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Accelerating Change 2004 Interface Debate: Will Wright vs. Jaron Lanier on Technology, Simulation and Humanity



Los Angeles, CA (October 27, 2004). The Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) presents Accelerating Change 2004: Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface at Stanford University, November 5-7, 2004.

Accelerating Change is the world’s first conference dedicated to exploring the implications of accelerating technological change. A weekend gathering of 42 leading futurist thinkers, AC2004 also features capstone debates in each of its three themes: physical space (tangible things and networks), virtual space (simulations and virtual life), and interface (data management systems and convergence).

The final debate, between Will Wright (creator of The Sims) and Jaron Lanier (Pioneer of Virtual Reality), is particularly noteworthy:

Will Wright vs. Jaron Lanier on Technology, Simulation and Humanity

"Finding Humanity in the Interface: Capacity Atrophy or Augmentation?"

As our digital interfaces get continually smarter, how do we keep them from dehumanizing us? Can we avoid the world of MT Anderson's masterful dystopia, Feed (2002), where the internet-jacked, childlike teens of 2030 speak pidgin English and live primarily as vehicles for sophisticated, automated corporate marketing and political programming?

Should we be concerned that U.S. youth have had forty years of declining math, science, and analytical reading skills? Do we need 1960's math skills in a world with ubiquitous calculators, or reading skills in a world with digital cable? Or thinking skills in a world with intelligent text analytics and avatars?

Encouragingly, the Millennial generation reaches maturity earlier, communicates in new nonlinear ways, and has a strong facility to adapt to new technology. But are we in danger of losing our perspective, independence, and global vision? What are our most important priorities as we enter a world of increasingly sophisticated interfaces and simulations?

Join us as interface legends Will Wright and Jaron Lanier discuss and debate this and related topics in a fun, heated, and fascinating exchange. As Jaron says, "All that we need is a little humility, honesty, and the very hard work of designing computers for the sake of people instead of the easy fantasy work of designing computers for the sake of computers."

Will Wright is Chief Designer and Co-Founder of Maxis (sold to Electronic Arts for $125M in 1997). He released his first game SimCity: The City Simulator in 1989, an instant hit which has won 24 domestic and international awards. Sim City brought complex, realistic simulations to desktop PCs, a capability previously only available to military, scientists and academicians. Using an easy graphical interface, Sim City opened the world of simulations to consumers. SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 3000 Unlimited, and SimCity 4 Deluxe have continued the tradition. SimEarth, SimAnt, and SimCopter have explored other facets of the natural and technological world.

His social simulation game, The Sims, was released in February of 2000. With over 9 million copies worldwide, 7 expansion packs, and numerous "Game of The Year" accolades, The Sims has become the best-selling PC game of all time. The Sims Online and The Sims 2 (released September 2004, to critical acclaim) are moving The Sims toward an increasingly realistic world where you choose your role, attitude and destiny. He is now working on a "third generation" simulation project at Maxis.

Wright has become one of the most successful designers of interactive entertainment in the world. In 1999 he was included in Entertainment Weekly’s "It List" of "the 100 most creative people in entertainment" as well as Time Digital’s "Digital 50", listing of "the most important people shaping technology today." As one of his hobbies, Wright (along with his daughter) takes part in the annual Battlebot competition broadcast nationally on Comedy Central.

Jaron Lanier is well known among developers as the co-inventor of "virtual reality," a term he coined in the 1980s as founder and former CEO of VPL Research. In the late 1980s he lead the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays as well as the first "avatars." While at VPL, he co-developed the first implementations of virtual reality applications in surgical simulation, vehicle interior prototyping, virtual sets for television production, and assorted other areas. He lead the team that developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications.

As a musician, Lanier has been active in the world of new "classical" music since the late seventies. He is a pianist and a specialist in unusual musical instruments, especially the wind and string instruments of Asia. Renowned as a composer, musician, computer scientist, and artist, he has taught at many university computer science departments around the country, including Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia and Penn. He recently served as the lead scientist for the National Tele-Immersion Initiative. In 1993, he predicted that virtual reality would be accessible to consumers by 2010. He still thinks that's true.

Other theme debates at AC2004 include:

Physical Space Debate
David Brin (Author, The Transparent Society) vs. Brad Templeton (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
"The Cost and Benefit of Transparency: How Far, How Fast, How Fair?"
Moderated by Steve Jurvetson (Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson)


Virtual Space Debate
Jack Emmert (Lead Designer, City of Heroes) vs. Steve Salyer (President, Internet Gaming Entertainment)
"Real Money in Virtual Economies: The Future of User-Created Content"
Moderatored by Cory Ondrejka (VP of Product Development, Linden Lab/Second Life)

For more on the debates see For more about the conference, see the AC2004 homepage at

AC2004 is presented by the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF). ASF is a nonprofit community of approximately sixty board members, associates and advisers, and a subscriber network of 3,200 executives, technologists, systems theorists, and futurists.

ASF explores the accelerating development of special domains in science and technology, and examines their impact on business and society. In particular, we consider longstanding accelerating scientific and technological trends in computation, communication, storage, digitization, simulation, sensing, energy density, energy efficiency, miniaturization, autonomy, and others, and the way these developmental trends interact with business and social agendas. We seek to use this knowledge in service to greater personal, executive, and professional development.

ASF can be found on the web at

Until November 3, conference registration is $350 for regular admission (using the $100 discount code "AC2004-DEBATES"), or $150 for student admission. Express registration is available at Visit for more information. The official conference blog can be found at


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