John Carmack & Palmer Luckey Gnomically Respond to My Wired Article on John Carmack & Palmer Luckey

In my Wired article last week, after I quoted Palmer Luckey saying that he'd "absolutely" plug into Robert Nozick's experience machine, and that “Once you’ve perfected VR, you can imagine a world where you don’t need to perfect anything else”, Palmer posted this quote on my Facebook wall:

I had to dig a bit for the reference, and turns out it's from Sword Art Online, a manga/anime series. So there's that.

I quoted John Carmack, Luckey's CTO at Oculus, as saying, "[S]ome fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated [in VR] for a much broader range of people", and “If people are having a virtually happy life, they are having a happy life. Period.” His response on that:

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Bitcoin as the Future of Money for the World's Poor - Interesting Idea With Some Obvious Flaws

Bitcoin is the Sewer Rat of Currencies

Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing fame has a really interesting interview with computer scientist and Bitcoin advocate Andreas Antonopoulos, who makes a use case for the virtual currency I haven't quite seen before: As a means of bringing the billions of impoverished people without access to the mainstream financial system into the global economy. Sample:

If you look at the statistics, financial inclusion is getting worse. That doesn’t make any sense unless you consider that, in the meantime, the traditional currencies and digital finance systems have been getting more and more prone to surveillance and tied to identity where everything is tracked. They’re closing in on themselves in order to maintain this ironclad control over who sends money to who, all in the name of terrorist prevention and anti-money laundering, which is bullshit because HSBC could money-launder billions...

You cannot create global finance and economic inclusion on the back of a carefully controlled show-us-your-papers identity-based system where everything is tracked. What you create is a global surveillance dystopia. Our entire financial system is heading into this thing where everything is surveilled. Bitcoin is heading in exact opposite direction. No identity by default, from weak pseudonymity to a stronger and stronger anonymity as time goes by. As a result, it doesn’t do borders. It doesn’t care about borders. It doesn’t do Know Your Customer. It doesn’t do Anti-Money Laundering. It doesn’t do those things because those things are bourgeois concepts of the privileged financial elite. Those bourgeois concepts have a four-billion-people-in-poverty price tag.

Bitcoin, of course, is also a bourgeois concept par excellence, a libertarian conceit largely supported by the wealthy (and mostly white) tech elite. That somewhat unfair snark aside, Antonopoulos is very right that the unbanked majority of the world need a scalable financial solution.

Does that mean Bitcoin is the answer? Three facts spring to mind which make me think otherwise:

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Unreal's In-VR VR Editor: Looks Impressive, Exhausting

Now this is pretty impressive, and an interesting solution to an existing problem in VR development:

"The industry's dirty little secret with VR development," says Epic founder Tim Sweeney, "is we're developing these VR experiences while we're sitting at a PC using a mouse and keyboard." This isn't actually a secret, but it's something that feels increasingly weird as the technology improves. Things like a sense of scale don't translate well between flat screens and VR; props that feel normal in a traditional PC game, for example, might look outlandishly large or small in an immersive environment.

The controls are a bit similar to what I've seen with High Fidelity, but much more complex and suitable for professional 3D modelers. One small problem:

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Why Do People Keep Googling My Virtual Reality Blog in Search for an 18th Century Painting?

Boudicca Amat Pinky

New World Notes has been around so long, about 20% of my daily traffic comes from Google searches -- most of which make sense, but some leave me totally perplexed. For instance, here's four posts that always show up in my traffic feed every day:

  • /female-second-life-avatars-bare-more-skin.html
  • /nwn/2013/07/skyrim-slavery-mods.html
  • /nwn/2014/10/boudicca-amat-pinky.html
  • /nwn/2014/10/gamerghazi-gamergate.html

Even from just reading the HTML code you can guess what people are searching for in the first two and the fourth one. (The second, on Skyrim's disturbing slavery mods, is a classic by Janine Hawkins.)

The third one, however, I don't know WTF. It's Janine's post about an SLer who modeled her avatar after "Pinky", Thomas Lawrence's classic painting from 1794. Thing is, I don't even know what search terms are bringing people to it, because using any keyword related to that painting doesn't display my blog. And it's brought something like ten thousand people to New World Notes from I don't know where, for I don't know why.

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Stewart Butterfield's MMO Memorialized as 404 Page in Stewart Butterfield's Messaging App

I was recently using Slack, the team-based messaging app, when a bad link sent me to this wryly amusing 404 page:

Slack Glitch

This is an in-joke within an in-joke, because this is art from (and a reference to) Glitch, the web-based MMO founded by Stewart Butterfield a few years ago. Thing is, Glitch suffered an untimely death at the end of 2012, but something else emerged in the process of creating and managing it*:

Then in 2009, Butterfield founded Tiny Speck, pulling in game vets like Journey’s Robin Hunicke and Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahasi, to launch a browser-based online game called Glitch. Beloved by many—but ultimately not enough—fans, Glitch shuttered in 2012. But again a seed grew. Butterfield transitioned some of Tiny Speck’s staff, alongside some hard-learned lessons about onboarding new users to build a commercial communication tool that Tiny Speck had used to build Glitch. Last August, Slack was launched as an “email killer” and a way to transform how businesses talk and do work together.

