Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Software as Art
January 8, 2008

I usually blog about innovations on the field of gaming that try to unleash new possibilities with interactivity. Probably because games, due to the their intrinsic interactive value, are the most common place to find new styles of interactive design. But games are a subset of a much more broader category: Software.

Today, I want to share with you 2 specific works of computer code that really catched my imagination.

The first one of them is the marvelous We Feel Fine. A clear example of how you can turn the entire web 2.0 feeling into an artistic experience. A duet of coders in New York have created this amazing system that crawls the entire blogosphere trying to find the terms: “I’m feeling…” or “I feel…” and how the sentence continues. With that sentence they try to identify your current feeling and match it to a specific color. The result? An incredible view of the world’s current mood through an amazing interface that will leave you breathless.

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The second piece I would like to mention is the Phillip-K.-Dick-inspired Electric Sheep. When the famous sc-fi authour wrote his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” he didn’t know that a team of programmers would go and try to actually find out what computers dream about. And they did by developing an astonishing screensaver system that calculates complex fractal animations in a distributed online network and the result is hours of the most beautiful math transformed into dancing designs that will appear on your screen each time your computer feels sleepy.

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I would like to see more stuff like this, because I truly consider digital interactivity the new horizon that art has to play with. Each time that I go to a museum like the MoMA or MALBA, I have this constant thought about what gets exhibited as “modern” art: When Marcel Duchamp put an urinal at an art exhibtion, he definitely was a genius for being the first one having that wild idea. But all the other ones that came after him doing that same thing, are, like the french like to say, pretentiousfucks.

The Conscious Web
October 23, 2007

This is a thought that I had on my mind for a very long time, and actually wrote about it in very metaphorical terms a couple years ago. As the web keeps evolving, the sensation that this collective construction is slowly awakening is getting stronger.

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Globalization is leading us to create an universal system to access all the knowledge we have acquired throughout 10,000 years of recorded history. Each website, more and more, seems to me as an isolated neuron were a central nervous system such as Google is obsessed in extracting sense from all of the chaos. Wikipedia is the universal memory resource of the world. All the digital cameras out there are the eyes of this living system that will later obtain meaning through Flickr. And the tiny messages sent to Twitter are the kind of random thoughts planet Earth likes to have when it feels bored (or inspired).

The more global consciousness invades us, the closer to the notion of a living Earth we might get. Just think about all the media obsession about global warming… has technology permitted the consciousness of the Earth to output it’s pain?

And it has happened before. Our individual consciousness is the product of millions of years in evolution that took single-cell life onto the multi-cellular systems we are made of today. And probably our current thoughts are the fiction produced by millions of cells interacting with each other right now.

So I wonder.. am I writing this or is it the earth expressing itself?

Philosophical Rugby
October 6, 2007

Just like music, were Tango defines Argentine identity or Samba speaks Brazil’s rythm; sports emerge from cultures expressing their influences and virtues. American Football is the american adaptation of Rugby were they’ve created a propietary version of the sport that works perfect for broadcasting TV commercials and it’s focused on technological innovation. Meanwhile, Rugby represents the european tradition of fighting with barely any protections on for the oval ball.

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Right now, the rugby world cup is being held at france. Argentina’s Pumas are this year’s revelation after beating the strong teams of France and Ireland. And the thing it got to my attention about Rugby is how it was perceived by french philosopher Catherine Kintzler:

Rugby is a dialectical activity were you must conciliate the opposites, and the opposition. The movements are opposite within them: you must pass the ball backwards in order to move forwards; and the ball must be kept close and at the same time far away: stuck to your body while running, but released if you are falling after a tackle. That means that all actions are symmetrically oppossed.

Also, unlike other sports, some Rugby teams perform amazing theatrical performances to energize their spirits before playing the game. Such is the case of the world famous New Zealand team: All Blacks and their ancient maori Haka dance. It’s not common to see the notion of Play of theater and sports united like this.

When Books Were Technology
October 1, 2007

In a world of exponential technological growth, inventions from the past can sometimes be perceived as a common thing from nature. Books in particular, have been with us for so many centuries that we often forget they are one of the most important pieces of technology ever created.

The greatest contributor to books in the spanish language from the last century by using these to artistically express himself (just like games exploit computers for that very same expressive purpose and in many languages as well (C, Actionscript or Java)) was, without any doubt, Jorge Luis Borges. Few like him make me feel proud of the nationality I never chose.

