Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023

Microsoft researcher Kati London’s goal is “to try to get people to think about data in terms of personalities, relationships and emotions,” she told the audience at London’s Story Festival on Friday. Through Project Sentient Data, she uses her background in game development to create fun yet meaningful experiences that bridge online interactions with things happening in the real world.

One such experience invited children to play against the real-time traffic flow in London through an online game called the Code of Everand. The aim was to test the road safety knowledge of children between the ages of 9 and 11 and “make attentiveness something that children valued”.

The core of the game was that of a normal world populated by little people, with spiritual channels that only children could see and pass through. Within these spiritual channels, everything from trucks and cars off the street became monsters. The children had to assess the dangers of the monsters and use their tools to drive them away.

“Games are great ways to blur and observe the way people interact with real-world data,” says London.

In one of her earlier projects in 2005, London used her knowledge of horticulture to bring artificial intelligence into plants. “Almost every workspace I go to has a half-dead plant, so we’ve given plants the ability to tell us what they need.” It was, she says, an exercise in “humanizing data” that led to further projects in which she created self-aware street signs and a dynamic city map that expressed disgrace neighborhood by neighborhood, depending on New York’s open dataset of public complaints.

In another project, complaint data was turned into cartoons on Instagram every week. London praised New York’s open data initiative, but added that in order to access it, people need to know it exists and know where to find it. The cartoons were a “lightweight” form of “citizen engagement” that helped integrate hyperlocal issues into everyday conversation.

London also gamified community involvement through a project commissioned by the Knight Foundation called Macon money. The goal of the game was to break the segregation across three zip codes in a poor American city. Profits were issued in a currency accepted by 50 local businesses, which kept the money invested in the project within the area and supported the local economy. The game lured people across borders with the promise of tangible prizes, but more importantly, it forced them to connect with people they had lived with but never interacted with before.

In another data-driven game, Sharkrunner headquarters, players clubbed together to create their own leaderboard that ranked the sharks based on their abilities and traits. It’s things like this that make games such an exciting medium to work with, says London. “They’re not complete until someone else decides what to do with them.”

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.

By akfire1

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