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Advocating for the Future – Panel at RAAD Fest 2017 – Gennady Stolyarov II, Zoltan Istvan, Max More, Ben Goertzel, Natasha Vita-More

Advocating for the Future – Panel at RAAD Fest 2017 – Gennady Stolyarov II, Zoltan Istvan, Max More, Ben Goertzel, Natasha Vita-More

Gennady Stolyarov II
Zoltan Istvan
Max More
Ben Goertzel
Natasha Vita-More

Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, moderated this panel discussion, entitled “Advocating for the Future”, at RAAD Fest 2017 on August 11, 2017, in San Diego, California.

Watch it on YouTube here.

From left to right, the panelists are Zoltan Istvan, Gennady Stolyarov II, Max More, Ben Goertzel, and Natasha Vita-More. With these leading transhumanist luminaries, Mr. Stolyarov discussed subjects such as what the transhumanist movement will look like in 2030, artificial intelligence and sources of existential risk, gamification and the use of games to motivate young people to create a better future, and how to persuade large numbers of people to support life-extension research with at least the same degree of enthusiasm that they display toward the fight against specific diseases.

Learn more about RAAD Fest here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form.

Watch the presentations of Gennady Stolyarov II and Zoltan Istvan from the “Advocating for the Future” panel.

How Can Virtual Worlds Help to Improve the Physical World? – G. Stolyarov II Interviews Peter Rothman

How Can Virtual Worlds Help to Improve the Physical World? – G. Stolyarov II Interviews Peter Rothman

Mr. Stolyarov invites Peter Rothman to discuss the question, “How can virtual worlds help to improve the physical world?”

Peter Rothman, M.S. is Editor of H+ Magazine where he is looking for great articles about the future of technology, humanity, the mind, society, and human culture.

Peter is an engineering and management professional with deep experience in the design, development, and launch, of commercial software products, internet services, and other mission critical systems. He is currently doing research into analysis and visualization of text for a consumer facing application.

He was previously chief scientist of a biometrics-based fraud prevention company. He led the development of, one of the largest providers of streaming audio on the Internet. He operated a product development and engineering team for the global multi-million dollar public software company MetaTools/MetaCreations. He founded and operated a startup software company, raised capital, and negotiated eventual sale of company. He has designed and implemented cutting-edge software, algorithms, and technologies.

Peter’s specialties include biometrics, mathematics, streaming media, virtual reality, simulation, text analysis, data visualization, and artificial intelligence.

Peter was an early developer of VR technologies, including developing applications of VR to financial visualization and a concept for unencumbered infantry training using VR for the US Army.

– “Welcome To Mixed Reality” – Article by Peter Rothman
– “Retro VR — a brief review of some 1990s HMDs” – Article by Peter Rothman
Microsoft HoloLens – Official Site
– “VRML” – Wikipedia
– “WebGL” – Wikipedia
SBIRSource – Avatar Partners
“Back in the Day” – Pictures of early VR and software products – Posted by Peter Rothman
H+ Magazine – Articles on Mixed Reality

