Andy Posner was discussing with his thesis advisor, Professor Kurt Teichert at Brown University, how to create what Andy calls (in anticipation of his forthcoming book of the same title) "The Two Way Street: Rethinking Poverty, Pollution and Prosperity" and was kind enough to publish some of the results of that discussion as a comment on our last post on the "Zeitgeist Conspiracy". Andy suggested that our conception of creating a Solar CITIES Alternate Reality game could indeed really help get "average people" (meaning, I think, the average of the small fraction of the elite who make up the so called "first world") to invest time and energy and ideas in helping close the gap between US (the privileged few, which I guarantee includes YOU since you are able to read this) and THEM ("the other 90%" who have no access to such delightful things as computers and internet service and, oh yes, let us not forget, clean water, electricity and heating and cooling).
Andy closed with a vision of making sure that the "serious games" we intend to create remain "open source" in such a way that we end up delivering what he calls "open-source development" and "open-source poverty alleviation". A beautiful notion, especially coupled with his ideas on rethinking poverty, pollution and prosperity by making the "open-source" applications (and here I may be putting words in his mouth) "open-ended". That would be his "two-way street" to my way of thinking. Open-source, open-ended apps. Open-source because they are freely available and endlessly "moddable" (I know, you want me to say "modifiable", but all game "modders" know that a new lexicon is evolving for these exciting times), open-ENDED because there is no final product, just a continuous evolution of local solutions that adapt to the changing circumstances of the "end-user". The end-user becomes the "open-ended" user, and this is vital in a time of rampant climate change, which, we are coming to understand, is unlikely to end in our lifetimes or those of our immediate descendants (recreating the slowly changing biosphere with its long cycles that permit the stable persistence of delicate organisms is likely to take a long long time -- we are now living in the punctuation mark of what Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould used to tell us was a long history of "punctuated equilibrium"! )
So now the question becomes, how do we get on Posner's "Two Way Street"? What is the on-ramp?
In one sense, the open-source tools are already there. We talked in our last post about the folks over at Digital Urban using the game engines of Half-Life 2 (Valve's Steam Source SDK) and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Second Life and Google Earth and Sketchup and Studio 3DMax to begin creating interactive urban planning environments. One could also make a bid for using the masterful physics engine that undergirds Unreal Tournament 3. But there are other game engines (and the games that ride on them) that are entering the mainstream that could be steered onto this "two way street" and help us rethink poverty, pollution and prosperity.
One is the German award-winning game "Crazy Machines II". It is an outgrowth of such popular children's education titles as "The Incredible Machine" and it's offspring series, including competing games such as "Genius" and "Physikus" (subtitle "Save the World!) and "Incredible Challenge"; today is indeed time of incredible challenges that require incredible machines, co-developed by every stakeholder. Now that they have released "Crazy Machines - The Inventor's Workshop" the question is "can real inventions -- important life-saving inventions -- come out of these virtual workshops?"
These games all contain physics engines that enable kids to build "crazy machines" and other Rube Goldberg style devices (conceiving a better mousetrap) and then allow the player to model the behavior of that system in real time, to see if what was in the imagination can be transformed into reality. Well... virtual reality, that is!
Still, since the mathematical, physical laws built into the software are the same laws the universe uses in reality, the resulting models are pretty effective predictors of what would happen in the real world. And there is no reason to believe that a well designed game using a robust physics engine should have any less predictive power than, say, the $12,000 thermodynamics program our friend and colleague, Dr. Kurt Lund out in San Diego, has used to help us figure out some of our solar configurations using recycled plastic coke bottles for application in the ghettos of Cairo.
The barrier is in getting these tools redesigned so that we can drive them on to Andy Posner's "two way street" and use them to rethink poverty, pollution and prosperity. And this is the challenge to all those of us who have the luxury of owning and using and understanding computers and their massive computational power: if you aren't willing to get off your duff and come out to the land of the "other 90%" and help out, at least get involved modding the software that exists so that we can drive it on the new information superhighway that can connect and inform us all.
The transaction costs of modding such "open-source/open-ended" software solutions is astonishingly low and the benefits are blissfully high.
Let's get to work: This is a call to all computer users to start modding, and thereby helping us all rethink the three P's!