June 5, 2008, Skagafjordur, Iceland - A polar bear that swam more than 200 miles in near-freezing waters to reach Iceland was shot on arrival in case it posed a threat to humans.The bear, thought to be the first to reach the country in at least 15 years, was killed. Chief veterinarian Egill Steingrimsson said, "There were around 50 to 60 people watching. The police did not have many options when the bear ran down the hill, approaching the crowd."Polar bears were frequently tamed during the middle ages, but since then no bear has been captured alive in Iceland. Receding North Pole ice is diminishing their hunting and mating grounds and jeopardizing their survival.
What if people could experience the struggles of endangered animals? Do you think it would alter their perspective? Could it change their politics?
A newspaper article in 2008
The idea for The Sensory Deception came from a newspaper article years ago...
Neuroscience experiments demonstrate that Virtual Reality alters people's feelings, even their politics.But how can a person experience the world of an animal?The concept of sensory saturation comes from something we've all experienced: panic. When you're in an emergency situation, your awareness focuses on right now; no more than a second ahead or behind. If we could keep the here and now but remove the panic, you'd find yourself in the state of mind of intelligent nonlinguistic animals. Mammals and birds make decisions based on past experience, but they don't have the processing power to contemplate or reflect on those experiences.Sensory saturation is a threshold beyond which the brain is so overwhelmed by sensory data that it switches gears from reflective thinking to the immediate process-and-response that animals experience.
"The Sensory Deception provides an insider's look at the world of the mind, video games, and venture capital, all wrapped up in a seductive, breathtaking tale of all-too-human folly. Stephens' characters are brilliant and real and fated to make sensational, dangerous errors, all on the path to realizing the larger truth of their real humanity. I wish I could go back and read it all over again--right now." -David Corbett, award-winning author of The Art of Character
What about the killer app, the ultimate nature experience? I've always loved Herman Melville and Jules Verne. Ahh, but the rub, what would you have to go through to develop the technology? To record all that experiential data, you'd need to attach sensors to a big bull sperm whale. . .
Who's your favorite villain? Heath Ledger's Joker. But he's a little too black-and-white. We should understand what drives a good villain. To get that texture, I based Chopper Vittori, at least partially, on the 10-year-old version of myself: a migraine-tortured loner with disdain for humanity and delusions of grandeur. (Yes, I still get migraines. No, I no longer disdain humanity. Delusions? You judge, I'll deny.)The leader, Farley Rutherford, is a combination of the great Canadian naturalist, Farley Mowat and the finest leader I ever worked for, Paul Grannis who led the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab. The venture capitalist, Gloria Baradaran, is a classic Silicon Valley VC. She believes that capital can solve all problems and that the market unleashed can be the ultimate force for good--which is to say, she’s a bit naïve. Fortunately, her father is not.Finally, the techno-genius electrical engineer Ringo Hayes. Complete with caffeine addiction, hobbies that other people think are weird, and a deep affection for how things work, Ringo is the uber-geek every startup requires for success.
Can a video game save the polar bear, the sperm whale, and every other endangered species on the planet? Silicon Valley scientist Farley Rutherford thinks he has the answer.His team has designed a virtual reality system that immerses users in the struggles of an endangered animal-and the astonishing experience leaves any who try it desperate to help. But the path to environmental salvation is not easy.Luckily, venture capitalist Gloria Baradaran becomes Farley's most ardent advocate. Gloria and the team will have to fight for funding and their cause before facing the biggest obstacle of all: obtaining sensory data from the creatures themselves, including the biggest hunter of all-the sperm whale.The cause is righteous, but the stakes are high. And while Farly fends off Somali pirates in pursuit of the ultimate sensory experience, a rift in the team puts Gloria's life in jeopardy, proving that idealism might just be the most dangerous game of all.Published by 47North in the summer of 2013.