Monday, August 27, 2012

The Culling of the IQ

Recently, I joined OkCupid much on the insistence of a few friends and, perhaps, a little interest from their blogs (link). Like many other dating sites, you choose and answer series of questions in order to find suitable matches. One particular question caught my attention: Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce? Eh, so we need to stop Idiocracy from becoming reality? The eye-grabber was the number of women answering yes. Nearly, every single one of them. Granted, I selected from a small pool so it is not statistically significant. Still, that is a little scary. And no, I do not wear a helmet.

Swabbed genders between Gump and Jenny during their love scene. How awkward do you feel?

OkCupid, though not for a while, would mine data from all those question answers and member behavior. The data is compiled into trends and the site founder, Christian Rudde, writes about the findings and provide insights/interpretation. Unfortunately, I've not witness any discussion on the IQ question.

Remember when Johnny Depp was his brother

Why should we care? It is a silly little question with no impact. Not so fast because it is revealing of this perception of intelligence falling and the call for culling the idiots. I will not argue the drop in intelligence but it is not certainly due to IQ. There is a little thing called the Flynn effect: measured IQ over the past century has risen. This led to the led to IQ tests to be redesign several times over the decades in order to set correctly set the default at 100. So if you were take an IQ from the 1950s, you could easily be considered Mensa material.

In older IQ tests would have qualified these two as brilliant as James Woods, Dolph Lundgren, and Asia Carrera

There are many theories that suggest the rise of the IQ. More importantly, this rise does not mean rise in intelligence. There are multiple factors that account for raising IQs, such as improve diets, education at eariler ages and for both genders, increased skills at test-taking and we could ramble onwards. Most of all, IQ is a rough measurement of intelligence and not the gold standard. It is really best estimates.

It is not low IQs but our perception of the evolution of our culture. Who of us has not complained about the stupidity of mainstream culture. Of course, we need find the blame and our scapegoats are the 'dumb' people flooding the gates. We have gems like Idiocracy to give life to this perception. The fear/comedy of the film, no doubt many people feel, is stupidity outbreeds intelligence. To a certain degree, this is true, yet it is the whole story?

Consider this: who, in America, is considered the smartest man by IQ standards? Christoper Langan's IQ is measured between 195 and 210. He has been working on the Unitified Theory of Everything...the very thing that Einstein could not figure before his death. In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, Langan's background reveals poverty, abuse, rejection, life of manual labor and damn near the bottom of the social ladder. Until the late 90s, the most attention he received was being a bouncer. Admit that when you read that quick description of Langan's life, you're thinking he's one of those damn drunks that somehow passes his genes onwards and bring us closer to Idiocracy.

Langan pondering if he should make galaxies circle around your head

Langan is not the only genius to rise from the rags of the socioeconomic abyss, traditionally thought as the low IQ world. Michael Faraday and Gregor Mendel were both runts of society and only able to become clerks/monks. Benjamin Franklin might be credited with figuring out lightening is electricity but Faraday figured out how to generate and harness it; before the Victorian era. Yes, he was cyberpunk before there was steampunk. And Mendel, the founder of genetics, who reached the magnum opus in his research about 4 years before DNA was actually discovered. Just to note: Watson and Crick did not discover DNA, just its structure and they have wicked PR skills. Guess what? Mendel was a monk from a farming family who funked out of college. No Pissarro family here.

Not the most safest and energy-efficient light-bub. But admit it: you'll pick a Tesla bub over an Edison one.

The problem with IQs and calls for its culling is simple: we really do not have a solid explanation between IQ and inheritance.  There is some suggestion that IQ might be passed down through the mother. And this could explain the Marie Sklodowska-Curie linage of nobel-winning, nuclear scientists, war journalists and biologists.

