Excerpts from the full transcript of an interview with Own Freeman, speaking to Andrew Weiss.
The finished article will be running in five parts in our print edition, every day this week, as part of our “Meat-Free Lifestyles” week.
“… Of course, for years I was just the Blox guy. The guy who created those. The thing was, and I’ve always tried to tell people this, but back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and, well – technically I’m a bit of an idiot. I mean, I’m a bit of a technical idiot. It was the guys that I worked with that did the real design and research. It still feels kind of arbitrary that I ended up being the face of the thing, but that’s just how it happened.
All I ever was was the guy with the idea. And even then, it never felt like a particularly ground-breaking one – it was just building on the toys I loved growing up, and on a – a world-view that seemed to make sense to me, I suppose. Around the same time actual, proper scientists were making breakthroughs left and right, in DNA and micro-technology, so I’ve always been a little baffled that someone hadn’t already come up with something like Blox…”
“… Sometimes all it takes is just being too – maybe dumb, maybe naive – to get something done. Because if it doesn’t occur to you that an idea is something that no-one has ever made happen before, you don’t really have the chance to consider failure…”
“…I always loved Lego when I was a kid, and all of the best games and toys growing up, they were the ones that were reduced, or distilled, I suppose, to the purest possible elements. Making things simple – so simple that they could be put together, and put into any combinations that I could imagine – meant endless potential.
And when I got older, and started hearing about atoms and molecules and – whatever – I mean, I’m no scientist, but it all made perfect sense to me. It was – you know – it was Lego, really. Just smaller – Smarter, but, if it was smaller, that meant, to me, that it must be simpler at the same time!”
“… Blox weren’t my first project. That would have been ‘The Forest’. We didn’t sell that many, but again, you can see the beginnings of the ethos that Blox came out of. The modular pieces, and each player taking a turn to build their part of an ecosystem – in fact, if it hadn’t been for ‘The Forest’, Blox would never have happened.
A few months after release, I started getting a bunch of mail from people about the game, and in amongst those, I started to notice names I recognised from science mags – biologists and micro-biologists, physicists, naturists. Guys who studied marine life and fluid dynamics. Stuff that went way over my head, but I found it fascinating, and well, these people – ‘The Forest’ caught on something inside them. They all loved it. Philosophers, meta-physicists, too.
And I found myself in correspondence with these people, people way smarter then me. And when the idea of Blox occurred to me, it was this strange consortium of scientists – people who would probably never be in a room together – who helped me make it happen…”
“… I think the open source nature of Blox helped, sure. Both with it’s popularity and the distribution model. Of course, sometimes it’s easy to forget, because there are so many Blox derivative products around, and with all the awards and – to be honest, I don’t really feel I’ve done anything to deserve them – but all I did was come up with the idea for the base product.
And of course a lot of people bought the basic Blox – which we could sell pretty cheap, because they pretty much started making themselves once the groundwork was done – and worked with them, and a lot of people still do. That was all I really imagined, to be honest – taking the Lego idea and reducing it even further – so that people could make their own toys and their own games.
But the thing really snowballed once a few enterprising individuals realised that they could use their skills to create more complex shapes out of the basic Blox then most people had the ability or the inclination to do, and charge accordingly. And then other people started building ever bigger items out of the parts that they were buying ready made from – well, you already know this, don’t you? Blox cars. Blox buildings. Blox shoes. Even Blox pets…”
“… So yeah, out of that. Well, out of the life that Blox made for me, I started to get the urge to move on, from Blox and yeah, right, from the life that Blox made for me.
All of the other stuff, the cure for cancer, the super-wheat, the enhanced web architecture and, well, the whole free world-wide web. The first manned trips outside the solar-system and the second colony on Mars – I’m actually quite proud of that, the fact that Blox made it possible for them to speed up the terraforming process – they were all side-effects of that desire to move on.
Don’t get me wrong – happy accidents, and I’m humbled by the effect that the work we did had on the planet, but it would be unfair for me to take full credit for things that were, basically, born out of a fairly selfish and self-absorbed decision.”
“… Why hadn’t anyone ever done it before? The meat-free living, as you called it, and all the other stuff?
