If Offices Were Zoos, The Humane Society Would Protest

Question: In what surprising new ways will video games be used in the future?

Nicole Lazzaro:  Absolutely.  Well I think what our mission right now is you know with launching Tilt and the consulting that we do with our clients companies is really unlocking you know human potential and improving quality of life through play and it’s not…  I mean there isn’t a game in the world that doesn’t teach and there is no play style even that doesn’t teach, so there is this very human, not a human need, but I mean it’s just a human facility.  This play experience is part of what we do.  So we’re actually going to see, work and play get a lot closer together, so we’re going to be playing more at work.  We’re actually going to be…  you know we’re actually going to have work that feels more like play, so I predict that not only do we have…  We’re going to have more robust you know simulations, training simulation games.  You know so if I hand you a nuclear reactor you know you can play with it.  You can train to… You can do management training that way.  You can do all kinds of social…  In fact, World of Warcraft, if you’re guild leader, you know, you’re learning a lot about management… managing other people, so I think we’re going to see a lot of stuff happening in games coming through.  And I think I’m really hopeful for…  This is why I’m sharing a lot of my research, is that what we’re really hopeful for is to see huge changes in the American workplace and you know actually all around the world because when I go in and you know I’m trained to read emotion on people’s faces what I see and I see that and I see their work styles and their you know what tasks they can actually do and you know I’m in awe and in horror of what I see when I go into the average office space because the work there is so…  I mean it’s so ill-suited to the task at hand.  You know, if this were a zoo or a kindergarten, you know, Child Protective Services or, you know, the Humane Society would be there… down there, you know, to close it down in about an hour because the work environment, the physical space, the types of tasks, the emotions around those tasks are totally ill-suited to accomplishing the task at hand and so by really understanding play and what motivates people and games are self motivating systems, so self motivating systems we’re going to see that self motivation permeate throughout everything from word processing to, you know, the way that your copier operates.

We’re going to see not only that we’re going to see these game mechanics you know embedded in the software that we use, you know in the physical devices that we touch like, you know, a copy machine, but we’ll also see it in this business structure as well, so we’re going to see the way that give feedback, the way that we give out tasks, the way that we manage folks is actually going to be a lot more responsive to game style kind of thinking because in a game what do you have to have?  Well Sid Meyer says it’s got to be interesting choices, right, so you got to have that, but then you also…  You know I think that what we do in games is really we simplify the world.  You know we suspend some consequences.  You know that gives us a little free action and then we then enhance the feedback and enhancing the feedback and enhancing the reward, that easy fun and that serious fun really can then motivate folks, motivate people to explore and extend themselves and when they accomplish something hard that they couldn’t do before then that hard fun comes in and you feel much more well-rounded as a person and much more…  you know, you feel much more… that sense of accomplishment and, you know, really usefulness, you know, in society at large.

And actually just riffing off of that a bit, I think that also the other way that games are changing the way we are as a society is that games have multivariant input, so especially simulation games, so you’ve got multiple things coming in and you have the ability to make a lot of changes.  So in a sense simulation games are really… have the opportunity to change the world, to really educated us as global citizens because what are simulation games are they are a… they have multivariant inputs and multi variant outputs, so when I play Sim City I play a city manager and I, you know, make decisions, you know, and I can make decisions that related to Godzilla or I can make decisions to earthquake or fire or I can, you know, build it up, but when you’re done with Sim City you actually know a little bit more about that.  You know more of that world and what we really need right now are people who can understand multivariant systems to fight things like global warming, AIDS, all of these problems.  We’ve pretty much dealt with a lot of the low-hanging fruit here, and so you know I think that games play a really serious role, a really important role in elevating up our thinking to that next level of play, and I think if we can do that the world will definitely be a better place.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The modern workplace is a crime against the human spirit. Deepening our understanding of what truly motivates people will make work more productive—and more playful.

Deep learning nails correlation. Causation is another matter.

Why do people with bigger hands have a better vocabulary? That's one question deep learning can't answer.

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  • Did you know that people with bigger hands have larger vocabularies?
  • While that's actually true, it's not a causal relationship. This pattern exists because adults tend know more words than kids. It's a correlation, explains NYU professor Gary Marcus.
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Is NASA ignoring proof of Martian life from the 1970s?

One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.

Image source: David Williams/NASA
Surprising Science
  • A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
  • Because of other conflicting data, his experiments' results have been largely discarded.
  • Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.

Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.

In 1976

Image source: NASA/JPL

Sunset at the Viking 1 site

As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.

At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.

At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.

According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.

However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."

Subsequent evidence

Image source: NASA

A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2

Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:

  • Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
  • The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
  • Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
  • "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.

Frustration

Image source: NASA

A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.

By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.

Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)

Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."

Physicists solve a 140-year-old mystery

Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.

Credit: IBM
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  • Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
  • The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
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