#668: Guns, Money, & Morals: A Debate on the Ethics of VR Simulation, Capitalism, & the Limits of Decentralized Techno-Utopianism

antonHotdogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades (aka H3) is an open-ended sandbox VR experience where you can play with a variety of exotic firearms. It’s a puzzle game where you have to figure out how to activate, load, and fire a huge range of different weapons. In real life, these guns have a wide range of inconsistent and non-intuitive features that makes for an overall frustrating and confusing user experience. This complicated user experience of guns is usually glossed over and oversimplified in first-person shooter games, but H3 transmutes these pain points into a compelling VR puzzle game where the reward of solving the puzzle is being able to shoot the weapon in a simulated environment.

Developer Anton Hand makes research trips to Las Vegas, Nevada in order to have an embodied experience of firing some of these rare and exotic weapons so that he can better simulate them within VR. This level of attention to detail and fan engagement has allowed H3 to cultivate an entusiastic fan base that Hand describes as a sociologically-fasincating microcosm of society that spans the full political spectrum.

At GDC this past March, I had a chance to have a wide-ranging conversation with Hand debating the ethical implications of simulating guns in VR, the underlying economic system of capitalism, and whether or not decentralized technologies like cryptocurrencies could viably change the power dynamics and inequities of our society. Spoiler alert: Hand is not a fan of unbridled techno-utopianism, and so he recontextualizes these debates around ethics in technology to the larger sociopolitical and economic context. The full backstory that’s motivating Hand to create an open-world, sandbox environment for play and exploration with guns is a fascinating story, and this conversation just scratches the surface of what H3 really is and what has made it such a successful project in VR.


This conversation happened on March 20th, just a couple weeks after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, 2018. It was also after Stanford’s Jeremy Bailenson published an op-ed on CNN titled If a possible mass shooter wants to hone his craft, don’t hand him a virtual boot camp. Hand and I debated this topic on Twitter, which set the context to have a much deeper and far reaching conversation that spans ethics, economics, politics, culture, the limits of technologically engineering systems to change some of these fundamental aspects of the fabric of our society, and the role of governments when multinational corporations are amassing more power and influence than any singular government.

This conversation also happened a few days after learning that that Cambridge Analytica sold psychographic data mined from Facebook in order to conduct targeted information warfare on the US democratic process. This kickstarted some deeper questions about the role of ethics in computer science that mirrored by some of the ethical discussions happening about AI as well as the larger gun control debate in America. Any human-created technology can be used for good or for evil, and it’s an open question for how society will deal with the ethical dilemmas that are brought up with technologies ranging from AI, VR, and guns.

Hand and I cover a wide range of topics, and what’s clear from recently attending the International Joint Conference of Artificial Intelligence conference is that there are an increasing number of organizations making ethical declarations about technology and that these types of discussions require a cross-disciplinary team of politicians, economists, philosophers, and lawyers in order to go beyond the limitations of a purely algorithmic or engineering implementation mindset that technologists use to think about these deeper issues.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So tomorrow I'm going to be going to the Decentralized Web Summit put on by the Internet Archive, which is bringing around technologists from the larger field of technology to think about the various systems and structures and algorithms that are kind of driving the future of the decentralized web. So I really see that there is this battle between the centralization and decentralization, and it's been happening in technology. I think it actually happens at like all scales of how we organize ourselves. We can look at governments and just how governments are centralized entities that are trying to also preserve different decentralized abilities of the democracy to be able to make choices. And I think there is this big open question, which is, what is the degree to which We are organizing ourselves through collective decisions and our values and our morals and what is the role of governments. And also there is this tension between the centralized powers that happen when you have technology companies become more powerful than governments. So this interview with Anton Hand, I'm going to air before I dive into some more specific integrations between virtual reality technologies and decentralized systems like the blockchain, just because I think Anton is bringing up a lot of various different questions about the interface between these collective systems of how we organize ourselves as a society and how that impacts on us in specific ways of our psyche and our culture. So specifically, this conversation happened in the context, which was just a few weeks after the Parkland shooting that happened on February 14th, 2018. And then on March 5th, Jeremy Bailenson wrote an article for CNN that was titled, if a possible mass shooter wants to hone his craft, then don't hand him a virtual bootcamp. And so Jeremy Bailenson is a professor at Stanford, and he was making the argument that saying that like, hey, virtual reality technologies, they're a method to do training. It kind of opened up this larger debate, which is what is the extent to which virtual reality can simulate some of these things? Is there an ethical threshold by which there's content that we don't want available for people? And just those larger questions and debates that happen within the video game industry and the culture, which is, you know, what is the degree to which these violence and video games have any sort of correlative or causal effect of violence in the real world? We started with that question and kind of unpacking what he's creating with a sandbox puzzle game called Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades, where he's simulated all these different firearms and created a sandbox environment that you essentially try to solve the puzzle, and solving the puzzle is figuring out how to actually shoot the firearm. So Anton and I had gotten into this Twitter discussion in response to Jeremy Bailenson's article talking about what is the limits by which you could simulate and train yourself to be able to shoot a firearm and some of these larger ethical questions around that. And that sort of led us into a larger issues around culture and governments and state power and corporations and cryptocurrencies. It's a wide ranging discussion and I'm excited to finally digest it a little bit more and unpack it here. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this conversation with Anton happened on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:32.922] Anton Hand: I'm Anton, I'm CTO at Russ Limited. We've got a game on Steam called Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades that has been in early access now for almost two years. The project started a little less than two months before the original Vive launch and actually really sort of grew organically initially out of just a ton of interest in videos I had posted that were just experiments initially.

[00:03:58.512] Kent Bye: Great, so what actually happens in H3, just because I'm going to forget the name.

[00:04:06.230] Anton Hand: Well, the initial intention, even before it was a game and had a name as such, was that I had done a whole bunch of VR work back in the before HMD popularization generation of VR, like let's say 2005 to 2008, working in a low-cost cave setup that's rear projection where you've got like a projection screen, two projectors on top of each other in a stereo configuration with polarized lenses. and you wore polarized glasses to match at the University of Buffalo. And one of the things, of course, being, you know, a young undergrad into games and things like that, is I had made a very primitive rail shooter game in the setup. And this was magnetically hand-tracked, graphically, like, more primitive than the most primitive cell phone game than you currently play. But from a tracking standpoint, it was actually remarkably close to what we're playing with now. It was just a way more cumbersome setup. So when I first got access to Avive, the very first thing I did was to reproduce a couple of the things that I had done back then so that I had a sort of map of where the technology had gotten, both in terms of like what Unity could do compared to, I'd used Unity for years, but not in this context, and how the tracking worked and exactly how much you could rely on the physics engine for doing very, very precise things, because I was really into physics coding at the time. So that's where it started.

[00:05:29.050] Kent Bye: Right and so very recently there was an article by Jeremy Bailenson talking about hey in virtual reality We may be creating a boot camp for people who want to be an active shooter And so he was concerned that there's gonna be at some point some ethical threshold by which the types of experiences that we're doing in virtual reality are gonna be indistinguishable for being able to kind of train people to do things that you know have What are your implications? And I think that ethics within computer science is a topic that's being talked about now from privacy at Facebook and what's happening with Cambridge Analytica. But also, what are the things that we should and should not do in virtual reality in terms of training? So VR was used originally for training simulations for military. And I think that it's the genesis of why the technology even exists. there are limits to what you could simulate and what you can't simulate. And so maybe you could talk a bit about H3, the degree to which that you're simulating guns, and what the limits of that are in terms of what you can and cannot do within a virtual reality simulation.

