Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is this the year I got old?

December 03, 2017 | Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m 48 years old. Thats old for an indie game dev. However, its also an age where I find myself looking at the world and going ARGGHHHH. Not just in a ‘things are bad’ sense, which I think a lot of younger people would assume, but in other ways. For the record, ‘things are bad’ is always how people feel who look at the wider world, especially if you are political, or read the economist (or worse still…the ecologist). People often forget about things that have got better, and immediately discount them. Here, for balance is some of the stuff that has ‘got better’ since I was a child…

I live in a hugely less racist society than when I was young. Most of the words used to refer to non white kids at school, I cannot even bring myself to type here as examples. We had a single prominent black TV presenter (Trevor McDonald) and eventually a female black newsreader, and then a single black comedian (Lenny Henry). These were watershed moments. Racist humour was a regular prime-time TV event, thanks to ‘comedians’ like Jim Davidson, Jim Bowen and Bernard Manning. There were racist TV comedies about foreign people learning english, or being (OMG) your neighbour.

I live in a hugely less sexist society than when I was young. TV music shows had sexy dancers dancing to the music, game shows always had silent but pretty female assistants to do menial work for the main host (always a man), workplace inequality was huge, and men doing housework or cooking at home was mocked. Sexist humour was everywhere. The pay gap was way worse. We had typing pools (all women) and all nurses had to be women.

I live in a society which has much more opportunity for entrepreneurship than when I was young. There was no concept that you could start a business and build it up and make money, at least not without help from your rich relatives who would first give you a job in ‘the family business’. When I was young, working class people going to university was extremely rare, and class-snobbishness was rife. Yes its bad now, it was worse then. I’m a working class kid ‘done-good’ living in a relatively wealthy rural community, and nobody gives that a second thought now. They would have done so back then… As a kid, the TV example of a small businessman was considered a joke (del trotter), now we have dragons den, which has actually spun out some very successful businesses. Owning shares and investing is easy now. When I was a kid…nope.

Technologically, life is absolutely incredible compared to my youth. We had a sony walkman (if you were lucky) which you could listen to your poor quality cassettes on, and that was it for personal entertainment.  TV had just 3 channels, and it was not broadcast between around midnight and 9AM. Obviously TVs had small screens and weighed about a ton, plus we had no remote control. My grandfather had a black and white TV right up till his death. We had no washing machine, certainly no dishwasher, and no microwave. Coffee was instant coffee, there was no other option. Obviously there was no internet. We had libraries instead. I can see more amazing tech from my keyboard sat here than I thought even the super-rich would ever enjoy in my lifetime, and its all pretty cheap.

I grew up assuming there would be nuclear war before I reached this age. It was pretty much a given that  the USSR and the US would nuke each other, and that living in London I’d be vaporised along with everyone I knew. This was a popular TV drama at the time, and its terrifying. This wasn’t fear of a short exchange of nukes between US and N Korea, this was an assumption of Armageddon. I had regular nightmares about it.

So things are pretty awesome right? And certainly things have worked out well for me, with my own business, some stuff in my past I’m very proud of (the African school and war child being the most obvious examples), so why am I worried about the world?

CHANGE.

Its common that people accept the findings of studies that show that younger people are more accepting of change, and that people become more conservative as they age. Its another thing entirely to experience it. Frankly if I could press a button that froze the world in 2017 right now, I’d be tempted to hit it, even though I know we have problems and a lot needs fixing. Why? what on earth am I so worried about. Heres the less good-news list :D

Climate Change. This is the big one. Unless we do some pretty drastic stuff, we as a society are fucked. People just glaze over when you look at the evidence, and dont want to hear the reality. Ignore the temperature change and the sea level rise, they never seem *that bad* to us intuitively (whats a few inches of water and a few degrees right?), think through the deeper implications. Much lower crop yields and more extreme weather leading to food shortages and massive food price spikes. Mass emigration (and thus immigration) as land becomes useless for agriculture. Think about all of the cultural, religious and ethnic tension you get when a few tens of millions of desperate people try to walk into their neighbouring countries. I would be amazed if we dont see border disputes with countries gunning down migrants at the border in the next 10 years. Am I’m talking Europe, not Africa.

Inequality. Jeff Bezos is worth 100 billion, and wants to build a space business. Thats great jeff, but how about paying your fucking workers decent salaries and letting them take breaks first before you play around with rockets? The sheer lack of empathy at the top of many silicon valley firms baffles me. Again, in the next ten years I think we will see this spill over into violence. You can only kick the poorest in society so many times before they tear your leg off and beat you with it. The recent tax changes in the US point to this amazingly getting far WORSE not better.