Liberally Classical – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Liberally Classical – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
January 12, 2014
I was recently in an ornate orchestral hall built in the late Gilded Age, a setting designed to present an opera or symphonic music to a generation before World War I that craved such performance art. The concert I attended was sold out, with tickets running between $40 and $75.
The place was vibrating with anticipation as the full orchestra with winds, strings, brass, and percussion came on stage, and a 25-voice choir—live acoustic music without conspicuous electronics—filed in behind. The cheers, even before it all began, were glorious.
As I looked around the vast room full of wide smiles, I noted that that average age of the concert goers was late twenty-something. It was a slightly startling sight after having been to so many symphony concerts filled with septuagenarians. Not that there’s anything wrong with old people, but it always seemed to symbolize a dying art to me. Not this time though. This art and this room were alive and youthful and looking to the future.
What followed was two hours of dramatic, emotionally gripping symphonic music. The audience couldn’t wait to cheer and stand at every opportunity. At the intermission not a soul failed to return to his or her assigned seat.
I’ve been around the art-music sector of the music industry for many years, and, for me, this experience was all dreamy, even surreal. My whole life, I’ve heard the same old complaints from classical musicians. We are underfunded. Governments are stingy. The people are not coming to our concerts. The young are only interested in junk music. High art is being crowded out by pop: it’s Schubert vs. Spears, Beethoven vs. Bieber, Mahler vs. Madonna. Our concert halls and symphonies are being massacred by market forces. We need subsidies in order to uphold real music against the pathetic tastes of the middle class.
And so on it goes.
The conventional tactics for dealing with this obvious and old problem are well known. There are labor strikes—you know, those oppressed oboists and violists who are clamoring for their surplus value to be given back by the unnamed exploiter. Donors are being squeezed to make up for what can’t be gained in ticket sales. There are hectoring public campaigns to “support the arts” or feel really guilty. There are marketing gimmicks. There are foundations that provide temporary relief. All the while, musicians grow ever more bitter, resentful, and despairing.
So what made this event different? Many things. The bar was open with wine, beer, and spirits, and people were welcome to bring them to their seats, just like in a movie theater when people watch with soda and popcorn. Yes! Why doesn’t the Kennedy Center allow this? I don’t know. It should.
Also, the fantastic and rightly showy conductor was a young woman—defying the eternal stereotype and addressing another complaint about sexism in the history of orchestral conductors. Another thing: Many members of the audience were dressed in character, sporting funny ears, wigs, and costumes. Character? More on that follows.
Finally, the main event was something completely unexpected. The music was a performance of the soundtrack to the video game Legend of Zelda. The full name: “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.” Yes, a video game, a cult classic, one that began in 1989 and now has a beloved heritage and rich tradition.
The game itself is accompanied by a full suite of serious music composed over the course of 25 years by a dozen or so specialists (all well-trained musicians) from Japan. That means there is not a single god-like composer—we like to pretend they were all sui generis—but rather a crowdsourced, thematically arranged series of pieces, each of which is connected to some iteration of this long-running game.
The musicians seemed to love it, and the audience surely did. The exchange relationship between the musical producers and consumers was unlike anything I had experienced. This was not an audience obediently frozen in a stuffy pose waiting for the next assigned time to clap (never, never between movements, dammit!). They were serious, engaged people who were happy to gasp, laugh, cheer, ooh and ahh, and even cry. They did it all, and not on cue.
Above the orchestra floated a large screen that played scenes that matched the music, from its earliest and crudest computer animations to the latest and most dazzling visual art. We even saw the characters grow up in the course of their adventures, which are wonderful, faux-medieval tales of danger, courage, chivalry, and devotion.
My goodness, the whole scene just moved me so much. Here were the gamers all gathered, those “nerds” everyone made fun of during high school and college, and their love of their computer world was being validated and affirmed. But I suspect that even they didn’t understand the implications of all of this. I wanted to stand up and explain: Do you see what you have done here? Your consumers’ interests have brought back large-scale, live performance art—full choir and orchestra—through the most circuitous route one can possibly imagine.
And how different, really, is this from a Rossini opera about a love affair involving barbers, secret letters, singing lessons, stodgy aristocrats made to look silly, and narrow escapes down second-story ladders? Or a Mozart opera involving magic bells and flutes, evil queens, floating boys in an air balloon, and scary dwarfs and dragons? It’s all the same stuff. It’s that beautiful combination of audio and visual art—the sense that something is happening right there in front of you. They didn’t have video games but we do, and good for us!
All of this music could have easily been played on a loudspeaker, but that would have taken away the whole sense that something was being created on the spot. You want to see the violinists moving their bows, the percussionists crashing cymbals together, the bassoonist playing that most implausible of instruments. Adding to the irony is that the music on the Zelda game itself is mostly electronic, especially the choirs and their ethereal voices. Not here. It was human. It was life. We all experienced it in real time—fantasy became reality before our eyes and ears.
I thought back to my days hanging around the school of music, all those students and professors with long faces and grim demeanors, people down on markets, down on society, down on consumers. No one would have believed that he or she had a future in live performance music, filling up the old orchestral halls, by way of fun and wonderful video games. No, it took entrepreneurs and commerce to blaze this trail. It took markets to make this surprise happen.
The world of classical music, in fact, has been pathetically lacking in creative vision for many decades, if not an entire century. In large part, it keeps trying to recreate the past while cursing the present and despairing of the future. Why? Perhaps it is because this sector of life has been ever more removed from the commercial world through centrally planned education, subsidies, union control, copyrighted and monopolized musical scores, a culture of the entitled guild. None of it has worked and, needing to pay the rent, there has been a steady stream of young musicians leaving years of conservatory training to enter some other profession like making lattes.
But get outside those establishment circles and you see entirely different things happening. It was in Turkey when I first saw a performance of an all-woman string quartet. During the first part of the evening, they presented a solid program of Schubert, Mozart, and Haydn. Then came the change to leather and boots and an all-electronic/pop program followed by the same players. One can sneer at it as tacky (actually, I don’t think so) but people love it and pay the big bucks for it. Since I saw this performance two years ago, the approach has reemerged at several venues in the United States as well.
My point is not to isolate these two types of art-music presentations and say: This is the future for classically trained musicians. Maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe there are dozens of other approaches yet to be explored. What is needed is some serious entrepreneurship to find the new approaches and test them in the marketplace.
The main feature in success here is an intimate connection between the players and the audience—the same as you see in the pop music world. It’s not about the style. It’s about the economic and artistic relationship between the producers and consumers. It must be a value enhancing proposition for both sides for a true profit to emerge.
Meanwhile, I will never be able to read the quarterly harangue in The New York Times about the death of symphonies without thinking of this wonderful evening. Classical music is not dead. It is just now coming back to life.
Jeffrey Tucker is a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), CEO of the startup, and publisher at Laissez Faire Books. He will be speaking at the FEE summer seminar “Making Innovation Possible: The Role of Economics in Scientific Progress“.
This article originally appeared in The Freeman, the magazine of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Open Badges and Proficiency-Based Education: A Path to a New Age of Enlightenment – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Open Badges and Proficiency-Based Education: A Path to a New Age of Enlightenment – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 9, 2013