[00:06:28.365] Anton Hand: Sure. So in terms of how much H3 simulates the mechanical operation of a firearm, it's about the apex of it in terms of gaming. When you play an average shooter game, just for comparison's sake, and have a gun on screen, it's a 3D model that has a whole bunch of very much pre-configured, pre-made animations, and you're jumping between a set of very primitive states, largely via button presses. You can't interrupt most of them In terms of the total amount of actions you can perform relative to the total number of actions and possibility space of a real firearm, it's a tiny cross-section of it, actually. And that just has to do with the fact that we have analog button presses, a couple analog axes, and that's it. And it also, importantly, in most shooter games, firearms, for people who aren't experienced with them, are breathtakingly inconsistent. Even ones that appear to be the same and have the same, like wood to a layperson, be like, I assume those function the same, UX-wise. They don't, more often than not. And all of that gets compressed down in most games that represent them. So in a big way, my interest in simulating them in H3 has been about all of the messy differences. And to a certain extent, that many of these firearms suck, actually. They're bad UX. That's what makes them interesting to me. Because the way that, once again, shooters tend to present guns in the effort to make you feel like a super person in some sort of narrative, shaves off all of the things that are difficult about them. Shaves off all of the ways that they can malfunction. Shaves off all the ways in which they are awkward to hold. slow and cumbersome to reload and things like that. So in a big way my interest in them is in the mechanical complexity nuance and differences.

[00:08:15.542] Kent Bye: So I've never shot any firearms, and so I don't have that haptic embodied experience of what it feels like to shoot a gun. And a lot of my experience lately of learning the different types of guns has been watching on Twitch. People talk about different guns, different ammunition stocks, and co-op play of these Battle Royale games, either with PUBG, the Player Unknown Battleground, or Fortnite, where there's these large range of different types of guns that have different unique affordances to each. And there's these trade-offs in that, for different situations, they end up using them. For you, I'm curious to hear about your own background with guns, and if you've been able to try out each of these guns that you're simulating, and then how much you're able to, in your mind, be able to say, okay, this is what I remember from my embodied experience with this specific weapon, and then this is how it translates into VR.

[00:09:04.281] Anton Hand: Cool, so let's see, that's a whole bunch of separate questions. So the first one, I'll answer the simple ones first. I have not gotten to shoot every single firearm that's in the game, in part because some of the stuff that we produce are antiques, really rare stuff, really old stuff, really weird stuff that, like, has only been available to certain militaries and they've never even exported them. And so what I attempt to do is I take little research trips to Vegas, of all places, to try to get some range time with exemplars in categories and any sort of standouts and weird ones. The last trip I took, I went to a more unusual place that had a strange collection. It was owned by a couple who were in Guam last. Yeah, and then so I try to fire as many idiosyncratic ones in part because that's when you find out all of the weird ways that something is suboptimal and as such are able to have fuel for verisimilitude.

[00:09:58.349] Kent Bye: Next question is... The degree to which that you can simulate some of these things in VR.

[00:10:03.463] Anton Hand: I would say that there's sort of two categories. There's the category where you're attempting to replicate what I would say actual function or state permutation space, meaning when the gun is in this state, I can move this and this I can't move. It's locked in place or I have to click a button to move a fire selector and then I can move this. That I attempt to mimic as accurately as possible because it's just about the machine. The relationship of the machine to the body I can't simulate because a VR controller is nothing like a real firearm. And so what I attempt to do is create a set of what I would call sort of relational abstractions that make sense, have an internal coherence to each other as a system, like any old game abstraction system. And so they still feel rich and nuanced and deep and they map in unique ways to the firearms, But they're no longer really grounded in reality as such because it's just beyond the balance of a controller to replicate a heavy metal machine that makes explosions.

[00:11:05.746] Kent Bye: And so if somebody is listening to this discussion that we're having in the context of a larger discussion that's happening right now, which I think is in the wake of the Me Too campaign, there's been a lot of, I guess you'd say, new mechanisms by which social media could be able to bring change in issues that may not have come from the criminal justice system or from other forms of official power. It's sort of a stopgap, really, for the culture to be able to say, wait, what are we doing? What's happening here? And there's different changes that are happening. I think there's a never again hashtag right now in the wake of the Parkland shooting, and people are talking about guns. And if somebody was listening to this conversation, they might say, well, aren't you just creating exactly what Jeremy Bailenson is afraid of, which is a simulator that would potentially train people a lot of these different nuances of these different firearms.

[00:11:53.432] Anton Hand: So I'd respond to it in two different ways. One, which is that a component of the article he was talking about was making a sort of means-based argument about, is your experience with this piece of media training something unique? Is this uniquely more dangerous or uniquely more capable compared to other things. And I would argue in relationship to firearms, it's almost entirely not. And this has to do with the fact that almost all of the abstract information, operational information that you would learn from a VR game with firearms is readily available already in half a dozen other media forms with far greater access, far cheaper, far easier to access. And then the things that are not in that category A VR game does not actually train you in at all, or to the very worst, actively mistrains you. Like a component he was suggesting, and he said not to focus on the specific examples he was giving, and I'll grant him that, of the like, let's make bullet physics work differently and abstract reloading gestures. They're already abstracted. The ballistic system is already abstracted. Like, you're not going to have a game with realistic ballistics because otherwise we wouldn't have ballistics gel anymore. If we could compute that, we wouldn't shoot blocks of gelatin still. It's still far beyond our computational capacity to just be like, oh, this is what happens when a bullet hits something. in regards to the way the body mechanics of a firearm work and the way, you know, I heard, what was it, I think, as mentioned in the Research VR podcast, talking about like varifocal displays as being like, oh, that could take care of sights. That's so pie in the sky relative to, I don't even consider that to be within a plausible horizon to even think about. I'm not so much a techno-utopianist like that. But I, how to put it, It's so much further away from the real thing than people realize, but it's still impactful because it is so much more embodied than sitting in front of a flat screen and pulling a trigger on a plastic game pad. And so that's how I would describe it.

[00:13:57.190] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that, you know, having this conversation in terms of where technology is today, and then there's all these other things that are going to be coming in, so for the next five to ten years, to some degree, this is a philosophical question in terms of, is there a threshold by which there's going to be experiences that are going to be, what can be termed as malicious or dual use is what, There's a whole research paper by Miles Brundage talking about malicious use of artificial intelligence and the dual uses of AI to be able to have researchers say, hey, there's some technology you may be thinking is cool to be working on, but actually you could be enabling terrorists to do crazy if you're just doing this research out in the open, or should that be secret, or should there be some ethical considerations for that. And I think in virtual reality, this applies as well in terms of like, it's not that it's so much that it's already available, it's just now it's, you know, it could be massively available for, you know, many different people, sort of democratized access. So having access to embodied training that is able to sort of train people to do stuff that would normally be only accessible to the military. And I think some of the points that you were making in that thread was that, hey, there's something about both the haptics of the situation but also the optics that are so far from where it needs to be, where it's at today. So maybe you could unpack that a little bit in terms of what you would argue in terms of going to a gun range and having the haptic experience versus what you might be able to experience in a virtual reality experience.