Technological change. Stuff is going to change REAL FAST. In fact it already is. Robots, self-driving cars, AI…we are looking at a sudden massive upswing in technology that wwill change everything, put tens or hundreds of millions of people out of work and nobody is prepared for it. This is scary. I like the benefits of the new tech (amazing electric cars, fast computers, VR), but oh my god its going to transform society like crazy, and our elderly and tech-illiterate politicians are too busy with Brexit to even notice.

Political Partisanship. With the rise of social media and more of our lives spent online, everyone lives in their carefully curated echo chambers and polite debate with people who have different views is now rare. Cross-party co-operation is now zero, leading to stagnation or regular wild swings to left and right which benefit nobody. Politicians are either saints or sinners, depending which team you are on, and this is getting worse and worse. The next elections will be won by the best media teams, the actual candidates and policies are now irrelevant. This is a disaster.

So yeah, I feel conservative, and scared. I try not to be, but holy crap, there is a lot going on in the world right now. I feel I could spend my whole life sat reading the news, biting my nails and getting miserable. Apparently its called middle age. Probably all of the problems IO list above can be fixed if everyone buys Shadowhand on the 7th December on steam :D

 

Long long ago, people used to think about what people needed, and make that thing, and sell them. people needed a table, so a carpenter made a table, and sold the table to the person. Then the person would need another table a few years later, and another table would be made. Then carpenters developed better tools, and the process of making tables, clothes, food and everything else became quicker, easier and cheaper, and we made more stuff.

Soon everyone could have not only a shared table, but their own table, and not only that, they could have multiple sets of clothes, not just for when some were being washed, but separate clothes for separate occasions. You could afford your work clothes, and you had separate leisure clothes. Even special clothes to sleep in, and then came ‘formal’ clothes, the suit for weddings and posh events. Eventually we progressed to a situation where you would have an entire wardrobe of clothes, and you picked them based on what mood you were in, or the season.

Then fashion came along and told you that even though you had enough clothes to wear, and clothes for doing X and for doing Y and clothes for Summer, and clothes for Winter, and clothes for the evening and for the afternoon, and for sports, and even for different sports (golfing trousers…) suddenly all of that was going to change because your clothes were UNFASHIONABLE. That meant you had to ditch all your clothes and buy completely new ones.

And once that worked, clever people who had by now long discovered psychology, started to apply the principles of fashion to other things, including the thing that was for many people the second most expensive purchase of their lives : cars.

Suddenly cars were ‘old fashioned’ and despite happily fulfilling the task you bought them for, you wanted a new one. This spread to almost all consumer products, not least TVs, and personal computers. We ended up buying a new laptop, not when the other one died, or got broken, but when a newer model came out that was slightly thinner, slightly lighter, slightly faster (for a while at least).

Now fast forward to a dystopian future where you don’t have a trained psychologist working in marketing, but EVERYONE is the marketing department studied behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience. A future where most employees in the PR and marketing department are data scientists. A future where the amount of information collected about customers, and their use patterns, and their desires, and dreams, and fantasies and ideals…was all gathered by private companies who would use it, not so much for the improvement of mankind in any way…but to make a product that those people would always buy.

The endgame, the final desire of such a system is to produce a product that has multiple contradictions. It has to be seen as exclusive and premium, and luxury, and yet at the same time be marketed to everybody. It has to have a premium price, despite having no features that any rival product does not already has. It has to appear cool hip and desirable, and the company that makes it portrayed the same way, regardless of how that company behaves behind closed doors.

It doesn’t have to be any good, have any improvements whatsoever over any other version of EXACTLY the same product. It only has to be *seen to be* better, not actually be a better product. And if at all possible it needs some tiny visual indicator, visible to someone nearby, on the same table, or bar, that the person who has the product most definitely has the very expensive new one. Thats all it needs to do. And in this dystopian future, they can sell a product to you that bad, and they can be that blatant about it, because they have totally and utterly weaponized modern science when it comes to manipulating your psyche so that irrationally, you still want it, and you will still buy it, and you will make that company the wealthiest company on the planet.

Academia: School simulator

August 31, 2017 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Squeaky wheel, the guys who made Political Animals (which I published) have a new game coming to steam early access in a few days. here is the trailer:

And here is the store link.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/672630/Academia__School_Simulator/

Hope you like it :D. I think it will do very well indeed… if you think ‘oh itts that same style for art everyone is cloning’ then…well yeah, that’s ryan’s art. he did the artwork for Prison Architect which started all this, so he gets a free pass :D

There are no comments yet

Inefficiency really annoys me. I see inefficiency almost everywhere I look. I guess as a coder, I am on the lookout for it, as it makes the product I sell worse, but that has hugely spilled over into my observations of life in general. It seems that inefficiency is accepted, tolerated, in some cases even encouraged by almost everybody around me.

