Eloi vs Morlocks: Fictional Superspies Edition

When it comes to the people saving the Earth, or just the UK, or even just Cardiff from peril – don’t you want them to have a little more technical savvy, than, say a bored teenager?

Take a look at what alien crimefighters and Gallifreyan-crossword-anagram-answer, Torchwood are using:
Torchwood are Eloi

Despite being a shadowy paragovernmental agency entrusted with securing alien technology – they are most comfortable something that resembles a bad Web2.0 site, or a dodgy trillian skin at best. They’re your Hotmail friends! They’re the people who send you that Ok-Go treadmill YouTube clip four months after you saw it!

They’re Eloi! We’re doomed!!!

Reassuringly, good old Five are staffed with much more CLI-kinds of guys…

Spooks are Morlocks

The Spooks, unlike their colleagues at CTU (who seem to favour the 45 degree angled corners of professional flash design circa 2002) are strictly on the command-line tip with the odd snazzy-but-useful bit of hardcore datavis.


Bring on the peak oil.


1) The UK government published a report stating we as a country need to make major changes in our behaviour in order to avoid certain environmental armageddon
2) Some bastard driving while on his cellphone tried to run me over. Actually pointed his car at me, and gunned it, once i gestured he should not be driving while talking on a phone.

Take all the cars away now from people under 50 without children.


Give everyone else horses or bikes.

Actually – just bikes.

The horses, while pretty, will fart us into greenhouse oblivion, and that bastard would probably have just trampled me.

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Link Locusts

I’m not sure I trust a reporter looking for a headline and surveying one classroom in one school, but this made me chuckle:

“The relatively short lifecycle of a popular site is a terrifying prospect for companies like Google Inc., which this month spent $1.65 billion in stock to acquire the Internet’s latest grass-roots favorite, year-old YouTube, whose popularity Google hopes to harness as a loyal video audience.

“To a youth market composed of teens like Kim and Birnbaum, MySpace is just the latest online fad. Before MySpace, the place to be was Xanga, and before that, Friendster, MiGente and Black Planet.

“They’re not loyal,” Ben Bajarin, a market analyst for Creative Strategies Inc., said of the youth demographic. Young audiences search for innovative and new features. They’re constantly looking for new ways to communicate and share content they find or create, and because of that group mentality, friends shift from service to service in blocs.

Consider the most popular teen sites tracked by Nielsen-NetRatings. Topping the list last month were Snapvine.com, PLyrics.com, Picgames.com — none of which appeared among the top 10 for April, or the list a year ago.

Madeline Dell’Aria, another high school junior, has fallen in and out of love with a number of sites. In middle school she started avidly blogging on Xanga. Last year, after most of her friends abandoned Xanga and migrated to MySpace, she followed. “No one was using Xanga anymore,” she said.

Initially, MySpace drew her in, and she spent lots of time looking at her friend’s photos or leaving comments on their pages, she said. Now, only a year or so later, ennui is setting in. She spends a lot less time on the site, instead listening to music or talking on the phone, she said.”

I like the idea that hordes of voracious kids with ADHD are moving like locusts from server-farm to server-farm, feasting on link-potential and feature-sets, then leaving them as quickly as they came – barren hosts to nothing but digital tumbleweed and middle-aged new media pundits.

A net reader

“We are served by organic ghosts, he thought, who, speaking and writing, pass through this our new environment. Watching, wise, physical ghosts from the full-life world, elements of which have become for us invading but agreeable splinters of a substance that pulsates like a former heart.”

Haven’t written for a long while and have become a net reader of writing. Not just the web, but books. Spent an enjoyable holiday in Devon reading, including “Ubik” by PKD, from which the above quote comes.

It somehow resonates.

“Ubik”, which I came to late in my PKD career, burbled away in reality-distorting PKD fashion for the most part then the last couple of chapters came and blew me away.


Tea and toasted, buttered currant buns…

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar,
When the dawn begins to crack.
It's all part of my autumn almanac.
Breeze blows leaves of a musty-coloured yellow,
So I sweep them in my sack.
Yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac.

