Elon University

One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Daniel James shares his thoughts on the networked future

This page contains one of a set of 24 transcripts including remarks made by interview participants at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit at Stanford Research Institute in May 2006. Each person was asked a series of five questions regarding the future; only the most “telling” responses were transferred from the recordings into these transcripts, thus, some of these interviews will include five question-answer sets, some will have four or fewer.

To jump to another interviewee’s set of answers, click on the person’s name below.

Bridget Agabra Randy Farmer Jerry Paffendorf
Betsy Book Guy Garnett Marty Poulin
Corey Bridges Will Harvey Robert Scoble
Iveta Brigis Daniel James John Smart
Jamais Cascio Raph Koster David Smith
Helen Cheng Mike Liebhold Sibley Verbeck
Esther Dyson Julian Lombardi Malcolm Williamson
Doug Engelbart Bob Moore Ethan Zuckerman

>> Return to Metaverse interviews lead page for links to recordings of these comments

James Headshot Daniel James is founder and CEO of Three Rings, a San Francisco developer and operator of massively multi-player online games for the mass-market, casual audience. PUZZLE PIRATES and BANG! HOWDY are popular Three Rings’ titles. Prior to his work with Three Rings, Daniel consulted on game design, toiled for many years on Middle-earth Online, and co-founded two profitable UK internet startups, Avalon and Sense Internet.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? For a long time I thought we might go through a long, dark tunnel, so people would become addicted and fall into these virtual worlds and be unable to extract themselves … they never leave the house, they’ve got a chemical toilet, they sit there, they order food, they live on life-support. I think that may yet happen, but I’m actually much more optimistic on that front than I have been. When you look at people who are growing up with more digital technology – I only came to computers when I was 11 – and now you’ve got kids who have been online and using IM and the internet and so on for all of their waking lives. There’s a fluidity and familiarity there that makes me think people aren’t going to fall off the deep end in quite the way I was afraid of. Some people will – there’s no doubt. Some of them are my best customers. I have a lot of moral concerns there, and sort of an ambiguity about the way I feel about my business. But my fears are less there. There is potential for abuse, and I think the thing I probably would be more afraid of now is the old order and the large corporations and big government and all these established power structures managing to maintain their hold on power. I think this wave inherently breaks those structures down and will lead to a more equitable society by its nature, but these old powers are going to try to hold onto things, and they may do very-very scary things to do that. When you’re a brick wall, or rather a military-industrial machine if you’d like, facing a wave coming towards you, you’re probably going to start firing your cannons and try to blow holes in the wave because you don’t understand the wave and it’s scary and it’s going to flood you. I’m afraid of that.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? I would like a few things. Succinctly I would like a million flowers to bloom. I would like a million incredible things, and people to manifest incredible things out there on the network. And I would like that to translate into a complete change in human society. I’m a believer in radical-decentralized democracy, a kind of a bottom-up, anarchistic in the historical political sense way of people really making decisions that are very base level about what they want to do, how they want to associate, what things they want to do and then building that up to the sort of level at which government decisions are made but only when those decisions are relevant at that level. I think it’s completely inappropriate for example for a federal government to intervene in the affairs of an individual as concerns how they conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis and which way drive down the street or what-not. Decisions should be made at the local level, they should be as local as possible. This era we’re in – in the same way the era of mass media is an anomaly in history – this era of mass government, of large-scale, centrist government, is an anomaly that will be blown away. I think the internet makes possible – and computers and the associations they provide – makes possible this very radical form of instantaneous, participatory democracy.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? We are only at the beginning of discovering the implications for a globally connected, participatory, user-created medium. We’re just at the very beginning.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? A lot of the technological pieces are in place for the things we’ve been talking about; I don’t really see there’s a lot of fundamental, enabling technologies to come in the virtual world space and the internet. We’re looking at more of the same – faster paced and more fidelity, but not necessarily goggles or sensory implants at this kind of stage. I think 10 years is a bit soon, but I do believe, as do many people, that there is going to be a transition or a point of inflection in the next hundred years. Being a little pessimistic, well, conservative at the outside. I think there will be what people like to call the Singularity. Technology is now moving at a pace where there is a likelihood that somewhere between silicon, nanotech and biotechnology we’re going to see essentially machines or other life forms we have created become more intelligent than we are. I think that’s terrifying for the human race and exhilarating if you believe in life in the universe and its growth and its great potential. I just hope I’m a good pet for the superhumans, because that’s what we’re going to be. Some people are going to change themselves. Some people are going to want to try to transform themselves into these superhuman creatures. I’m not terribly interested in that. I’m more interested in being treated nicely by our new uber-superhuman overlords, being fed good food and being looked after and making kooky things and amusing myself into my probably infinite old age.

What do you think policymakers should do to ensure a positive future for networked technologies? Do nothing. That would be what I’d tell them. We’re the experts and we have no idea what the right direction to go in is. We don’t know where it’s going. We’re just experimenting and finding out. So putting any policies in place runs the risk of crippling everything, because you have no idea what direction it should go, what the end result should be. Policymakers should sit back, relax, acknowledge that the future is extremely strange, and that weird things are going to happen, but – you know what? – weird things happen all the time. The world is full of weird things happening. Occasionally stuff get in the news about MySpace or Yahoo Chat or whatever it is, but lots of other stuff gets in the news about people crashing their cars into railings, driving off cliffs and drowning in swimming pools. None of this stuff needs more regulation. Do nothing.

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