12th August 2001
Video games. They didn't exist just about two decades ago but are now firmly entrenched in almost every home. Parents by and large detest them, but children love them.
Today video gaming is big business. The industry earns six times more money than the movie industry. One in every three households in America owns a Sony playstation. But don't imagine for a second that just because playstations are so common in the U.S and other developed countries, they are cheap. They most certainly are not.
A playstation costs approximately Rs. 10,000 while the newest game consoles such as the Playstation2 cost around Rs. 24,000. Games vary from Rs. 90 for pirated playstation copies to the very expensive Nintendo 64 cartridges, which cost anything between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 7,500
Children often pressurize their parents to buy them the newest games and systems, not taking into account their cost. In Sri Lanka, the hard fact is that not everyone can afford video games.
Why are video games so popular? Is it because they are the perfect baby sitters? Cheaper, and arguably more reliable than human baby sitters, video games keep children occupied for hours on end. Parents, though, find it hard to understand this strange fascination. They wonder how their children can stare at a T.V for hours on end, almost asphyxiated by the flashes of light that dance across the screen. 'Silly games with equally silly noises' is how one parent described video games.
To the gamer it is a different story. What lies before him is almost like another life; a completely different world waiting to be explored. As if in a happy dream, he continues, unaware of what goes on around him. For game addicts (yes, they do exist), gaming is a ritual. When one gets absorbed in a game, the real world is shut out. The only sounds the gamer hears are from the T.V, the only thing he sees is the T.V screen, and the only thing he feels is the rush of adrenaline coursing through his body like the Mahaweli river in flood.
So if you see a youngster displaying these characteristics, it could well be that he is an addict, addicted to video games, that is. One game becomes another, and another, till finally the power cut comes in. You don't need to eat, sleep, or get up, not even to relieve your aching, tensed up bladder, the compulsive gamer will tell you.
A 42-year-old computer teacher who plays around five hours of Nintendo at a stretch daily, describes the feeling. "It's just so addictive. Fantastic. I always find time to plug into a game even if it means skipping teaching at school."
Spending hours glued to the screen is no joke. In certain Western countries, the problem is so acute that various institutions have been set up to cure video game addicts.
Back when our grandfathers got together to have fun, they played cricket or raided the neighbourhood mango tree. Nowadays when kids get together they huddle around the T.V playing round after round of 007: Golden Eye. This is another immensely popular game. At the end of the day, the winner's name spreads around like wildfire right throughout school.
But video game addiction can have dangerous consequences. Addicts tend to sacrifice social events, even school, neglecting their homework just to play more.
So what makes video games so addictive? The question comes to mind once again. There is no clear answer though. People play games for different reasons.
Fifteen-year-old Rajiv plays video games just for fun. Being an active type of person, he says video games takes a back seat in his daily timetable. He plays them only when he has nothing else to do. "Video games are there just to amuse you when you are bored. There are a million other things to do besides sitting in front of the T.V pushing plastic buttons. But then again it's always nice to play with my friends once in a while."
Rajiv is not an addict. Just because a person plays video games it does not mean that he is an addict. But, let's take a look into the busy schoolday of 15-year- old Dinush, who happens to be in Rajiv's class.
Dinush says that video games take him away from the troubles of the real world. The work, the stress, and life in general is too much to take, so he turns to his Nintendo for comfort. He comes home from school at 1.30 p.m., and plays his favourite game, Conker's Bad Fur Day, where you play as an 'evil teddy bear' and your objective is to kill innocent French civilians with an array of guns before they can make their way up the beach, and into Paris, kind of like the first part of Saving Private Ryan.
As I stare at Dinush blowing the French to pieces with his polygonal German sniper rifle, the blood and guts flying about all over the screen, I check the games rating on the cover box. There, in big, bold letters, it says "mature-this game is not for anyone less than 17 years". Dinush is just 15. So who bought him this adult game? None other than his own parents.
That's another problem with video games. Parents often bring whatever their children ask for when they go abroad, without knowing what the video game in question contains.
Here we come across another negative aspect of video games besides addiction; violence. These days, it's in almost every video game. In games such as Turok and Quake, the only objective is to wade through dozens of levels filled with enemies, who try to attack you. Your mission here is to kill them using the most interesting and at the same time most disgusting methods possible. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, a game for the Nintendo 64 found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the goriest weapon ever created in a video game. The weapon was a large, gruesome hunk of metal called the "cerebral bore". As the name suggests, the gun shoots a large capsule at an unsuspecting enemy. The capsule finds its way to the enemy's head and attaches itself there, after which it drills a hole into the cranium and sucks out all the gray matter inside. Then to put the icing on the cake, the capsule twists the head and blows up, decapitating the enemy in the process.
Video games, thus, although virtual, show more violence than movies. It's not just violence. Games such as Conker's Bad Fur Day, Nintendo's adult classic includes plenty of crude language and even sexual themes. And that too, in large doses, just how today's society seems to like it.
