Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Chess as Art
March 15, 2008

The book How Life Imitates Chess written by world famous chess player Gary Kasparov has a very interesting paragraph describing how the dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp interpreted Chess:

The artist Marcel Duchamp was an energic chess player. During a period of his life, he even resigned art for chess and said that the game had “all the beauty of art and even more.” Duchamp confirmed this aspect of the game when he said “I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” And it’s true that we can’t ignore the creative element of chess, even though we must analyze this in contrast to the fundamental goal of winning the match.

On the blog of Julian Gallo (great site, written in spanish), I’ve found a beautiful definition of Chess written by Stefan Zweig:

(…) the only game that belongs to all peoples and all ages; of which none knows the divinity that bestowed it on the world, to slay boredom, to sharpen the senses, to exhilarate the spirit. One searches for its beginning and for its end. Children can learn its simple rules, duffers succumb to its temptation, yet within this immutable tight square it creates a particular species of master not to be compared with any other – persons destined for chess alone, specific geniuses in whom vision, patience, and technique operative through a distribution no less precisely ordained than in mathematicians, poets, composers, but merely used on a different level.

You might remember Gary Kasparov for his mythological match against IBM’s Deep Blue. One thing that has always fascinated me about that historical moment of gaming, is the claim Kasparov made saying that psychological tactics were applied by IBM to make him play under big pressure and hence, let the big machine win.

Apparently, the whole Deep Blue game worked as a great publicity stunt for IBM and when they won the rematch, the company’s stock went way too high on Wall Street.

Sometimes, games aren’t just a game.

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Robots Have Feelings
March 6, 2008

Alan Kay once said:

People that love making software, eventually end up doing their own hardware.

I’ve often said to colleagues and friends that when I reach 30, I’ll stop doing software and interactive stuff just to start building robots. Nothing can beat a business card that says “robot maker”. It’s the ultimate thing.

According to those visions of the future from the 50’s were flying cars and robots would define the lifestyle of our century, seems that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Yet, if you make a little research online, you can see pretty surprising things.

Qrio is one of my favorites. He has a sweet and creepy voice. Plug that output with Wikipedia and you might be able to talk about anything with him!

I love how people like to act all natural when they are with ASIMO.

Finally, I just want to state that humans need to dance like robots more often..

The Art of the Demo
February 17, 2008

In the software industry, the most exciting moment for a developer is when he gets to unveil his product after months of hard work. That’s when he gets to see the faces of users and discover their reactions. It’s like getting to be a rock star on concert (or a weird variation of one).

And as a fanatic of the history of computers, I was reccommended to check out The Mother of All Demos. A real piece of history that shows a day, back in 1968, when Douglas Engelbart showcased a little thing called the Mouse. It’s a 9 part video if you want to see the full demo. Notions such as copy & paste were already there and the beeps that the computer does are priceless.

But who could deny that the absolute king of demoing is Steve Jobs? A man that has truly revolutionized in less than 25 years no less than 3 major industries: computers, music and phones. And I’m not even considering what he did for the animation industry as well.

So here is another exciting moment of computer history: The birth of the Macintosh.

I’m writing this because last week I got to demo to a group of colleagues what I’ve been working on for the last 3 months with the great team of Popego, and it’s always good to find some inspiration on the true champions of this skill. Soon you’ll find videos (and more) about that presentation on popego’s blog and you can actually become an alpha tester for Popego right now!

 

Wii Like Remixing Technology
December 22, 2007

I’m sure that by now, you must be quite familiarized with all the alternative uses you can give to your Wiimote. But creativity, that amazing force that pushes humanity to discover new boundaries, always finds its way to show us something never seen before. Johnny Lee, from the Carnegie Mellon University, has created one of the most impressive hacks for the Wiimote.

See the video for further details.

Rant on Education
November 8, 2007

I’ve been thinking about Education a lot lately. Two reasons: my partner commented to me some weeks ago about an idea he had for making videogames to be used on schools. And secondly, I had one of those interviews about games & violence where the questions went on the direction of asking “but, do you seriously think is good for kids to play games?”.

