A man on the radio just said; “there is talk of having virtual children in the metaverse.” and then proceeded to ridicule the idea. But caught between the last sip of coffee and loading the dishwasher, I really only heard the premise. It threw me back to 12 years ago when I had an avatar on Second Life.
SL “players” always referred to the realm of SL as “the metaverse.” That’s because it was a plane of existence where your thoughts took shape and nothing else. Of course there was a lot of content to avoid, but there were also universities, art galleries, philosophy circles, trivia nights and a dozen other places where society was being pushed into the future without the people in the outside world knowing anything about it.
I met millionaires who made their fortunes selling virtual shoes, clothes and accessories. This blew my mind, these people were living in townhouses in London based on selling the idea of fashion, only the idea, no real clothes or shoes ever changed hands. They created the idea, made the image and made it available to be used on other avatars and put it up for sale. It was reproduced thousands of times and each time, the person who “bought” it for reproduction, paid a penny or two to have it for their avatar’s use. I still believe NFTs are just a crude attempt to bring SL art into the real world. But that’s a story for another time.
I also met people who met and married their spouses on SL and yes, some who left their marriage to be with their SL spouse. Anything creative is also destructive, that’s always true. I made friends with people from all over the world. I met people I would never have otherwise met in SL. I made friends with librarians from Harvard, professors from Bologna, artists who show their work at the Venice Biennale. I moved in circles that would have been closed to me in real life. And it did change my life, but once again, another time, another story.
On this sunny Sunday afternoon, before I forget about this in my garden, here’s what I want to say about the idea of having virtual children: it’s already happened.
A virtual child is nothing more than an avatar created by a person who is immersed in the metaverse. People sometimes create a “pregnancy” and go through an “infancy” and “childhood” raising that avatar up to be the ideal version of what they want this person to be, but once raised, that avatar establishes a life of their own in the metaverse. They have their own friends, they have their own way of thinking. And if the engineer who was put on suspension at Google this week is right, they may, eventually, have their own consciousness.
I had a friend from Australia in SL. She and I were interested in exploring the idea of the virtual world and experimenting with how people responded. We thought of groups as existing in a “geography of consent” which was the only way I could sum up how it felt to log into the platform and take my avatar to virtual locations where I knew my philosopher friends from Germany, business friends from San Francisco, academic friends from Italy and Australia and musician friends from England would be present together and socializing. We would gather there, not in our bodies but in consciousness, and talk about the world. We were uncensored and unfiltered. These groups, these places, became important to all of us.
One day, this friend and I met an artist who had designed some self-determined animals. He had created chickens who were not controllable. These chickens, once released, would roam over the landscape. Only a virtual fence of a specific type could keep them in.
We bought a flock of these chickens and released them onto the virtual land owned by someone neither one of us liked. The chickens caused problems. They were able to interact with virtual plants, they roamed the landscape, got in the way and made noise. But they didn’t stay where we put them. Weeks later we received messages from strangers asking us to come and fetch our wayward chickens.
I think you can see, from this example, that machines do learn. It’s also a good illustration of how a computer virus might work. The chickens were also an excellent learning tool for the repercussions of autonomous AI let loose in a shared setting. There were other lessons too, but the garden is waiting.
What I came here to say, before I forget about it, is that elderly and disabled people can go to virtual reality and level the playing field. The only thing that matters in the metaverse is your mind. In the metaverse, people in wheelchairs can fly.
The ripples this can create could be more like tidal waves depending on how people embrace them. A person who creates and raises a virtual child is creating an echo of themselves that is not much different from the echo people hope to create when they have an actual child. It’s also possible that such an echo will rebel and become something new and different from what their parents hope for.
We are living in a time when research and money is being spent to determine how it might be possible for us to download our consciousness or a facsimile of our personality, into a computer matrix in order for our traits to live on. (*see Martine Rothblatt and Bina)
No one is suggesting the earth and all her wonders will ever be ignored or decrease in significance. We are all part of the ecosphere and I hope we will all learn to care more tenderly for the earth as we understand that. But I am saying, the realm of the mind is being explored and mapped out in new ways and the idea of reproduction within that realm is neither new nor fantastical, it is the logical outcome of where we have been and where we are bound.
I hope to get some pictures and a few fleshed out explanations into this later but if I don’t publish it, I’ll abandon it and move on, so here it is.