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Letters to the Editor: AAA Game Crunch and Conjuring the Alt-Right

The Motherboard inbox overfloweth.

by Emanuel Maiberg
Oct 16 2016, 5:00pm

A Motherboard editor reading the mail. Image: iQLia SLunce/Flickr

Another week, another inbox filled with really great feedback from Motherboard readers. There's a lot to get into today, from artificial intelligence, to the alt-right and 4chan, to big budget video game crunch. As always, we appreciate your thoughtful responses, even when they're very critical. In fact, those make for some of the best exchanges, so please keep them coming by emailing us at letters@motherboard.tv, or hitting us up on Twitter and Facebook.

Let's get right into it.

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RE: Making a Big Budget Video Game Is Riskier and Harder Than Ever. So Why Do It?

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I got a lot of responses to my article about the making of Gears of War 4, what it takes to ship a big budget video game in 2016, and why that is still even something worth pursuing. Overall, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, but as you can see in the tweets above, several people have taken issue with the way crunch—a period of time when developers work extra long hours to ship a game—was presented in the article.

Some readers thought that the article was justifying or glorifying game development crunch.

I'd like to point out that I the article does explain that crunch can have a terrible impact on developers. I cite the latest numbers from the The International Game Developers Association on how many people in the industry still report crunch, the notorious EA_Spouse case which ended in multi-million dollar settlements, and Kotaku's extensive report from earlier this year on how terrible crunch can be. The article also lets an employee at Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition, QA lead Rob Guwick, say in his own words how difficult crunch has been on his family.

Before I arrived at The Coalition, I expected that Microsoft would either find a way to make crunch seem like a non-issue, or witness some of the horror stories I heard about crunch myself.

What I found was much more complicated. From studio head Rod Fergusson to entry level QA testers, everyone at The Coalition works extremely hard to ship a game. Some, I'm sure, genuinely want to put in the work so the game is as good as it can be. As a fellow creative person, this is not at all hard for me to relate to. At the end of the day a level designer or an environment artist got started in this field because they have some kind of passion for what they do, and if staying in the office until midnight could make their work shine more, many people will choose to do that. I have done this myself. I'm sure you have too.

Though there is no rule that says that anyone has to work these extra long hours, there are also spoken and unspoken pressures to work very hard. As the story mentions, before the team started crunch, Fergusson gave a speech to the studio explaining the challenges ahead, and what needed to be accomplished before deadline. I am sure that the fact that Fergusson and other senior members of the team often work until midnight or later also makes employees feel that they need to work just as hard. If your boss is doing it, why shouldn't you?

Crunch is not a problem that is unique to game development. I work in media, and I haven't met a single person in this field that doesn't put in extra hours because they wanted to be the first to get a scoop, make a piece shine, or as The Coalition director of QA Prince Arrington told me, avoid being the first car that leaves the parking lot.

Crunch is a combination of the reality of software development, self imposed pressure, company-imposed pressure, and much broader, culturally imposed pressure to work hard.

Tanya Short is an indie developer and author of the "Crunch is Failure" pledge, where developers promise not to overwork themselves or their teams. I think her quote in the story sums up this problem best:

"North American culture especially is likely to work really hard and not notice they're burning out until it's too late because we normalized the idea that if you care about something, you will give everything to it, until you have nothing left. I think it's completely natural and kind of beautiful to want to sacrifice yourself to something like this, but it takes a lot of time and experience to figure out when you're doing it for yourself."

My goal was not to glorify crunch or condemn it, but to see it for what it is and report back. Even Fergusson didn't outright defend it. He admits that it is a grey area. I agree, and believe that the piece overall expresses that as well.

Emanuel Maiberg, Motherboard weekend editor

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RE: We're Not Ready For Superintelligence

I was extremely disappointed that your article "We're Not Ready For Superintelligence"did not allow reader comments. I have much more expertise in the field than people like Gates and Hawking'. There is absolutely no chance that a real AI will emerge from binary processors, and I rely on Turing's seminal article "Can Machines Think?", rather than the watered down definitions we currently employ today to describe the capabilities of AI.

Rather we in the field should be focusing our attention on 100x100 quantum bit arrays. Such an array would be a far more powerful machine than if every atom in the universe was converted into a transistor. It could crack a public key encryption, which are not NP-hard but are computationally extremely difficult, in microseconds. I, along with everyone else, do not understand if large quantum arrays are capable of hosting an AI. But I can assure you that binary computers cannot. The human brain is composed of 10 billion neurons, each of which can connect to hundreds of other neurons. That sounds like quantum computing to me. Such an architecture can never be simulated using binary processing.

john

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Hey John,

You say that "There is absolutely no chance that a real AI will emerge from binary processors," and that "The human brain is composed of 10 billion neurons, each of which can connect to hundreds of other neurons. That sounds like quantum computing to me. Such an architecture can never be simulated using binary processing."

