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Episode 46: The Artificial Worlds that Shape our World

October 21 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm PDT

Gaming platforms are the dominant media type of our era. Globally gaming generates over 150 billion USD in revenue, more the global music industry (20 billion USD) and the movie industry (45 billion USD) combined. And gaming resides at the extreme leading edge information technology — employing advancements in machine learning and agent based modeling in the creation of artificial worlds, physics and characters. These worlds can be so elaborate that real world economists are brought in to design in-game economies and currencies. Valve famously hired the Greek-Australian economist Yanis Varoufakis to help the company experiment with and optimize its in game economies. Varoufakis described being able to run all those experiments on gaming populations as, “an economist’s paradise.”

Today we examine how gaming platforms are growing up and becoming among the most impressive and versatile intelligences on earth. And how those same entertainment platforms are serving cities (think Sim City for real), autonomous vehicles (millions of hours of simulated driving, creating the safety and driving smarts you’ll rely on) and systems planning (can you build a circular economy, resilient supply chain, and inclusive labor market without crashing the whole thing?). The merging of gaming and simulation may be the most potent planning and educational mechanism we have on earth today. 

1 Shipping Smarter Worlds – Danny Lange, SVP Artificial Intelligence, Unity

We’ll be joined by Danny Lange who leads Artificial Intelligence R&D for Unity, the gaming platform that went public last month and has a market cap of $80B . We’ll examine the evolution of Unity from a gaming platform to a machine learning platform, and its implication for developers (frameworks, faster development) and customers (thousands of instances of unity, enormous amounts of synthetic data for testing scenarios and learning as applied to vehicles, urban design, retail, etc.). Danny will share insight on the role artificial worlds played during COVID — how gaming grew, and how we placed ourselves in very virtual words for months and months, and what we might learn from that.

How are these mechanisms helping to shape the world we might want, rather than reinforce the biases and problems of the existing world? How might we train a system to be more diverse and move us away from the inherent biases we find in limited training sets? We discuss the evolutionary implications of simulating 10,000 or 100,000 years.

2 Manufacturing Behavior Change – Kristen Berman, Behavioral Economist , Irrational Labs

Kristen Berman studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would perform if they were completely rational. Her’s are the economists that show up when designing products, public health changes, or incentives to get Americans to save for retirement. Kristen co-founded Irrational Labs, a behavioral product design company, with Dan Ariely in 2013. She’ll share why this is such a potent field of study, why these approaches are baked into Google, Intuit, Netflix, Fidelity, and Lending Club — and why they have a powerful role in the artificial (and real) worlds we are building today.

3 Casual Creators R Us Kate Compton, a game designer on SimCity and Will Wright’s epic effort at creating a galaxy-spanning god game called Spore.

Kate has dedicated her life to building tools so she and others can create joyful, weird futuristic and playful creatures, environments and worlds. She’s a professor at Northwestern, & creator of the popular tracery.io generative grammar tool and community. She’ll explore how algorithms and grammars and casual procedural tools can lead to the emergence of surprising possibilities that may help us explore the future in new ways.