The book paints a picture of how humanity will, eventually, make the transition from our current, real life, meat-world into Virtual Environments (VE). The way Marshall describes it in his book is, ofcourse, one of the many possible ways this transition could be made.
Marshall has come up with a system (which is as of yet fictive) called Vertebrane. This system will stop the input from our real life senses and feed our brains a VE instead. Once we decide we like VE a lot better than real life, we’ll move into it permanently, discarding our real life meat-bodies.
Ultimately, it is likely that we will indeed discard our bodies, and take up permanent residence in VE, because of the many advantages that VE has over real life. However, I personally think we’ll get there in another way than Marshall describes. My view differs from Marshall’s in that I think we will be using nanotechnology to accomplish this feat.
The idea is that nanotechnology, about 10-20 years from now, will have achieved the capability of being able to build nanobots: robots at the molecular level that can perform all sorts of useful tasks within our bodies. By that time, we will also have quite a bit of knowledge about the human brain. The reverse engineering of it is accelerating at an exponential rate, and extrapolations show it will be done somewhere around 2030. Once we understand it to such a degree where we could feed our brain artificial sensory input, it will become possible to create fully immersive VE’s for ourselves.
This is how:
Nanobots can be built to take up residence in our brains, and replace our real life sensory inputs with VE input. The same nanotechnology that makes these nanobots possible, will also be able to provide orders of magnitude more computational power than we have available now. All this power can be used to render VE’s right in our heads, that are at least as real as the real life, physical world we are used to. I’m truly talking about Matrix-like quality VE’s here, that encompass all our senses and are therefore fully immersive.
Some advantages of VE over real life:
- Death and disease are non-existant, since virtual bodies cannot be harmed.
- Everything is for free, since it takes a computer system no more power to render a king’s castle than a hobo’s alleyway. Money will be irrelevant, and as such we won’t be enslaved to it anymore. We’ll be free to do whatever we like.
- Because of previously mentioned advantages, crime, and the suffering that goes accompanied with it, will become an irrelevancy. Why bother to steal something when you can get everything for free? Why bother to kill or harm anyone when you know it’s not possible?
- You can adapt any form you like. You won’t be held back anymore by limitations imposed on you by a bad genetic carddeck. Unfair advantages will not exist. Life will truly be a game, with fair rules and equal chances for everybody. Getting an extremely muscular body will just be a matter of downloading a body-model from the Internet, as opposed to the years and years of strenuous training it requires in the real world. Always wanted to know what it’s like to be a dolphin, tiger or dragon? In VE, this is not a problem at all.
- You can be with anyone at anytime. Human contact won’t require two persons to be in the same physical location anymore. This especially comes in handy if you’d like to have sexual relations (in which case it’s really important to be in the same physical location!) with somebody you’ve met on the Internet. Today, when you meet an interesting gal/guy online, you better hope he/she lives close to you. Otherwise the relationship is off. What a drag!
Disadvantages of VE over real life are non-existant as far as I can see. Anything that is possible in real life, is possible in VE (provided the sensory input of the VE is of such a quality that it is not surpassed by the sensory input that reality feeds us, but that is just a matter of time). Not so the other way around. Reality is just another window. And a very uninteresting one at that. We will most likely come to view reality as a small subset of our future virtual lives.
For an interesting article that points out exactly how important VE is right now, and where it is taking us, read A World Of Warcraft World.
For anyone who has problems grasping how this scenario might pan out in a relatively short timeframe (I’d be surprised if we’re not here before 2030), there is The Law Of Accelerating Returns. This article explains just nicely why it is that we’ll be making ever more progress in ever less time.
If that article is too lengthy for you, have a try at my Singularity FAQ for Dummies. It explains exponential acceleration, and the implications of it, in less words.
We won’t have to wait for VE’s to become audiovisually immersive for a long time. Those type of VE’s will be here very shortly. Read The Future Of Computers for details.