None of these is worth a full blog posting, but I found these things to be fascinating or very promising, and thought I’d blog them all anyway for my own reference. Enjoy!
Gaming and the Metaverse
WoW and Psychotherapy. Many parents are concerned with the amount of time and emotional investment their children have in the popular multiplayer game World of Warcraft, where many spend 40 hours per week or more immersed in the virtual world, supposedly neglecting their social lives and education. Dr. Richard Graham, a consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock Centre in London, plans to launch a new therapy service by the end of the year that will have psychologists wandering around in avatar form and counseling players to play less and find a balance between gaming and real life. I’m trying to restrain a laugh here. Surely this is something conceived of by a group of adults who have little or no actual gaming experience! Graham says, “We may have to work at (learning to play) if we are going to get through to those who play this game for hours at end.” He said that Internet addiction is very difficult to identify, as the isolation involved means “sufferers are often out of sight and out of mind.” (sufferers?) They say they are not going to be wearing white lab coats and holding consulting hours, so they are setting up a “peer mentors” group, where apparently the mentors will “turn in” players with a problem to the addiction therapists, also in avatar form. (Everyone who plays already knows where to find the people who need help — in Trade chat with their friends, 24/7, waiting for the next PvP round to start.) Does WoW really need a “Trade Chatters Anonymous” group with a 12-step addiction program? (How to spell or speak English might be more useful.) I hate to condemn a new idea before it has been tested, but as WoW players would say, this idea is Fail! Such a program would attempt to make a game too much like the real life from which games are escapes. Gamers are intelligent people who will simply ignore it until it goes away. :) I would point to other research that says that MMOGs are valid social outlets, where real social interactions occur, and that there is no true “addiction” to MMOGs. (I’ll try to come up with some references next chance I have and link them here.) Non-players who come up with “good ideas” about how to fix a problem they haven’t experienced firsthand often think they know a solution when they haven’t understood the subjects or the problem. I wonder if Graham et al. will be courageous enough to publish a paper two years from now describing how/why it didn’t work. Of course, they may get “addicted” themselves once they actually learn to play, and never get around to it…
Betterverse. Blogger Rik Panganiban at Global Kids, a New York based nonprofit, recently launched a new blog at Betterverse.com to chronicle “the evolving and innovative efforts to use virtual worlds to promote various real world causes and improve the lives of people all around the globe.” This is a timely effort. As I’ve observed myself, especially in Second Life and There.com, social and charitable organizations are becoming aware of the low cost and wide reach of virtual worlds to advance their various messages and causes. Public education is the most obvious, of course, but some other exciting applications include political activism, fundraising, e-government, public service outreach, civic affairs, information dissemination, virtual special events coinciding with real world events, and diversity/equality. And of course, improving quality of life for the physically or mentally disabled.
Brain Controllers. I wrote in March about the widely anticipated new brain controller headset by the Australian company Emotiv that is due out this fall. It was used to send the first handsfree Twitter tweet in April, 2009. These types of devices will be used in all kinds of practical ways, as well as to play games. For example, the forthcoming toy from Uncle Milton, called the Stars Wars Force Trainer, uses electroencephalography (EEG) to read your mind and allow the user to move objects like Luke Skywalker. Mattel is soon to release Mindflex, another levitation type game. Yet another game uses mind power alone to move stones and rebuild Stonehenge. As so often happens, we will see gaming applications jump on this technology first, and then it will move widely into practical uses in daily life, much as the Wii did. Imagine how exciting and liberating it will be to quadraplegics or people with muscular dystrophy or fibromyalgia to be able to use nothing more than brain waves to type documents and email or to move an avatar around in a virtual world and socialize with other people or drive a race car! To the generation that follows, this type of tool will be the norm, and it’s exciting to think what new technologies and possibilities will be invented to make use of it in coming years. Use the force, Luke!
Altering Time Perception. Maybe this isn’t for the disabled, but then maybe it is. We all know how time seems to speed up as we age. A day in the summer for a 10-year-old is endless, while a day for a frenzied adult seems to go by in a blink. This effect has been studied, and there is a brain change which occurs to cause the shift in perception. Now there are new eyeglasses that appear to help to shift perceptions of time! A new study from the University of Bologna (Italy) shows that prismatic glasses adjusting vision 10 degrees to the left experience slowing perception of time and 10 degrees to the right the opposite effect.
Cloning and Bioengineering
Animal Clones. Do you remember the Canadian German shepherd working dog named Trakr who discovered the final living victim in the World Trade Center disaster on 9/11? He was the winner of the Golden Clone Competition sponsored by California firm BioArts International and South Korea’s SooAm Biotech Research Foundation, which looked for the world’s “most cloneworthy” dog. They collaborated to create five living clones of the hero dog, who died earlier this year, including one that looks and acts exactly like him. Former Canadian police officer James Symington said of one of the clones, “”The physical similarities are uncanny. He’s the spitting image of the Trakr that I first met in 1995. He has exactly the same markings, the way he moves, everything. Very alert, very intelligent and intuitive.” The others have slight variations. The cost is not cheap — $144,000 per clone of an animal, and of course, “designer cloning” is still very controversial.
Renerating Lost Teeth. Most people lose one or more of their adult teeth in their lifetime due to disease, injury or aging. Now there is hope that missing teeth will be a thing of the past. Researchers at Tokyo University have successfully implanted a bioengineered tooth bud into an adult mouse. Using epithelial cells and mesenchymal cells, they created the tooth bud and implanted it into the bone in the lost tooth region. The tooth grew and erupted as normal, and had the correct structure, hardness and responses to mechanical stress and pain as a normal tooth. Imagine all the people in the world with no teeth at all. Conceivably a full set could be grown in months! Very interesting development.