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← The transformative power of video games

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Showing Revision 6 created 10/08/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. Hello.
  2. My name is Herman,
  3. and I've always been struck
    by how the most important, impactful,
  4. tsunami-like changes
    to our culture and our society
  5. always come from those things
  6. that we least think
    are going to have that impact.
  7. I mean, as a computer scientist,

  8. I remember when Facebook
    was just image-sharing in dorm rooms,
  9. and depending upon who you ask,
  10. it's now involved in toppling elections.
  11. I remember when cryptocurrency
    or automated trading
  12. were sort of ideas by a few renegades
  13. in the financial institutions
    in the world for automated trading,
  14. or online, for cryptocurrency,
  15. and they're now coming to quickly shape
    the way that we operate.
  16. And I think each of you
    can recall that moment
  17. where one of these ideas felt
    like some ignorable, derisive thing,
  18. and suddenly, oh, crap,
    the price of Bitcoin is what it is.
  19. Or, oh, crap, guess who's been elected.
  20. The reality is that, you know,
    from my perspective,

  21. I think that we're about
    to encounter that again.
  22. And I think one of the biggest,
  23. most impactful changes
    in the way we live our lives,
  24. to the ways we're educated,
  25. probably even to how we end up
    making an income,
  26. is about to come not from AI,
  27. not from space travel or biotech --
  28. these are all very important
    future inventions --
  29. but in the next five years,
  30. I think it's going to come
    from video games.
  31. So that's a bold claim, OK.

  32. I see some skeptical faces
    in the audience.
  33. But if we take a moment
  34. to try to look at what video games
    are already becoming in our lives today,
  35. and what just a little bit
    of technological advancement
  36. is about to create,
  37. it starts to become
    more of an inevitability.
  38. And I think the possibilities
    are quite electrifying.
  39. So let's just take a moment
    to think about scale.
  40. I mean, there's already
    2.6 billion people who play games.

  41. And the reality is that's a billion more
    than five years ago.
  42. A billion more people in that time.
  43. No religion, no media,
    nothing has spread like that.
  44. And there's likely to be a billion more
  45. when Africa and India
    gain the infrastructure
  46. to sort of fully realize
    the possibilities of gaming.
  47. But what I find really special is --
    and this often shocks a lot of people --
  48. is that the average age of a gamer,
    like, have a guess, think about it.
  49. It's not six, it's not 18, it's not 12.
  50. It's 34.
  51. [Average age of an American gamer]
  52. It's older than me.
  53. And that tells us something,
  54. that this isn't entertainment
    for children anymore.
  55. This is already a medium
    like literature or anything else
  56. that's becoming a fundamental
    part of our lives.
  57. One stat I like is that people
    who generally picked up gaming

  58. in the last sort of 15, 20 years
  59. generally don't stop.
  60. Something changed in the way
    that this medium is organized.
  61. And more than that,
    it's not just play anymore, right?
  62. You've heard some examples today,
  63. but people are earning
    an income playing games.
  64. And not in the obvious ways.
  65. Yes, there's e-sports, there's prizes,
  66. there's the opportunity to make money
    in a competitive way.
  67. But there's also people earning incomes
    modding games, building content in them,
  68. doing art in them.
  69. I mean, there's something at a scale
    akin to the Florentine Renaissance,
  70. happening on your kid's iPhone
    in your living room.
  71. And it's being ignored.
  72. Now, what's even more exciting for me
    is what's about to happen.

  73. And when you think about gaming,
  74. you're probably already imagining
  75. that it features these massive,
    infinite worlds,
  76. but the truth is,
  77. games have been deeply limited
    for a very long time
  78. in a way that kind of we in the industry
  79. have tried very hard to cover up
    with as much trickery as possible.
  80. The metaphor I like to use,
    if you'd let me geek out for a moment,
  81. is the notion of a theater.
  82. For the last 10 years,
  83. games have massively advanced
    the visual effects,
  84. the physical immersion,
    the front end of games.
  85. But behind the scenes,
  86. the actual experiential reality
    of a game world
  87. has remained woefully limited.
  88. I'll put that in perspective for a moment.
  89. I could leave this theater right now,
  90. I could do some graffiti,
    get in a fight, fall in love.
  91. I might actually do
    all of those things after this,
  92. but the point is that all of that
    would have consequence.
  93. It would ripple through reality --
  94. all of you could interact with that
    at the same time.
  95. It would be persistent.
  96. And those are very important qualities
    to what makes the real world real.
  97. Now, behind the scenes in games,

  98. we've had a limit for a very long time.
  99. And the limit is, behind the visuals,
  100. the actual information being exchanged
    between players or entities
  101. in a single game world
  102. has been deeply bounded
  103. by the fact that games
    mostly take place on a single server
  104. or a single machine.
  105. Even The World of Warcraft
    is actually thousands of smaller worlds.
  106. When you hear about concerts in Fortnite,
  107. you're actually hearing
    about thousands of small concerts.
  108. You know, individual,
    as was said earlier today,
  109. campfires or couches.
  110. There isn't really this possibility
    to bring it all together.
  111. Let's take a moment to just
    really understand what that means.
  112. When you look at a game,
    you might see this, beautiful visuals,
  113. all of these things
    happening in front of you.
  114. But behind the scenes in an online game,

  115. this is what it looks like.
  116. To a computer scientist,
  117. all you see is just
    a little bit of information
  118. being exchanged by a tiny handful
    of meaningful entities or objects.
  119. You might be thinking,
    "I've played in an infinite world."
  120. Well it's more that you've played
    on a treadmill.
  121. As you've been walking through that world,
  122. we've been cleverly causing the parts
    of it that you're not in to vanish,
  123. and the parts of it
    in front of you to appear.
  124. A good trick, but not the basis
    for the revolution
  125. that I promised you
    in the beginning of this talk.
  126. But the reality is, for those of you
    that are passionate gamers

  127. and might be excited about this,
  128. and for those of you
    that are afraid and may not be,
  129. all of that is about to change.
  130. Because finally,
    the technology is in place
  131. to go well beyond the limits
    that we've previously seen.
  132. I've dedicated my career to this,
  133. there are many others
    working on the problem --
  134. I'd hardly take credit for it myself,
  135. but we're at the point now
    where we can finally
  136. do this impossible hard thing
  137. of weaving together thousands
    of disparate machines
  138. into single simulations
  139. that are convenient enough
    to not be one-offs,
  140. but to be buildable by anybody.
  141. And to be at the point
  142. where we can start to experience
    those things that we can't yet fathom.
  143. Let's just take a moment
    to visualize that.

  144. I'm talking about not individual
    little simulations
  145. but a massive possibility
    of huge networks of interaction.
  146. Massive global events
    that can happen inside that.
  147. Things that even in the real world
  148. become challenging to produce
    at that kind of scale.
  149. And I know some of you are gamers,
  150. so I'm going to show you
    some footage of some things
  151. that I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to do,
    from some of our partners.
  152. TED and me had a back-and-forth on this.
  153. These are a few things
    that not many people have seen before,
  154. some new experiences
    powered by this type of technology.
  155. I'll just [take] a moment
    to show you some of this stuff.
  156. This is a single game world

  157. with thousands of simultaneous
    people participating in a conflict.
  158. It also has its own ecosystem,
  159. its own sense of predator and prey.
  160. Every single object you see here
    is simulated in some way.
  161. This is a game being built by one
    of the biggest companies in the world,
  162. NetEase, a huge Chinese company.
  163. And they've made
    an assistant creative simulation
  164. where groups of players
    can cocreate together,
  165. across multiple devices,
  166. in a world that doesn't vanish
    when you're done.
  167. It's a place to tell stories
    and have adventures.
  168. Even the weather is simulated.
  169. And that's kind of awesome.
  170. And this is my personal favorite.

  171. This is a group of people,
    pioneers in Berlin,
  172. a group called Klang Games,
  173. and they're completely insane,
    and they'll love me for saying that.
  174. And they found a way to model,
    basically, an entire planet.
  175. They're going to have a simulation
    with millions of non-player characters
  176. and players engaging.
  177. They actually grabbed Lawrence Lessig
  178. to help understand
    the political ramifications
  179. of the world they're creating.
  180. This is the sort of astounding
    set of experiences,

  181. well beyond what we might have imagined,
  182. that are now going to be possible.
  183. And that's just the first step
    in this technology.
  184. So if we step beyond that, what happens?

  185. Well, computer science
    tends to be all exponential,
  186. once we crack the really hard problems.
  187. And I'm pretty sure that very soon,
  188. we're going to be in a place
    where we can make
  189. this type of computational power
    look like nothing.
  190. And when that happens,
    the opportunities ...
  191. It's worth taking a moment to try
    to imagine what I'm talking about here.

