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One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Raph Koster 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

Koster HeadshotRaph Koster is a MMORPG designer and the former chief creative officer for Sony Online Entertainment. He joined Origin in 1995 as part of the original Ultima Online team. He also worked with Ultima Online: The Second Age, and served as lead designer for Ultima Online Live (the ongoing service for this online RPG) until 1999. Raph writes and speaks frequently on online game and community issues, and maintains a popular online website. He wrote the book “A Theory of Fun for Game Design,” published in 2004.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? Humans grew up in tribes where you didn’t get to pick who else was in your tribe. We grew up in situations where we had to learn to get along with people who had opinions that were different from ours, and networked technologies are allowing us to form tribes that are homogenous. They’re allowing us to find groups of people who are just like us. And I think it’s wonderful to be able to find my tribe of people who read the same books I do and like my music and watch the same TV shows and in general share the same view of the world. That’s wonderful, because it makes you feel like you’re not alone any more. But on the other hand I think it’s incredibly important for the human race to be exposed to multiple viewpoints and to get to interact with people that we wouldn’t necessarily interact with if given our choice. One of the real risks in the networked environment is the lessened friction of connecting with people. People will choose to hang out with people they already know. They will choose to read the books they already know they will like, rather than taking a flyer on something new. Statistical analysis shows that this is the case when we look at all of the communities of interest that have formed on the internet. You can graph, for example, what political books people read, on Amazon, and what you find is Democrats won’t read the right-wing books and Republicans won’t read the left-wing books and almost no books cross the divide and are read by both, and that’s a very dangerous thing for our political establishment. That would be my worry about this low-friction information culture. Biology teaches us homogenous cultures are not a good thing – they’re very vulnerable.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? Empowerment, diversity, creativity. I don’t believe in a future that is the centralized content creators, the big-business bodies pushing the content down. I don’t think that that is a viable business model, just in terms of creating the content and so on. And I also believe that humanity started out telling stories to each other around campfires, playing music in the parlors, sharing their creativity with friends and with family, and I think that really that’s been a lot of the trend. A lot of historical trends pushed us apart from one another in many different ways, and I think the networked environment is actually allowing us to move closer together and share some of those things that we didn’t have before.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? I’d have to go for something that is really ubiquitous. When you look today at the impact that something like the cell phone had, or the web, both those things have really infiltrated into daily life that were inconceivable 10 years ago. I think that in the next 10 years we’re going to see more convergence of the web in to mobile and that that’s going to have a very big impact Everything from the geospatial web and annotation of the real world to constant connectivity – always on, people always knowing where to find you. I think the thing that will freak out everybody is the amount of personal data that is going to be readily available to everybody all the time. But most people will be willing to trade that for the convenience of being able to carry their phone around and have it also be their credit card. Something as simple as that is the kind of thing that will happen slowly enough people won’t necessarily feel like the world has changed around them, but that in practice is going to have just tremendous impact on the way people live their lives.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? It’s not going to be something regarding networking. The things that are really startling and amazing that are coming down the pike will be in biotech, they’re in nanotech, you know, they’re not in just hardware. And they’re not just in network conductivity. We’re going to have things like the public object that is broadcasting its state, but where it really starts to get weird, honestly – particularly in biotech – is we start doing really interesting things with curing some long-standing diseases. Diabetes is one of the ones I would put on the list. It’s on the hit list, thank goodness, for the next couple decades. Real strides are being made on a variety of other things – cancer, and so on. What that will do to life span and then to the economics of the world is extremely interesting. What starts happening with bio-enhancements of various sorts and the things we can do with nanotechnology, those to me are the things that are really disruptive beyond conductivity. Most of the extrapolation that I think we do on conductivity is assuming more of the same, but the interesting thing is what happens when the bones in your eardrum are spitting out an RSS feed. Now, we’re talking. Now, we’re in the realm of the weird.

What do you think policymakers should do to ensure a positive future for networked technologies? Learn about it – that is the biggest challenge. Most policymakers, by and large our policymaking bodies are composed of old men. They’re not necessarily in touch with what youth is thinking about, they’re not necessarily in touch with what’s already happening. We see that repeated over and over and over again. Congressional hearings on MySpace are probably coming up. We’ve already had Congressional hearings on video games. Before that it was labeling on rock and roll or whatever. It’s really important to stay in touch with what people are actually doing. Until the day when our senators are all text-messaging under the table as they’re listening for legislation, they’re not going to understand what the cultural climate really is. This is a problem that fixes itself over time, but it’s still important that before making big decisions now they take the time to educate themselves about what they’re deciding on.

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