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Chasing the White Rabbit

Originally published in iGaming Business, Issue #89.

In early August, the technology press was ablaze with the news that IBM and its collaborators have created a processor that mimics the human brain in the way it functions.

Coming in at a whopping 5.4 billion transistors, the uniqueness of the TrueNorth chip is how those transistors are wired. Unlike traditional processors, TrueNorth’s transistors are wired to form a million programmable artificial neurons and 256 million synapses; all that gobbledygook means that this is a new type of processor that departs from the usual binary digital chips we’re familiar with today, moving us into the realm of an artificial brain, albeit less than 0.0000017 of the estimated average human brain synapse count.

So what’s the big deal? Well, apart from the one-small-step bit and the 200 person- years spent so far, the big deal is that this chip is only about the size of a postage stamp, can run on a cellphone battery for years and can be scaled by just connecting these “stamps” together — think ultra- mega-super-computer in your pocket that you’ll possibly never have to charge.

It definitely is keeping us on course for futurist Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that by the year 2020, computers will have the speed and processing capability of a human brain.

But before we lose our perspective here, how far have we come? In under 60 years, we’ve gone from computers that required the buyer build a building to house it to being unable to find a phone that has several city blocks worth of equivalent processing power, in your purse.

If you are as mad as a hatter, you would probably be thinking now that we’re at the dawn of Skynet; perhaps some mysterious guy in fancy round shades will be offering you colored pills to remove you from being a battery for a conscious computer; or a Johnny Depp-looking virtual being will be able to endow you with superpowers, but fortunately, reality will likely be much less spectacular than the dystopias envisioned by Hollywood.

iGaming’s relationship with innovation

If history continues to repeat itself, as it has with any mass-market breakthrough in technology, the first time neuro-synaptic processing computers will cross paths with the gaming world is when we uncover a tinkerer that has taken someone in the industry for a lot of money in a game.

Cynical? Perhaps, but until our industry starts to pay more attention to technology and how it may affect us, it will likely play out just this way.

As an industry, we’ve never really been on the cutting edge of technology. Arguably, we could be in last place, as an industry in the business of entertainment, when it comes to the willingness and ability to embrace new technology.

Why the resistance? Has leadership in the industry taking a page from the Queen of Hearts and padded the jury box with the usual suspects that simply toe the company line and go around in circles, saying “Off with their heads!” when someone tries to do something different? Or is it the regulatory bodies that put unnecessary burdens on the industry that discourages innovation?

Granted, we are not in the technology business. That said, can any business in today’s world truly ignore technology and play it safe by sticking to the knowns?

Let’s look at Apple, a company that is in the heart of the technology business, but became the second most capitalized company in the world by becoming a consumer electronics and entertainment company; they did it by knowing what’s out there, pushing it and then building what needed to be built.

What have we done in comparison? Since its invention in 1891, the slot machine has lost its only arm, taken on more reels, added some interactive game- play, started licensing content...and I’m really grasping at straws now.

Even on one of today’s most advanced smartphones, a slot machine still looks like, well, a slot machine. In five years, we will have a slot machine that runs on a neuro- synaptic platform that has 3D holographic reels, but it will still be just a slot machine.

Where have the game and entertainment innovators gone in our business? Is it any surprise that the average age of iGaming and gaming customers is continuing to rise?

The repeated logic is, “don’t fix what ain’t broke,” but to paraphrase a line from the movie The Hundred-foot Journey, why change a game that has been around for 123 years? Perhaps 123 years is long enough.

As an industry, both regulators and operators should open up to embrace innovation and technology that will help evolve products, value and ultimately, the industry itself. We should not always just give customers what they want, but at the same time, we need to realize that we can’t let the pursuit of the white rabbit become one of the white whale.

What changed the technology and entertainment gaming industry are the mavericks and indie developers. Birds that are angry and flappy took the world by storm, not from game giants like EA or Sony, but from small developers that dared to do something different and platforms that allowed them to flourish.

We do have mavericks in the iGaming world but there’s much more work to be done to promote innovation and awareness of emerging technology and content. We have to do that not because we have to embrace all new technology, but we need to know what we can do, so we can open up our imaginations to what we might do tomorrow.

There will be many misses but we should not fear innovation simply for the fear of failure. Even the great Bill Gates missed the significance of the Internet that he updated his published biography to include it. Many may joke about how Microsoft never got it right with version1.0, but think of it this way, if they never risked releasing an imperfect 1.0, would we be talking about Windows 9 today?

We should all take a run into the rabbit hole once in a while.

#Technology

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