Will the burgeoning 3D metaverse really provide a platform for collective intelligence in design and in particular, architecture? We assume it will. This blog, however, is dedicated to exploring and fleshing out the specific measures, protocol, and tools necessary, within the metaverse and in particular Second Life, to make this ‘Wikitecture’ concept a reality.
Although I wrote the following abstract for the ‘City of the Future’ architectural competition awhile back, it addresses the implications of what an Open Collaboration in Architecture might bring to the design of our cities today and into the future.
Innovation Happens Elsewhere:
There’s no better laboratory than reality to determine if an idea holds any merit. Unfortunately testing out big ideas, such as city planning, in the real world would be an unrealistic and an expensive gesture. What if, however, the virtual realm was able to model the sensory data of reality with such a fine-tuned level of fidelity that the two worlds would appear inseparable? Well considering the exponential increase of digital processing, it seems only a matter of time. So if and when this (vir)eality comes to pass, how will our future inhabitants plan what will most likely be the most complicated organism known to man – the city? Fortunately we don’t have to wait for the future to see an inkling of how this might take shape. The burgeoning Open Source paradigm, that has brought about immensely complicated projects such as the Linux Operating System, can offer clues as to how we can approach the task of ‘debugging’ our cities. Like today’s operating systems, the vast network of interrelationships within our future cites will become so vast, no overarching top-down visionary strategy can possibly address all the issues successfully. Not that power is necessarily bad, but it does, over time, inevitably become blind (through the phenomenon of ‘group think’) to innovative solutions. Architecture and city planning, like many fields of knowledge, is not immune to this phenomenon. Jane Jacob’s urban theories from a journalistic perspective provide an excellent example of how common sense innovation can come from outside the system of ‘calibrated’ thinking. Our objective, if selected for this competition, would be to demonstrate that the localized, bottom-up strategies of the Open Source paradigm can bring about an insured level of beneficial innovation toward the design of cities today and into the future.
To be specific, the venue in which we would like to demonstrate this Open Source strategy is a MMORPG (massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game) known as ‘Second Life’. SL is not necessarily a game in the strictest sense because there’s no defined objective, but is instead, a white virtual-world canvass where ‘developers’ can design and build anything their imagination can muster either individually or collaboratively at the same time and space. Just as MUDs (text-based multi-user domains) have allowed for an unprecedented level of collaboration in forming Open Source projects such as Linux, so can metaverses, such as SL, offer a new way of approaching the ‘programming’ and designing of our 3-dimensional cities.
Although through this process, a visionary vignette of the future of Chicago will emerge, our core intention, which we feel is more revealing, is to highlight ‘how’ Chicago, as well as other cities throughout the world, could be designed in the future. We would like an opportunity to demonstrate on national TV, in the short time frame provided, how this Open Source paradigm can, at even the most basic level, create, as the great urbanist Jane Jacobs coined, a “city that is multidimensionally diverse – one that does not just cater to a single industry or a single demographic group but that is full of stimulation and creative interplay.”
“Homogeneous groups, particular small ones, are often victim of what the psychologist Irving Janis called “groupthink.” After a detailed study of a series of American foreign-policy fiascoes, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure of anticipate Pearl Harbor, Janis argued that when decision makers are too much alike¾in worldview and mindset¾they easily fall prey to groupthink. Homogeneous groups become cohesive more easily then diverse groups, and as they become more cohesive they also become more dependent on the group, more insulated from outside opinions, and therefore more convinced that the group’s judgement on important issues must be right. These kinds of groups, Janis suggested, share an illusion of invulnerability, a willingness to rationalize away possible counterarguments to the group’s position, and a conviction that dissent is not useful.”
James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, (New York: Random House, 2004): 36-37
Perhaps overly simplifying the argument, the modification of a typical definition of Open Source Software is quite revealing nonetheless in how this paradigm can be applied toward a new approach in city planning.
By making the source code (model) for the software (city) available to all, any programmer (designer) can modify it to better suit their needs and redistribute the improved version to others users. By working together, a community of both users (citizens) and developers (designers) can improve the functionality and quality of the software (city). Filtered through the lens of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ the best ideas will eventually float to the top.
Ron Goldman & Richard P. Gabriel, Innovation Happens Elsewhere, (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 2005): 29
“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decision are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise. An intelligent group, especially when confronted with cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with. Instead, it figures out how to use mechanism¾like market prices, or intelligent voting systems¾to aggregate and produce collective judgments that represent not what any one person in the group thinks but rather, in some sense, what they all think. Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible.” James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, (New York: Random House, 2004): XIX-XX
Although the following website has yet to be updated in last couple years, it does provide a wealth of information on how an Open Source paradigm can be applied to architecture. http://www.suite75.net/blog/maze/
A few article links that give an overview of what Second Life is and its implications.