In this terrific article, Prof. Hubert Dreyfus looks at Second Life, a 3-D virtual environment "filled with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity" that "offers its 'residents' a chance to invent a whole new life for themselves. Can it deliver on that promise?" This is also somewhat related to the issues I focused on in my recent article, "The Dearth of Artificial Intelligence."
Of the more than 11 million people signed up as "residents" of Second Life, roughly half a million spent at least an hour a day in that world in December. Through avatars they create to represent themselves, residents visit art galleries, shop for virtual goods, go to concerts, have cybersex, worship, attend classes, have conversations, and buy and sell real estate. Residents also design clothing and buildings, write poems and books, compose music, and make paintings and movies. Others enjoy the way Second Life allows them to meet and converse with people all over the world. It's left to the participants to work out how realistically they present themselves. The Vatican has taken on the task of saving souls there, and Sweden has opened a virtual embassy to sign up residents to become real-life tourists in Sweden.
Second Life isn't a game. There is no overall goal and no way of ranking your success.... [it] offers the possibility of a virtual world that is more exciting than the real one. But at what cost?