Well, if I have to take credit for anything, I have to say maybe that dumbness that I was talking about before – it allowed me to ask some really stupid questions of those very smart people, who for some reason were listening to me, and somehow strange new ideas started being born. Only, of course, they were really just ideas that had been there all along, but nobody with enough people listening to them was quite silly enough to ask the questions until I came along.
Although, and this is quite a serious point, and part of the reason that I had to get away from the rest of the world, was – it was this: Blox made me very rich. I mean, really, quite embarrassingly rich. Not through any business sense of my own – just, true to the ethos of the product, the business was kept so simple by necessity – I wouldn’t understand it otherwise – that it seemed to look after itself.
And the sad fact of it is, and this is the serious part – I believe that anyone in power could have done these things, these things that everyone thought was out of our era’s grasp – if they had just had the will, because the thing is, you can make anything happen with the will, and enough cash. And it’s not like none of the governments or big businesses had that cash.”
“…I believe in being open when possible, but I don’t feel comfortable saying any more about my reasons for leaving the world.
I understand why you had to ask the question, and I don’t begrudge it, but – well, the point of seperating myself from it all was not having to think about that stuff too much. Sorry.”
“… So, once we’d built the environment, and by this point, you understand, we had coders – game coders, web architects, experimental artists, all working with hard scientists that previously wouldn’t have given them the time of day, most of them just working hard on the project to see what might happen – once we’d built the environment, I was ready to leave my body, and distill myself out into this new world that they’d made me…”
“… Of course, there were earlier attempts to upload consciousness onto computers, or onto the web. But all of them hit stumbling blocks, and I think the reason for that was, the people trying to make it happen were trying hard to replicate whole personalities, intelligences or organisms in their coding. What we did, we took what we’d learned from Blox, and applied that instead. We went small, the only way I can get my head round it is back to the idea of zeroes and ones, although of course most of the guys who put this together for me would laugh their asses off at that analogy. But it’s how I see it…”
“…We didn’t try to rebuild a human personality, or recreate the world. We worked on coding the tiniest, most basic and elegant base units we could, each one taking so little power and memory that it was almost negligible, and then pushed and molded and informed them until they formed life for us…”
“… Of course, a personality isn’t just the ability to make a decision. It’s the sum total of a million tiny decisions, both made and being made all the time – in the same way that, say, a cafe scene like this one isn’t made up of chairs and tables and coffee and mugs. Well, it is, of course, but it’s also really made up of the tiniest molecules and atoms, each one part of the mug, or the liquid, because it knows that it is meant to be.
Or, well, it’s been told that it’s meant to be, in this case. Or maybe even that’s the case out in the real world. I’m afraid that I’m an atheist, but I suppose that’s what people really mean when they say that God is in the details.”
“… And yeah, once people found out that they could do this too – because it’s important to me that the things we make are shared with everyone, and because one thing we’ve got plenty of here is space, so I’ll never be as crowded as I was outside – a few wanted to live online, too. And there are always visitors, alongside the traditional browsers.
I have to tell you, it isn’t quite the same. For example, I know that you can taste that drink, but you’re missing about seventy percent of the sensation, going through the skull-cap.”
“… I’ve no illusions about it. Sometimes I miss the meat of my body. It is mostly sentiment, because this feels identical to being alive outside – I eat, and drink, and play and I can have sex – either with someone I’ve conjured up, or another person, if I want to. But there’s something to be said for having limitations. Those are something that don’t really exist in here, and you can’t really be human without them.”
“… The one thing I miss the most? You’re going to laugh, I know it, because it sounds stupid, and it’s something we’ve just not been able to fix.
We haven’t been able to code a dog that actually feels like a dog. Most animals, like us, and the other primates, we nailed pretty quick, and we can get a mutt that sounds like a real one, and smells like a real one, and even feels the same to the touch. But there’s clearly something – some randomness about the way they behave – that makes a dog a dog, and we’ve not been able to work out what it is.
And I miss it!
So yeah, tell people that – that you won’t really miss your body, and you won’t have to miss your friends and family because they can always visit, but if you decide to live meat-free, you’re going to have to live without Rover.”
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