Avatar Afterlife


(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

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