All this violence, blood, foul language and sex is so sickening at times that one tends to wonder whether video gaming is merely a form of entertainment or a virtual training camp for sick minds. As I walk away from Dinush's house humming quietly to the toe-tapping flatulence of the music of Pooh Mountain from Conker's Bad Fur Day (where the objective is to get drunk and throw rolls of toilet paper into a living ball of cow manure), I thought to myself that I should perhaps get a Nintendo myself. Hey, at least the music is catchy.
That idea hovered in my head around four years ago. Today I have my own Nintendo. As I write this article, my mind goes back to that toe-tapping flatulence, of how I shot a poor dung beetle in the head with a sniper rifle. All the while a quiet smile across my face. My O'Level mocks loom ahead in January and my mother screams, "Heshan do your work!." And here I am, thinking of how to win a video game. I can't help it. I'm helplessly addicted. Hopelessly in love..... with video games.
Don't let this happen to you.
- Nightmare or dream?
According to my dictionary, a robot is 'any automated machine programmed to perform specific functions in the manner of a man'. But its place in the popular imagination suggests that the robot is much, much more, articulating both our struggle to define exactly what makes us human and our anxiety about the future of humankind.
And even as Steven Spielberg was putting the finishing touches on his new film AI (short for Artificial Intelligence), robots were casting an even bigger shadow with a series of developments that have startling implications for the fate of the planet.
Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, is planning a series of experiments in which silicon chip transponders will be implanted in his nervous system, relaying signals between his body and a computer. Meanwhile, scientists in New York and Israel have co-operated on a robot surgeon that will perform knee replacement operations in a bid to avoid the 10 percent of operations that need to be repeated because of human error.
In Thailand, scientists recently unveiled Roboguard, which carries a laser-sighted gun that can track suspects via infrared sensors and fire at will (or check with a human via the Internet before it attacks). And Hod Lipson and Jordan Pollack, computer scientists at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, have successfully completed an experiment in which a computer designed, tested and built its own, increasingly efficient automatons, raising the spectre of a Terminator-like race of robots fully independent of humans.
'This is a long awaited and necessary step towards the ultimate dream of self-evolving machines,' says Rodney Brooks, an expert in artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But for others, the idea of machines capable of 'artificial evolution' - mutating, improving, reproducing, and perhaps even organising, like insects - is more of a nightmare than a dream.
Ever since Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis, with its vision of an artificial woman who preaches destruction to the workforce of a futuristic city, robots have spoken of our ambivalent relationship to technology. On one hand, we embrace it, using machines and computers in our work and our homes. On the other, we loathe it, imagining we will be supplanted and consumed by it, just as the Luddite rioters feared in 1811 and 1816 when they broke into English mills and factories to destroy the steam looms and machines that threatened their jobs and pay.
This ambivalence and anxiety is played out most clearly in television and film. In the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, technology is a force for good in the form of Steve Austen, rebuilt after a terrible crash that destroys most of his body to become the Bionic Man, working to keep the world safe from evil and tyranny. In Paul Verhoeven's 1987 satire Robocop, it is the surviving humanity of the prototype cyborg of the title that keeps the city safe from the corrupt conglomerate that seeks to control it. And in 1977, the chirpy, benevolent robots C-3PO and R2-D2 entertained the world in Star Wars.
The flipside of our attitude to robots looms large in Westworld, Michael Crichton's 1973 film about a giant theme park in which robots move about as real people who can be killed, mistreated, befriended and betrayed by tourists until a computer malfunction sparks a robot revolution against human visitors. Bladerunner, too, speaks of our fear of how to control androids designed to be our physical and intellectual superiors. And the Borg of Star Trek is a technological nightmare, a race of cyborgs intent on dominating the universe.
At the core of this identity crisis is the notion of work and action, that what we do and how we act defines our humanity - and it is interesting to note that the word robot comes from the Czech word for work: 'robota'. When the ability to work is taken from us or we are enslaved by technology, we somehow become less human. After all, C3PO and R2-D2 appear unthreatening precisely because they are so inept.
In popular culture at least, robots often act as the agents of evil, working on behalf of their human puppet-masters who are motivated by greed or misanthropy. In Alien, for instance, it is the android played by John Hurt who engineers the attempted smuggling of the extraterrestrial monsters to Earth. Gifted with intelligence but deprived of a conscience, independent will, emotional vulnerability and the capacity to care, this kind of robot represents our worst fears about ourselves - that humans are essentially selfish. Made in this image, robots can be nothing but bad news.
Professor Warwick, presenter of the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures in 2000 and author of In the Mind of the Machine, gives a stark warning of a future in which machines are more intelligent than humans.
'As the level of sophistication of these robots rockets ahead are we humans being left behind?' he says. "The machines we have designed and built are taking on more and more tasks for themselves. If we have designed robots to be better, faster and stronger than us, who will be best suited to thrive in the technological world of the future?"
