Many are the sci-fi encounters with races that have transcended their physical bodies, having moved on to dwell on some energetic or spiritual plane. The tales skip the backstories, so we wonder: Did these aliens get where they are via Darwinian evolution? Did they get disgusted with the physical world and devise a technological means of transitioning? Do their planets of origin still exist, or were they destroyed? Always in sci-fi, we are given to assume that these aliens enjoy their non-material existence and don’t miss the meat world.
We won’t speculate on whether Florida’s governor would approve* of this kind of transitioning! Yet humans are starting to do it, in a primitive way. Sim-world products abound, and Facebook never meta-verse it didn’t like, ha.
VR-enabled metaverse Somnium Space… allows users to create an A.I.-avatar duplicate of themselves… so that people can visit them long after they die. As A.I. only improves and continues to update the avatars, they could gain an agency unique to themselves…
The Somnium Space feature “allows people to have their movements and conversations stored as data, then duplicated as an avatar that moves, talks, and sounds just like you.” Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov came up with the idea when his own father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was concerned that his young children would never get to know him.
The company plans to start recording data this year for interested users — starting at around $50 a year — with the first set of basic avatars available by next year.
Clearly Somnium’s avatars won’t have sufficient “agency,” or mobility, to explore other galaxies and engage alien cultures, a la sci-fi. (Nor will they evolve them, as long as their programmed mission is to appear the same as their live forebears.) The idea is kind of fascinating, though, and therein lies the danger.
The real world – the physical world, the meat-and-veggie world – is in trouble. Nuclear proliferation, pandemic, climate change, you know the list. As computer capacity and A.I. make for ever more detailed metaverses, will we use them to escape reality – playing in NFT patches of “unreal estate” while reality crumbles around us, fiddling while Rome burns – or will we use them to save the world?
Plenty of folks will take the first choice.
How will the rest of us put metaverses to more real-world-saving use? Simply by turning them into the next generation of data “visualization.” Quote marks there because data views will be multi-sensory, not just visual. The data will represent conditions of the real world – progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals; individual, corporate and government efficiencies and emissions; epidemiological projections; cost/performance progress of new technologies; and sundry other sustainability measures spanning time, geography, and multiple scales of time and space.
The useful multiverses will be the great-grandchildren of SimCity, allowing massive simulation of sustainability strategies in urban and rural milieux in varied ranges of climate zones.
Artificial intelligence will help us comprehend the multi-multi-dimensional data and sims, so we may make the wisest possible decisions. If well designed, the metaverse and its A.I. will support decisions that combine each user's head, heart, and gut, with the whole-person perspectives of diverse other users.
As we fight the good fight to save the planet and our physical civilization, who knows? Our technology might advance to where we can make fully intentional, fully mobile non-material avatars. We’ll then revisit the question of whether to roam the star-ways in immaterial form. But I think that will take a long time – and meanwhile, via genetic engineering and the like, we might change the biological nature of humanity right here in the real world.
* Florida governor deSantis signed a bill making it illegal in schools to discuss whether you’d prefer to be male rather than female, or vice versa. This question is hugely important to some young people, but seems trivial compared to the question, discussed in the present column, of giving up the body altogether. Which question, logically, the Florida law would extend to.