I really appreciate your comments, but I don't find them convincing. First, it seems like your claim rests upon a weak analogy between quantum computing and the microstructure of the biological brain. (Incidentally, there are actually 100 billion neurons in each brain, and many neurons make 10,000 or more connections!) You say that one "sounds like" the other. This is not a sufficiently good reason to reject the possibility of superintelligence emerging from binary computers.

Second, superintelligent systems that run on binary computers already exist. These systems are, in fact, all around us. Consider the calculator on your laptop. It's able to perform extraordinarily complex mathematical calculations at extremely fast speeds. The only difference between the calculator and the kind of superintelligence discussed in my article is that the former is "narrow" whereas the latter is "general," meaning that the latter can solve problems in a wide variety of different domains, whereas the former is limited to math. So, we already have proof that an extremely powerful superintelligence—i.e., a powerful algorithm—can emerge from binary systems.

Finally, as for the specific architecture of the biological brain, I see no reasons that a posthumously scanned and "uploaded" brain would need a different kind of hardware for it to become conscious. To my knowledge, no notable AI theorists, neuroscientists, or philosophers have argued that this is the case. Quite the opposite, in fact!

Phil Torres, Motherboard Contributor

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RE: The Alt-Right Was Conjured Out of Pearl Clutching and Media Attention

Wow, thanks Vice for calling me a racist for frequenting forums where people joke around and have fun about today's political situation in the USA.

I used to respect Vice as a publication and will now avoid reading articles on your website or your other documentaries. I can't believe you guys are peddling this excuse for an article. I mean jesus, isn't it somewhat offensive in concept to call people racists without evidence? I'm a white guy, and I'm on a forum with other predominantly white guys and people are talking primarily about the politics of today. There simply isn't racial overtones, or white supremacy being peddled or any such xenophobia. Just because people are talking about political issues like immigration, refugees, employment, etc. etc, does NOT make them xenophobic or racist.

In a matter of 50 years, we've gone from a country that it was OK to make racial comments to a country where accusing people of racism flows like water from a faucet. No real evidence, just stereotyping groups of people in the name of justice. Why is it OK to label white people as racist, in these settings, with little to no context? How is this OK?

You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for publishing this junk. Who the heck is in charge over there?

https://motherboard.vice.com/read/conjuring-the-alt-right

What a joke. I'll be sharing w/my other "white racist friends" (terms used sparingly) that your editorial team has the same standards of rolling stone when investigating and vetting stories before publishing. I mean, hey, fake rape stories and fake xenophobia stories are OK as long as they get clicks right?

Shameful. Shameful.

Anonymous

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Hey,

Thank you for writing in.

Here's what I found on 4chan's political message board (/pol/) at the time I read your email. As I'm sure you know, 4chan deletes its posts once they reach a certain threshold, so you probably won't find these messages there by the time you read my email, though I'm sure you'll find something similar.

An image of Donald Trump burning Hillary Clinton alive:

An image comparing the domestication of dogs to differences between black people and white people:

An image of Hillary Clinton being walked to a guillotine:

An image suggesting that the Jews (represented by the anti-Semitic caricature here) manipulate the media against Donald Trump:

There's also a gif I saved but don't have the stomach to send you of Pepe the Frog in his Trumpian form raping Clinton.

You say that 4chan simply doesn't display racial overtones, white supremacy, or xenophobia. I knew that I would find all of the above on any day I visit /pol/, and I did.

Is anyone who visits or posts to 4chan and /pol/ specifically racist? No. Not everyone is posting this kind of thing and I'm sure that many of the people who do post these images will insist that they are just a joke.

But as Whitney wrote in the article:

"Of course, whether extremism is sincere or—as in the case of Pepe, a frog meme conscripted into the alt-right's cause—presented as some kind of joke, it is still extremism; as my co-author Ryan Milner and I argue of Pepe's emergent bigotry, that is the message being communicated, and so that is the message, period."

I can speak to this as far as the last image goes, and anti-Semitic messages on 4chan in general. The same type of images were used to dehumanize Jews in Europe, to the point where it was socially acceptable to segregate and then murder them by the millions. My grandmother was born and raised in Poland, and many of the family members she grew up with were murdered in the camps.

I don't know the intention of the poster, but to me it's impossible to take the cartoon as anything but an anti-Semitic insult and threat. It is not funny to me, and I'm sure the other images here aren't funny to women, African-Americans, or any of the other groups that are consistently derided on 4chan.

Frequenting 4chan doesn't make you racist. Defending this behavior does.

Thank you,

Emanuel Maiberg, Motherboard weekend editor

Editor's note: The author of the email about the 4chan article asked that his name not be included here since it's "embarrassing" and it could damage his career "to even publically discuss race-related issues." He also sent two follow-up emails saying that it doesn't make him racist to defend someone's right to free speech, that the article in question wasn't real journalism, and that Motherboard should instead focus on reporting on Hillary Clinton, who "is outright murdering black leaders in Africa" (referring to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya).