Wetware and the Singularity: Gaming in 2037
Scotticus ORLYus | 10 Jan 2012 | 06:38 AM CDT
Last week on The TiltCast, we were graced with an e-mail that contained a very intriguing question: What do we think gaming will be like in 25 years..? Very intriguing indeed. Now, while Justin and Holly gave more reasonable and conservative answers, Trent and I had far loftier predictions that landed in the same approximate territory. In essence, we predicted that in a quarter century’s time, gaming will have advanced to such a point that it will utilize our nervous systems via what is often incorrectly referred to as “wetware”. I also invoked a particular term, the “Singularity”. Nifty, right?
This would all be well and good.., if people knew what the hell we were talking about.
You see, things got chaotic midway through my time to offer a prediction. After all was said and done, I didn’t think to spell things out and had really run out of time and patience to do so anyway. Then, once the session was over, I just forgot about it all. That is until some friends caught me on Xbox Live and cornered me about the show. It’s to their credit that I’m writing this. I sometimes forget how odd and/or obscure some of the things I take fascination in really are. So, let’s get all this sussed out.
First up, “wetware”. What is it and will this get me slapped for mentioning it to my wife? As a starting point, I’ll mention again the incorrect use of the term. This is particularly important as everyone I’ve ever talked to about this subject thoroughly blows the definition, myself and Trent included. But, this is what happens when people not involved in a particular field of advanced science choose to discuss it anyway. All the better that I’m taking time to clear this up. The term ‘wetware’ has a two-phase history. #1. In it’s original usage, dating to the 1950s, it was used to collectively refer to the physical brain and associated nervous system. That’s it. Nothing else. So, we are all in possession of wetware and always have been. Some writers on the subject chose to look at it as similar to telephone wires leading to the phone company switch office where calls are processed. As technology advanced and became more commonly discussed, writers have since tried to revise the analogy, likening wetware to hardware and software. Wikipedia has a couple messy ones on display. #2. In more recent decades, wetware’s definition has seen inconsistent expansion—largely by sci-fi authors—to include cybernetics and other similar augmentations connecting to the brain and/or nervous system. The most accessible example of this fuzzily expanded definition would probably reside in the seminal film, The Matrix. Neo and company routinely would jam a plug into the bases of their skulls as a means of connecting their minds to a computer network. A more relevant example would be Trent’s reference point, Strange Days, where a electronic headgear was used to deliver sensorial inputs to the brain.
Now, it may seem to most people like we’re years away from a reality that includes any variant of these examples. However, we’re closer than you might think. Case in point, Emotiv’s Epoc Neuroheadset controller. It is indeed a piece of electronic headgear and it recognizes particular brainwaves that are then translated to controller instructions for video games. It’s not cheap. But, it’s no more expensive than a smartphone and is available for purchase today. However, it only receives signals and does not provide fully immersive, bi-directional data exchange… Yet.
Now, for some course correction back to the original definition of ‘wetware’. Owing to an expanding array of computational devices that connect directly to the brain and nervous systems, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commision (IEC) have gotten involved. If we are to develop any kind of technology, we must always ensure that all parties involved are speaking on equal and consistent terms. Progress fails when one scientist speaks of wetware in the classic ‘50s sense, while his colleague only knows the newer sci-fi versions. So, the ISO and IEC have established a concrete definition. Wetware: “that physical aspect of a human being that is affected by or affects telebiometric devices.” A somewhat more concise phrasing than what I’ve found so far. And with this definition, all sensoria can be included. Touch, sight and sound are inputs. They’re data. And they are all processed by the brain. It’s within the brain that we experience all these inputs. And it’s from the brain we ultimately interact with wetware-connected devices. This basic point runs as an undercurrent as I start wrapping this essay up.
With all that out of the way, we come to our final $5 word, the (Technological) Singularity… Again, what is it and wasn’t there a Broadway song about one of these sensations? At this point, explaining the Singularity shouldn’t be too difficult. But, you had to know the rest to get a good fix on this part. In short, the Singularity is that forthcoming point in time where our technology is fully capable of affording us superhuman intelligence, and culminating in the ability to download and run a person’s entire consciousness into a computer system (whatever that might be like in the future). Proper understanding of wetware is critical to this endeavor. So is the continued development of technology for connecting to said wetware. Granted, we are making some decent starts towards this nowadays. But, it’s obvious that any part of the Singularity will not be a milestone achieved sometime next week. All that having been said, big thinkers concerning themselves with this subject predict the Singularity will occur within the next 25 years. Enter Ray Kurzweil, arguably, the most well known commentator on the Singularity. In early 2011, Ray pushed his prediction on the date of the Singularity out to 2045. That’s fully 10 years later than his earlier predictions. Of course, predictions like this are educated guesses based purely on the state of technology at the time. So, it could take longer, still. In fact, more scientists are taking that approach, lately. Of course, it might even happen in 12 years. We simply do not know for sure. Anyone saying otherwise is a fool.
And now for the bow on this giant package. How in the hell does all that crap tie back to a simple question about the state of gaming in the year 2037? The answer is simple: technological cast-offs and by-products. It’s a misnomer to think that the consumer electronics we own and buy are truly cutting edge. Even more so in the case of gaming technology. In all cases, the technology inside our devices was utilized elsewhere and only offered to us after it became obsolete against their original purposes. Cases in point? Microsoft’s Xbox 360: The processors in it are 9 year old server architecture. Sony’s PlayStation 3: The Cell Chip project was already more than 10 years old when the console launched. Nintendo’s Wii: An 11 year old processor first seen by consumers in Apple’s G4 PowerMac. Now, understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a practical thing. Every day we see just how expensive our technology is for us at a consumer level today. Imagine how much more these bits of tech must have cost when they were brand new ideas coming out of the foundry! Now, think forward two and a half decades. Imagine all the technology that will pass by in the meantime. And think of all the tech necessary for the Singularity to occur. Finally, remember that computer gaming doesn’t require one’s consciousness be dumped in full into a system. All you need is a task specific computing system and reasonably fast input/output connectivity to the wetware. When looking at where technology is now, where people are steering it and the sophistication needed to meet future goals, it’s not hard to see that the predictions Trent and I made are not unreasonable at all.
So, there you have it. Not exactly a short trip. But, it could have been a lot worse, too. Please keep the interesting questions coming in, people. I thrive on this kind of stuff.
Here’s to the future and to deep immersion gaming!
~ Scotticus out…
P.S. Quick thanks to WineMaker Joe and Gekki. Had you two not brought this up with me the other day, not only would this clarification never exist, I never would have known we were using the term ‘wetware’ incorrectly. It’s turned into a benefit for all.
P.P.S. Joe is a Risk Factions bully and a poop head.