Yet robots, like humans, are not born bad. Automated computer systems now trade on stock markets, run trains and even fly passenger aircraft. And we have already designed robots that can defuse bombs, travel to distant planets and perform complex surgery on a patient on the other side of the world.
It seems that before we agree on our relationship to the robot, we must first decide on the 'manner of a man' and resolve whether humankind itself is good or evil.
The Brussels consortium currently working on a full-size, autonomous robot dinosaur, could use it to make money at museums and theme parks. Or it could use the robot as a 'walking' rescue machine, negotiating minefields, avalanches and collapsed buildings to find human survivors. The Hawaii team that produced a 12-wheeled flesh-eating robot called Chew-Chew that converts food into chemical energy, could turn the 'gastrobot' into a monster, or they could use it to mow lawns, using the clippings for fuel.
Which way will we go? Will robots be the good or evil twin of humanity? Only the future will tell.
* Delaware scientists have created Flobot the Robot. It can hover on a cushion of air and use magnetic grippers to grab a moving object while hovering over a table.
*Los Alamos scientists have built tiny four-legged robots that have been tested on fields of unexploded mines and ammunition. Unlike humans, if a leg gets blown off, the robot continues its work with only three, two, or even one.
* Carnegie Mellon University scientists have built Nomad, an automaton that will search for meteorites in Antarctica.
Source: The Guardian Newspaper.
By M.T.L. EbellZachary was alone. There was no need for TOI to tell him his classification. He came as a catalyst - but in what context he did not know. He had thought that Mahon would use him as a partner in his rebellion, if indeed rebellion could be equated with what he had done. He had taken five-year olds, whose limbs were automatically exercised and who were exposed to optimum amounts of sunlight, fresh air and darkness, out onto the bare earth to play.
The work done in half an hour by seventy two minds had been delayed or even lost. But could the minds have in fact been improved? Zachary knew he questioned too much. He was different, possibly the taint of physical intercourse occurring so long ago had warped his mind. He could not accept, unquestioning, as pure clones of clones were wont. He needed to access Mahon's thoughts. Concentrating, he got through to him.
=A moment of your time=
=Where do you go from here?=
=I will be destroyed=
=Why do you choose this way?=
=What else could I do? Voluntarily retire to resurface when TOI is no more? Listen,
Zachary, the old man will never give up his existence. He takes his thirst for knowledge so far. I had to challenge him now. Every moment lost means so many more young minds sacrificed=
=I thought we were the liberated people. We know we can use our minds wothout limit unlike the physical beings who lived before the great devastation=
=It is true our minds are liberated. It is true that by the power of thought we conquer worlds, galaxies. We spread our enlightened methods through every new environment we conquer. Then we tap their intelligence for their knowledge. We never die but retire from the thinking world when we so desire. What is it all for? Are we happy? Do you enjoy your life? Do our young laugh, or do they only think? Do we really exist? =
+Of course we exist! Mahon, how could we communicate if we did not exist?=
The thought waves rippled. Mahon was smiling.
=But, Zachary, do we live?...Tomorrow, do try to defend me. Ignore me. Save yourself for another day, another way. Your time is yet to come=
TOI listened in, frowning. The frown showed in three parallel lines on his yet handsome, holographic face. Who was he? He was The Old One. He stretched in only three links to the twelve persons who met the stranger at the waterhole. The power of thought had brought back living to biblical ages.
TOI's great-grandfather had lived to four hundred years of the former people. This forebear had mated with one of the females who had been there. TOI's lip curled. Every year he had sired offspring through sexual intercourse. Except for three seeds the others had proved no great intellects. After a few hundred years they had chosen to cease existing. One of the three strong seeds was TOI's grandfather.
TOI's grandfather had also procreated physically at first, but in his later life had become a passionate advocate of conception by thought. It was cleaner and what could be more fulfilling than retiring to the Procreation Centre with the female of your choice, concentrating on the qualities wished for in your progeny and creating a dozen clones in your combined image? Periodic regeneration under controlled conditions came to be the rule rather than the exception. Sex, however, was not frowned upon then as now.
What is life, Lizard?
Lizard looked back at Woman as she lay on his back, his eyes glinting.
I'll show you something Did you see the furry creatures? Have they not increased in number? Is not my mate guarding shiny spheres? From these will come our young.
Yes. Young images of ourselves who will in turn grow and create more of our kind.
How does this happen?
"Woman, Father asked you not to ponder these questions any more. Why can't you leave it alone?"
I want to know.
"Ask the Father for the answer then."
Man, what do you think of as you lie there?
"I marvel at the beauty that is around us. The trees, the leaves, the blossoms. Woman, I grieved when the beautiful flower withered and died, but it gave its place to the fruit which we can eat.
"Why, Man, you are thinking of the same things as I. New life."
"Yes, but with you, it is different. You want to do much as you want to know. Don't you?"
The woman looked away and relapsed into thought. I'll ask Father.
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