Becoming and Being an Avatar—Attaining Self-Consciousness

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También en español In our last post we explained how one can explore the Virtual Reality (VR) of Second Life (SL) as an avatar equipped with a wide range of physical characteristics and surface appearances. We suggested that endowing SL avatars with some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) would support rational exploration of the different levels of human cognition and interactions across the hierarchy. Today, we consider what it would be like to personally experience the life of an SL avatar. Carlton Mellick explored this idea in the D&D game The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2  in which a group of characters, after experiencing the dildo, are awakened to the fact that they are just pre-rolled characters living inside of a classic RPG, subject to the whims of a dungeon master who is only interested in making them have sex in various combinations.

Someday, possibly sooner than later, it will become possible through personality profiling technology akin to today’s mindfiles to simulate a significant fraction of the cognitive activity of the human mind. Stated this way, the prediction seems vague enough to be obviously true; however, many Transhumanists believe that this is a destiny that will someday be completely true. They believe that it will be possible to simulate the entirety of a human personality—body, mind, and spirit—in a technological construct. SL avatars thus endowed would surely have to be considered entirely equivalent to human beings, with legal rights of their own.

What then should become of the resident associated with the SL avatar that has become a fully self-conscious human personality? It would seem natural for the resident to abandon support of personality functions that have been successfully offloaded to the avatar and its supporting substrate. This part of the resident has come to live a simulated life in a simulated form in a simulated world. Could the resident transfer all his personality into the simulation and be free from the meat forever? We do not know because we do not have a useful understanding of what constitutes personal identity, much less whether it could be replicated and indefinitely maintained in an artificial substrate. I have argued that the erotic, the sense of sexual pleasure and the joy of orgasm would be a necessary foundational capability for any simulation able to replicate personal identity.

Although the resident who voluntarily (and non-destructively) transfers the bulk of his personal qualities into the simulation will remember where he has come from and how to leave the simulation, this is not true of a simulated consciousness of comparable power that is constructed, introduced, and allowed to evolve within SL, copying fragments from operated avatars to support its own development through genetic recombination and selection. Such simulated beings would have no understanding of the existence of RL, except through the explanations and visualizations provided by RL residents through their SL avatars. Clearly, SL beings that have struggled up from the random digital muck to reasonable self-awareness deserve to understand where they stand and how they can find their way to RL. You can’t keep the knowledge from them and, once they know it is real, you can’t ethically deny them a path to explore it and more.

Human beings, thinking sympathetically of the needs they would want fulfilled were they first born as SL avatars (to know of RL and a path there) will feel compelled to provide such knowledge to the community of self-evolved free-acting avatars. If humans would show this much mercy to their creations, is it not necessarily true that the cosmic infrastructure of RL would provide comparable facilities for the care and uplift of those like us, who are first born into RL? Someday, once SL avatars have begun to attain independent self-consciousness, it will be possible to show them how our minds enter our avatars and, thus, how their higher mind functions may finally escape SL to find a new and independent existence in RL with our help.

Let’s start out by thinking how our higher mind functions would interact with less complex mind functions of an avatar endowed with free will. You may wonder why the exercise of will would ever be turned over to an avatar, but if the avatar truly embodies and follows the will of the owner, then the two remain effectively one person. When I enter SL as my avatar, there are no questions about integrated identity, since I know any uploaded will function will be faithfully applied as if I did it myself.

On the other hand, if the avatar truly does have free will, then it possesses the singular ability to make my will its will and to act accordingly, or to do anything different. In terms of forming an integrated personal presence, the avatar must voluntarily adopt the will of the resident and always act in the directions and within the boundaries of that will, which need not be confining. If I think from the avatar’s viewpoint, I will be trying to follow directions from the resident, whose mind in RL embraces levels of capability of which I am not directly aware, in order that my actions in SL will satisfy our shared purpose—which, in the final analysis, is to experience fulfilling joy in both SL and RL. My resident has a bird’s eye view of SL and can help me be fabulous if I pay attention. And once I fully experience a union of will, of purpose with my resident, then I know I can move my personal presence from SL into RL, even as my mentor, who came from RL to SL, showed me.