[00:15:23.455] Anton Hand: Well the first thing is, starting small and moving bigger, is that the single most difficult part, beyond just muscular control, doing the same thing over and over again, pulling a trigger and not moving your hand in terms of learning to fire an actual firearm, is Managing a site picture is the fact that if you have a back site and a front site that you are lining up and something you are looking at, one of those things is in focus, the other parts aren't. And a lot of sites are specifically manufactured to take advantage of the fact that one of those elements is out of focus. VR, because of rasterization, performance, cost, does not replicate this phenomenon at all. It isn't even in the ballpark of being close to real-time efficient enough with a complex environment. In a sense, in VR, it's artificially easy to do that because everything is in focus. And the panel resolution is still such that, like, one of the things involving our users who like to shoot on, like, they want to shoot on, like, a World War II-era firearm that only had iron sights, in real life, because of just how precise your eyes are and the fidelity of reality, you can make a shot with that rifle. It's 500 meters. The panel resolution on the best VR HMD right now is such that you're just guessing past about 100 meters because it's so fuzzy. So that's the small differences. The bigger differences is that for a VR system to be able to actually replicate the experience of firing a firearm, it would have to be able to cause permanent ocular and auditory damage to you. The hardest thing to get over, especially if we talk about melding, I'm good at target shooting a gun and I have abstract tactical information and I'm now going to do them both at the same time, is overriding the fact that you have an explosion engine that is six inches from your face that produces 160 decibel sound pressure. It's bright, it rattles, it's jarring. And if you're someone like me with programmer noodle arms and not much upper body strength anything beyond an intermediate cartridge Physically hurts every time you fire it the last time I did a research trip and had rented a whole bunch of farms to try I was like thinking about tapping out halfway through because I already had a huge huge bruise all over my shoulder from firing all these World War II era firearms, and I didn't have the strength to hold them against myself. So, once again, it's all of these categories where the divergence is so phenomenal.

[00:17:58.502] Kent Bye: Well, it seems like that display technology is interesting, because, let's just talk about this from a VR design perspective, because you have, right now, real-time engines that are basically rendering things in real-time, and then there's digital light fields that may do ray casting, there's a lot of processing that has to do that, so there's the difference between simulating photons and then sort of doing it in physics-based rendering. or doing that in real time in Unity or Unreal. And then there's the very focal display, so being able to have different displays for you and your eye to focus at different lengths, because right now the screens basically have one place that you're focusing on. So maybe you could talk a bit about what would need to happen in terms of the VR technology in order to even start to simulate some of these optics there.

[00:18:38.531] Anton Hand: If we're just talking about the optical comparison of it, we're talking about needing a panel density like at least 16 times what it currently is. For you to be like, no, this is, I can actually see well enough to even see something as well as I could in real life for a long range shot. let's say. The tracking would have to be significantly better because even the current best tracking sets, whether it's like Optitrack with a bajillion cameras or the Vive base station, still jitter significantly more. And of course here we're also talking about a hypothetical where I have effectively a disarmed real firearm that replicates all of the mechanical interaction of the real thing while still firing. Trigger feel, because if trigger feel is even slightly different, you're literally mistraining body mechanics at that point. People don't realize the degree for companies to actually train people in real life how much exact replication of the device that you are using, the posture that you're using. If you have to artificially change any of those things to generate a simulation, you are getting away from the point immediately and you are mistraining someone. If you look at VR and what you can put on screen in a VR frame compared to almost any other game context, it's like dialing it back five to six years. And I think as we go up in panel density especially, compared to say what is acceptable on a television screen, that's only going to diverge further. That's one of the reasons when people talk about these things, they're like, oh, we're going to have to worry about this in five years. I'm like, no, not at all. If you weren't part of the cave VR generation, you don't realize actually how similar everything we're doing is to what we were doing 10 years ago or more, actually. Like, oh, wow, the game engines can put more polygons on screen, but we're still rasterizing a ton of triangles and shading them. on an LCD or an LED screen. So I'm not so filled with fear that derives from an optimism about where the technology is. I think it's unrealistic optimism and I think it colors a bunch of these discussions in part because most of the people having these discussions want the medium to succeed, want to believe optimistic projections of what it will be capable of and or are selling something.

[00:21:02.911] Kent Bye: So one of the big discussions here, I think there's two big discussions. One is the video games and violence discussion that is there a causal effect of having violence in video games and does that make you more predisposed to be able to do violence in real life? And then there's the other section which is I think more of a philosophical one and is

[00:21:23.834] Anton Hand: It's a means-based argument, right? It's a means-based argument. It's like, are we making a thing that provides a type of experiential information delivery that can have ramifications of a certain extent? That side of the argument is the part that I find preposterous. The general ethical discussion of like, should we be talking about the content of our media, critically examining it, asking what it says about us as a culture. Absolutely, I am right there with you. In a society that trains how many of us to be killers via our military that starts Setting up boots and tables in front of the 15 year olds that militarizes all of our sports that blasts all of these ads Are we seriously having a discussion about whether a kid who's never held a real gun before? Knows slightly better how to handle it because he played a video game like I'm sorry but give me a break in terms of like when we talk about like a The net degree to which we increase on a daily basis the threat capability and deadliness in some sort of abstract sense of our population, like the degree to which video game abstract information or even the perfect VR gun simulator adds to that is a drop in the bucket. When framed against, frankly put, all of the other violence that we sort of like abet and are already numb to within our society, Whether it's our police force, whether it's domestic violence, whether it's just capitalism writ large and the fact that like we're sitting here in GDC, you know, in a city that has a relationship of a wealthy worker class corporations and a homeless population that is beginning to look like a third world country. sort of thing. Like, that's so much more violent to me. Like, the violence of this institution and this conference so exceeds, like, Little Billy's Manchute Games as to be, like, preposterous to me.

[00:23:29.910] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of different dimensions that I see. There's one dimension, which is the infrastructure and the operating system of our society, which is our political and economic system. Then there's the culture, by which people are having messages that are what we value as a culture collectively, as individuals make decisions that, at a collective scale, starts to then have impact in the types of media that we value and the messages that are committed there. And then there's individual choices that each of us have to be able to participate in that culture and be able to either create new culture or rather than just consuming it, create our own culture that's separate and different. And then I think, you know, there's another aspect which is, you know, the degree to which it's actually changing our physical neurology and specifically I'd say that with virtual reality it has the potential to be able to create scenarios and situations that have been used by the military to do mostly social training situations that you could argue that the same type of military strategic things that the military does may be done in like Counter-Strike or PUBG or Fortnite that there's

[00:24:32.661] Anton Hand: It's in, and this is, once again, this is an assertion that I don't have the data to back up, but given the amount of information I know about what those projects cost, the way their procurement works. Are you talking about the military training? Yes, yeah. The way their relationship to university departments that need reasons to keep themselves going and keep a money train going. I've always been blown away the degree of the sheer volume of money that is spent on something that would be accomplished better through play acting, through the sort of training that our military engaged in before everyone had a screen in their house. Like, sorry to everyone who works on these things and has their livelihood based on them, but they appear to be such preposterous boondoggles. Like, I studied these things in undergrad and graduate school, the actual projects, now that I've done enough contract work to know how much those would cost for a private sector client, and then I also know how much that markup is when it's a government client. And so, yeah, it's an entire sector that sells lewd, crisply overpriced software that like seems high-tech and the big brass people are like, oh, that's a future thing. We're going to train better with the future thing. When in reality, if you actually just got a bunch of grunts together and whoever writes the material that gets used in that and play acted it, you could do it for a ten thousandth of the cost. The reason that it's not done that way, once again my assertion, is just the hilarious corruption in the entire procurement process of almost everything related to our armed forces. And that's why they overpay for so much.

[00:26:18.792] Kent Bye: Well, I think the sort of economic exchange there is something that is probably more in terms of the supply and demand and not very many people doing at that level. I mean, it's a valid sort of critique, but I think that in talking to people like Stryver, for example, they do VR training. And one of the things that I see that's happening with virtual reality as a technology is that it's closing the loop to be able to simulate us being in situations, to be able to make choices and take actions. And I think part of the military training exercise that I've seen, at least, is that they're able to maybe have people in an open gym, and maybe there's two floors. But it's more about the social dynamics and the communication and the protocols of where they're positioned in space and time if they're in Tetherless VR and they're walking around spaces. So Tetherless, but also being able to communicate. But the VR training is all about being able to make choices, take action, and have an embodied experience so that that is the most rich experience that you can have actually doing it. But it sounds like from the haptic level, from the shooting the guns, that maybe going to a shooting range would be better. Or being able to not use the VR at all and just have people sort of imagine it and still do some of that. But I think that that's the thing, is that the degree to which that you're able to use VR to be able to simulate some of these things in those training scenarios. So I think that there is valid reasons that are there, aside from the economic stuff.

