February 10, 2009
Online simulated worlds such as Second Life are growing in popularity. Lately I have been wondering where that trend ends.
Today the little avatars that represent you in the simulated world look like cartoon dolls. It has all the realism of a puppet show. And yet many people still find that addictive. What happens when the technology arrives at a point where your avatar looks and acts just like you, or at least just like a real human?
We humans are so influenced by visual cues that the power of the online world to influence our real world emotions will jump to a new level. Pair that with the fact that you will have more control over events in your simulated world than in your real world, and fewer problems, and you have a recipe for a society-shifting phenomenon. There will be mass addiction to online virtual living via avatar. You will be able to transact real world business and do all of your socializing online via your avatar.
In the real world, going outdoors and doing real things will become increasingly unpleasant, thanks to global warming, pollution, expense, crime, etc. In my community, for example, no one has a front or back yard. If I want to go outside, for any reason other than walking the dog, I plan a trip and drive there. It’s hardly worth it.
Humans are wired to fall in love with babies and puppies because of the immediate visual impact. I think we will form the same emotional bond with our avatars once they look more like ourselves, or like a human that attracts us on some level. People will literally come to love their avatars in the same way they love their own children and themselves.
At some point your avatar will become a combination of artificial intelligence plus the commands you give it. While you sleep it will wander the online world and acquire new knowledge and even new relationships. I wonder how stimulating it will be in the real world once your avatar can form a loving or sexual relationship with another avatar. You will still prefer sex in the real world to sex in the online world, but you might only have regular access to the online version. And online you will never worry how you look naked.
I also imagine that the scenery and environments of the online world will become so visually captivating that the drabness of your real world experience will pale in comparison. Once that happens, no one will ever mow his lawn again, if he even has one. Beauty will be something you see on a computer. It will stop making sense to beautify the real world because it can never keep up.
Eventually, as I have written before, and futurists predict, you will be able to scan your brain with such precision you can port your personality into a computer. The obvious place to store that personality will be in the avatar you used while you were alive. So over time the online world will be populated with a combination of avatars controlled by the living plus online “ghosts” that are the personalities of the deceased, operating independent of any living human.
Eventually humanity will die from some mutant strain of virus, but the online world will live on, maintained by robots. Inside the simulation you will live a full life, die, and reincarnate into a new avatar to experience the breadth of life all over again.
You’re way ahead of me and you know the punch line here is that the future already happened and you are already an avatar. And god is the robot that maintains the system.