Friday evenings, people get together,
Hiding from the weather.
Tea and toasted, buttered currant buns
Can't compensate for lack of sun,
Because the summer's all gone.

Oh, my poor rheumatic back
Yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac.
Oh, my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac.

I like my football on a Saturday,
Roast beef on Sundays, all right.
I go to Blackpool for my holidays,
Sit in the open sunlight.

This is my street, and I'm never gonna to leave it,
And I'm always gonna to stay here
If I live to be ninety-nine,
'Cause all the people I meet
Seem to come from my street
And I can't get away,
Because it's calling me, (come on home)
Hear it calling me, (come on home)

Oh, my autumn Armagnac
Yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac.
Oh, my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Bop-bop-bopm-bop-bop, whoa!
Bop-bop-bopm-bop-bop, whoa!

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London Games Festival: The Future of AI in games


Just been to a talk at Imperial College London, put on as part of the London Games Festival, presenting viewpoints form the games industry (Peter Molyneux and someone from Eidos) and from AI Academia. Very accessible and interesting.

I’ve tried my best to do an Alice, but I’ve not quite got the knack – so far from verbatim notes below:

The future of AI in games
London Games Festival


peter molyneux, prof. mark cavazza., dr. simon colton

john cass, icl

article in the economist from the summer (CF)

next challenge is to develop believable characters and intelligences in game worlds

bring together two communities: the game devlopers from industry and artificial intelligence research community from academia

take industry to a new level


peter molyneux

this is the most interesting area of game design to him

sorry – on behalf of games industry for grabbing the term AI and totally abusing it.

there is very little real AI in games

AI is mistaken for
– navigation
– avoidance
– crude simulations
– scripted behaviour

this is where we are, where do we want to be?

we need a whole raft of REAL AI and we’re starting to get the processing power to do it. next gen consoles could be the key.

– agent AI: need for convincing characters, recognizing what you are doing as a player. we are doing so much more as players – more freedom, more emotion. fable2: friendship, family – relationships… how do this convincingly?

– cloning AI: online is here to stay and this creates big problems… what about having a clone of yourself to remain in a persistent world so you can stay ‘present’ when you should go to sleep (UK vs. australia)

– learning AI – adapting to players and play.

– balancing AI: we’ve failed because we are not mass market – we only appeal to a very small audience… biggest game = 20m should be 200m… one of the reasons we have not got the reach is that we have no way to balance the difficulty of the game – looking at how the player plays and balance the game play accordingly (cf. czymihalyi flow, robin hunicke’s work)

AI future – will change the way that games are designed, create new types of game, create unique experiences… my game experience will be different from yours. far more realistic worlds can be created… visually we are getting close, but need great AI to back this up otherwise they will feel flawed. i will be able to stand up in 5yrs time and say look at how games have changed due to AI.


AI for interactive storytelling

‘long term endeavor to reconcile linear story and interaction’

reincorporate aesthetic qualities of linear media

character-based storytelling: Hierarchical Task Network Planning (AI technique – look up?) to describe characters roles.

AI maintains consistency of the story, while allowing adaptation… but often driving towards satisfying conclusion (interactive storytelling is not just changing the ending!)

sitcom generator: each characters role is described as a HTN plan. (modelled on ‘Friends’)

dynamic interactions between characters contribute to generating multiple situation not encoded in the original roles.

sitcom chosen to test the theory – as they are essentially/generally simple story forms (not shakespeare!)

we are generating a lot of stories and a lot of them are rubbish… need to filter these… and we can only generate about 6mins…

what’s the diff between this and The Sims? Sims have no narrative drive, they react (narrative is in the eye of the beholder)

every time these characters act.. they have a plan.

silent movies atm, but next step is dialogue.
this is very processing power intensive, but making progress with small scaling demonstrations. (shows one) Scalability is not really there atm.

real challenge is to develop true interactive storytelling capabilities.

