So I’ve been very busy.
First there was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. An excellent, robust old-school adventure shooter with some really well-executed gameplay decisions. Slightly too tight to feel truly like the expansive quasi-RPG that fans may have expected, but nonetheless a lot of fun to play. Genuinely tricky at times, as well, which is something that has been missing from the genre of late, what with the penchant for regenerating health.
There was also the Battlefield 3 demo, a chaotic hurricane of drippingly beautiful graphics and brutally unforgiving combat. My pre-order is still with the Queen’s mail, but the ‘beta-that-wasn’t-really-a-beta-or-was-it’ seemed to confirm it was worth getting after my fledgling sortie into Bad Company 2. There was also Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a game whose loose-weave, unstructured setting was both strength and shortfall. Its strong storytelling and game mechanics were somewhat let down by reptitious set-pieces (despite genuine best efforts to mix it up) and something of a paralysis of choice. Having over 100 markers screaming at you from the mini-map does not a decision help. Hopefully the next installment will prove more focused.
Leisure aside, I’ve also undergone a bit of a transformation in work, moving from PR into Digital Marketing. I say in my preamble that this is not a blog for my personal life, which holds true. However, it may mean that my idle speculation may now be slightly more accurate idle speculation, as I’m really stuck in to a lot of stuff that I was already writing on. This does not happen include AI, but that’s what I’m going to write about now.
So Steve Jobs died, you may have heard. There have been enough words written to paint Cupertino black with ink, and I’m not going to expend any more. But one of the many journalistic aftershocks of this particular newsquake was of Apple TV. Now, something that irks me about tech writers, especially American tech writers, is their attitude to Apple this year in particular. Everything is a master stroke, even when it’s very obviously not. I love Erik Sherman’s writing, but I just can’t agree with him here. There’s a culpable willingness from the tech scene to believe that Apple is the absolute mastermind: flawless, sure-footed, never wrong. Whether driven by product loyalty, Jobs’s cult of personality, of some sort of silicon jingoism against the steady march of foreign giants, this ends up manifesting as a slavish – and frankly, rather annoying – one-sidedness. And it’s bad journalism.
That aside, however, I think the fuss over Apple TV bears merit. Not actually because of the product in question, but rather the prospect: Smart TV is nothing particularly new. The winner in this particular battlefield will not be decided by technology but by contract negotiations, something that the media industry has traditionally been none too keen on. The company, conglomerate, or cartel that finally swings enough power to strongarm media rights over the cable networks will be the one who decides what direction – and what products – the industry plumps for. Google TV has learned this the hard way.
However, the prospect 0f Smart TV in the way that has been envisioned by most Apple commentators is worth getting much more excited about, namely because it hinges (ahem, pivots) on the one really new innovation in the iPhone 4S: Siri.
Siri has proved immediately popular, partly for its impressive recognition of both speech and intent, and partly for its slightly abrasive, smart-ass attitude (now that I can believe was Jobs). The idea of incorporation this sort of Star Trek-esque technology – hey, they already invented the PADD – into the home at large, starting with the TV set, is compelling for a few reasons. Don’t think about saying ‘BBC2′ or ‘Sky Sports’ or ‘volume up’: imagine instead complicated queries such as ‘what’s going on in California today?’, or ‘give me some winter sports’. Or maybe even something like ‘what’s that popular police drama from the 70′s set in Liverpool?’ Weave in social and you might be able to invite friends to watch things through their Smart TVs, or post a notification to Facebook or Twitter.
But it’s worth noting that Siri isn’t, of course, true AI. It’s AAI – Artificial Artificial Intelligence. The funny thing is that I expect – from the consumer side, at least – that this is going to be more important than AI in the coming decade. I am fairly confident that ten years from now we’re going to have machines capable of almost flawless interpretation, with gigantic databases of responses that are a combination of logical guesswork and carefully tailored recognitions. Basically, I think that one of the intern jobs of the near future is trying to anticipate all the thousands of variations on asking particular questions, then writing and assigning replies. Who knows, maybe we’ll start seeing highly paid ‘personality authors’. Hope for humanities students!
In all seriouness though, Siri and its ilk are the next logical step along human interface. A while ago I noted in one of my favourite posts that Razorfish define the ideal UX as one in which there is no UX. I think that’s almost true. Certain things will always, I believe, make more sense as tacticle feedback (for instance, driving a car). But these logical queries that are basically an open question iterated, for the meantime, in plain type – well. You only have to look as far as Google to know that this is the search engine of the future.