[00:27:34.736] Anton Hand: Yeah, and I definitely thought, you know, I'm not trying to say that it's all horridly ineffective. I just think that the things that it's doing better are so marginal for such a tremendous cost. And the reason that I bring it all up is that oftentimes when we talk about like, oh, a VR thing or a VR game might be dangerous, We point this big, scary finger. There's an implicit, like, oh, the military has this very high-tech thing, and oh, my God, little Billy has it in the room. The thing the military had, like, in terms of its efficacy percentage relative to just men out in a field doing an exercise, like, I haven't seen any sort of... I don't think people who make that want to do comparison studies, because I think it would actually demonstrate how narrow or just difficult to measure so many of those metrics are. So that's why I, the whole reason that I critique that side of things is that when we create a bogeyman in another comparison that bogeyman hasn't actually been critically examined as to like what it is, is it that scary? Is it tremendously different from a bunch of kids playing PUBG actually and learning how to communicate doing that while clearing buildings, looking for threats at multiple distances, keeping track of where True North is, managing ammunition, managing limited resources, all of the things that you do in a team building exercise. Giant question mark. So, you know, would all of those things be just as effective if we completely abstracted them and made everyone just like red and blue and gave them weird shapes, but fundamentally reproduced all of the other sort of like resource balancing task communication questions? I don't know. I don't think anyone's done that research, but I would wager that it is.

[00:29:23.506] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the arguments that people who play video games and don't want to make the connection between... Well, first of all, correlation causation. Things can be correlated, but that doesn't mean that there's a causal factor. In the studies that have been done, any correlation that's been found is that violent video games could create more aggressive behavior, and cooperative games could have more pro-social, empathetic behavior. There could be a trade-off between empathy and competition and aggressiveness, but that could be counteracted by doing first-person shooters in co-op so that you have this trade-off between doing aggressive behaviors but cooperating and being empathetic. So you're kind of trade-off back and forth. So the bigger question I think it's in our society today is like what do we do about it? If it is a cultural issue, how do we go about changing the culture, or what does need to be changed when it comes to, like, one of the arguments that people make is video games are everywhere, but yet these phenomena of these shootings that happen only are happening in America, so is this a matter of it needing to have tighter gun regulations in some way? We have the Second Amendment, which allows people to have access to those arms, but there's a cultural backlash to all of this, and I think there's things that are shifting and changing. I'm just curious to hear your perspective of being in this interesting nexus point of doing a video game that does simulate a lot of these guns, but yet, what do you imagine needs to happen, either at a collective level, and what do, as individuals, what can we do about it?

[00:30:46.939] Anton Hand: I mean, I'm pretty fatalistic about it in general. I think we'll just keep shooting each other in larger and larger numbers while doing nothing about it because the American state empire and culture is failing. And we've run out of countries full of brown people to dominate, to prop up our economy. And so now Lake Capital is just eating us. And I see, obviously, the phenomena and the relationship of mass shootings or just violent shootings in general. here occur to a greater degree than our level of access to certain things. But a tremendous amount of those are suicides as well, in terms of like, I think it's something like somewhere between half and two-thirds. And I think within the discussion of this, we never ask the question, why so many of us kill ourselves as well? Because I think it's absolutely linked. I think the same thing that creates a desperate eighth grader, or who I can't remember what grade the kid was in, in one of the recent events, who walked into a school preparing to shoot it up, walked out of the bathroom, walked back in, and ended up just shooting himself. The same phenomenon of, if you are hopeless at that age, that the A and B that you have left is, I'm going to hurt as many people before I go out, and then go, no, I don't actually want to hurt anyone. I just want to not be here anymore. I think it's the same phenomenon that creates suicide at the rate that our country suffers from it. and creates the feeling of pervasive cultural precarity that causes people to stockpile guns and vehemently defend their right to have them. So, do I think that legislation is needed to enact certain sorts of, like, what I would call, like, baseline sane things in regards to gun control? Absolutely. Like, the CDC should be allowed to study it, the fact that they're not. is preposterous. There should be just a federal 72-hour waiting period, sort of thing. Like, sorry, Joe Bob, who's gonna defend against tyranny with a rifle, if you didn't prepare for it ahead of time, being able to get it 72 hours out, you don't have enough of your plan put together, did that help? So like, no, even taking the sort of like, paranoid, I'm a militiaman for the United States of America approach, your immediate access without training and a plan is not a net positive. But beyond that, I don't like, I think the thing that depresses me thinking about is that even if some sort of comprehensive, greater than has previously existed gun control were to be passed, Even with something that didn't grandfather things in, I think if I was a betting man, I would bet that it wouldn't drop the shooting rate at all. Because I think the access to guns is a convenient means for a deeper sickness in general. But that's just my pessimism about us.

[00:33:45.845] Kent Bye: Well, I'm an inveterate optimist, so what I see is that there's plenty of things that are wrong with our capitalistic system. The hope of optimism that I have, that I don't know how this is going to turn out, but you have cryptocurrencies that have the potential to be able to, rather than have this dynamic of whoever has access to capital will then have an exponential increasing opportunity to have more capital by investing. people who have money get more and more money, and that the more and more money that you have, you have like an exponential curve of how fast that grows. So you have 20% of the people basically controlling 80% of everything. Now, cryptocurrencies are trying to change that in terms of like maybe rather than just one centralized person getting all the spoils, what if that's distributed in some more equitable way out into a community? However, if that's done within a capitalistic system, is whomever has the most access to capital then going to just go ahead and dominate those cryptocurrency markets? Or is it going to be like cryptocurrencies that are going to be able to change that fundamental equation? That's the big question that I have as to whether or not these cryptocurrency technologies are going to shift some of these underlying dynamics. And I see you're shaking your head.

[00:34:53.375] Anton Hand: I think you're talking to the wrong person on this one. Whether it's, you know, the issue that Plattsburgh is having right now with mining companies coming in and screwing up their electrical grid. I reject the fundamental concept that having a new sort of currency that is more detached from the state and regulation by the state is supposed to make a situation that is occurring because entities are more powerful than the state better. I don't see that at all.

[00:35:28.726] Kent Bye: It's not the state that's controlling currency and all those interest rates, it's the Federal Reserve, which is a private institution.

[00:35:35.330] Anton Hand: It's still bound to the state, though. At the end of the day, the green in your wallet is backed by a rifle in the U.S. military. That's the only thing that gives fiat currency value.

[00:35:47.243] Kent Bye: The fiat currency is valuable because it's a collective decision within the culture. The thing that's different for currency is whether or not it's being able to be used to pay taxes. That is what makes a viable currency. If you can use the currency to pay taxes, that is the differentiating factor as to whether or not that currency will take hold within a culture. But it's not the decision by the state. You can still have complementary currencies that you can't use for taxes, but you can still use it as complementary currency, which I think that at this point we're seeing cryptocurrencies used as more of an asset where you store money But eventually, I think that we're moving in a technological roadmap where people will actually use it as currency rather than as an asset.

[00:36:24.495] Anton Hand: Yeah, well, I mean, right now they're prime number beanie babies. And I haven't seen any good come from it. I wouldn't classify anything that's occurred via the phenomenon thus far as a net good. And so I'm still, that has to be proved to me.

