The golden age of video games, toxic AIs, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#11)

Spring is here, and with it a lot of sand from the Sahara, which in combination with my allergies have destroyed my throat this week. The Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to be stagnant, but no advances in the peace talks have ended with Russia mobilising even more troops. We’ll see how stuff develops in the following weeks. On the bright side, we got a paper published just today (fuck yeah!).


Holy cow, Batman

OPN has been publishing very cool dissemination pieces lately. I already shared some insights on the life of Raman not long ago, and this week they published an article on the physics behind the bat signal. Magic tricks, Jules Verne, the first commercial adds, and the movies that inspired comic artists to create one of the most famous symbols in the medium.

Secrets of the Bat Signal, on Optics & Photonics News

Cancelled

Really interesting article on cancel culture. On the one hand, you have people from young generations subverting the classical behaviour of breaking with the status quo by avoiding criticising stablished ideas and banning them from the debate instead. Also, you have establishment people claiming being canceled when they are just criticised by their just plain stupid or old fashioned opinions. Meanwhile, extreme violence has been reported in multiple places where people just wanted to express freedom of speech. Another effect of social polarization?

Confronting the real face of cancel culture (opinion), on Inside Higher Ed

Toxic AIs

Really interesting piece on nature about the possible misuses of AI technologies in the field of drug discovery. Just by changing one parameter (maximising toxicity instead of minimising it) you have software that is able to discover thousands of extremely hazardous toxins in a matter of hours. The positive thing here is that, even though governments are years beyond regulating this (as usual), the scientific community is aware of the problem and some measures have been proposed to tackle it. While this is not a guarantee of the problem being solved (hello academic publishing), it is at least a good first step on trying to prevent terrible stuff from happening.

Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery, on nature

Ukraine is still there

And while there have been some peace talks, Russia has still attacked civilian buildings this week at Mauripol, Kiev, and many other cities. I am just wondering if Russia wants to finish the peace talks after taking Kiev? On the economical front, many European countries started seizing Russian properties. This week I also saw how some civilians tried to protest against the invasion in Russia, and how the regime ended all the actions in a matter of minutes. On a funny sidenote, Clubhouse slow death had the cool benefit of the Russian regime not paying attention to it, so people are using to discuss the events. Information finds a way.

Also, I have the feeling that my twitter feed has reduced a lot the number of news on the topic (another sign of the crazy world we live in?). This week I saw like 30 different news on new Apple products, but very little on the peace conversations taking place or the latest attacks.

Using a New Cyber Tool, Westerners Have Been Texting Russians About the War in Ukraine, on the Wall Street Journal
A short list of Russian yacht seizures, on the verge
Marina Ovsyannikova: Protesting journalist says Russians zombified by propaganda, on BBC
The internet forgot about Clubhouse. Anti-war Russians didn’t, on INPUT
Russia is risking the creation of a “splinternet”—and it could be irreversible, on the MIT technology review
Where is Russia’s cyberwar? Researchers decipher its strategy, on Nature

The golden age of video games

The other day I was listening to Led Zeppelin IV, which was released in 1971, and I could not help but think that it would have been amazing to live that period where music exploded in so many different directions. It was not only a time of incredible rock experimentation, but also probably the last decade where pure love for music was the main driving force for artists. Of course you could argue that love for art kept driving people in the 80’s and onwards (and I agree that there have been amazing artists in all decades since then), but I have the feeling that corporate views and the industry itself started to have a crucial impact in the stuff people composed and listened to since then.

In the same way, movies were already an stablished art form when I was born, and we are living in a period where mega corporations are just doing business with little to no innovation and love for the medium, shoving products down our throats each week. However, video games have become “accepted” by the mainstream in the recent past (in fact, many people still disregard them as just toys). My point here is that we are still in that sweet spot where true innovation and love for the medium is the main driving force for most creators. Of course, you can argue that the video game industry is already super stablished and making much more money than movies, and in fact, you have super big companies building products following a proven formula with zero innovation. However, I would say that we are still getting masterpieces every year, pieces of art that will be remembered for decades. I have no doubt that people like Lucas Pope, Hideo Kojima, Gabe Newell, Shigeru Miyamoto, and a very long list of brilliant developers (you can insert yours there) will be known in a few years as much as Robert Plant, Syd Barret, or Jimmy Hendrix are known nowadays (or maybe even more).

Also, video games experiencing this golden age nowadays has other cool side effects. The medium is influencing people in an epoch where you can connect with millions of other lovers of the genre in a very easy way, which allows for communities to grow and expand on the original works. I have already shared before publishers like Boss Fight Books, which report on the history of video games through books. Today I want to share the Noclip initiative, which makes incredible documentaries (that they post for free on Youtube) on the design, history, and development of video games. This week they released a two-hour-long love letter to one of the best experiences I had playing video games during the past year: Black Mesa. Imagine if a few Star Wars fans just said “I think we should take The Return of the Jedi, re-film it and do the CGI by ourselves, improving everything in the original movie. Oh, and by the way, we did not like the ewoks, so we are going to change their scenes to make the movie better”. That would never happen by many different reasons (copyright, budget, etc.), but it is actually quite close to the story behind Black Mesa, or how a group of fans modded their way, during 16 years, to creating one of the best remakes ever, from one of the most influential video games out there. Make yourself a favour: stop watching terrible Netflix shows and go enjoy a little piece of living history.

Black Mesa: The 16 Year Project to Remake Half-Life | Noclip Documentary, on Youtube


And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image from Black Mesa

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