of telling a ghost story, you’ll make a haunted house.
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To their detriment, cephalopods are born from eggs without a parental bond. They’re remarkably smart, but they can’t grow a culture across generations.
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Forty-eighth VR Definition: A shared, waking state, intentional, communicative, collaborative dream.
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Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.
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“Technologists have a responsibility to come up with media technologies of such beauty, fascination, and depth that mankind will be seduced away from mass suicide.”
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I used to say “Information is alienated experience.” That is, bits have a meaning based on human experience when they are put into a computer, or when they are extracted, but absent human culture and interpretation, they’re meaningless.
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Consider how odd it is that the whole society, not just in our nation but globally, has to beg a few tightly controlled corporations to allow usable space for sincere news reporting. Isn’t there something strange, perilous, and unsustainable about that, even if those corporations are enlightened and respond positively for now?
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The point is that the devices on which this material is delivered track who is reading or watching at a given moment, and that’s the truth that matters, not what’s on the screen. Shitposting is more attached to reality than any previous form of communication, but the conveyance of reality flows from reader to server, not from server to reader.
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Our Information Age favors the kind of person who’s good at thinking like a computer, not that the mind-set is new to the world. It’s the same mind-set that has always loved to commit totally to a system, to run a program; to seek the socialist paradise, the absolute theocracy, or the purist libertarian floating island colony where no one pays taxes and yet the island doesn’t sink. If you can think like a computer program, you can win fortunes through the computer programs that now run the world.
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You can interpret the Internet as having come alive already. You can interpret the election of a confused president in the USA as a method the Internet used to start clearing out the people.