[00:36:42.215] Kent Bye: I think it's early. If you look at a change by 2025 or 2045, if you extrapolate out that scale, technological diffusion curves have to have an innovator, early adopters, and crossing the chasm. In some ways, Bitcoin, with this huge hype cycle, has crossed the chasm already, almost earlier before it's able to be used for anything useful. So, your critique around capitalism, I think, it could be that the analysis of Marx was completely correct and will be eternally correct, or It could be that there's new technological mechanisms to change the fundamental dynamic by which information and value is exchanged into a community.

[00:37:19.659] Anton Hand: I don't see prime numbers jumping off of a screen and suddenly making it so that all of the money that's been hoarded by our billionaire class suddenly diffuses out into the rest of our society again. It does nothing to fix the fundamental issue here, which is that a small number of people have utterly disproportionate multinational power via the assets that they have and their ability to freely live wherever they wish and take advantage of asymmetries of financial law across countries and find politically situations for them to hoard further wealth. while millions to billions live in destitution. So I'm sorry, but you're not convincing me whatsoever that there's even a baseline utility here that's of a public good except to a very small class of citizens with specific literacies to get in early to hoard a new sort of financial instrument of convenience that's neat, that they have specific access to.

[00:38:28.712] Kent Bye: I think that to only look at cryptocurrency through the lens of America is missing the full story of what's happening globally, which is when you have bank institutions that are even more tightly coupled to the government with corruption, then it's those failing economies that have to look to alternative complementary currencies. If you do have an exchange by which you're taking capital from that existing system and being able to buy assets, but if you completely decouple that cryptocurrency system and have a complementary currency by which value could be exchanged within a community, that's the essence of a complementary currency.

[00:39:02.561] Anton Hand: You're still fundamentally talking about this same sort of like tech bro use of technology to disrupt something about the status quo of a country's legal system or general sense of regulatory order with this utopianist notion that will come out the other side into a better place. This just hasn't happened yet. But that doesn't mean it can't. Sure, but I would like a single example at large scale to see first.

[00:39:28.976] Kent Bye: Well, it's not going to happen at large scale. It's going to happen in small scales. And that's what I think is, if you understand technology diffusion curves, it happens at small scales. And at some point, it crosses a chasm. We haven't crossed a chasm yet, but that doesn't mean that it can't happen. at small scales. And I think theoretically, philosophically, it's possible. And then the infrastructure is there to sort of change this power dynamic. I may be wrong. It could be that you're right, and that capital will always win in the end, and that it'll always pollute this.

[00:39:57.387] Anton Hand: All it could just do a straw poll on everyone involved in the formation of crypto with truth serum and ask them whether what they were doing and what they were involved with was about the public good or personal enrichment. it would reveal itself for what it is, which is this is just techno derivatives. And I'm sorry, but every time, whether it's watching interviews on financially oriented cable stations, watching interviews with the founders behind a bunch of these projects. I see naivety or a gleeful grin of greed of, man, I'm making out big on this because I got into this early enough and because this is just a giant fucking Ponzi scheme, I'm going to keep grinning through this interview so that the next Thanksgiving that rolls around Grandma and grandpa who aren't pleased at the return on their like retirement index fund ask little Johnny if they should take a bunch of that money out and put it in the Bitcoin so I Think that you know once it gets to the hype cycle.

[00:41:03.695] Kent Bye: There's a lot of people that the extracting of the wealth is people buy in and then it gets inflated in the bubble and then people cash out and become Bitcoin millionaires. I think that whole exchange is disgusting and I don't agree with it. However, what I would say is that the battle in technology right now is the battle between centralization and decentralization. The more that you have centralized power like Facebook and Google, who are mining with their surveillance capitalistic methods by gathering all this data on us and being able to basically dominate the ad markets, they are able to dial in and do these psychographic profiles of us that they're able to figure us out more than we understand ourselves and then basically the line between advertising and mind control has been erased. Such that this data from Cambridge Analytica to do information warfare on us and that is because we have centralized systems. There's a battle right now between centralization and decentralization and centralization is winning. And cryptocurrencies is the antidote. It's the decentralized antidote. And just because it's in the context of a centralized hellhole doesn't mean it's not possible in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years to actually shift what is happening right now, which is to go move towards decentralized systems.

[00:42:11.909] Anton Hand: The thing is though, when we're talking about like, and granted, I know there are coins and there are cryptography systems that essentially various sorts of economies of scale of production or control don't theoretically work on, or they're partially dismantled relative to. Most of them still function that way, which is that your relative amount of power into the system is still largely based on other centralized power and capital that you have. And I think those will continue to be the ones that become dominant because it's in the interest of everyone who has centralized power to begin with. This is why I don't think it's a disruptive thing fundamentally. It's just a replication of power.

[00:42:53.784] Kent Bye: Well, you said before we start recording, the only way to change something like Facebook is to regulate it. And maybe you could elaborate on what you mean by that.

[00:43:00.543] Anton Hand: Well, yeah, I mean, if we stem from the principle that the entire purpose of having a state at the end of the day is that we have a communal organization, a civilization to decide how we all wish to live and what is equitable and what is moral, and then we posit entities that have grown to a scale in terms of their financial access, amount of capital, and the information that they've gathered that can render a state I mean, that's what we're grappling right now with this Cambridge Analytica issue. And I'm sure there were a bunch of precursors that were semi-invisible prior that were the writing on the wall that we'll begin to study, which is this idea of like, no, if we have a technology and data aggregation that can render an entire voting populace irrelevant, or even if we can just shift the needle three to five percent, given the sort of balkanization that's happened over hot-button cultural issues, three to five percent is everything. And I'm generally in the position, like, I'm an absolute extremist in this regards, which is like, no, you should dismantle that system and you should cut the head off of the person in charge of it as a lesson to not let that happen.

[00:44:13.605] Kent Bye: It's just going to happen again, though. What?

[00:44:15.266] Anton Hand: It's just going to happen again. Then you cut the head off of that

[00:44:18.127] Kent Bye: I think this is where we disagree, because I think that if your solution is the state, another decentralized system is that everybody just stops using Facebook. And I think that's a harder proposition.

[00:44:29.832] Anton Hand: Yeah, because there are very valid issues. One of the truly powerful and evil things that Facebook has done, which is to turn the internet into itself in large segments of the world. You and I can frankly stop using Facebook and carry on with our day. Like, just like, tomorrow barely even fucking registers as different, actually. Like, we don't see grandma's baking videos, sort of thing. Whereas, in large portions of the world, you have people, due to technological literacy access, the fact that Facebook has actively subsidized like providing free access and free bandwidth as long as you go through their application. That's the only internet that large numbers of those populations know. And so that's why like if we're going to, okay, if we're going to go destroy Facebook and cut Mark Zuckerberg's head off with a butter knife off

[00:45:22.408] Kent Bye: the table if that's not going to be up the next thing is can we can we rub it can we can we just do something that's not so violent like killing him here's the thing that there's punitive justice and there's a restorative justice I want it this is an important point this is this I want to make this point I want to make this point though because this is important you're talking about killing somebody and I I just can't stand for that level of violence Because that's a punitive justice. What does restorative justice look like? How do you restore balance to the community? Because there's new models for restorative justice that we're trying to find right now. Because you can penalize, you can throw a fine at Facebook. They're gonna pay the fine. Then they're gonna make 40 to 50 to 100 billion dollars more and continue to do it. And basically you have decentralized networks so that it's agnostic as to what you put onto those servers. Which means at what point do then you have the state trying to control what kind of algorithms people are doing. To me it's not tenable to have any sort of system that you're trying to control an open standard of technology where you can put any algorithm that you want on that. If it's not Facebook, it's going to be Google, it's going to be the next technology company because we've created a set of decentralized protocols that allow people to just emerge the same way. So I think that it has to be some sort of combination of yes, there has to be some sort of like FTC, Federal Trade Commission, there's privacy regulations, maybe we need to adopt something like the European Union, the right to forget, let's not record this data, it happens but you have to forget about it after a number of days, rather than what we have now which is capturing this data, storing it forever and having these profiles so that we equate this nosedive hellhole of everything you do or say is turning into a social score like it's happening in China.

[00:46:59.223] Anton Hand: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Almost every single thing that you went down the line there in terms of regulation, I'm like, very yes. Do I think that an individual who already has the amount of capital and power that Zuckerbot has is going to allow that to happen? No. Do I think we have, like, the collective level of organization and political capital right now to overcome what he and Bezos and their entire class want? Not even close. And that's why I glibly speak about, like, no, I think he's sufficiently evil that I'd cut his neck off with a butter knife and sleep well that night because the evil that is done every single day of his existence merely having that much capital hoarded and doing nothing with it for the public good is such that I think he should not be able to go anywhere in our society safely. He should be hounded every moment of every day for the evil he is committing, every single moment of every day.

[00:48:06.000] Kent Bye: And that's why I think that the dynamic of accumulating capital and redistributing it, so you have the collection and then how do you pay it back. Right now people start non-profits or foundations and be able to donate that money, but that's why I think cryptocurrency has that embedded within the protocol such that there's mechanisms by which you can redistribute that wealth and not have crazy transaction fees of centralized institutions that have to verify that that money is there. If I want to be a podcaster, and I'm completely supported by Patreon, right? But if people want to pay me $0.02, because that's all they have, then they're going to charge them $0.50 in order to do that transaction. And so I'm missing out on all these very micro, small transactions. And I think that with that, there's the mechanism by which that we could potentially have the system to redistribute.

[00:48:50.668] Anton Hand: dollars. That's a problem of specific bureaucratic decisions that the people who run Patreon made.

[00:48:58.550] Kent Bye: That isn't a problem that gets solved. No, that's Visa's transaction fees. That's what I mean is that any transaction fees that you make at a small micro scale, Visa has to verify that the money's there and that costs like 50 cents at a minimum. So it means a whole class of microtransactions are not possible. That's why I think cryptocurrency is so revolutionary is because it is enabling this new class of microtransaction.

[00:49:20.744] Anton Hand: I think that whatever set of corporate abstractions, because that's what Visa and MasterCard is, it's an abstraction on top of currency that's performing a service, well, it's just gonna replicate that same structure over cryptocurrencies because no one wants to manage, like, I gotta make sure I remember my, like, 84-digit key, like, is grandma gonna remember her 84-digit key for her cryptocurrency wallet? Like, no, she's gonna pay some money for a service because she has other things to do with her time from a social standpoint, and the exact same sort of structure is just going to be replicated. Yeah, I think you're right. But in terms of the back at the sort of like moral argument in regards to like billionaires and Facebook, bringing it back to an earlier point, I think the fact that our society doesn't like actually wake up and just suddenly be like no actually that's not acceptable and we all collectively need to resist that is part and parcel of our sickness and our violence like we think it's cool we aspire to be a person who is capable of enacting multinational scale violence as a member of the billionaire class that would be sweet we like the tweets of like bezos walking there with his fucking shades and his cool puffy jacket and the little robot next to him. Isn't he fucking cool? No, he's a monster. And if you think he's cool, you're a monster too. Because we dream of enacting that sort of violence on each other. We are a competitive, individualistic society to our core. Everyone else here is a rival in this system that we've created and we worship the people who have fought their way to the top of the hill. Like that's the solution to our problems, our expression of power. And so I think the phenomenons that do occur of mass violence and shooting are an expression of that same psyche. We feel better about ourselves and our precarity. and our feeling of hopelessness against this system that has left us behind and left us with no options by enacting violence, by having this performative, almost ritualistic moment of strength before the end, because that's our social currency to begin with.

[00:51:32.931] Kent Bye: So what do we do? How do we navigate this then?

[00:51:35.572] Anton Hand: It's a society, slowly and painfully. That's your solution? Well, it's the West's time to go out in general. I mean, we had a great 500-year run after cutting down all the forests of old Europe to make boats. So I think maybe it's time for someone else's model to be tried before the Earth raises another two to three degrees C and a billion people die of famine.

[00:52:02.175] Kent Bye: I think that by 2020, we're going to have some sort of reckoning from the financial crisis from 2008. Like there was no full accounting that had happened. And I think that by 2020, if there is some sort of economic collapse, because that is an entire likelihood that there could be some sort of economic crisis, a bubble of these types of behaviors coming at scale, sort of imploding even worse than 2008 financial crisis. So given that, 2020, we've died as a society, then what?

[00:52:34.750] Anton Hand: Well, I mean, I think what will happen in whatever our next, because obviously another financial crash is coming. I mean, for God's sakes, they just repealed Dodd-Frank, for goodness sake. I mean, we already saw the precursor with the latest change in the tax plan, like that was entirely a set of like, we're going to give huge tax breaks to all of our buddies. in preparation for having a financial event that allows a more American version of European austerity to be put into place that takes the last bit of the social safety net that still exists in this country and cuts it apart. And frankly put, I think the fact that the GOP especially is willing to cross old people into like, no, we're going to set Medicaid spending limits. Like that's the actual death panels they were worried about, means that they know they have it on lock. Like they're going to get back in anyway, whether it's because of big data firms or in a manipulation of electoral process. They're no longer even scared of like, you know, white bread in the middle of Iowa, Grandma who goes to church every Sunday's vote anymore like she can fucking die. She doesn't add anything to the economy That's the way they felt like so so yeah, they'll they'll take the last of it sort of thing and it's Yeah, I smile because it's just out of a light. Like, this is a wince, actually. And it's also like, what do people expect? Sort of thing. I don't know. I think we've all earned this, like, as a culture. This is Eichheist. This was a nation founded on slavery. And so the fact that rather than the way the sort of brief hope of sort of like emancipation and equality and like, no, actually, it's we're all just going to be enslaved. It's all just feudalism 2.0. Disruptive.

[00:54:18.340] Kent Bye: I think change either comes from crisis and collapse or it comes from insight. And I think you're right in that I don't see any signs that major change is going to happen from insight. And so I do think that we're on this path of having to get to the point where we get so in the thick of things that we have to recover. And I think that Rebecca Solnit has a book where she talks about when these types of crises happen, that that's actually when the best parts of our humanity come out. That's when we realize that we're not isolated individuals, we're not islands in this world, that we're actually intimately connected and interconnected, and that we actually need to find ways to collaborate and cooperate with each other. And I think that sometimes it takes that moment of crisis to bring that out into people. And I think that my hope is that before we have some sort of crazy crisis, that we can start to think about what do we need to do to be able to deal with trauma. Because I think that trauma and the trauma of all these things, of the systems that we live in, it's really hard to live today. It's really hard to survive. It's really hard to make ends meet in any way. And everybody's just trying to struggle to somehow compromise their integrity and their values of what they really believe in just to even survive and have food and put a shelter over their head. And so we don't have the luxury to be in complete alignment with our values even by how we make a living. but finding ways to bring in that cooperative yin dimensions for what are those structures in society for what we need to do to cooperate with each other but also to deal with the underlying traumas of these systems and that the traumas that put people into these more sociopathic situations where they have no empathy And I think that right now what I see technologically is that these technologies with virtual reality and artificial intelligence, like those fused together are going to be able to tell stories that are going to be able to connect people to their hearts and to each other in new ways. And that to me is what I have hope and it's part of the reason why I do this podcast. But I do think that we're on this situation where it's going to have to get worse before it gets better. But My big question is that after it does collapse, what are the things that we need to do as a society in order to prepare for the future in a way that actually shifts the dynamic in a way that changes things, whether it's from a combination of having a collective agreement and state control, or if that could be hacked through our unconscious predilections of these culture wars that are being used out there.

