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This Is Uncomfortable

Episode 19: Instrument of sabotage

Oct 17, 2019

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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

The interplanetary Internet, and a new book on gamification

Molly Wood Nov 12, 2012
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Here’s a conversion worthy of a Transformers movie: Take buttoned-down, MBA-toting business professionals and turn them into video game designers. That’s the goal of a new book about Gamification, changing behavior of employees and customers by appealing to their sense of fun and their competitive instinct, video game style. The co-author of For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business is Dan Hunter, who runs New York Law School’s Institute for Information Law and Society. He says gamification done right is about meaningful competition.

“That’s actually why it’s a process of design,” says Hunter. “It’s not that you’re just adding points and badges to these sorts of things. You have to take a step backwards and say ‘what is the nature of our users, what do they care about, what do we want them to do, whether it’s buy more orangeade, change the world, or in a political campaign.'”

One of the many examples in Hunter’s book that struck us was that of the “world’s deepest trash can,” in Sweden. 

“You drop your trash in the can in this public park,” says Hunter, “and you hear this whistling sound for about two hundred feet and then a ‘booong’ sound when it hits the bottom.”

It’s just a sensor and a set of speakers, granted, but it changed behavior. People started searching all over the public park to find waste to put in the trashcan, which got 60 percent more waste than any of its fellow cans. Ok, maybe it’s not inventing a source of infinite, renewable energy. But it’s pretty impressive, and people like Hunter see gamification as a positive — and increasingly common — force in business.

Park-goers in Sweden experience the “World’s Deepest Trash Can”:


Here’s a big idea: The interplanetary Internet. The experimental technology, also called — ready? Disruption-Tolerant Networking protocol, has just been used so that an astronaut aboard the International Space Station could control a robot in Germany. Beyond the obvious utility for a mega villain, the technology might lead to better communications with robots exploring other planets.

“At some level this is like a game of telephone where you whisper in each others’ ears and see what comes out on the other end,” says Roger Lonius, senior space curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “Except you’re absolutely certain as it goes through these various nodes that what comes out on the other end is correct.”

For instance, communications with the new Mars Rover can get cut off by solar storms and space junk. This new interplanetary Internet sets up a relay system using existing spacecraft and satellites already in orbit to make connections through space as reliable as a cellphone call. Wait, bad example.

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