  192. Hundreds of thousands
    or millions of people
  193. being able to coinhabit the same space.
  194. The last time any of us as a species
  195. had the opportunity
    to build or do something together
  196. with that may people was in antiquity.
  197. And the circumstances
    were less than optimal, shall we say.
  198. Mostly conflicts or building pyramids.
  199. Not necessarily the best thing for us
    to be spending our time doing.
  200. But if you bring together
    that many people,
  201. the kind of shared experience
    that can create ...
  202. I think it exercises a social muscle in us
  203. that we've lost and forgotten.
  204. Going even beyond that,

  205. I want to take a moment
    to think about what it means
  206. for relationships, for identity.
  207. If we can give each other worlds,
    experiences at scale
  208. where we can spend
    a meaningful amount of our time,
  209. we can change what it means
    to be an individual.
  210. We can go beyond a single identity
  211. to a diverse set of personal identities.
  212. The gender, the race,
    the personality traits you were born with
  213. might be something you want
    to experiment differently with.
  214. You might be someone
    that wants to be more than one person.
  215. We all are, inside, multiple people.
  216. We rarely get
    the opportunity to flex that.
  217. It's also about empathy.

  218. I have a grandmother
  219. who I have literally
    nothing in common with.
  220. I love her to bits,
  221. but every story she has begins in 1940
    and ends sometime in 1950.
  222. And every story I have
    is like 50 years later.
  223. But if we could coinhabit,
  224. co-experience things together,
  225. that undiminished by physical frailty
    or by lack of context,
  226. create opportunities together,
  227. that changes things,
    that bonds people in different ways.
  228. I'm struck by how social media
    has amplified our many differences,
  229. and really made us more who we are
    in the presence of other people.
  230. I think games could really start to create
  231. an opportunity for us to empathize again.
  232. To have shared adversity,
    shared opportunity.
  233. I mean, statistically,
    at this moment in time,

  234. there are people who are
    on the opposite sides of a conflict,
  235. who have been matchmade
    together into a game
  236. and don't even know it.
  237. That's an incredible opportunity
    to change the way we look at things.
  238. Finally, for those of you who perhaps are
    more cynical about all of this,

  239. who maybe don't think that virtual worlds
    and games are your cup of tea.
  240. There's a reality you have to accept,
  241. and that is that the economic impact
    of what I'm talking about
  242. will be profound.
  243. Right now, thousands of people
    have full-time jobs in gaming.
  244. Soon, it will be millions of people.
  245. Wherever there's a mobile phone,
    there will be a job.
  246. An opportunity for something
    that is creative and rich
  247. and gives you an income,
    no matter what country you're in,
  248. no matter what skills or opportunities
    you might think you have.
  249. Probably the first dollar
    most kids born today make
  250. might be in a game.
  251. That will be the new paper route,
  252. that will be the new
    opportunity for an income
  253. at the earliest time in your life.
  254. So I kind of want to end
    with almost a plea,

  255. really, more than thoughts.
  256. A sense of, I think, how we need
    to face this new opportunity
  257. a little differently
    to some we have in the past.
  258. It's so hypocritical
    for yet another technologist
  259. to stand up on stage and say,
  260. "The future will be great,
    technology will fix it."
  261. And the reality is,
    this is going to have downsides.
  262. But those downsides will only be amplified
  263. if we approach, once again,
    with cynicism and derision,
  264. the opportunities that this presents.
  265. The worst thing that we could possibly do
  266. is let the same four or five companies
  267. end up dominating
    yet another adjacent space.
  268. (Applause)

  269. Because they're not just going to define
    how and who makes money from this.

  270. The reality is, we're now talking
    about defining how we think,
  271. what the rules are
    around identity and collaboration,
  272. the rules of the world we live in.
  273. This has got to be something we all own,
  274. we all cocreate.
  275. So, my final plea
    is really to those engineers,

  276. those scientists, those artists
    in the audience today.
  277. Maybe some of you dreamed
    of working on space travel.
  278. The reality is, there are worlds
    you can build right here, right now,
  279. that can transform people's lives.
  280. There are still huge
    technological frontiers
  281. that need to be overcome here,
  282. akin to those we faced
    when building the early internet.
  283. All the technology
    behind virtual worlds is different.
  284. So, my plea to you is this.
  285. Let's engage, let's all engage,
  286. let's actually try to make this something
    that we shape in a positive way,
  287. rather than once again have be done to us.
  288. Thank you.

  289. (Applause)