[00:56:42.690] Anton Hand: Well I think if there's anything and it's why it's you might ask like if I feel all about this why am I doing what I'm doing? At the end of the day I think the only thing that we can do and this is so much inspired by one of my colleagues Adam who's one of the four at Rust here and he's a PhD student at USC and so much of his work is about the centrality of play to the human animal, that it's at the sort of like bedrock of the way that we think and the way that we understand the world, the way that we define everything, that play is a definitional act. And so I'm in gaming and I'm in VR because I think it's when we play we are open to new possibilities, that it's the fulcrum through which we can engage in new cognition of any sort. And so I, you know, I'm in games and I'm not in politics explicitly because I do think that there's more opportunity to do something important here, right now, because of the access the medium has to everyone. And it's one of the reasons why I also sort of like within that sort of like resist in my own practice things like best practices or constraints that are passed down from on high via a platform holder or an engine or what have you. Because I think that there are almost all sets of ideologies that are used to constrain the possibility of actual play and actual experimentation. which is why I make a messy sandbox game in a big way. I want it to be a space, first and foremost, that someone can find that is relaxing and safe for them to actually play and not perform. But that's a whole side conversation.

[00:58:27.610] Kent Bye: That's beautiful. I love it. Well, just to wrap things up here, I'm just curious to hear from you, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and play, and what am I able to enable?

[00:58:42.036] Anton Hand: Honestly, it's creating spaces that people feel secure enough to explore at the end of the day. Like our general feeling of curiosity and ability to deal with an unknown other, however you want to frame what that is. Closes down so early in life Typically we have so many social systems that are about closing it down and beating the uniqueness out of people Beating the creative impulse out of people so if there's one thing that I always latch on to as a possibility of this medium of its utility and possible wonder. It's about engendering safe, creative, exploratory thinking spaces for people that they would not otherwise have access to or have a predilection to enter.

[00:59:32.968] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It was a wide-ranging conversation that I think we were able to cover a lot of different things. And yeah, I just appreciate you coming on the podcast and having the conversation.

[00:59:43.490] Anton Hand: Absolutely. My pleasure.

