What’s a Metaverse?

I became interest in a project called Second Life (http://www.secondlife.com/) – initially just out of curiosity. Broadly, the idea is a whole virtual world, with residents, money, shops, houses, businesses and so on.

I tried it out, and lasted about 10 minutes before I was inspired enough to leave. This is because, the actual second life, the one that exists is little more than a so called-Massively Multiplayer Game (such as World of Warcraft). The major difference is there is no game element underpinning the thing, so essentially the whole experience is dull.

However I really do like the idea. Utilising the Internet (in particular) and technology to get many people interacting, playing, creating things are the exact projects, games or works of art that enjoy and also represent an area that I would love to have a role in.

Simulated reality is the idea that reality could be simulated — usually computer-simulated — to a degree indistinguishable from ‘true’ reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not know that they are living inside a simulation. In its strongest form, the “Simulation Hypothesis” claims we actually are living in such a simulation.

This is different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of ‘true’ reality; participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to distinguish from ‘true’ reality.

Practical or not, the idea raises three vexing questions:

  • Is it possible, even in principle, to tell whether we are in a simulated reality?
  • Is there any difference between a simulated reality and a ‘real’ one?
  • How should we behave if we knew that we were living in a simulated reality?

An interesting aspect of Second Life is the parallels to social networking dedicated websites, like Facebook.com or Myspace.com. These websites take the lion share of internet hits, if you disregard key areas like email and pornography. They’re a modern (internet enabled) phenomenon.

Maybe it would be possible to create a non-graphical virtual world that would seamlessly link with sites like Facebook and Myspace. I used to play an internet game, where you were the leader of a planet and had to use your resources to live and expand your empire. Planetarion I think it was called. The game takes place in real time and had about 500,000 participants all existing on their own planet, invading other solar systems, amassing hundreds of space ships. The point is, it was very successful and absorbing, was “real” to extent (there were real people playing it) and took place outside of the graphical world. All that was required was numbers and figures representing how your world was progressing. Maybe I should explore a text-based, socially-networked Metaverse (more Metaverse reading on WikiPedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaverse and also http://www.metaverseroadmap.org/)

I really enjoy all of the philosophical ponderings that are born from this subject.

The philosopher Nick Bostrom investigated the possibility that we may be living in a simulation. His argument attempts to prove the disjunction of three hypotheses (that is, that at least one of the following three propositions must be true), that:

  1. intelligent races will never reach a level of technology where they can run simulations of reality so detailed they can be mistaken for reality; or
  2. races who do reach such a level do not tend to run such simulations; or
  3. we are almost certainly living in such a simulation.

At the time I thought the concept behind the Matrix was inspired, with hindsight its obvious that the writers had plenty of back-thinking to turn to for inspiration.