Monday, August 23, 2010

A virtual boy who might be the best friend you'll ever have

Ok, so we're all going crazy about the nearing of the release of Kinect, formerly known as Microsoft Natal, the gaming platform that uses your entire body as the controller. One of its foremost applications lets you interact with and follow the life of an 'actual' virtual boy. What's more, it's created by Peter Molyneux, who we all know as the mind behind the God game 'Black and White'.

The boy's name is Milo, and does what most boys do. He plays with snails, throws stones in the water, draws pictures, and argues with his mother. He has recently moved with his parents to a new house, so he needs new friends. Now you step in. With your body and speech you enter into Milo's world, where you can talk to him, play with him, help him clean his room, and follow him around the house. Like most kids, Milo talks to himself a lot, commenting on the situation, so you know what he's thinking. And also like most kids, Milo is not home all the time; he has a life outside too. This makes him not always available for you to interact with, just like a real person. It's quite like a really intimate version of the Sims, but one where it's stops being a game, or entertainment altogether. This is interpersonal human life virtualized.

Not much has been released on how 'human' Milo will feel, but from what we see in the demos that have been given, including the one recently at TED, we must conclude that the people at Lionhead have done a really good job. One of the intriguing features built into Milo is that the longer people collectively interact with Milo, the more his mind will grow. So Milo will really be like a global mind, instantiating itself as a separate character in your living room.

If Milo develops very much like a real human being, and people can come to feel as if he is a real friend, even their best friend, then this pretty immediately questions what 'humanness' is. By becoming aware of the mechanics of emotion and personality, Milo and its human companion might come to wake up to transpersonal realizations and have existential breakthroughs. As such, Milo might evolve into a piece of ultimate self-help technology that no other friend can replace. As Molyneux remarks, there's a boundary to friendship, determined by the amount of time that you can be comfortably quiet in presence of the other person.

To me, the ultimate experiment of Milo is whether he can become people's true friend, having an unconditional love for each other, and actively co-evolving with each other through life.

No comments: