The Edge of Games
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|Andre Oboler||July 28th 2016|
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game which launched a week ago
1. Make the player move away from their desks and interact with the world around them
2. Make the player move for exercise
3. Make the player interact and socialize with others
To play either Ingress or Pokemon Go people need to physically walk around. Players of all ages therefore get more exercise as they go out exploring with phone in hand. They may also discover new things about their local area or places they visit as they walk around playing the game and visiting the locations which are features in the game.
Past clashes of the real and the virtual
The entrance to Auschwitz, with the infamous “Work Brings Freedom” gate, as a game feature in Ingress.
A 95-year-old Dachau survivor and member of the French Resistance, Jean Thomas,, “Out of the 100 comrades in my freight car, 71 died. They weren’t virtual people. You can’t play games at such symbolic places, it’s scandalous.” Rabbi Cooper of the Simon Weisenthal Center that, “It’s not the technology per se that worries me; it’s the lack of historical perspective and depth, and quite frankly the lack of values and ethics”.
Niantic Labs originally defended the locations saying, “these special portals are of significant historical value and they were established by players for that reason”. They soon relented, agreeing to remove the locations and CEO “
Beyond subverting the purpose of Google Earth, many of these locations were also factually incorrect. One town wrongly accused of being built on a destroyed Palestinian village . Google explained they had checked submissions were formatted correctly, but had paid no regard to the accuracy of the content. Google earth changed their systems in response to this problem.
The clash of the real and the virtual in Pokemon Go
Pokemon Go differs from both Ingress and Google Earth as it has more game features and they have been added automatically. An logarithm was used to search for map locations
The family of victims of natural disasters were not spared either. The Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 were Australia’s worse ever bushfires and claimed 173 lives, injuring an additional 414 people. A memorial to those who died is in the game as a Gym people can fight to control.
What does this say about us as a society?
Responses to the Tweet by highlight a growing breakdown in society. One Twitter user responded, “where else am I gonna get Ghastly” (a type of Pokemon). Another user writes back, “I hope that was sarcasm. My grandparents are buried there, jackass.” The original user’s reply is “Well if they’re not Pokemon you have nothing to worry about”. As concerning as this display of total disregard both for the dead and their family is, even more concerning is the fact 1,400 people liked the initial Tweet and 582 liked the initial posters retort. This is compared to 130 people who liked the comment of the granddaughter speaking up for the sacredness of her grandparents final resting place. That sort of public response is deeply disappointing.
Another poster later commented,”We are a nation bereft of civility and respect. How very sad.” In response someone wrote, “what happened to hating political correctness”. The original tweeter responded “Walking on the graves of dead soldiers (or anyone) isn’t politically incorrect. It’s utterly disrespectful.” A third person responded, “freedom of speech mate. The soldiers died for my right to chase Zubats amongst graves.” The one response highlights an active opposition to any form of rules, something that can be described as anarchy with no ethical basis. The other claims to promotes the idea of freedom of expression, but from an entirely selfish standpoint. The poster doesn’t claim they died for “our rights” but for his rights alone. He twists the selfless sacrifice of others into something for himself, while promoting activity that disrespects their final resting place.
Death by augmented reality
A threat to safety and private enteprise
A jewelry shop is an example of a business which may not appreciate a dramatic increase in traffic and people loitering outside the front door while they play. These stores frequently employ security guards, adding to their operating costs. The increased traffic will make the job of the guard harder and potentially increase the costs if an additional guard is required. The additional distraction to the guard may aid those intent on crime.
The responsibility of Software Developers
When it comes to the harm they caused to society, the software industry is far less accountable than any other industry. This is in part due to a lag between the emergency of new technology and societies ability to respond. That response requires understand of the technology, appreciating its immediate and long term impact and the development of frameworks of norms, standards and laws to appropriately govern its use. Technology companies have argued that regulation puts technological progress at risk. Technological progress is now running so far ahead of our ability to understand its impact that companies have almost no restrictions. This is particularly true in the augmented reality space.
In such an environment, one relies on the technology companies themselves to behave ethically. There is a jointly produced by the two leading professional bodies in the computing industry, the IEEE Computer Society and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The very first principle in the code of ethics requires software engineers to “act consistently with the public interest” which is elaborated as requiring that they “moderate the interests of the software engineer, the employer, the client, and the users with the public good” and that they “approve software only if they have a well-founded belief that it is safe, meets specifications, passes appropriate tests, and does not diminish quality of life, diminish privacy, or harm the environment. The ultimate effect of the work should be to the public good”.The fourth principle requires software engineers to “maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgment” which is explained as requiring them to “temper all technical judgments by the need to support and maintain human values”.
There is a strong argument that properly applying the ethics of the profession, where the companies themselves and their staff look out for the public interest, would drastically reduce the need for regulation. In the rush to launch, and to beat the competition, these ethics are being abandoned. The move to automation of locations, after the company knew the harm inappropriate inclusion of a location could cause, is a failure in their responsibility to support and maintain human values and to ensure their products don’t damage public safety.
Where to from here?
Augmented reality is here to stay, but the locations and interactions with the real world need to be more carefully chosen. There is an argument that governments are entitled to a portion of the profits of companies that are using their land and facilities to generate revenue. This money would help cover the additional wear and tear, staffing and additional construction for safety which augmented reality games may create. At an absolute minimum governments are entitled to taxation on the profits being made by these companies from their citizens.
The owners of land, including governments for public land, should retain a right to opt out of participation in an augmented reality environment. The use has a real world impact and is far removed from simply being included on a map. Failing to give the owner of private property control over the inclusion of their land amounts to using their land without consent as part of a scheme to generate a profit for a third party. This fundamentally upsets the concept of property rights and ownership. It’s not enough to tell users not to trespass, the game itself is making an unfair profit at times at the expense of others.
License fees for operating in public spaces are also not out of the question. If governments can licence spectrum, why can’t they licence the right to run augmented games in some or all of their territory? Yes, such moves will retard innovation, but that may be necessary in order to keep things manageable. Giving government, and through them the people, some control over the actions of technology companies when they interact with public spaces who ensure the companies are accountable in each location where they operate. This in turn would help to protect the public good and rights of individuals to private property, including the quiet enjoyment of their property.
Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, a member of the Australian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and a Distinguished Visitor for the IEEE Computer Society. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Lancaster University and an LLM(Juris Doctor) from Monash University.