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.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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