A major and tremendously promising opportunity has emerged to achieve a new Age of Enlightenment through technology and to enable large numbers of people to desire, seek out, and enjoy learning. Open Badges are an initiative spearheaded by Mozilla but made available to virtually any organization in an open-source, non-restrictive manner. Open Badges can make learning appealing to many by rewarding concrete and discrete achievements – whether it be mastering a skill, performing a specific task, participating in an event, meeting a certain set of standards, or possessing a valuable combination of “soft skills” that might otherwise go unrecognized.  But even beyond this, Open Badges allow for the portability of skill recognition in a manner that far outperforms the compartmentalization present in many of today’s formal institutions of schooling, accreditation, and employment. Individuals would no longer need to “prove themselves” anew every time they interact with a new institution.

Open Badges are still in their infancy, but you can begin participating in this exciting movement and earning your badges today. Based on the economic understanding of network effects, the more people actively use Open Badges, the more opportunities will become available through the system. An introduction to open badges (along with the opportunity to try out the system and earn several badges) can be found at For a more detailed discussion, Dave Walter’s paper “Open Badges: Portable rewards for learner achievements” is recommended. (This paper, too, will enable you to earn a badge.)

Various organizations already issue badges. To immerse yourself in the earning of Open Badges, you will be able to find several introductory badges on the Badge Bingo page from Codery. For badges that can demonstrate some basic skills, the Mozilla Webmaker series enables earners to validate their basic HTML coding knowledge. For individuals and organizations seeking to issue their own badges, sites such as Credly offer an easy way to create and grant these awards.

