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Bingo!

From The Australian, on July 31st:

Virtual terrorists

Hunted in reality, jihadists are turning to artificial online worlds such as Second Life to train and recruit members, writes Natalie O'Brien

THE bomb hit the ABC's headquarters, destroying everything except one digital transmission tower. The force of the blast left Aunty's site a cratered mess. Just weeks before, a group of terrorists flew a helicopter into the Nissan building, creating an inferno that left two dead. Then a group of armed militants forced their way into an American Apparel clothing store and shot several customers before planting a bomb outside a Reebok store.

This terror campaign, which has been waged during the past six months, has left a trail of dead and injured, and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars' damage. The terrorists belong to a militant group bent on overthrowing the government. But they will never be arrested or charged for their crimes because they have committed them away from the reach of the world's law enforcement agencies, in the virtual world known as Second Life.

(Nice one, guys, making your poor newspaper readers plough through three paragraphs — nearly 150 words — before admitting that you're describing events in an imaginary world.)

Meanwhile, back in March, I wrote:

Some time in the next year or so, I expect to wake up one morning and see a newspaper headline in my RSS reader: "TERRORIST TRAINING CELL RAIDED IN SECOND LIFE".

This doesn't mean that Osama bin Laden is a gamer, or indeed that there are any terrorists in SL. (Au contraire, real terrorists are more interested in blowing shit up than playing games.) Worst case: some whack jobs will figure out that SL — or it could be WoW or EO — is a cheap tool for multi-user chat that isn't currently being monitored by the feds. (Expect this window of opportunity to close about ten seconds after this article is published.) What such an article will really signify is that the mainstream press have finally discovered MMOs.

I called that one in print on March 27th, and you can find the whole article at Guildcafe.

It's a bit soon to call full house, and realistically speaking it's trivial, but I felt the need to share; there's nothing as heartening to a jobbing SF author as actually having one of their concrete predictions come true, on schedule (especially when you're engaged in the final death march to finish off a book).

23 Comments

1:

The Australian is part of the Murdoch media empire, if I remember correctly, and as such is just as likely to distort, exaggerate, and obfuscate details as any other organ in said media empire. That they pretend to be a broadsheet doesn't stop them being a Murdoch mouthpiece.

That said, it figures that the way the mainstream media comes to speak of things like MMOs is through sensationalist stories of the "The Internet Will Eat Your Children! Again!!! With Ketchup This Time!!!!!" variety - particularly the Aussie media, which has been in a state of federally protected oligopoly for years, and which tends to view the internet (which is distributed, low-cost to read, and not controlled by one of the three big families - Fairfax, Murdoch or Packer) as a major threat to their control of the Australian consciousness. About the only other institution which eclipses the mainstream Australian media for utter pig-headed obtuseness regarding the internet is Federal Parliament. So I expect we can see some kind of legislation popping up to either ban, restrict, or sanitise such things (to Protect The Children, you understand).

2:

You missed the best line though:
Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, says terrorists can gain training in games such as World of Warcraft in a simulated environment, using weapons that are identical to real-world armaments.

3:

Meg, go read the rest of that article of mine on GuildCafe, then tell me whether you figure I called it right. Okay?

Michael: I'd refer you to the last two chapters of my novel HALTING STATE except it's not out in the US until October 2nd, according to Amazon, damn it.

4:

"Terrorists today attacked a suburb of manchester in what is being described as a "Clan Raid" operation. Several members were seen brandishing longswords and also riding dinosaurs."

(Do understand I don't, nor have I ever played WoW...So I have no idea if any of the above actually appear in the game).

�5 says its in the Dail Mail by Sunday...

5:

Weapons identical to real-world armaments, huh? So they have guns that can be aimed with mouse and keyboard? That's terrifying. Well, not to me personally, since I know the "infinite health" and "slow time" cheats, but to people who haven't read the Reality 1.0 walkthrough, it's gotta be unsettling.

6:

This terror campaign, which has been waged during the past six months, has left a trail of dead and injured, and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars' damage.

Does this mean we can be sent to Geneva because of slaughtering orcs on MUDs? I'm too young to share a cell with a bunch of pissed off Serbs.

7:

I know in the second line it was fiction when it said "the bomb went of . . . ABC . . . something or other." I'm glued to CNN when home so I would have known it far before it was blogged.

8:

Quoth Charlie:
"why don't we have someone covering this Whizzumajig? We're falling behind! Hire Hunter Thompson!"

OMG! Zombie reporters! Come to think of it, Hunter would have loved the idea.

One of the potential future surprises in all this technology that I've been thinking about lately is what happens when local displays, distributed swarms of robotic effectors, and distributed 3D printing collide.

