Once you’ve finished screaming, let me re-emphasise that this story is one of those “according to report” stories. It comes from unnamed sources at Activision-Blizzard, describing a recent all-hands meeting during which CEO Bobby Kotick laid out his vision for the company and gaming at large following Activison’s acquisition by Microsoft, which is tipped to finally conclude this week. Amongst other things, Kotick allegedly discussed machine learning, Guitar Hero and the apocalyptic power of Microsoft R&D. Activision hired James Corden to host the meeting, the sources claim. It sounds like a David Lynch fever dream.
The sources in question are familiars of Windows Central, which has a decent track record for this kind of anonymous reporting – amongst other things, they’re the ones wot got hold of Todd Howard’s internal email to staff celebrating Starfield’s release.
“If you look at the new technologies that are on the horizon, we’re going to be able to do things that we’ve never done before with AI and machine learning,” Kotick is said to have said. “The quality of graphics are now elevated to a place where we’re going to need more writing talent and more acting talent – because we won’t be able to actually fulfill the expectations of our players.”
Kotick reportedly added that “games are always very different than film and television. In film and television, you are successful by creating a connection that’s emotional between you and the audience – our experiences are more visceral, but it’s changing. We have characters on the screen and video games who with mouth movements and facial animation that is realistic – you’re going to have a new dimension of emotional connection that we’ve not yet mastered.”
It was at this point – if rumour speak true – that Kotick brought up Neuralink, an American neurotechnology company founded in 2016 by Elon Musk. Neuralink develops implantable brain-computer interfaces, akin to the neural laces worn by characters in Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels. Musk has suggested various applications for this invasive gadgetry, from treating brain diseases to achieving some kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence. A lot of scientists aren’t convinced, however: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology review described Musk’s 2020 live-streamed demonstration of Neuralink as “neuroscience theater” designed purely to “stir excitement”.
Neuralink test their brain tech by stuffing it into the heads of monkeys. In 2021, the company released a video of one such blameless creature using a Neuralink prototype to play Pong by means of brain signals. The company are currently under US federal investigation for animal welfare violations following the deaths of several monkeys during testing at University of California, Davis – Wired has a good report on the situation. Despite these developments, Neuralink recently received approval to carry out human clinical trials from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Still, think of the videogames! “I talked a little earlier about the physical experience of interacting with something on screen,” Kotick reportedly said during the talk. “I think you’ll see things like Neuralink – you’ll actually be able to interact with things on the screen, where there isn’t a controller.”
Kotick apparently feels that Microsoft are the perfect partners with which to embark on this brave new ocean of brain-hacking technology, amongst other fancy new ways to play a videogame. “A big part of what I’ve seen in Microsoft is research,” he supposedly opined. “And they do development in areas that are extraordinary. And so being able to tap into their AI and machine learning capability, the data analytics, new ways of thinking about graphics – I just see unlimited potential for what we do.” As to what Activision bring to the marriage, “we have the very best franchises in all of video games.”
I’m not aware if Microsoft have any neural interface technology in R&D themselves, but I’d be surprised if they haven’t toyed with the idea. This is Microsoft, after all.
This feels like a good time to mention that videogames are littered with cautionary tales about the act of screwing bits of computer hardware into your noggin. One of them is Activision’s own Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
Activision Blizzard are currently the subject of a number of legal actions, labour disputes and allegations of workplace harassment. Rock Paper Shotgun will continue to write about these issues, as well as covering Activision Blizzard games as part of our commitment to cover subjects of interest to our readers. The latest news can always be found under our Activision Blizzard tag.
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