Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 13/03/2009

when simulations go bad…

Hat-tip to Lukas Neville for pointing out this piece:

Simulations May Be Causing Real Trouble

Computer simulations have introduced some strange problems into reality

Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 March 2009

Sherry Turkle, the noted professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a new book, Simulation and Its Discontents (MIT Press). In it she tracks difficulties that arise when simulation—from virtual-reality chambers for nuclear-weapon testing to computer programs for architectural design—becomes integral in our daily and professional lives. Ms. Turkle elaborated on some of these in a conversation with The Chronicle.

A: There’s a generation that is growing up with the computer as an appliance, and they truly have no understanding of how it works. In my book, I tell the story of a girl who was a power player of the game Sim City. She talked to me about her “David Letterman Top Ten Rules of Sim City,” and rule number 6 was “raising taxes leads to riots” because when she did that, that happened in the game. She didn’t understand that if I had programmed that computer, raising taxes would’ve led to more social services and greater social harmony. She was drawing a set of conclusions about how the world worked based on the simulation. The trouble with that was not that she was using the simulation, but that the simulation wasn’t transparent to her.

Q: So where do we go from here?

A: I want to be part of a process of reconsideration about transparency, and to put some breaks on the ways in which we’re seduced by simulation. Yes, it’s gorgeous. Yes, it’s perfect. But you know, it could just not be true.—David Shieh

Fascinating stuff—I’ll order the book, and report back.

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