turning sexuality and cognition into digital vapor

Surprisingly, one of the topics Singularitarians don't bring up about the utopian virtual worlds to which we'll upload our minds is just how much sex there would be.

second life virtual strip club
Virtual strip club from the game Second Life

Once upon a time, eons ago as far as the web is concerned, and just a few years ago for the real world, there was a very popular game called Second Life, the goal of which was to create virtual communities from players who represented themselves with custom avatars. Basically the Sims in an MMORPG format. It had plenty of press coverage and several of its players even made it to the covers of magazines. And back in those days of Second Life’s media reign, the long forgotten year of 2006, a rather odd interview appeared on a blog about the game, an interview about the coming of the Technological Singularity. Only neither Ray Kurzweil or any of his partners in the Singularity Institute were involved. Instead, it was an attempt at a prophetic vision from the game’s famous cybersex performer who looked forward to a time when she can not only play her character in an online world, but become one with it. Very Matrixy, Ghost in the Shell stuff which begs an odd question…

We can talk about all the reasons why uploading your mind to a virtual world couldn’t happen, but for just a moment, let’s pretend that it is and you really can live out a virtual life. You look exactly like you want to look. All aging, disease, and lack of resources are things of the past. You can always create more of everything with a flip of a virtual switch. But consider for a second what our Singularitarian Second Life resident was doing. Very soon, human needs are going to start manifesting themselves and one of them will be sex. Humans are hard wired to seek out sexual satisfaction, and it’s actually good for us. People with healthy sex lives tend to have a stronger immune system, suffer less from depression and mood swings, and if some experiments on rats in laboratories can be fully applied to humans, the stress of sexual encounters triggers the birth of brand new neurons. Our evolution runs on sex and we’re basically programmed to seek it, just as we are generally wired to seek the company of our fellow humans. So it’s no wonder that social networks and porn are by far the top destinations for web surfers, with the former eclipsing the latter only recently and by a slim margin, and if we decide to digitize ourselves, our virtual worlds will need to simulate or trigger the same rush of emotions and cascade of health benefits on us, otherwise, we’ll hardly even consider it.

Second Life was no exception to this rule. Adult content was so popular, Linden Labs actually had to build its own version of a red light district to accommodate the demand, and there’s a good number of Second Life knock-offs based almost solely around cybersex encounters to which I’m obviously not going to link here. So any virtual world where post-Singularity, digitized humans are supposed to live is supposed to accommodate that need. But what would happen to our future digital society? Are we going to have areas of the digital realm monitored, censored, and cordoned off and travel to virtual red light districts when we want to do something a little more adult-oriented? Would computer viruses become the new STDs? How would we address our deep seeded drive to become parents? Are future digitized humans going to be raising virtual children? How would they feel about having a virtual child, an entity that’s not real as far as many humans are concerned? So in no time at all, we start traveling deeply into the territory mined by The Matrix Trilogy, trying to decipher what is and isn’t real and trying to sort out perception and reality, something many of us often can’t seem to do now, much less in a virtual world with a potential identity crisis just brewing in the back of our digitized heads.

Sure, you’re an immortal set of bits and bytes capable of navigating whatever amazing world you can think of, then whenever the mood strikes you, spending some time exploring the adult areas of the web. And for some people, that stay is going to be really, really lengthy since everyone is now young, athletic, and attractive, and if your date isn’t into that, you can morph into anything he or she wants. But the question will persist. Is this real and does it matter? We’ve been attached to our bodies for millions of years and living in a world where we’re well aware that everything we see, hear, feel, and do is actually managed by lines of code on huge, sprawling server farms would be a major cognitive challenge. What happens if there’s a power outage? A comet strike? A huge solar storm? Our electrical infrastructure is very fragile and we might find ourselves in a rush to return to our soft, squishy bodies or a suitable substitute. Maybe it’s a good thing that the scenario above could only happen in abstract discussions. Maybe living virtually just isn’t something most of us could handle…

# sex // futurism / reproduction / sex


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