Question: You’ve proposed the creation
of an academic center for the study of synthetic worlds. What would
such a center try to accomplish?
Castronova: It would try to develop some
sense of the policy options in this space, try to parse out the
opportunities and the risks. It would develop educational applications.
It would develop the following research idea: If we built a series of
comparable synthetic worlds, couldn’t we unleash slightly different
policies in each one? It seems to me that this would be an
unprecedented opportunity to study human behavior at the social level.
No one has ever been able to study such things before, not in this way,
not using the tried-and-true experimental methods of the natural
sciences. Imagine how a few well-designed experiments about socialism
in 1870 might have affected world history. We have a lot of pressing
questions about societal behavior right now–human population response
to disease, for one example; community response to natural disaster,
for another. These things could be directly studied in synthetic
worlds; without them, all we have is pure theory, and historical data
(in which policy causality is basically impossible to untangle). The
idea would cost $20 million to $50 million, but it would also
dramatically improve business as usual in a large chunk of the
I file this one under: Matters I am Probably Too Old to Understand. Isn’t the ever-versatile Jane Galt addicted to Civilization? I once tried the game and was too addled to play it, or even to figure out what playing it would mean, much less to use it for research. I brought it on my laptop to my Mexican village, where they shrieked each time the cow went "moo."
Is this experimental economics but with "synthetic," programmed people? Is this experimental economics with real people playing a computer game but in a richer synthetic environment? Is this experimental economics but cheaper because you use the "status money" of a game instead of real money? Some mix of the above? Comments are open…