Idoru: manufactured pop music approaches apogee

Paul Raven @ 25-10-2010

The more Bill Gibson claims modestly not to be a prophet, the more the world comes to resemble the ones in which his novels are set. Completely synthesized 3D holographic pop singer, anyone? [via MonkeyFilter]

Her hair is blue, she dresses like Sailor Moon, and she’ll only appear in concerts via a 3D ‘hologram’. Oh, and did I forget to mention that she’s completely fictional? Created by Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku is a virtual singing avatar that you can purchase for your PC and program to play any song you create.

[…]

Watching Miku sing live is pretty amazing. The 3D ‘hologram’ isn’t that impressive, it looks to be a modern version of the pepper’s ghost illusion we’ve seen before, but the crowd reaction is intense. I’ve been to concerts where the band’s fan base was considerably less enthusiastic. How must it feel to be a musician and see this virtual character getting way more love than you? Hatsune Miku and her ‘friends’ may only have played a few tours, but there’s little doubt that these guys are rock stars:

Well, you can colour me cynical, but given the levels of utterly obvious artifice on display in most of the popular meatpuppet pop acts, I’m not really surprised that the crowds go wild for idorus; there’s a strong element of suspension of disbelief involved with music fandom (one which extends just as deeply into forms and genres that are considered by their fans to be the polar opposite of pop), and unabashed artificiality is just another fact of modern life, especially to younger audiences.

Guardians of hollow notions of artistic authenticity (and curmudgeonly critics like myself) can at least take heart from the fact that idorus will face many of the same piracy problems and business model issues as flesh-and-blood acts, at least once the novelty quotient expires… though they’re probably less likely to get tired and jaded about their careers, to discover free jazz or to overdose on prescription painkillers.

That said, given how much of our engagement with musicians (and other artists) is connected to the narrative mythology that surrounds them – in many cases more than with their actual music, or so I’d argue – the arrival of the first by-design tortured/iconoclastic/bi-polar/just-plain-f*cked-up idoru can’t be too far away.


Tardigotchi: hybrid real/virtual pet

Paul Raven @ 30-07-2010

Readers of a certain age will remember the tamagotchi virtual pet craze of the late nineties, though they (like me) may be surprised to know they’re still selling strongly. Furthermore, readers who follow Futurismic closely (which is all of you, AMIRITES?) may remember me mentioning tardigrades, the microscopic critters better known as “water bears”, which bear (arf!) the odd distinction of being the only animal known to be able to survive the hard vacuum of space. What’s the connection?

The connection is the Tardigotchi, a sort of po-mo mixed-media art-project-gadget-statement-commentary item that combines a real living water bear with an artificial electronic lifeform to create a hybrid cyborg pet that can (and must!) be interacted with in a variety of ways to ensure its survival. Observe:

What does it mean? I guess that’s open to interpretation… an expression of the blurring of the line between natural and artificial lifeforms, and our relationship to them? A recognition of our increasingly emotional relationship with (and dependence on) electronic devices? Or just a wacky 3am brainstorm idea that made it into production?


US$330,000 for a virtual space station?

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2010

For the vast majority of readers here, I expect virtual economies consume very little of your meatspace money, if any at all. But some folk place a huge real-money value on intangible virtual items… via Cheryl Morgan comes news of a guy who just spuffed US$330,000 on a virtual space station in the Entropia Universe MMO:

Entropia Universe is well known for its “real cash economy,” where $1 can buy you 10 PEDs (Project Entropia dollars) in the virtual world. The Crystal Palace is a huge virtual space station that orbits the Planet Calypso.

Well the auction just ended, and one “lucky” man (Buzz “Erik” Lightyear) has just won the Crystal Palace for 3,300,000 PED. If you haven’t figured it already, that translates to $330,000 USD.

[…] the purchase may be strategic — the owner stands to make money off the shops, transactions, and activities that occur on his virtual space station. And if online gaming and virtual currency continue their growth trends in 2010, the man could potentially make his money back.

As pointed out, a purchase of that size currently screams “rich guy with money to waste on having fun”(which I can’t bring myself to begrudge entirely), especially if you look at the video clips of the space station’s interior (which looks a lot like a custom level for the Doom engine, IMHO).

But virtual economies and entirely intangible businesses haven’t gone away, despite the headlines dying off periodically… I fully expect we’ll see more of this in the year to come.


Mixed-reality marriage: man weds idoru

Paul Raven @ 23-11-2009

Virtual girlDid you catch the story at BoingBoing about the guy who went and married his computer game girlfriend? The original link is all in Japanese, so details are scarce, but the young lady in question is a character from Love Plus, one of those “virtual girlfriend” games. [image by Ramona.Forcella]

Unsurprisingly, a peep at the comments thread reveals that it’s probably not quite everything it seems to be – Konami, makers of Love Plus, are quite savvy on reality-crossover marketing for these products, and I think we’re safe in assuming that the fellow in question may have been motivated by something more than a deep affection for a bundle of pixels on his Nintendo DS. The most notable thing about this story is how easily most readers seem to take it at face value.

I expect part of that has to do with the cultural mythology that surrounds Japan – much as I try to avoid it, it’s hard not to think of Japan as a country with some very alien cultural attitudes (which is ironic, given that anthropologists are often keen to point out how similar the sociocultural pressures in Japan are to those of the UK). But we’re also very accustomed to realistic and expressive avatars inhabiting computer simulations, and with a bit of research it’s probably not too hard for a well-funded development team to work out exactly which buttons to push in the mind of a player to produce the desired effect – be it tension, aggression or love.

Furthermore, people get married in Second Life and other metaverses, so a physical presence obviously isn’t a prerequisite for the required level of affection. Perhaps in countries with high population pressures and low numbers of eligible partners – China leaps immediately to mind – marrying an idoru will become more commonplace as the effectiveness of the artificial intelligences behind them increases? I’m sure that David Levy would agree with me on that…


Friday fly-over: Mars’ Gusev Crater

Paul Raven @ 25-09-2009

Right, it’s Friday – so have some Martian landscape porn. A guy called Doug Ellison put this together to celebrate the Spirit rover’s third birthday… counting in Martian years, natch.

Pretty impressive, given it’s made purely from data collected by the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter and Spirit itselfas Paul McAuley says, it’ll not be long before there are versions that’ll allow you to explore the Red Planet at will, and Google Mars is getting pretty close.

And on the subject of Mars, there’s been more sightings of water ice, though it’s been somewhat overshadowed by the discovery of water on our nearer neighbour the Moon. Isn’t it high time we got to work on reducing price-to-orbit and actually going to these places in person?


Next Page »