In the UK, members of the house of parliament can only vote if they are inside the walls of the palace of Westminster. To do so, they have to all walk out of a special room, then walk back into it through one of two doors, while people in stockings and buckled shoes count them. I am not kidding. Its 2017 and we are talking about sending people to Mars and strong AI, but our country is run by people who think walking through a door in a queue is the best way to record decisions. We defend this gross inefficiency as ‘tradition’.

If I want to send a payment to another country in another currency, my bank either wants a phone call, a fax, or a physical letter. Why does the fax machine even exist? Its like amazon sending you your orders by canal barge. Its 2017. Lets kill the fax machine stone dead. it should not exist, in any form, under any circumstances.

To charge my car at a non-tesla point I have to use the QR code reader on my phone, enter the last 3 digits of my credit card number, please 3 or 4 confirm buttons, and THEN plug my car in. Did I mention its 2017?

I am not a superhero with fast reactions (although to be fair I did once beat a ‘professional cowboy’ in a speed-draw gunfight) yet I can open a new browser tab to googles homepage and start typing my query before that tab is rendered and the search box has focus. How is this possible? My Blu-ray player takes actual seconds to power-on to the state where it can eject a disk. Actual seconds.

The vast majority of traffic lights in the UK and dumb systems that are not traffic aware, and not able to adjust to changes in traffic flow. Right now tens of thousands of citizens are sat at a traffic light that is red for NO reason. The same inefficiency is pervasive throughout all common goods and utilities. We have ‘peak’ times on trains and buses and roads because we all decide to work at the same time, and everyone drives to work with 3 empty seats in their car, and nothing in the luggage compartment.

Every time an empty van drives anywhere, its an inefficiency. Any time someone waits in a queue, its an inefficiency. Every time you pick up the phone and it has a queue, rather than a ringback system, its an inefficiency.

I reckon on average, a UK citizen is ‘efficient’ in what they are trying to accomplish whilst awake maybe 20% of the time. 80% of our time is literally wasted, thrown away. We queue to buy food, we queue to speak to the bank, we receive telephone calls and post instead of email. We sit in traffic. Even people sat at a desk all day theoretically doing productive work are incredibly inefficient. How many people know to use CTRL+C, CTRL+V, WIN+F, CTRL+HOME, ALT+TAB and the thousands of other productivity tips? How many people who need multiple monitors don’t have them? or don’t know how to use WIN+UP/DOWN/LEFT/RIGHT to organize their work?

How efficient are you?

 

And expand this out to the whole world. How much time is wasted with millions of people fetching fresh water by hand because we haven’t installed piped water to their homes? How much time is wasted because people have not got the education to grow their crops efficiently, to do their work efficiently? How many people are still using 1970s technology in their day-to-day lives. Imagine a world where we all operated with efficiency all the time. No wonder the vulcans beat us to lightspeed.

 

 

Two views of the near future

March 25, 2017 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Depending on my mood, and alcohol intake, I find that I flop between vastly varying views of what our future may look like. The pessimistic, dark one comes easily to me, but sometimes the positive one breaks through. I suspect we face a future of extremes and may end up in either, or both depending where you live, and what you earn. Here are my upbeat and downbeat views.

The pessimistic view:

Lots of forces are conspiring to change your world in a bad way. Nuclear proliferation has not gone away, nor has terrorism. The chances are, at some point, some terrorist will successfully use a nuclear weapon, even if its something as relatively trivial as a ‘dirty bomb‘. The impact of a dirty bomb isn’t measurable by deaths,m but by economic damage. Set it off in central park, or Time square, or outside the houses of parliament. The economic damage and panic would be off the scale. Even fukushima was hugely mitigated by being in a *relatively* low population area. Worse still, our abilities to spot such things are not good.  Even if you think that society *can* prevent all terrorism, do you want to live in the ‘total surveillance’ state that it would require? Its highly possible that the last twenty years may become remembered in history books as an anomaly of privacy at the start of the digital age.  We are one major terrorist strike away from compulsory ID cards, total internet monitoring and a ban on personal use of encryption.

When privacy goes, business will step in. I recommend you read super-crunchers if you think corporate collection of data is harmless. For all our lives we have assumed that we have nothing to hide, and no useful data to collect, because who cares so much about our buying habits. that’s before big data and smart AI makes it possible to adjust cliffs health insurance costs based on what he orders from Starbucks for lunch. We are hurtling at high speed towards a future where big business knows way, way more about you than you do, than your family does, than even your therapist does. Advertising will get smarter, more targeted, more manipulative. The idea of dumb ‘banner’ ads may disappear in a future where every word of text, every font choice, every image choice in every ad you see has been curated in real time to appeal to you, at this time of day, on this date. Multiply the creepy feeling of seeing ads ‘follow’ you around the web by a thousandfold.