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A particular short essay from him got my attention a few weeks ago. In his book Other Inquisitions he explores the birth of reading, he reminds the reader that back in the egyptian times books were received with reactionary comments, for them, they were “like painted figures that seem alive but never answer a single question asked to them” and they eventually provoke that “people stop using their memory and become dependant on symbols”.

The voice, in all cultures, was regarded as a sacred sound that had more power than symbols themselves. Reading was always a communal excercise were one read for the others to hear.

Borges finally recalls a writing from Saint Augustine from the 2nd century were he witnesses that precise moment when man seemed to begin reading in silence:

When Ambrosio read, he passed his view over the pages penetrating their soul, in the sense, of not conveying a single word nor even moving the tongue.

We already know how computers are changing our culture and  law as we know it. How is it changing our minds?

Karma Banana
September 4, 2007

Debating politics is probably the most excting form of dialectical gaming. Gaming because it gives us tools we eventually use for our survival in the social world. And even when it’s with bright and smart individuals, it may go beyond the boundaries of reason onto the realms of passion. But the thing with politics is that we definitely take it too seriously: Our pride makes us stubborn on changing our opinion and thus, it makes harder to understand our opponents points. And this is a good thing for me: The stronger the collision of ideas, the better the outcome in the long term, when reflection comes.

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After taking the reccommendation of Papamook and Patrick Dugan, I saw the excellent piece of documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. A great testimony of the coup Hugo Chavez had back in 2002 and proof of the importance of the so called Fourth Power. Yet, although the events portrayed in this documentary may certainly be important to Venezuela’s history or unknown to the institutional traditions of USA, Europe or Australia they aren’t even a novelty if we correlate them to the history of Argentina (and so many other latinamerican nations).

This documentary is about the karmic spectre that has been haunting latinamerica -the spectre of Populism, the spectre of Dictatorships. The vicious circle that keeps trapping real progress.

Throughout history, dictatorships and the shameful external politics of the United States have been the best allies of leaders such as Peron, Chavez or Castro -you know, that kind of leader that has a thrill for reforming constitutions and get eternal presidencies at the same time they declare themselves men of the people and democracy. Nobody, in its sane mind, would prefer a dictatorship. And when that happens, it only helps to expand the figure of such leaders. It happened over and over again in Argentina during the second half of the XXth century.

I’ll put a personal note here to make clear were I’m standing: My big interest for politics came when I read for the first time The Communist Manifesto, a piece of writing that still feels updated today. Since then a lot of utopias inspired me to pursue a path that would help me contribute in the process of making a better world. But when I went to Cuba for a month, it taught me many things and the essential difference of having an idea and living a reality. One thing came up clear to me: Ideologies are just like religions (but without the god thing). They only blind people behind impossible ideals and lead to massive wars.

Communist Massive Games
August 29, 2007

I have a fetish for communist propaganda. It’s simply amazing how fucked up ideologies are. Juan José Sebreli once described his experience traveling to Mao’s China in the sixties as the witnessing of a collosal work of art. He was shown “the model factory”, “the model school”, and “the model hospital” with all the workers cheerfully doing their repetitive job. When he finally assisted a big parade on Tiananmen’s Square, he concluded that totalitarian leaders end up to become -evil- artists that try to make of the whole reality surrounding them, a big façade.

Kim Jong-il isn’t an exception, and he has taken the madness to a magnificent level of artistic genius: Each year, North Korea celebrates their national pride under a massive gymnastic event where almost 12,000 kids transform themselves into pixels and make of the whole stadium a gigantic screen for the enjoyment of “The Great Leader”.

This massive game, not only displays beautiful imagery of the communist ideals, but it also effectively reduces the individual to the collective experience. A complete parade is online in 11 parts at Youtube.

Guy Delisle worte an autobiographical comic about the time he spent on North Korea. For western eyes, it’s certainly a very hard thing to understand such level of oppression. And living in a country where Castro and Chavez are worshiped by some, it’s also scaring.

Jefferson on Software?
August 27, 2007

Two months ago, I was invited as a collaborator on a project to write a book about intellectual property. My task was to study such field from the perspective of software. It was the perfect excuse to get myself some time to completely read the brilliant essay from Lawrence Lessig Code 2.0.

