I am happy to see the first essay by avatar extraordinaire, transhumanist thinker Extropia DaSilva on the Turing Church magazine. Read Extropia’s “Holy Singularity!” Her short low-profile bio sketch says just “Extropia DaSilva is a digital person, currently residing in Second Life. Her purpose is to explore how NBIC technologies are redefining concepts of self. She chairs the Thinkers discussion group,” but I want to say something more.
I count Extie among my dearest friends since meeting her in Second Life, in the stone age of 2006 or so. I am not often in Second Life these days, but I miss the excitement of being a pioneer among pioneers in a new world. They say that the new cyberspace world of Second Life is now deserted, or dead, but I am not so sure. Someday soon virtual reality technology will be much better, and the user interface much simpler (seen Cloud Party?) and perhaps Neal Stephenson’s vision will become real. We will see.
I see Second Life as cool and useful technology, but Extie, a true pioneer, sees it as a new world where you can live a new life. She sees herself as a digital person, who borrows the mental cycles of the flesh-and-blood “primary” behind the screen, but at the same time is an independent person who cannot be reduced to her primary. Think emergent properties, biology emerging from physics, and mentality emerging from but not reducible to biology. Extie hopes to become, one day, an autonomously sentient person independent of her primary.
Of course, we don’t have the technology yet. A primitive virtual world like Second Life cannot contain a mentality independent of the person who types at the keyboard. But someday soon we will have high bandwidth brain to computer interfaces, and artificial intelligences of human level or higher.
Leonardo developed conceptual designs of aircraft centuries before the technologies needed to build them in practice became available. He was a genius, and a pioneer. Similarly, I consider Extie a pioneer, and perhaps a genius. We don’t have the technologies — YET — to build an independently sentient digital person. But she is doing it anyway, and developing a conceptual framework. Is the Extropia DaSilva avatar independently sentient? No, I don’t think so, and Extie doesn’t claim so. Will an avatar built in a similar way with the technologies of 2040 be independently sentient? I think so. Will Extropia DaSilva be an independently sentient avatar in 2040? I most certainly hope so. Why? Because Extie is my friend and I love her.