Which leads us back to the original question. The quick dumb answer: do not impregnate dumb women. The actual answer: it is time to seriously look at our culture and not blame its 'dumbing down' on things we cannot change, such as genetics (for the time being). No, if we wanna avoid this 'dumbing down,' we have start supporting more stimulating interests and hobbies.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Need for a New Lead – Part 2

Last month I wrote an article about the need for more female leads represented in video games. This medium is dominated by the generic male lead, and unlike TV shows and movies, I believed the risk to take a chance is significantly less in the video game industry. I believe this reduced risk stems from the fact that the gamer is more receptive to change; how else are you going to advance in a game if the main character doesn’t go through a changing journey. So with this in mind, I’m going to focus on the minority main leads, and what we can learn from what’s already come.
Chell, the lead from the excellent Portal series is not only a strong female lead, but a minority too. Not much is known about her ethnicity, but the actress, Alesia Toyoko Glidewell, who served as her face/body is of Brazilian and Japanese decent, still I wouldn’t want to make any assumptions. Chell is cut from the same cloth as Gordon Freeman; silent yet bold, smart and brave (thanks to the gamer), and up against insurmountable odds. In the grander schemes of things her plight is small (she is fighting for her freedom and not to save the planet), but her journey is remarkably fun and unique. It is from this smaller sense of scale that we get to see her tenacity and partake in her ingenuity. 
Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, from the Assassin’s Creed series, originates from Syria. It is in the assassin’s order that Altair learnt his core values. He is honest (constantly trying to do right by his comrades), brave (going up against the Templars to save those he loves), smart (deciphering ancient artifacts), and strong. He didn’t have an easy life (he’s an assassin), but he was willing to look at his mistakes, and learn from them, as well as learning from the mistakes of others. It was because of this self reflection that he was able to become a strong and wise leader. When the assassin’s order had lost its way through betrayal, he returned to take it back and restore the integrity that was lost. He might not have been as fun as Ezio, but he was a corner stone, not just in his time, but for those to come. 
Carl Johnson (CJ) from Grand Theft Auto is an African American. Like all other GTA games, you don’t play as a nice guy. You’re not the squeaky clean guy trying to clean up the streets, but unlike other GTA leads, CJ was not a heartless bastard. He was loyal to his family, friends and his gang, and genuinely showed remorse when he has to kill members of his gang. Further, he showed remorse when killing others, even going as far as to try to give some second chances. Sure he killed opposing gang members, and those that tried to kill him, but he is remarkably resourceful, as seen when taking back his turf. He was young and naive (some mistakenly believed him to be unintelligent), but he took people on at face value. He was an interesting, multidimensional lead.
Then we have James Heller, another African American, from the Prototype series (the poor man’s Infamous). He was about as interesting as Alex Mercer, which is to say he wasn’t. He was bland, and failed to captivate. His story was unoriginal, his motivation generic, and his world was uninteresting. He, like everything else in the game, was just there. With this line of thought, Garcia Hotspur from Shadows of the Damned, of Mexican descent, jumps to mind. The way Garcia was portrayed put a spotlight on how Japanese developers seem to deal with race (remember the RE5 controversy). Sure Garcia loved his girlfriend, but he is overly violent (bordering on psychopathic), and has difficulty reading English and… that’s all I seem to remember about him. Why would he have to read English novels in the City of the Damned is beyond me; couldn’t they be in Spanish? It didn’t add to the story, and only hurt Garcia’s image.
These are a few of the minority leads in a field that is already limited. Some of these characters are genuinely interesting, adding motivation to play the game in addition to the game play. Others fall flat. When a character is done well, you begin to care for them, and want to see their trials and tribulations. When a character is poor, they get in the way, constantly hindering every experience the gamer has. This is true for any medium, regardless of race or sex. Thankfully, there is still more to come. Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs and Ratonhnhake:ton (Connor) from Assassin’s Creed III are both upcoming minority leads. I have no doubt that Ubisoft will be able to weave a fun story with an engaging lead for ACIII, and I look forward to what Square Enix does with Sleeping Dogs. But this industry needs more variety. Who knows, if video games lead the way, maybe other industries will follow suit. Until that day, all I say is more characters like Chell and CJ, and a lot less of the James Heller and Garcia Hotspur will help this industry move forward.