In a particular chapter, Lessig quotes a very interesting thought from Thomas Jefferson that I would like to share on this blog:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

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The impact of Free Software (as in freedom) is gigantic. Not until very recently I had consciously realized that almost every single application that goes to the web, has to have a part of its code open for the browser to render the recieved information. I simply was assuming that HTML, CSS or Javascript where interpreted languages, but not fully realizing the virtue of the decission Tim Berners-Lee made when he decided to release his hypertext technologies open and royalty free to the world.

Personal note: I’ve been quite busy lately working on exciting new technology. I apologize for the lack of updates the blog has been having, but I promise I will make it up later.

Montessori Method
June 23, 2007

Last week, the famous Montessori Method celebrated its 100th anniversary. Created by Dr. Maria Montessori, it consists of a philosophical and educational method that aims to change the way we acquire knowledge when we are kids. Today’s educational system perceives children as “adults in little bodies” and the goal of this revolutionary dogma is to stimulate children to explore their own natural curiosity.

Why am I so interested on this? We live on an era of Information. We can get access to the history and theories of absolutely any subject through a simple search on Google or Wikipedia. And the biggest asset an individual can have in post-industrial age is Knowledge. At this moment of history no one doubts that Education is the key for survival; but in a world that has changed so much in the last 10 years, educational models haven’t evolved at all.

Like many others, I have constantly defended games for their huge educational attributes: The very essence of gaming is about learning. Dogs play to learn. We play to learn. A few posts ago I’ve mentioned a stat that says that people remember 20% of what they see, 40% of what they hear and 60% of what they interact with. Maria Montessori found a nicer way to express the value of Play through a very similar and elegant proclaim:

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I learn.

Montessori taught me the joy of discovery…It showed you can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori—if you give people this model for building cities, they will abstract from it principles of urban design.
Will Wright

Results & Competition
June 17, 2007

On my previous post, Patrick’s comment on skill gaming made me think about the nature of sports. Videogames that rely exclusively on mastering a particular set of skills, are usually considered digital sports. Such is the case of Unreal or Age of Empires that are part of digital olympic events.

The nature of skill-gaming has a lot to do on exploring that primitive side of us humans. And it’s great that we have today an artificial instrument to express that animal thrive. These games (which probably is all of the mainstream stuff we’re used to) express one of the biggest issues of modern societies: You’re either a winner or a looser. You belong to an elite of talented players or you’re just another mere mortal.

Just like Tennis, one of my favorite sports: If you’re not part of the top ten, you’re close to being a nobody. And that’s the by-product of competition, the law of nature that rewards merit and talent, natural selection Darwin would say, class struggle is Marx’s interpretation for history.

Art is about transcending the boundaries of nature. This age of information is essentially about democratizing the access to knowledge, and the creative tools that once where only possible in big studios can now be used on any regular computer. What if games could democratize talent by going beyond mere competition? I find Will Wright’s games as an excelent example for games that don’t care if you win or loose, in his games, it’s the experience what is intrinsically valuable, and not the result.

Play is the act of becoming one with art, and games are capable of transforming anyone onto artitsts.

Results & Numbers
June 13, 2007

I hate Casino games. When I get work proposals from people that belong to the gambling industry, I just can’t stand it. The reason is quite simple: They’re all about results. They explore the most frivolous aspect of play and yet a very powerful one: Scoring. And when it comes to just winning points, the experience gets blinded by the goal. You get obsessed on getting more and more, and that can usually lead to dangerous compulsive conditions.

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From a philosophical point of view, I don’t believe in luck. Or at least, I don’t want to believe in luck. There’s always a reason for me, no matter how unexplainable could it be. So casinos are the anti-game for me.

Yet, most games today are somewhat in the middle of that battle between being either an Art or a Sport. An Experience of Play or a Pursue for Big Results. Example: Is quite easy to get abstracted from the astounding 3D enviroments after playing Unreal for a while by the moment you begin chasing anyone to kill him. And don’t get me wrong, I do love sports and I think we should have games like Unreal.. yet these kind of gameplay seems to be the only alternative in the mainstream.

And the true potential for interactivity relies on communicating powerful ideas through experience. People remember 20% of what they hear, 40% of what they see and 60% of what they interact with. We’ll be able to ever escape the primitive kill/eat/run metaphor in our games?

I just came from Madrid with exciting ideas and sketches.. I’ll see what comes from that..