Friday, June 15, 2007

Immortality

A second life? I can barely cope with this one.

I'm referring to the increasingly popular virtual world Second Life, available to online gamers. One enters Second LIfe by creating a three-dimensional, animated avatar that is one's virtual self. Then one can do just about anything in the Second Life world that is possible to do in real life, including, one presumes, things one would not do in real life. By all accounts, the Second Life universe is booming, to the extent that real-world businesses are setting up virtual franchises in a place that exists only in the belly of a computer. There is a buoyant economy in Second Life, with a virtual currency known as Lindens that are convertible to real dollars.

Now the Swedes and Chinese are coming on with an alternate virtual universe called Entropia that promises to give Second Life a run for its Lindens.

Ah, the idea of creating an avatar Chet who is thirty years younger with a thick head of curly black hair is enticing, but my two computer savvy sons, who are way ahead of me in these matters, say "Pop, don't bother." And I suppose they are right. My life as a writer has been a celebration of the natural world, the real world. In my book The Path, I suggested that any one-mile walk contains enough wonders to occupy a person for a lifetime. What do I need with alternative universes?

How about immortality?

My sister Anne sends me a story about a project to take avatars to a whole new level, endowing them not only with 3-D animation, but with intelligence, will and emotions. For the present, a real person at a computer guides an avatar in cyberspace. But it is possible to imagine avatars of the not so distant future that carry into virtual worlds a person's very soul. There he goes, into the vast universe of some future Entropia, a virtual Chet, who exists only as binary bits in cyberspace, but who bears the real Chet's lifetime of experiences, personality quirks, desires, loves and phobias. Once there, he will act on his own, without me dictating his action from my computer. And since he need not age or die, he will continue his virtual "second life" after I'm dead and gone. I doubt if he will find a one-mile path in cyberspace that is interesting enough to occupy him for eternity. But -- what the heck -- while I'm at it, I'll give him that head of curly black hair.