Monday, July 2, 2007

The Wii World

Our world is getting smaller: in other words, new technology like the Wii is making our world more wee (sorry for making the obvious pun). Does getting everybody in the world connected together through technology smack of socialism? Like most things, that depends upon your point of view.

I live in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada. Saskatchewan is a strange place: first left-wing socialist government in North America, birthplace of medicare, pioneers in fibreoptics, first adopters of on-demand hi-def TV over phone lines. Here in Saskatchewan, our province has now launched government-sponsored free wireless internet access in the four largest cities.

A few months ago in this blog, I mentioned the ideal interface for anything should be able to be boiled down to just two choices: a concept I deal with in my book in the chapter "The Binary Viewpoint". In Gevin Giorbran's Learning to See Timelessness, we see a way to imagine that everything is the result of two opposing forces of order, grouping and symmetry. And in my book, we talk about the biggest-picture-of-all multiverse, and how our own universe could be summed up as being a slice from that multiverse. If reality and information are two sides of the same coin (as quantum mechanics tells us), then any instant in spacetime should be able to summed up by that binary point of view: these are things it is, these are the things it isn't.

The July 07 issue of Scientific American has a great article by neurobiologist Joe Z. Tsien about new research showing how the brain encodes memory. By tracking the firing of hundreds of neurons simultaneously, his team has reached the conclusion that we use a hierchical pyramid of associations spread across "cliques" of neurons to encode specific memories. That pyramid, they say, has a binary element to it: so all memories about moments we almost died would be part of a certain neuron clique, and then memories where we almost died while swimming would be in a subset of that clique, while memories where we almost died in a car accident would be part of a different subset of that same clique, and so on.

To quote Mr. Tsien from the article:

"This combinatorial, hierchical approach to memory formation provides a way for the brain to generate an almost unlimited number of unique network-level patterns for representing the infinite number of experiences that an organism might encounter during life--similar to the way that the four 'letter'or nucleotides that up DNA moecules can be comined in a virtually unlimited number of patterns..."

Mr. Tsien ends the article on a speculative note:
"For me, our discoveries raise many interesting--and unnerving--philosophical possibilities. If all our memories, emotions, knowledge and imagination can be translated into 1s and 0s, who knows what that would mean for who we are and how we will operate in the future. Could it be the 5,000 years from now, we will be able to download our minds onto computers, travel to distant worlds and live forever in the network?"

Once again, I am struck by the idea that science and philosophy are moving to a central meeting point: the above paragraph sounds very similar to the ideas I have been promoting, but the fact that it comes from a respected member of the scientific community adds a different kind of weight to the discussion. As I explain in my book, what we think of as a soul or an individual's unique consciousness can also be thought of as a hierarchy of patterns, moving across space and time.

Coincidentally, that same issue of Scientific American has an article on new technologies that will make high speed wireless communication more and more ubiquitous, allowing high data-rate communication to be achieved through the lights in a room or the power lines into a building. This is part of an inexorable process we have been moving towards for decades now. Some day soon, no matter where you are in the world, there will be a "universal dial tone" at your disposal. In the most remote and uninhabited parts of the world, the connection might be to only a simple speech-to-text or voice-to-voice interface, but the idea of anybody in the planet having cheap and easy access to electronic communcation, whether that just be a chance to talk to a friend, or when needed, an emergency 911 operator, will help to show us how connected we are in other ways that have nothing to do with electronics or technology.

For me, one of the most exciting things about Nintendo's Wii console is not just its implications as a virtual reality tool for the home, but the way it has the potential to draw people together, allowing them to see how their own consensual reality differs from and is the same as others on the planet, and how much/how little that matters. What do I mean by that? This inexpensive box includes a service called the "Everybody Votes Channel". Anyone with an internet-connected Wii can vote on a question, and predict what they think the most common answer is going to be. So, for instance, a recent worldwide poll asked this simple question: "Do you have dreams for the future?" (a topic near and dear to my heart as readers of this blog and my book will know). Brazil, Mexico, and Peru came in with the highest percentage of "Yes" answers to this question (up around the 95% mark), the US, Denmark, and Canada came in some place near the middle of the pack (still with a fairly high percentage of yes answers). Interestingly, Gemany, Japan, and Austria came in with the lowest number of Yes answers, some place around 66%. The worldwide average for this poll came in at 80.3% yes answers, 19.7% for no.

In the connected world of blogging, commenting, and tagging, there is an astonishing clamor of people furiously typing away, wanting to be heard, wanting to feel connected. Finding ways to automatically sort out what the consensus points are that can be boiled down from that tidal wave is one of our most important goals. The Wii's Everybody Votes system shows us a glimpse of where we want to end up: inexpensive access to a worldwide system, where people can express their innermost beliefs, and see how much we all really have in common with each other, and whether the parts that any one of us don't have in common with others really matters that much in the big picture.

Enjoy the journey,


PS: As a new experiment, we have a live chat window at tenth dimension: the link is at . Schedule permitting, I will be logged in to the live chat window some time every day for anyone interested in talking about the project. Of course, everyone is welcome to go to this chat window any time and share video or URL links with each other, as part of the ongoing discussion about the nature of reality.

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