Not that you will be able to buy anything anyway…because robots just took your job, and if you think you are smart, you better be ultra-smart because AI just took the other jobs too. Of course, you *might* have a job cleaning the expensive sports cars of the super-rich by hand (purely for show of course, even that will be done better by a real car cleaning robot), or be able to compete for one of the rapidly decreasing jobs that robots cannot yet do (or we prefer them not to).

If you do manage to get a job, its likely to be not for ‘the company‘, as thankfully there will still be more than one company on earth, but its likely to be one of a very small number. Remember those glory days when entrepreneurs could start a small company? thats kinda quaint in a future increasingly dominated by massive companies, like Amazon and Alphabet with a market cap larger than many small (and even medium sized) countries. The wealth will continue to concentrate, and the chances are it wont be in your hands.

Name Market cap
Alphabet $563bn
Sweden $517bn
Microsoft $500bn
Amazon $403bn
United Arab Emirates $375bn
Greece $195bn

Not that any of that matters because we are still doing nothing about climate change. It wont kill you directly, but it will make your life hell. Climate shifts will mean devastation to harvests pushing up food prices beyond breaking point for many societies, leading to increased war, massive migration to ‘the west’, and a huge squeeze on the cost of living (compounded by the robots taking your job anyway). Globalisation will not stop, so you will be competing for the last few human-viable jobs with desperate refugees all over the world.  A combination of climate instability, resource wars and food shortages will provide a fertile breeding ground for yet more terrorism, and lead to more extremist politics around the globe. By the way antibiotic resistance could fail soon due to over-prescription and help wipe us out, if a bird flu pandemic or something similar doesn’t get there first. And don’t even get me started on topsoil erosion.

We are fucked.

The optimistic view:

In 1900 a car cost a fortune, went at a pitiful speed, was unsafe, noisy, polluting, unreliable and a pain-in-the-ass to drive. In 2016 a car can be scarily fast, trivial to drive (or even self-drive at times), as comfortable as a sofa, eerily quiet, safer than ever before (by a vast margin), and emit zero pollution. A lot of that has changed in the last 10 years, and the rate of change is accelerating.

I’m 47. As a kid we knew that phonecalls (even local ones) were expensive. nobody could afford to phone another country, unless it was an emergency. These days, phonecalls are effectively free, and communication by high def image, video, voice or even virtual-prescence in a  game is virtually free. Access to vast amounts of human knowledge is virtually free online. the world has never been more connected. Global violence has never been lower. Poverty has never been lower.  Diseases that were commonplace are now virtually eradicated. the human genome is sequenced. Some people in the UK are getting ‘bionic eyes’ on the NHS.

Futurists who talk about the ‘singularity’ are excited at the idea that as tech advances, the rate of tech advancement also accelerates, as the output of that new tech leads to more educated and technologically literate people able to achieve more and more. Kids born today will take to computers and virtual reality in the same way someone my age took to television and books.

People worry about automation causing job losses, but this will just lead to an explosion of leisure. The huge extra wealth generated by an automated workforce that requires no pay, no healthcare, no pension, no breaks, so sleep, will allow society to capture the surplus as tax to pay for either a universal basic income, or for the state to pay for vast social enterprises that create employment. The arts budget could be multiplied by ten, or even a hundred, as the profits from robot-crammed factories pay for a life of creativity and leisure. the forty hour week will give way to a twenty hour week, maybe even a ten hour week.  Democracies will ensure that wealth cannot be forever hoarded by the few, and a need for people to actually afford to buy their products will persuade the super-rich than even the 10-hour weekers will ned to earn a decent wag for society to operate.

Automation and AI will lead to such an economic surplus that once unsolvable problems (climate change, global poverty, unaffordable housing, homelessness) become affordable, maybe even trivial to fix.  Advances in renewable energy point to a future where energy is effectively free, and where almost everything is done by robots and almost all they need is energy, we effectively live a life of pure exploration, enjoyment and leisure.

It sounds unlikely, but we already live relatively blissful lives thanks to the advance of robots. A robot washes my dishes, another washes my clothes. We already have robots that clean cars, that mow the lawn and that vacuum your house. Is it so hard to imagine a special purpose robot that takes out your trash, that irons your clothes, that drives you to and from work (or to the pub!), leaving you to do the ten or less hours a week of creative thinking that you already do, but without the tedious pen pushing or lifting/carrying nonsense that makes up the majority of so many jobs? We no more WANT to keep so many of us stacking shelves in shops than we WANT to go back to hand-washing of cars, or even hand-scything of crops. Technological advance has always given us greater wealth, greater comfort and more leisure and it always will.

We are so lucky.