Nick Bowman gestures to the old-fashioned gaming consoles littering his desk.
“Whenever I am having kind of a crappy day, I pull out the Nintendo,” he says, pointing. “That’s a licensed one. I also have a Raspberry Pi that I have all my emulators on. [And] I have the original Pokemon Red on my smartphone.”
Bowman, an associate professor of journalism and creative media industries at Texas Tech University, has a vast collection of consoles and hundreds of cartridges and discs.
Like me, he grew up in a time when video games were intimately tied to a physical device. We played using handheld consoles, while the games themselves were on cartridges – the kind you pulled out and blew out the dust from if it wasn’t working.
As kids we spent hours immersed in gaming worlds, but when our devices were lost, broken or superseded, the game likely was too.
While music and literature has long been well-preserved, and constantly re-released, games weren’t like this. For years our favourite games were inaccessible because they were non-interoperable: the cartridges didn’t work on other devices, and old computer games wouldn’t run on newer operating systems.
Playing them was only possible thanks to a handful of dedicated individuals, often anonymous, who remade or ported them to work on current systems.
“Think about all the cultural capital that was tied up in cartridges and power cables that our parents threw away,” says Bowman. “And then a couple of people found it and put it back together.”
Reconnecting with your past self
Bowman’s research shows how powerful the nostalgia from playing old video games can be. For many people, games are intimately tied to social networks. We played Mario tennis with our friends, or racing games with our dads.
“We already know that games are a source of psychological wellbeing,” says Bowman. “…With nostalgia you get sort of a bonus relatedness because you get to connect to yourself. You’re replaying a game from a positive childhood memory. Those things can be particularly powerful for short-term stress release.
“It’s almost like a digital smoke break. Return to this past life, play through it, and reconnect with yourself, literally.
“In our research we found that people who have social nostalgia memories – memories of playing games with friends in the past – they feel connected to themselves and their friends in the past, and they also feel connected in the present.”
Nowadays, companies are going after the market for nostalgic gaming. Nintendo is slowly adding Nintendo 64 games, some of which I played as a kid, to its Switch console.
“I don’t think the industry was all that interested in providing nostalgic games until the retrogramers and the modders and the emulators took it upon themselves,” says Bowman.
“Coders and hackers and modders, I think, saved classic gaming. They showed industry that there is a market.”
‘I had the tools and skills’
The Raspberry Pi Bowman has on his desk is a basic computer loaded with emulators. Emulators are software that can behave like the hardware of a video game console, allowing you to simulate a console on your computer.
The coders and hackers that created the emulators are driven by many factors. One of the most famous emulator projects is MAME, which was first released almost twenty five years ago and has had hundreds of contributors.
“That one probably has one of the most noble goals of emulators,” says Stuart Cairne, a Tasmanian software developer.
“It was trying to emulate the original hardware and preserve it so that we don’t lose that part of our history. Some of the games that it emulates are from the mid and late seventies, or even earlier than that – hardware that was only available in universities.”
But other emulators are created simply for the joy of playing them, or because of the technical challenge of making them work. Many developers still have access to the old devices, and even go to the extent of opening and inspecting the chips so they can replicate bugs and make accurate digital recreations.
Carnie, whose day job is at a data company, often found himself contributing to these projects so favourite games like Monkey Island would work on the operating system he used.
“I wanted to play the games, and being a developer I had the tools and skills … I would often bring them to whatever platform I was on, which has been a Mac for the past 20 years.
“It’s fun just to see these things come back. It’s all that nostalgia too – there’s that game I used to play when I was 10 or 13, and now it’s working on my PC.”
After the launch of the iOS App Store in the late 2000s, Carnie started working on a Commodore 64 emulator for iPhones and iPads. He and his partner in the project joined up with a big Danish game developer with industry connections so they could license everything.
“We had licensed the branding, so we were able to sell it as a Commodore64,” Carnie says. The emulator sold on the app store for US$4.99 and included five games: Dragons Den, Le Mans, Jupiter Lander, Arctic Shipwreck, and Jack Attack.
Sometimes it was impossible to find who owned the rights to games – over the decades many of the companies went bust, or their catalogues were sold.
“We had some big names on the emulator that we had fully licensed from people who had still retained their IP … but we also found that some of the developers we were able to communicate with no longer had the rights to it or did not know where [the rights] had gone.”
“We had one [game] we had released on the Commodore 64 for free because we couldn’t track down the rights to it, and then the Bruce Lee foundation messaged us to say it had to be taken down because Bruce Lee’s name cannot be used,” Carnie says.
