Avatar Afterlife

Posted on Friday, October 12th, 02007 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Futures, Technology   chat 0 Comments


(This post was submitted by Roderick Jones, photo from Flickr user Dukal)

One of the stranger aspects of the explosion in the use of virtual worlds is when the avatar outlives the physical life of the gamer controlling it. People inhabiting virtual communities die in real life leaving their avatar and its property behind. A trend that is likely to increase given the predicted increase in use of virtual worlds. Players could leave their avatar passwords to their children or friends to carry on their virtual lives and distribute their property, but it is possible to conceptualize a scenario whereby the avatar continues to exist by replicating the digital profile of its real-life creator.

Both Myspace and Facebook are on the verge of introducing systems to monitor their users online activity in order to better direct advertising toward them. It doesn’t seem long before this kind of marketing system will also be applied to virtual worlds. The process of distilling an individual’s online behavior into a digital profile is currently driven by the commercial needs of advertising but it is possible to imagine it being used in more creative ways. The software used to track the online behavior of users, within in particular system (virtual worlds or social networks) could be modified to track the entirety of their online behavior, over a longer space of time – say thirty years. At the end of this period the data could be used to program an avatar. This avatar would inhabit a virtual world or worlds and be programmed with all the users personal data, preferences and potential responses– would this lead to an avatar afterlife?

With the increase in data storage capacity, computational power and future arrival of mainstream interconnected virtual worlds, this scenario does not seem so improbable. The idea of uploading minds into computers and robots certainly isn’t new (Moravec, Kurzweil) but is generally tripped up by ideas of consciousness and attempts to replicate the mechanics of the human brain. Creating a copy of online behavior and programming an avatar to respond to stimuli in the way the user has been during their digital life is not suggesting consciousness, merely sophisticated replication. This scenario has some intriguing consequences. Amongst them are the possibilities an individual could leave money to their avatar rather than their children in order to support their avatar afterlife, or that future generations would have access to a representation of their ancestors – but would having access to the temporal wisdom of our forebears be of any use? A digital representation of life could continue unhindered in a virtual environment, after real-life has ended.

Tech companies could offer this service; certainly there has never been a lack of human interest in life after death. Maybe Google with its seemingly endless storage capacity will one-day also host our virtual afterlife.

Roderick Jones

  • bryan campen

    Wow, my head hurts. Long metaverse project full speed ahead :D

  • Daniel O’Donnell

    “It is very difficult to predict, especially about the future.” But we still try anyway.

    While certainly not following any kind of scientific method, I like to look to the writers for their visions of how things might work. Some seem to get plausibly close (Arthur C. Clarke, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, et al). Making the rounds of the sysadmin world these days is _Daemon_, which posits something close to what you’ve posed here – an avatar belonging to a dead master. Only in this dystopian case (what is a good sf novel without being dystopian somehow?) the dead master was the brilliant creator of the wildly popular virtual world. The avatar controls the world, so can shape the evolution of the avatars and their owners to recruit armies. And he has figured out how to reach out of the virtual world into the networks of the real world and control real things there too. Oh and, the avatar controls the bank accounts of the dead master, thus making it fabulously wealthy. Hence the dystopia.

    It’s a good read, especially for anybody who is familiar with both the virtual and the real (AI/AGI, robotics, etc).

  • Robert Jarrell

    The avatar existing in a virtual world idea can be taken one step further. A Transhumanist theory proposes that one day we will be able to upload one’s consciousness and exist on a server (virtual world) so that when one’s physical body dies one’s mind (and therefore life) will continue. The mind will be real and more intelligent, and the virtual world in which it exist can be programmed. This concept was illustrated to a degree in the film Vanilla Sky. The intrigue of an avatar living in a virtual world is a stepping stone to what people really desire; to live forever in a world they can create and condition to their own liking.

  • Try out Greg Egan’s books for good sci-fi about uploading minds onto servers. In particular Diaspora, though Permutation City has some good stuff on the subject too. Also, let’s not forget the original stories on this subject … Frederik Pohl’s Heechee series. All great stuff.

  • observer

    If anyone believes in Jesus, then maybe you might realize that if you believe in jesus, then you die all the day long. So, if I have an avatar in sl, I am dying all the day long, and therefore, it is already occurring
    that dead men are controlling avatars. If any of the believers in Jesus, who fart around with avatars are to be saved, then I guess they must die all the day long. I sort of think of this as being crucified with christ all the day long. I don’t find it pleasant, but that is sort of what the bible says.
    Else, if men are not dieing all the day long, and they spend time controlling avatars, then they might be in trouble at the judgment, me thinks.

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  • Kevin W. Crean

    Though currently limited by the nature and extent of responses derived from on-line behavior, one would think that avatars of the future could represent a certain advancement over the current, earthbound species. I imagine any number of deceased husbands whose avatars, under the control of their widows, would suddenly experience a sharp desire to clean the house, for example. And never a harsh word. “In fact, I like those. They make you look slimmer,” etc. Not nearly as exciting as real life, with its misunderstandings and hand guns; Waziristan; Sarah Palin and troopergate. Whoops! Gotta go! (Query: How are they gonna model that train of thought?)

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  • Interesting Post Roderick.

    “future generations would have access to a representation of their ancestors” – I particularly found this interesting.

    For me, the most interesting (and perhaps unique) value this medium could offer an audience over other mediums, especially to future generations, would be their ancestor’s ‘mannerisms’! Imagine that, seeing and learning how your great, great ancestors reacted on a visual level; perhaps you’d recognise expressions and mannerism that you see in your own children.

    Of course we kind of have that already in the form of video clips, however, the gap to bridge would be to make your ancestor directly react to your own input- hence the Avatar world.

    It’s not hard to imagine and I believe this could be in our lifetime. The immense evolvement of interface technology in the last decade alone (since 2000), facial recognition is now in nearly all digital cameras.

    ‘Facial expression recognition’ via your Smart TV or your AiTV for instance, could quietly learn behavioural patterns and responses from a family, even permissioned by the family on the basis of such an Avatar legacy for their future generations.

    The ability to learn a users mannerisms could bring much more personality and uses than just words or demographic ID alone.

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