The journey from playing to designing and making games can be a short one, and brings rich educational rewards for children
Despite their ubiquity, despite the vast sales and the increasing calls for the medium to be recognised as an artform, video games – that most obviously visual of media – still have an image problem. And it is more than superficial, it goes to the heart of the home, where concerned parents worry about the deleterious effect on their sons and daughters. However, while the evils of gaming rhetoric may make the most noise, parents who have fears may be intrigued to know that it is not the only story in town.
Children themselves are now refuting the stereotype that gaming is a mindless, pointless hobby, as the flexibility of the medium allows them to grow from player to creator. And the game-makers agree: “Games as a medium always involve creativity on the player’s part,” says Benjamin Donoghue, creative director at Blackstaff Games. “Creativity is about exploring what you can do within a defined set of rules.” Blackstaff is currently working on DogBiscuit: The Quest for Crayons, a drawing game for mobile devices in which the player designs parts of the game world.
Ello is the ‘anti-facebook’, positioning itself as a network with a social conscience. It might not be the one to replace the social giant, but Facebook is getting old
Predicting the end of Facebook in 2014 feels reckless. Like slapping a date on the fall of the wall might have felt in the 1980s.
As of June this year, the social networking behemoth had 1.32bn active monthly users. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Centre, 71% of online adults use Facebook. Considering 73% use a social networking site, that’s pretty much: all of us.
The startup world is full of people pitching and failing the next big thing. Two days ago, though, something exciting happened. San Francisco began jumping out of Facebook’s ad-splattered soup and into the clean, empty social networking world of Ello.
Ello is crawling with bugs, isn’t out of beta testing, and it’s still taking off in starship headquarters. 31,000 new users were asking to be beta testers at this week’s peak. On Thursday, the Ello team had to shut down new invites to the site as they struggled to keep up.
The brain-child of Kidrobot designer Paul Budnitz , Ello is the “anti-facebook.” It’s been around a while, but the LGBTIQ community’s recent struggle with Facebook’s “real-name” policy has been instrumental in the shift to the site. Ello positions itself as a network with a manifesto and a social conscience. Its logo has a V for Vendetta-like menace to it: an eyeless black smiley with a spinning mouth that mocks the social gaze we are so used to feeding online.
Humans like us forget that change is the only constant. Facebook will not last forever. The only questions are why the move starts, when it does, and where the party is next.
At the Royal Society last week Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, organised a version of what he called the Turing test – intended to decide if you’re talking to a human or a machine.
Warwick claimed that a program designed by the Amazon software developer Vladimir Veselov had passed the test by convincing 30% of the judges that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy called Eugene Goostman.
This event has mightily stirred up the artificial intelligence research community, with a Guardian comment after Ian Sample’s article on 9 June capturing a typical view: “The problem is that this is a PR stunt for a mediocre university, not a useful measure.” Other comments recalled the history of Warwick’s eye-catching gestures – he once had a chip implanted in his arm so as to communicate directly with his partner.
So has some AI milestone been reached? Is Eugene Goostman the best conversation program ever created? Turing argued in 1950 that if a computer could be substituted into the old guessing game of “Am I getting notes from a man or a woman?” and no one noticed, then we should just admit computers could think and stop worrying. But Turing was not proposing a test of any sort, and in his setup, the question “Is this a machine or a person?” is never asked, because one thinks one is answering a question about sex. Once you pose the human-or-machine question directly, things start to get very odd.
The long-running Loebner competition has a similar format except that judges are not asked to say whether each candidate is human, but to rate them numerically. At the end, the scores are added and the performances are ranked. So far the “people” have always come out on top. The Loebner competition is not what Turing had in mind either, but it is at least systematic: it avoids the explicit question “Is this a machine?” with its ranking system, and publishes the transcripts of the best systems on its website, which Warwick declined to do.
All this makes it rather unlikely that Goostman was any better than the refined and experienced chatbots in the Loebner competitions; indeed, it seems Goostman competed there in 2012 and didn’t do well. A defect of the Loebner setup is that there is no methodology for comparing the winner one year with any other, so it’s not clear if the winners are getting better.
A team I led at the University of Sheffield won in 1997, and my hunch is that the winners now are much the same in terms of quality, but we cannot know for sure. What we can know is that there is no reason to believe Goostman is better than the Loebner winners.