The Rise of the Meta Machines
Game consoles such as the PS3 are functionally in a new category: the meta machine
on Wednesday 28 January 2009
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A machine that can be modified to perform almost unlimited functions and can communicate to millions of like machines around the world is an entirely new class of device I call the meta machine, a device without limits, a device I believe is almost certainly destined to have a profound influence on humanity.

I remember a time when technology was unitary. A radio was just that. It didn’t try to be anything else. Same for early TVs. As time passed, manufactures started combining different functions into one device, a tactic that allowed circuits to share common components. For example, a TV and a radio both have amplifiers, power supplies and other components. It was a cost-effective way to provide several functions. Back then I never guessed that this simple innovation was only a tiny taste of what was to come.

Welcome to a new era, the era of the meta machine. Enabled by the Internet and powerful computers, we now have machines that can instantly become almost anything that produces sound and light, the real transformers of the twenty-first century.

Of the three new gaming platforms, only the Wii doesn’t have a DVD player (although it’s rumored to be in Nintendo’s future plans), but it still has the capability of metamorphosing new functions through its Internet connection, the arrival of which is flagged by a glowing blue light. New functions delivered through the Internet include a web browser and an audio chat-room. Announced are a food-delivery channel and streaming video.

But the champions of meta machines are the PS3 and the XBox 360. The PS3 doubles as a high definition Blu-ray player and has its own internet browser. It offers easily downloadable movies, TV shows, games and game demos, interviews, game development videos, music, music videos and game add-ons. It supports this with a “bank” that you pay lump sums into, a process that simplifies micropayments.

Further extending this meta idea is PS3’s virtual world Home, a sort of high-definition Second Life. Still in its infancy, it offers the ability to talk directly to home inhabitants using a bluetooth device. Missing is the crucial ability to create user content, but recent comments from Sony Worldwide Studios head Phil Harrison indicate that user-created content will take a large and central role for the overall PS3 strategy in the future.

This is the meta machine’s ultimate incarnation, a device that can not only transform it’s own function in unlimited ways, but, when connected to millions of machines around the world, can produce an integrated, real-time virtual reality that is unbounded, perhaps one day larger than human reality itself. The possibilities are unlimited and, in my opinion, almost certainly destined to have a profound influence on humanity.

Welcome to the rise of the meta machines.

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