Mozilla Backpack can currently be used to host and share the badges, though other compatible systems also exist or are in development. Mozilla Backpack gives you the option to accept, reject, and classify badges into various “collections”. For instance, you can see a collection of all the Open Badges I have earned so far here, and a more skill-specific subset – all of my Mozilla Webmaker Badges – here. In a future world where badges will exist for a wide variety of competencies, one could imagine linking a prospective employer, business partner, educator, or online discussion partner to a page that documents one’s skills and knowledge relevant to the exchange being contemplated. Unlike a resume, whose value is unfortunately diminished by those dishonest enough to present falsehoods about their past, Open Badges are more robust, because they include metadata linking back to the issuer and containing a brief description of the criteria for earning the badge. Moreover, Mozilla Backpack offers you complete control over which badges you allow to be publicly visible, so you remain in control over what you emphasize and how.

Open Badges make possible a development I had anticipated and hoped to partake in for years: proficiency-based education. I have only known about Open Badges for less than a week at the time of writing this article. Serendipitously, I learned of their existence while reading “Ubiquity U: The Rise of Disruptive Learning” by Mark Frazier, and I was so intrigued that I embarked that same day on intensive research regarding Open Badges and the current status of their implementation. In the next several days, I strove to discover as many issuers of Open Badges as I could and to earn as many badges as I could feasibly obtain within a short timeframe.

However, my earlier writings have looked forward to the availability of this type of innovation. As a futurist, I take pride in having been able to accurately describe the future in this respect.

In February 2013, in “The Modularization of Activity” (here, here, and here), I wrote that “Education could be greatly improved by decoupling it from classrooms, stiff metal chair-desks, dormitories, bullies, enforced conformity, and one-size-fits-all instruction aimed at the lowest common denominator. The Internet has already begun to break down the ‘traditional’ model of schooling, a dysfunctional morass that our culture inherited from the theological universities of the Middle Ages, with some tweaks made during the mid-nineteenth century in order to train obedient soldiers and factory workers for the then-emerging nation-states. The complete breakdown of the classroom model cannot come too soon. Even more urgent is the breakdown of the paradigm of overpriced hard-copy textbooks, which thrive on rent-seeking arrangements with formal educational institutions. Traditional schooling should be replaced by a flexible model of certifications that could be attained through a variety of means: online study, apprenticeship, tutoring, and completion of projects with real-world impact. A further major breakthrough might be the replacement of protracted degree programs with more targeted ‘competency’ training in particular skills – which could be combined in any way a person deems fit. Instead of attaining a degree in mathematics, a person could instead choose to earn any combination of competencies in various techniques of integration, differential equations, abstract algebra, combinatorics, topology, or a number of other sub-fields. These competencies – perhaps hundreds of them in mathematics alone – could be mixed with any number of competencies from other broadly defined fields. A single person could become a certified expert in integration by parts, Baroque composition, the economic law of comparative advantage, and the history of France during the Napoleonic Wars, among several hundreds of relatively compact other areas of focus. Reputable online databases could keep track of individuals’ competencies and render them available for viewing by anyone with whom the individual shares them – from employers to casual acquaintances. This would be a much more realistic way of signaling one’s genuine skills and knowledge. Today, a four-year degree in X does not tell prospective employers, business partners, or other associates much, except perhaps that a person is sufficiently competent at reading, writing, and following directions as to not be expelled from a college or university.”

Even earlier, in 2008, I offered, as a starting point for discussion, an outline of my idea of proficiency-based education to PRAXIS, the Hillsdale College student society for political economy and economics. Below is my (very slightly expanded) outline. It pleases me greatly that the infrastructure to support my idea now exists, and I hope to contribute to its widespread implementation in the coming years.

Proficiency-Based Education: A Spontaneous-Order Approach to Learning

Outline by Gennady Stolyarov II from September 2008

The Status Quo

– Shortcomings of classroom-based education – “one size fits all”

– Shortcomings of course-based education – difficulty accommodating individual skills, interests, and learning pace. Grades lead to stigma of failure instead of iterative learning.