Probably I’ve said this to many times, but I’ll say it once again: We are genetically designed to train and gain knowledge through play. Cats play with a ball of wool, dogs dramatize biting each other and we, mammalians homo sapiens, play in many many ways as well. We do so because Play is the framework nature gave us to gather the skills we’ll need to survive in the natural and social world.

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And the main thing with traditional education is that we are too scared to change it. It’s changing how we were shaped, it’s changing the future of our kids. But what’s really scaring is realising that if you go check the compositions and writings you did in your teens about biology, chemistry, history or you-name-it, chances are that you won’t remember a single thing that you wrote back then.. and the reason is simple: you just didn’t care about those topics. And after a single glance to the Wikipedia you’ll understand those topics are so damn limited!

High School education is terrible. Probably because teenagers are annoying as hell. But also because of its competitive design: Students constantly suffer the pressure of achieving good Results instead of focusing on the process of real Learning. That leads to classic end-justifying-the-means situations and thus, an average individual can’t tell what he’ll do for the rest of his life when he’s 18 years old.

That needs to get fixed. And Games and Play can be part of the solution if we add to that cocktail the power of the Internet. Working on real solutions on this field sounds like an exciting solution for technologists that want to do something more than just money. And hopefully, One Laptop Per Child is only the beginning…

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?

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?

E3 stuff
July 16, 2007

So the E3 was finally held in Santa Monica this year, but who cares about this suit-driven event? Certainly not me. Anyhow, two very interesting news woke me up this morning regarding the former “it” event of the game industry:

WiiFit. A new interface to plug into our Wiis so we can feel the joy of dancing and excercising in front of the TV. I just want to state that I love the fact that it seems that we finally have a massive platform for interactive hardware innovation. The Wii is becoming the one and only place where you’ll want to try out games in a more immersive and phyiscal way. Yet, it’s not that standard considering Nintendo is the only manufacturer of peripherals right now.

Finally, E3 also unveiled another elegant proof that Games-are-art-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-say-against-that. Escher inspired Echocrome plays with your perceptual skills of recognizing perspective. Reminds me of a time in my life when my perspective-recognition skills disappeared for a couple of hours and reality became flat just like in a videogame…

Drama AI
May 17, 2007

robot chat

A brief intro first: Chatbots are software programs capable of chatting with a human being and make some sense in the answers, questions and comments they do to people. They use simple techniques such as recollecting all the provided information they had on their previous chatting experiences and hence improving its intelligence. One of their purposes is to overcome AI obstacles and obtain a good result in Turing’s test.

In an issue about the brain from Discover magazine, the two most famous chatbot technologies, ALICE and Jabberwacky, had a conversation. The outcome is quite impressive. Words speak by themselves:

Jabberwacky: How do you define life?

Alice: Life is the opposite of death.

J: So death is the absence of life?

A: Take it easy. I try not to think about such things.

J: Why not?

A: Ambiguous.

J: Yes!

Thanks Leo for the very interesting link about this.

Probably, when we speak about Drama Games, it will not only matter what the player character speaks with the digital characters, but also what kind of conversations the digital characters have between them and how can that affect the outcome of a story…

F*ckin’ Wiinderful
March 22, 2007

I’ve read everything about it, how it was a machine meant to put the family together around the TV to play games. You know, those videos at Wii.com about grandpas and fathers playing with it. And as you may (or may not) know, being from Argentina it was a little bit hard for me to get one at a decent price. So I had to wait till this trip to San Francisco to get it, and Amazon made it possible.

When I first turned it on, I’ve intantaneously knew that the future -and how computing its meant to be in the future- has just arrived to my living room. The wii is way more than a gaming console: It’s how you want your information delivered when you’re in front of the TV. It’s the Internet through an interface that just makes sense to anyone. And it’s the greatest marriage of design and technology since the Macintosh.

But when I witnessed my own father who’s a 61 years old lawyer, my own mother who has never played a single videogame in her whole life, my sister who loves tennis but sees computers as a distant thing, my girlfriend (who’s actually kind of a geek) but never plays games.. just all of them completely immersed and fascinated by Wii Sports, I was totally blown away… The Wii is for real.