Tune In,Turn On – Just Not Too Early
Jan 8, 2015
By Christopher Johnston
The last time I saw Dr. Timothy Leary, the former Harvard professor, LSD guru, and pop icon, was at CES in the late 1980s. He was promoting an idea that everyone saw as ridiculous: Using the evolving field of video games as a path to educating the masses.
How this was presented was as follows:
The presentation room was echo-chamber empty except for me (back then I was a journalist), a few proponents of New Age ideology, and a couple of others, who were either curious or lost. Leary looked over our heads as if addressing a vast crowd, instead of about ten people.
He launched into an explanation that education would be like a game show and that computers would democratize education, putting databases and information resources which were once the preserve of the few, into the hands of the many.
He explained that the agitated young fellow sitting next to him would play the role of the computer. This was because nobody wanted to spend $150 to rent an IBM XT to show their demo. He leapt to his feet as if we were about to play some combination of Family Feud and Trivial Pursuit.
“Computer,” said Leary with a flourish of his hand. “Tell me the options for–”
Before he could begin the young man, who was the developer, looked at him and exploded. “Look, I love this guy, but this is ridiculous. I won’t do it.”
The young man derided the absurdity of the situation while Leary looked on, in a worried, fatherly way. There was silence then finally, a few noble words were spoken about what we would now call the coming gamification of education, and the event concluded.
I recall this incident for three reasons. First, it’s CES this week. Second, Leary turned out to be correct, and third because of a book titled Neuromancer, which Timothy Leary had recommended to me when I had interviewed him a year prior to this event.
Gamification in education has taken off and evolved well beyond anything we could have imagined. It has been brought to life through Augmented Reality, and the main proponents of technology in education are teachers. The first natural consumer market for AR pioneers, like Layar and Aurasma, was in education.
Before Neuromancer, the goto sci-fi books that reflected current society were Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein and anything by Arthur C. Clarke, who himself invented the concept of geostationary satellites. As many people who read the genre know, integral to Neuromancer is a concept and word Gibson popularized known as “cyberspace.”
I loved the book and interviewed Gibson for the Village Voice. He told me that many of the ideas in Neuromancer came from a friend of his who worked at DARPA. What is remarkable is how accurate they were as predictions of the future.
Neuromancer was the premier genre book for cyberpunk, until Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson came out in 1992. By this time the term “scifi” was wrapped up pretty tightly with a dystopian future that was just around the corner. Bright-eyed techno-lurve writing was for press releases and a cloying trade press.
And now here it is: 2015, warts and all.
I think we’ve reached an inflection point, if not in history, at least in the virtual reality and augmented reality business. Gibson’s ideas of cyberspace are fast becoming reality through companies like Oculus, aided by a rampant proliferation of social media. In what other era would the hacking of the Xbox network on Christmas day be seen as a crisis worthy of biting one’s fingernails?
Neal Stephenson has joined Magic Leap, where great things appear to be brewing. A number of other companies are coming out with equally interesting developments at CES, the likes of which won’t be apparent for a few weeks.
As augmented and virtual reality meld into one interconnected industry and a whole pile of new products fall on our heads, the thing to keep in mind is that this has been years in the making, and anarchonistic individuals like Dr. Timothy Leary deserve some credit for creating part of it.
Chris Johnston is a consultant for startups, augmented and virtual reality, sales, and social media. Feel free to contact him for input on your project. You can reach him through LinkedIn or via Twitter at @cj_pi.