I’m pretty sure it was Hardball 3 that got me through the great Baseball strike of the 94-95 season. Rather it was one particular feature that enabled me to look past the work stoppage and sit in front of the family computer with my brothers and friends next to me, sipping on overly strong lemonade. This feature was the “simulated game.” While you could simulate 9 innings of baseball for outcomes in the game, it was the fact that you could actually watch the entire simulated game that made it something of interest to me. I was flabbergasted that I could watch a baseball game play itself and have Al Michaels announce the whole thing. This seemed to me to be the holy grail of computing at the time. It was a specific cure for an ailment I was experiencing, and it worked so well in my head that I considered asking my friends to pay me for the privilege of watching those simulated games. I’m glad I decided against it at some point.
At that point, computers seemed to be nearly infallible. I had no doubt that every run scored and every sprite running around the bases was preordained. I believed that given the right set of data, my person computer could churn out the remainder of that season’s results. The amount of trust and confidence that I held for the glowing screen in my father’s study seems laughable now. When I consider what a phone can do that the original Pentium processor could not, the idea that a video game could forecast the outcomes of human beings is a fairy tale. And yet, I was willing to believe in it and that is what mattered.
It is what matters in all of our modern simulations as well. Google Maps simulates the traffic that you will encounter in order to predict the best route to take. Pandora simulates what kind of music it thinks you will like in order to produce the best mood for your working or relaxed state. Most search engines even simulate what it thinks you want to ask even before you start typing more than a few words. I would make the case that these simulations are just as big of fairy tales as trusting a baseball came to figure out the outcome to the complexities of our National Pastime. And yet, these simulations have found their way into our understanding of the world. They have somehow passed themselves off as reality.
And while those three examples do not currently require money, each one is being paid for by the user’s attention. Advertising rules the game of simulation at the moment, mostly because people haven’t figured out how to more effectively monazite the power of suggestion. And yet, that is all that simulations are: Suggestions. They are the thing that could be, given the right circumstances.
The simulations that are forthcoming, though, are the ones that we really need to look for. The suggestions that we will start forking over our wallets for are ones that involve the need to know our future. The prediction of response is coming. The foresight of decision-making is creeping ever closer full acceptance.
I believe that within a decade we will be able to turn on an auto-response system for our e-mail that will answer most of our basic interactions with information from our other messages and documents existing in the cloud. No longer will the vacation responder have to be a burden to us. It may be that when we leave the office and gmail automatically replies with the most pertinent information, we are doing a better job of sharing information. I have this sinking suspicion that when all of our words, ideas and connections can be crawled that the automated process of response will become the norm for anything except for the most personal or idiosyncratic messages.
Many people won’t like this, but they will be the ones who won’t get as much work done. The luddites of this environment are those who do not engage in the social graph to its full “potential.” They will be the ones that refuse to simply fill in the blank of a form response created by Google. They will type out messages in longhand and fall further and further behind. The simulation will become the reality, the prediction will become truth because we will pass it off as such. And I will not put up any barriers, either. I think that far too much of my communication is me performing a search (in my e-mail, on twitter, on the web) for someone else and then reporting out on what I have found. There will be something lost, but most people will not mourn the passing of obligatory messages.
As for the decisions that will be made with simulation, I believe that War Games will finally be coming to a phone near you. Just like in that iconic movie, we will be able to play out our interactions with others (individuals or companies) and forsee the varied outcomes so that we can choose the right way to proceed. Our every move will be judged as data. It is already starting with services like Gowalla and FourSquare. Based upon our patterns of movement, our simulations will show us where we should go next and what will happen if we do follow its insight. And we will listen because we want to believe in the rosy fairy tale that it will provide us with. And if the simulations prove to be true, so much the better. We will have figured out a way to tell the future by having it predetermined for us. We will be able to limit risk simply by allowing all of the deals to be done before we even step foot in the door.
It is right here that I think about Deep Blue and its offspring. Deep Blue at its best could go about 20 moves deep into a chess scenario. It could literally compare 20 moves down any given path to any other 20 move path and then make the right decision based upon that data. We will have that same ability, but it will be much more scary. While we will still be in control of the path, we will choose to believe the one that is displayed for us because we want the outcome that is promised. We will be strategic in our movements, but that strategy will not be our own. And that is when we will pay for simulations. When we no longer really have to think about what the next step is, we will fork over our cash for the privilege.