By local displays, I mean that the way a physical location looks is at least partly determined by processing local to the place. Architects are starting to think about local processing as part of the environment a built place provides; I wouldn't be surprised to see this a common capability in 15 years or so. Local display adds another dimension to the virtuality of a location. which is now determined by the physical topography (your feet won't go up the stairs, not matter how much processing power you have, if the stairs go down), your own, or your DM's virtual design, and the design of the local virtual environment. Some interesting synergies become possible, especially if the local environment is dynamic, and determined to some extent by forces outside the game One possibility: a LARP game played in a public environment where the local display guides non-players around the game, and modifies the game environment to keep the players out of the non-players way.

Distributed swarm robotics involves changing your definition of a robot from an individual machine that can, perhaps, install specialized tools or limbs, to a dynamically-sized and -shaped swarm of mcuh smaller machines with the ability to cooperate on dynamically-programmed activities, creating specialized tools out of subswarms. Swarm members are cheap, small, and mostly unspecialized; specialization comes in how they're combined and programmed. And they're distributed in the sense that, while there's some local software in each member, the control of the swarm is a set of high level commands issued by someone, somewhere on the net, who has the authorization for these particular machines. And the commands are targeted at a virtual robot which is an emergent entity created by the swarm. This allows a large range of actions at any location that has enough swarm members to support them, without having to design them for all desired actions beforehand, or replace the physical units when new capabilities are desired. So now it's possible to physically change a location (within limits, of course) to aid the virtual environment you lay down on it.

And if a location has 3D printers scattered around it and hooked to the net, you can create physical objects, including new swarm members for your robot crew, or new props for your game (fabricate 1d4 random magical objects to be found in the lair that's just been created in that alcove the local swarm made by moving a couple of screening walls stored there for this sort of use).

To tie it back to terrorist scare, what could you do to a building if you could hack the swarm robots that inhabit it and the 3D printers that supply them? Maybe you could have them cut or otherwise weaken the supporting members until it fell down. Or rejigger the natural gas or hydrogen fuel lines into the ventilation system and then supply a spark.

9:

Nope, you called it right, even allowing for the aforementioned Murdochian exaggeration. `Copspace' interests me; are you using it in anything?

10:

See also Terra Nova's response to the same story:

"A terrorist attack on London yesterday failed due to the lack of adequate healing, several broken sheepings, and inadequate dps. The detained suspects also agreed to testify against each other after one was accused of ninja-looting a nearby electronics store during the attempted attack."

11:

Dave @9: "copspace" features prominently in HALTING SPACE.

12:

Charlie@11 - thought it might. I'm rather taken with that. And, apart from the virtuality, it might be doable right now, maybe bolted onto a version of Google Earth. I saw a news item a couple of weeks ago about police officers in an English force - and I can't remember where, I'm sorry - trialing head-mounted cameras, so there's a primitive version of your badge-cameras and live video feed. Only constabulary budgets would stand in its way.

13:

But-but-but...
Line one of your quote says
"Hunted in reality, jihadists are turning to artificial online worlds such as Second Life..."
so readers don't have to 'plough through three paragraphs ... before admitting that you're describing events in an imaginary world'

I hope that your comments about Halting State don't amount to a spoiler!

14:

Gra, that first line is a strap line -- not part of the article itself. And no, that bit about copspace is not a spoiler.

15:

Charlie @3 - yup, you got it just right.

16:

Weapons identical to real-world armaments, huh? So they have guns that can be aimed with mouse and keyboard?

Well, it nearly happened: see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4022147.stm The site that was going to offer this is offline now.

17:

Goverments worry about virtual terrorism, Austrian economists worry about virtual inflation:
http://www.mises.org/story/2640

18:

Re #17: And meteorologists worry about virtual weather (they're all closet chaos mages!).

Jeff

19:

Serraphin@#4: The Sunday Times, actually! And check out the article below, on automated facial recognition for CCTV at Euston.

20:

@Charlie - which MMOs do you play? I noticed that you used 'EO' in the article and was wondering if you meant EVE Online?

If you've tried it I'd like to hear what you thought of it.

21:

Robin: Eve Online is Windows-only, and I really do my damndest to avoid paying tithe to the Beast of Redmond. Yes, I did reference it in the article ... but I try to avoid online gaming at all costs, because I know what it'd do to my productivity if I let myself go.

22:

Ah well, I hitched my wagon to the beast a long time ago, I'm also a gamer by choice so willing to sacrifice the time required.

In a gratuitous act of sucking up I shall suggest to the makers that they employ a decent science fiction writer to provide suggestions for improvements!

23:

p.s. I would tell you that they actually support Linux now (some sort of Cedega thing, you'd know more than I would) but then you might start playing and I'd much rather you kept on writing the books!

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 1, 2007 3:09 PM.

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