[00:59:45.354] Kent Bye: So that was Anton Hand. He's the CTO of Rust Limited, and they've created a VR simulation game called Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, this is an interview that I've been meditating and digesting on a lot since I had this conversation with Anton back in March, just because there's so many different layers of this conversation. So if we take it to the largest collective layer, which is, I guess, where we ended up, there is a larger critique about the structures of our society and our capitalistic system such that the richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer. And we've set up a system of capitalism which is really exalting those people who are the winners, those billionaire people who have played by the rules of the economic systems to be able to accumulate all this various different wealth. And so The question is, are these entities, these companies and corporations, are they actually now powerful than any sort of individual nation state? And what is the role of our government in thinking about the public good? Because to some extent, these companies and corporations, their essential mandate is to maximize their own profit. And if there's not a counterweight to thinking about what is in the public interest or the public good, then how is we as a society and a world going to mitigate their mandate to maximize their own profit. And this is sort of the existential challenge of the centralization and decentralization question that is happening both at the technological level, but it's also at the political level as well in terms of how we run ourselves as a democracy. There's certain algorithms that we have put into place that have been hacked by, like Anton said, use big data to be able to use cultural hot topic issues to sway the political vote in order to have a monopoly on the political decisions that are being made that are in the interest of these larger and larger companies. And so you essentially have this crisis point, what I see is like this relationship between corporations being able to hijack democracy through buying off politicians and making decisions that are in the benefit of those corporations rather than what is going to be in the public good. So that is one layer of the discussion. And I think that the economy and the way that capital flows, there is this dynamic of the power law dynamic that once you have access to a lot of money, then you're going to have an exponential amount of opportunities to get more and more money. And that over time, you basically have these disparities in the society. And then the question is, well, what do you do to mitigate that? You either have to have some sort of governmental system that is coming into place to be able to redistribute that wealth into various social programs, or you have to have it up to each individual billionaire to decide whether or not they're going to try to redistribute some of their wealth or not. They could set up some sort of explicit philanthropic foundation to be able to create different initiatives to serve the public interest, or they could just merely hold on to all their money and hoard it and to accumulate more and more wealth, which I think is probably the more likely of what's happening, is that a lot of wealth and resources are controlled just by a very small fraction of the world's population. And Lynn Twist wrote a book called The Soul of Money, and she talks about how money is kind of like water, and that it wants to flow. And when it doesn't flow, it becomes poisonous. And so there's this balance between the yang and the yin of how do you allow for the competitive aspects of capitalism and the free market to be able to do its magic, which is an amazing ability for what it's able to do as a society. But the bad thing is that if it's not within a larger ethical framework of trying to figure out how to balance the yin and the yang of that competitive aspect, but what about the cooperative aspect of the public good and serving the interests of the entire country? That's kind of like the purpose of the governments is to be able to think about those types of questions. And if these corporate entities don't have that embedded within the algorithms by which they're operating within our economic systems, then that just simply isn't happening, which I think is the essence of kind of the crisis point that we find ourselves in our society. So what do you do about it? I think to some extent, looking at something like the cryptocurrencies as some sort of techno-utopian solution to some of these disparities is the fundamental algorithm of how capital works. Is that going to change? Or is what Anton's saying right, that it's not going to change? It's actually going to just be part of the same operating system of how wealth accumulates already. And so why would it be any different? And there are gonna be different aspects of how trust used to be controlled by centralized institutions like banks or credit card companies And so what does it mean to redistribute that out to many different people? But at the same time that is just a level of the transaction fee that may not actually change the larger economic reality of how these cryptocurrency systems could be overtaken by the same types of Limitations as our existing either political or economic system. So like why would it be any different? especially if it comes to have any sort of legitimacy within the larger culture. So I think there's these larger battles between centralization and decentralization, both at the economic and political levels that I think that this conversation has been addressing. And I'm going to be going to the Decentralized Web Summit to be able to talk to these different technological implementers and philosophers to have these types of questions, to see what their vision is, to see if the underlying fabric of how we communicate and interact with each other, if that is somehow going to change these larger dynamics. I think anytime we start to think about these political systems, it's been within the context of technology that is essentially over 100 years old. Is something like the new technological communication systems, does that change the way that we can do different types of voting, that we make collective decisions? participatory budgeting, these types of cutting-edge foundations of democracy are actually being developed by artificial intelligence researchers. In fact, I was just in Stockholm, Sweden at the International Joint Conference of Artificial Intelligence talking to some of these algorithmic game theorists about some of these social voting systems. new algorithms that could be deployed out at small scales in these different technological mediated environments and these small governments or within these virtual worlds potentially down the road so that we're able to potentially prototype new cultures and structures of democracy of how we structure our societies. Now, that is sort of the larger sociopolitical context. I think there's a lot of open questions. And I think that in this conversation with Anton, I think he brought up a lot of really good points that has been really impacting my deeper thoughts about the cryptocurrency and these larger techno-utopian solutions that, you know, may be within the context of a larger economic system that nothing really actually changes. That there's a lot of utopian visions of what the potential are, but if nothing really changes at the foundational level, then we're just going to kind of replicate everything that we have in society already. Now, to look at some of the various ethical issues that come around virtual reality technologies, this comes up both in the context of the gun debate, also in artificial intelligence, also in virtual reality technologies. That is to say that there are human beings that create different technologies and then those technologies could be used for good or for evil. Any technology, whether it's guns, whether it's artificial intelligence, or whether it's VR. I think there's ethical questions that are universal across anything that humans create. And it kind of gets down to this fundamental question as to, is it guns that kill people or is it people that kill people in the course of artificial intelligence? There's a lot of debates that are happening just at the International Joint Conference of Artificial Intelligence. Max Tegmark and his Future of Life Institute announced this initiative to get a lot of AI researchers to make a pledge that they're not going to work on any AI technologies that is explicitly associated with lethal autonomous weapons. And so then the question becomes, okay, well, how low do you go down on that stack if you're making math equations for optimizations for algorithms that could very well be used in autonomous weapons, like a drone that is flying around. If you are somebody who's an AI technologist who's working on the mathematics of that, then your work could be used for drones or it could be used to save lives. And so there's this fundamental ethical question as to how do you sort of draw the line. And I think that was actually sort of a question that came up in AI. And in terms of VR, there's a similar type of thing like if there are dual uses for being able to train people to do highly specialized military applications that could make you a better terrorist or make you a better active shooter or whatever it is there may be this line by which you say this content shouldn't be widely available to use just because we're going to make a collective decision as a society to say, we're not going to support this in any way. One example could be like, if you wanted to commit suicide, let's go through a VR simulator to show you the best ways to commit suicide. That, I think, is an ethical question as to should we allow that or not. Basically, the distribution companies like Facebook and Google Play and SteamVR are on that front lines of deciding, okay, what is this threshold between content that we're going to say is not acceptable versus your free speech rights to be able to express these various things. So in the context of this conversation that I was having with Anton, I hadn't actually had a chance to play Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, or Hand Grenades yet. It was not until a couple of days later that I actually had a chance to play their demo. So my impression was that, you know, I've never shot a gun before and I was frankly scared of it, you know, just was something that I wasn't necessarily interested in doing already. But in the context of playing the game, I found that, oh, there is this kind of like puzzle-like dimension of it. There is this question from a virtual reality perspective of I've had a simulated experience with being able to shoot a firearm, but that's nothing quite like having the haptic in a real life experience of actually shooting a gun. And so I actually had this experience of after playing H3 that it was kind of like, oh, I could actually see myself going to a gun range now and shooting a gun. like there was something about my own fear around guns and also the larger political discussions around it where I just wasn't necessarily interested in doing that. And so I think there's a couple of different things here. One is Anton is saying that if you wanted to learn how to shoot a gun, then playing a video game or doing a VR abstraction of that is like the absolute worst thing you could possibly do because it's not actually gonna train you how to shoot an actual firearm. You have this explosion machine in your arm and it's got all this haptic feedback and there's all these specific skills that have to be trained and that the best way to train them is to actually just shoot an actual gun at a firing range. So there's the limits of the technology to train yourself and so maybe he's absolutely right that there is a limit by which if you actually want to learn how to shoot a gun then you go shoot a gun. There's a larger question, which is the desire, the will to have this simulated experience and whether or not that simulated experience of having these different experiences is then going to make you more predisposed to actually go and do this in real life. And I think this is the foundational debate that is at the violence in video games, which is, do these violent video games make people more predisposed to violent behaviors? And I think a lot of the studies that have been done are able to draw some sort of correlation between violence in video games and aggressive behaviors. There's also a correlation between being able to do cooperative games and having pro-social behaviors. And so what does it mean to combine those two to have like a first-person shooter that is a co-op game, which essentially would be something like squads within a battle royale game where you're working with your team with cooperation and empathy and communication, but you're in the context of competing with other people and killing them. So the larger issues of this types of science is that there's so many different variables. It's hard to really isolate. We can't mathematically model human beings. And so we can't have a mathematical formalism to be able to prove with any certainty, what is the impact of these many different variables, both from our culture, but within our larger society to be able to say, ah, this is the one thing that is making a significant difference. Now, the final thing that Anton said, which is that there's something magical about games and playing games, and that in the context of playing the game and being able to explore your agency, make choices, take action, that it opens your mind to new levels of cognition. And I personally believe that there's something very powerful about having these types of conversations and covering emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence because I think that there's a lot of solutions that are Coming in these new emerging technologies that are addressing a lot of the deepest problems of our society today So I'll be at the decentralized web summit over the next couple days I'll be kind of seeing what the state of the art is I also just went to the International Joint Conference of artificial intelligence and I have a whole a a slew of interviews that I hope to really bootstrap the voices of AI. I've done over 120 interviews now on AI, and I've only published about five on the voices of AI. And I want to really start to get some of this information out there, because I just think it's really essential as potential tools for us to build a society that we actually want. And if there is some sort of change in the political structures, economic structures, if there is some sort of crisis point, my sense is that if that does happen, then what are the systems and solutions that are going to come in and be able to actually build something from scratch? Because you have this metaphor and information technology, which is the difference between a brownfield and a greenfield. A greenfield environment is just, there's no pre-existing system. You could just go in there and start to build whatever you want from scratch, and you don't have to integrate with legacy systems. But brownfield systems, you have to look at the existing systems that are there, and you have to take where things are at, and you have to do this transition. And it's much harder of a problem to go from a legacy system and to migrate it into a completely new system than it is to just start a new system from scratch. And I think that's where artificial intelligence, virtual reality technologies, these games, and these different small, you can have these green field prototypes to be able to explore the potentials of some of these new systems and models, see what's possible and what kind of culture you can create. And then you start to then figure out this harder question of how to translate these legacy systems that aren't working and how to adapt and improve them. So I think that is the essential metaphor for what we're trying to do metaphorically for our entire society and our civilization is start to think about what are the new models that we want to implement if legacy systems aren't working for everybody to the degree that they need to be. And I think that the Decentralized Web Summit and these decentralized solutions have some potential answers, but the cautions of Anton should be heeded here, which is to be cautious of any sort of technological utopianism and to take into account how do we balance this yang and the yen, this competitive aspect and the cooperative aspect and how do we try to come into balance because I think that is in essence what we're trying to get to is this balance between having that individual freedom and free will versus how do we structure our society together to be able to make these collective decisions to maybe provide a little bit of a safety net in different ways and to be able to actually think about things that are in the public good and not just in the good of the interests of the corporations that are out there. because right now we basically have this asymmetrical amount of power of the corporations who are making those choices and decisions about how society is structured, or those centralized entities that have accumulated so much power and control that they really have a disproportional impact on our society and our culture. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you find any truth or relevance to any of this stuff that Anton and I were having on this conversation, then I really encourage you to support this effort that I'm doing here on this podcast. I believe in the power of storytelling and the ability to try new solutions and to really actually think about these questions and to just have these wide-ranging discussions. I think after I had this conversation with Anton, there is this tendency to want to try to categorize what his thoughts were in any sort of singular political system or ideology. And I really had a difficult time doing that. It was so much of a complex combination of so many different nuanced views. And I think I feel similar in my own views. And I think that our society today has been so polarized into the limit of possibilities that are only in one or two different ways of political ideologies. And I think that is, to some extent, very limiting in terms of what is possible for the future. What I want is to continue to do these conversations and to explore the different possibilities as to what's possible and to inspire different people with a story that they can actually have hope with. Because I guess if there's one thing that I disagree with Anton is that fatalism, that everything is hopeless. I agree that things look not so great, but I'm optimistic that the human spirit and the will to be able to collaborate and to have an open heart and to make something that works for everybody is something that At the heart of it, I think everybody wants. It's just to get there, I think we get sort of blocked into all these different political ideologies and also just hot button culture issues that sort of divide us in different ways. And so I guess my plea would be if you believe in this venture of trying to have these different conversations through the voices of VR and really robustly launching both the voices of AI and voices of math to really fully pull together all the different components of these emerging technologies, then I encourage you to become a member of the Patreon. Five dollars a month is a great amount of support to allow me to continue to bring you this type of coverage. And so donate today and become a member at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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