The world is an actor: worlds behaviour drives narrative events. blurring the boundaries of physics and AI – the world is ‘plotting against the character’… inspired by the ‘final destination’ movies!

the whole environment ‘has a plan’

its easy to look clever in AI in small exmaples, the real challenge is scability… but we think the principles here are sound.

(doing research project with DTI/Eidos)

Dr. Simon Colton
AI and Games – Do’s and Don’ts

(games industry)unhealthy obsession #1: the modeling of opponents

(AI academia) unhealthy obsession #2: playing board games
From the machine learning journal: ‘learning to bid in bridge’ is a 30 yr project and it’s still going!

multiple mismatches in these two worlds
– what AI in games have low ram, low cycles, low time
– AI agents really want lots of ram, time, cycles

– ‘An AI’ that is referred to in games does not exist as termed by academia… a ‘complete AI’ would have emotional intelligence, reasoning, etc…

we’re developing AI the wrong way round – higher reasoning rather than basic instincts (cf. rodney brooks)

– ‘playing chess is a doddle compared to avoiding a tiger’

– AI researchers think it’s about BEATING the player, whereas games industry want AIs to help engage the player further in the game world.

so, what else can we do

– data mining game-play data
— changing how the game plays
– affective computing (HCI)
— how to tell from a players face what their emotional response is and changing game-play
– automatic avatars (to step in your place for sleep and toilet breaks!)
– but could be most useful in the design stage

comparison to the biotech industry
is designing a game more difficult than designing a drug? maybe? do drug companies have more funds? more IP issues? maybe?
BUT – drug companies absolutely make more use of AI in their design process than the games industry…

picks and shovels (where the money is) – getting the computer to program itself (misused phrase,but.. )
– machine learning
– genetic programming
— combining gives more than the sum of parts

one possible approach

evolutionary approach enables you to generate new entities for games – NPCs, cars, object… program AIs to use middle-ware to create these things

AI makes 100 bad models of a football – choose best 10 then breed… 1000s of generations later get valuable assets…

machine learns your aesthetic as a designer…

AI for game environment design

possible human-computer interaction in the design phase of games

designer creates a few building in his/her style
AI takes over and creates rest of city, designer refines the process…

great at design stage, but possibilities at run-time…

now the hard part: it’s still not easy to use AI/machine learning techniques in the off the shelf manners
– the best techniques come with a human (expert)

majority of AI academics don’t know how games are designed – start of a conversation?

summary: good AI opponents still a way off

AI people should think about engaging rather than conquering opponents

games people should think more about using AI tools in the design phase.

google: “AI bite”

(Lost) my last iPod.

This afternoon, in the rain and the thunder, I lost my iPod.

I bought it in San Francisco, last time I was there a few months ago. Went for the 60gb version – retro-justifying this by saying that, with that amount of storage, it would be my last iPod ever.

This afternoon, in the rain and the thunder – running up the steps of Southwark Bridge, I felt the headphone jack come free. This happens all the time to me, as the Shure's lead is long and gets snagged. I thought nothing of it for a minute or so, until I'd crossed the road on the Southwark Bridge and reached for my iPod. It was gone.

Ran back to the steps. Swiped. London-taxed.

My last iPod. Gone.


I think it will remain my last iPod.

That is – I don't feel the urge to replace it.

I didn't really feel any affection toward it like I had previous pods. Not sure why. It was my first colour-screen pod, which seemed cheaper and nastier than the monochrome non-anti-aliased goodness of my 5gb mini.

Maybe it was the way my entire musical history seemed to swash about like so much small change in the vast 60gbness of the new pod.

My musical habits have changed since I started buying into the ipodgemony – now I listen far more to radio, last.fm and pandora than my itunes collection, and I've been buying more from bleep and other stores that sell me songs I can use anywhere.

So – it's time to eat the dogfood and rely on my mobile for my music from now on. I can probably get a decent-sized miniSD card for it, the podcasting app on it works very nicely, and it plays radio. I should get along fine with it.

At least till the Zune comes out…

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