The Avatar problem

During Facebook’s F8 earlier in May, Ronald Mallet, a researcher at Facebook Reality Labs, showed how Facebook is approaching avatars. Now, avatars have already been explored to the hilt in science fiction, and more recently in Ready Player One.

What Facebook is attempting is to create virtual avatars that are as close to our real selves as possible, unlike Ready Player One’s or Xbox’s attempt at us merely choosing a pre-created avatar.

The kind of problems we could face with close-to-real avatars are exponential. The potential for innovation, even more so.

Consider this. Right now, if someone hacks into our account on Twitter or Instagram, they get access to post as us, through our virtual handle. They remain words, posted on our behalf.

If our avatar is hacked, the hacker could make that avatar do things on our behalf. I don’t need to extrapolate what those things could be – use your imagination. For people (or their avatars) who have interacted with our avatar that resembles us, that would seem like we are doing those things. The closest equivalent of this in the current internet is if our account is hacked and used to login to a site. That seems almost benign compared to making our avatars do things.

Next, when AI matures (it’s just be a matter of time), we would be able to empower our avatars to do things in shared virtual environments without us doing them too in the physical world. It’s just like a piece of code that works on its own, but this code will be intelligent and have an avatar too!

We’re in for some really interesting digital times 🙂

PS 1: If Avatars interest you, I highly recommend Ted Chiang’s (of Arrival fame) 2010 novella, The Lifecycle of Software Objects. It’s a HUGELY thought-provoking book that would have you think deeply on many associated subjects – avatars, digital creatures, AI, sex, human relationship with digital creatures, legal rights for digital species and so on!

PS 2: Back in 2006, advertising agency Leo Burnett had announced that they have opened a space on Second Life where 1,600 creatives from the global network can interact, share briefs, showcase work!!

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