‘I remember that joy’
For many years emulators were the link to our childhoods. They existed, as Bowman and Carnie note, in somewhat of a legal grey area. Some of the most popular – such as Visual Boy Advance, a classic Gameboy game – were created by anonymous individuals, who sometimes faced lawsuits against them.
Mostly emulators were technically difficult to use. The amateur-created software could be hard to find and install, and buggy. The grey market for the games was full of shady websites.
“It was hard,” says Bowman. “[Just to play them] you had to learn a lot of coding on the fly. I remember downloading those files and you had to trust the link, and unzip it and load it to this file and not that file. And it was always kind of a wink, wink culture.
“I remember that joy, I think it was [the game Contra], [of] hearing the sound. You go into the emulator and you have to do all the settings and I finally got it to play and all of a sudden … I remember getting tingles that I was about to play a game, on my work computer, that I hadn’t seen since I was in my jammies.”
Even if you still physically possess an old game disc, it can be a nightmare to play.
My friend Praveen owns a disc of an old Star Wars shooting game originally created for MS Dos. Actually playing it started with trying to find a copy of Microsoft Windows 95.
“After that it’s pretty straightforward,” he says. But as he continues, it really doesn’t sound like it.
“You have to use the command line to install it,” he says. “The other cool thing about this game is that it’s one of the early games with sound. But if you want to hear the audio you have to manually configure your sound card.”
“Hardware comparability is a huge issue with these old games,” Praveen says. “They can’t ‘comprehend’ things like 1GB of RAM when they were designed to run on 16MB.
“There’s a certain level of competence and pride that comes with grabbing a controller. Turning on a 30-year-old game and entering in the same code you did when you were 11, and it works,” says Bowman.
“For a lot of older gamers we pride ourselves on not going to the guide but remembering it from when we were kids.”
Retro gaming is now more democratised than ever. Emulators have become much easier over the years – even available on smartphones. I have encountered numerous people who dipped into their childhood games to get through Covid lockdowns and other stressors.
A recent YouTube video by someone who remade Simpsons Hit & Run has had more than five million views. It’s a game I also played for countless hours as a kid. Except I didn’t actually own it, so all those hours were actually at my cousin’s house. He remembers this too.
“I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that those hobbyists, emulators and rom makers may well have saved gaming in two ways: provided people access to content that had become completely inaccessible, and reminded us of properties that we had actually forgotten about,” says Bowman.
The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.
Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.
The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.
“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.
According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.
Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.
When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.
“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com
“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.
“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”
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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.
Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.
Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”
The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.
The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).
This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.
BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.
Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.
“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.
My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.
The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.
It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”
A dozen US midwestern research colleges and universities have signed up to a project intended to bolster the semiconductor and microelectronics industries with combined research and education to ensure work for their students in high-tech industries.
The “Midwest Regional Network to Address National Needs in Semiconductor and Microelectronics” consists of a dozen institutions, made up of eight from Ohio, two from Michigan, and two from Indiana. Their stated aim is to support the onshoring efforts of the US semiconductor industry by addressing the need for research and a skilled workforce.
According to Wright State University, the network was formed in response to Intel’s announcement that it planned to build two chip factories near Columbus, Ohio, and followed a two-day workshop in April hosted by the state.
Those plans, revealed in January, are to build at least two semiconductor manufacturing plants on a 1,000-acre site, with the potential to expand to 2,000 acres and eight fabs.
At the time, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he expected it to become the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet. Construction started on the site at the beginning of July.
However, the university network was also formed to help address the broader national effort to regain American leadership in semiconductors and microelectronics, or at least bring some of it back onshore and make the US less reliant on supplies of chips manufactured abroad.
Apart from Wright State University, the 12 institutions involved in the network are: Columbus State Community College, Lorain County Community College, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
The president of each institution has signed a memorandum of understanding to form the network, and the expectation is that the group will expand to include more than these dozen initial members.
The intention is that the institutions taking part will be able to make use of each other’s existing research, learning programs, capabilities, and expertise in order to boost their collective ability to support the semiconductor and microelectronics industry ecosystems.
Challenges for the network include developing mechanisms to connect existing research, and training assets across the region, and developing a common information sharing platform to make it easier to identify opportunities for joint programming and research across the network.
University of Cincinnati chief innovation officer David J Adams called the announcement a game-changer. “This highly innovative approach illustrates that we’re all in this together when it comes to meeting industry workforce and research needs,” Adams wrote in a posting on the University of Cincinnati website.
The move follows the long-awaited passage of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act at the end of last month, of which $52 billion of the total spend is expected to go towards subsidizing the building of semiconductor plants such as Intel’s, and boosting research and development of chip technology. ®