– Information problem of communicating one’s qualifications

– Negative cultural effects of segregating people by age and by generation – i.e., the “teen culture” generation gap

– Factory-based education system versus meaningful individualized education

Proficiency-Based Education

– Proficiencies replace courses.

– Proficiency levels replace grades.

– Proficiencies are easily visible and communicable to employers.

– Proficiencies are transferable by those who have them, up to their level of proficiency.

Emergence of Proficiency-Based Education

Can be done privately by individuals or firms

– Can be done in person or on the Internet

– Can be done within and outside the university system

– Can be done for pay or for free

– People with proficiencies can pass the proficiencies on to their children/relatives/friends

– Incentives exist to restrict transfer of proficiencies to qualified persons.

– Networks of providers of Proficiency-Based Education can form. It will not be a centrally planned or directed system.

Advantages of Proficiency-Based Education

– Faster learning

– More individually tailored learning

– Ease of displaying one’s exact set of skills

– More hiring will be based on merit, since merit will be easier to see and verify.

– Indoctrination in politically or socially favored but objectively absurd notions will be much more difficult.

– The “teen culture” will disappear. Young people will be better integrated into adult society and will assume meaningful rights and responsibilities sooner.

– Proficiency-Based Education takes full advantage of all existing technologies, leading to a more technologically literate population with greater ability to control and improve the world.

– Greater integration of theory and practice and market selection of ideas that tend to bring about useful practical results


Open Badges provide the mechanism to coordinate the many thousands of competency-based or proficiency-based certifications and other achievements that I envision. While the processes leading to the demonstration of competency or accomplishment can be undertaken in any way that is convenient – online or in person – it is essential to have a universally usable digital system documenting and affirming the achievement. The system should be compatible with most websites and organizations and should not be locked down by “proprietary” protections. Proficiency-based education can only work if the educational platform is not inextricably attached to any particular provider of certifications, or else the very use of the proficiency system will remain compartmentalized and inapplicable to vast areas of human endeavor.

The free, open-source, and user-driven design of Open Badges provides exactly these desirable characteristics. At the same time, while Open Badges are free to create and issue, individual badges can be designed and offered by organizations that offer paid instruction – so that even traditional classes could be revolutionized by the introduction of competency-based elements, perhaps as a replacement for grades or, in the interim, as a mechanism for earning a grade. With the latter method, to get an “A” in a course or on a project, one would not need to pass a timed exam where every wrong answer constitutes a permanent reduction of one’s grade. Rather, one would need to earn certain kinds of badges demonstrating the completion of course objectives.

The motivational aspect of Open Badges stems from the immense engagement that is possible as a result of visible, incremental progress. This same motivating tendency explains the tremendous popularity of computer games. (Indeed, one initiative, 3D Game Lab, is developing an explicit educational computer game that will allow integration with coursework and Open Badges.) By enabling the earning of granular achievements (similar to “achievement” in a computer game), Open Badges keep learners focused on honing their skill sets and pursuing concrete objectives. At the same time, Open Badges facilitate creative approaches to learning and recognize the diversity of optimal individualized learning paths by leaving the choice of activities and their sequence entirely up to individual badge earners.

If billions of humans could become “addicted” to learning in the same way that some are said to be “addicted” to computer games, our civilization would experience a rapid transformation in a mere few years. Technological progress, institutional innovation, and the general level of human decency and morality would soar to unprecedented levels, at an ever-accelerating pace. Age-old menaces to our civilization, arising from pervasive human failings and institutional flaws, could finally be eradicated through vastly enhanced knowledge and a voluntary, enticing channeling of many people’s desires and enjoyments into highly productive paths that produce “positive externalities” (to use the jargon of economists). Open Badges, proficiency-based education, and the addition of game-based learning elements (up to and including full-fledged games, like the Mars Curiosity Activity from Starlite Digital Badges – just a hint of what is to come) can enable humankind to make decisive strides in its efforts to build up our civilization and beat back the forces of death, decay, and ruin.