"E-mail killer" is a bold statement, but it's definitely true that at this point, if you work in tech, you are almost certainly using Slack. Countless tech companies large and small utterly depend on Slack now. So while Glitch's small but passionate userbase (many of whom jumped over from Second Life) mourned the passing of the world they'd come to love, there's an ironic but sweet coda to that passing:

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PC Sales Keep Slipping, Confirming a Mobile-Driven Future for Virtual Reality (If It Has a Non-Niche Future at All)

For consumers, the most powerful virtual reality platform requires a PC, but PC sales keep eroding that potential audience beyond the niche of hardcore PC gamers:

PC sales VR future

From VentureBeat:

As you can see in the chart [above], Gartner said Apple was the only company among the top vendors that experienced an increase in PC shipments. Acer saw particularly poor results with double-digit declines... IDC, meanwhile, estimated worldwide PC shipments dropped 10.6 percent to 71.9 million units in the ourth quarter. The firm noted “the year-on-year decline in 2015 shipments was nevertheless the largest in history, surpassing the decline of -9.8% in 2013.”

Apple has the least optimal PCs for VR, of course. (Oculus Rift requires Windows and such.) So like I said last year:

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David Bowie Actually Had a Second Life Before Second Life

Bowie World Virtual World

David Bowie may not have expressed any recent interest in virtual reality, but as with most things about Bowie, that's probably because he was way of ahead of his time. As the Daily Dot reports:

At the stroke of midnight on Sept. 1, 1998, BowieNet powered up. The press release, which declared the start of the service as an “all-out cyberspace celebration,” made some unbelievably bold promises for the time, including “webcast performances” by popular artists, live video feeds of David Bowie’s studio, as well as video interviews... Perhaps more intriguing than BowieNet itself is a 3D chat client that was launched alongside it. Called BowieWorld, it launched a solid half decade ahead of Second Life and is built on the “Worlds” virtual community platform. Today, more than a decade and a half later, it remains up and running.

More background on Bowie's work as an Internet pioneer from the BBC here. (Hat tip: Robert Thomas.) Amazingly, BowieWorld still has an active user community even now. And if you're a member, please share your memories of the community in Comments. And around the same time (1999), Bowie contributed design input and songs to the cyberpunk game Omnikron: The Nomad Soul, along with, well, himself:

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Linden Vet Featured in Steven Levy's Story on Deep Dreams

Picasso Neural Network President Paintings

I told you about ex-Linden inventor Karl Stiefvater's art experiments with Deep Dreams, Google's neural network, and now acclaimed technology journalist Steven Levy is writing about them too, in an epic story about the gobsmacking technology:

It came from a trio of researchers based at University of Tubingen in Germany. Leon Gatys, a German doctoral candidate at the Bethge Lab at University of Tubingen, had been working with a team schooled in computation and neuroscience, trying to understand biological and computer visual systems. They had been using neural nets to identify and ultimately output textures as opposed to objects, when their experiments took a weird turn — was it possible to get a neural net to transform images creatively, in the same way an iconic artist would? Could a neural net understand a painting with the analytical skills of an art historian? Could it act as a master forger, rendering a vanilla scene from a photograph into something that appeared to be from the brush of a famous painter? ... The paper hit the internet in early September. When an open-source version of the software appeared not long afterwards, a graphics community already intoxicated from Deep Dreams experienced another woozy orgy of creation.

Here comes Karl:

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Watch a Neural Network "Walking" Through Amsterdam

What you're watching below is more or less an AI walking through the world for the very first time and describing what it sees:

NeuralTalk and Walk from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

Specifically, this is the NeuralTalk program, which creates machine language-driven captions of pictures, now connected to a webcam by Kyle McDonald: "I'm walking around with my laptop open pointing it at things," McDonald explains, "hence the shaky footage and people staring at themselves."

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Facebook Announces Plans to Improve "Real Names" Policy - But Internet Pioneer R.U. Sirius Still Blocked from Facebook

RU Sirius Facebook Ken Goffman

Ken sending a personal plea on Facebook to former Facebook President Sean Parker

Facebook recently announced plans to make it easier for people who go a name other than their official legal name to continue using that pseudonym on Facebook --

Facebook will now allow users to provide details on why they’ve chosen a certain name for their account if it’s not their legal name. Facebook will now allow users who are flagged for using a possibly inauthentic name to be able to get back into their locked accounts more easily. And the burden of proof will now be placed upon the people who flag a name as fake, according to [Facebook VP] Schultz. Those reporting an allegedly fake name will have to provide some evidence, in an effort to prevent trolling, a frequent complaint among trans users.

However, none of this is much comfort to Internet pioneer Ken "R.U. Sirius" Goffman, who tells me he's still banned from using Facebook as R.U. Sirius, despite making a personal plea to Sean Parker, Facebook's first President (you know, Justin Timberlake in the movie), who's a personal fan of Sirius' influential magazine Mondo 2000. (With a masthead listing the editor-in-chief as being, you know, R.U. Sirius.) In fact, Ken tells me, his efforts to communicate with Facebook are pretty Kafka-esque:

"[T]hey reactivated my account… under just my real name without responding to  or acknowledging the R.U. Sirius part of my request or the attachment showing R.U. Sirius and Ken Goffman occupy the same corporeality," he says. Worse, he had important data on his now-dead Sirius account he could no longer access:

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