SEX AND THE SINGULARITY
When Ray Kurzweil began writing about an imminent post-human future when nanotechology and supercomputers would enable us to transcend flesh and mortality, I doubt he ever imagined how his thought would redound on someone who spent most of her time roleplaying a bisexual prostitute in an online world. But there it is.
Khannea Suntzu contacted me a few months ago. Her SL sex work as Khannea, a high-priced and highly-desired call girl, has been the subject of several outside media profiles of SL Residents, including one in the 1 Up gamer portal and another, of all places, in the esteemed Le Monde, so I assumed she had something like that in mind for me. That turned out to be wrong.
"[L]et me get this straight," Khannea told me, "I am not interested in an interview. I have done that by now, and I have said all there is to say, or what I would want to say.
"What I do want is not as simple."
And she told me what that was. And since she happened to be appearing onstage soon after she did, I met her at the club where she danced, and took some screenshots of her, while Rick James' "Superfreak" streamed across the stage.
"This character is old," she began, "1983 or thereabouts, originally a succubus in some of those adolescent RPG thingies. I was pretty f***-ed up at the time and I developed dozens of MPS-like personalities inside me, that is nothing new to you probably. The fact that 'Khannea' is as real to me as your sexy blonde high school teacher is incidental. I can feel 'Khannea', every moment of my waking life. Sure, Khannea is a slutty side of me, you probably have seen all that and more.
"What does interest me is of an entirely different nature," she continued. "The fact is, I have a bit obsessed with the idea of a singularity. You may have heard of it. Not everybody believes such a thing may actually happen, but after having read Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near, I am deeply concerned. In his last two books he talks about this whole singularity business and sketches a prospect that it'll be actually possible that in the next 10-20 years some part of what we are could be captured in some form of artificial medium. Maybe 'we' could be imprinted in a new substrate, effectively copying or transplanting 'us' into a new state of existence.
"What concerns me is twofold," she said. "In the real world, I am not a competitive, highly succesful career person. I make do, make ends meet and count myself lucky I live in the Dutch welfare paradise, with a nice looking mate, two dogs and five cats, in a nice home in a safe and decent neighbourhood. In any other country I might be living in a cardboard box, eating canned tomato. I have a significant disability and my career possibilities are very small... [but] I have rent control, medical bonuses, wellfare, and then some.... Not everyone in the US can empathize with such a position, but that's just how it is.
"Basically: I am stuck. Can't go forward, can't go back, and even if I find a job I would qualify for next month they'd fire me if I reported myself sick for 10 days in a row.
"However, in the next 10-20 years there's gonna be a whole lot of things happening. Starting with better VR and robotics, in the 2020s we'll have computers that can think, hard AI, nanotechology, genetic therapies and maybe the first affordable life extension therapies. Most people around, maybe even you, have no clue what is gonna happen. By 2020 nearly all low-education jobs in the modern industrial societies can and will be replaced or streamlined by automated systems. You'll see unemployment numbers in Europe, US and Japan ranging in the 20-30%. By 2025 production costs of all objects you can buy in the stores will be dropping fast because of nanofactory replication. That will create even more unemployment. By 2030 we'll have actual mind-machine interfaces of some sort. What happens after that, I can't even begin to speculate. It could all very well lead up to a real singularity, with some kind Artificial Intelligence (whether or not it IS self-aware) improving itself in spectacular increments. By 2050 we may have a world completely alien to the world we live in right now. I don't know for sure but I expect spectacular things.
"These ideas of mine effectively make me a bit of an obsessive," she allowed, "though hopefully not Cassandra. I can go and circlejerk endlessly in the transhuman scene, but I've had enough of that. My primary interest is starting to instill some sort of public awareness, preferably inside SL.
"This is the place to be, maybe an embryonic, historically significant first move towards real VR. You probably heard the cliche's all over. But it can be true. People here are above average in intelligence. What I want is spread the meme, make people consider the very idea that SL, or maybe the son of SL, will be something bigger than commercial airtravel is right now. That in fact SL may be a business where hundreds of millions will be spending time in maybe one or two decades, just as the Internet is right now. You and I may actually be there, just maybe, maybe, to experience stuff we don't even have proper words for. That is why I want to sprinkle my memes around in Second Life. If in 10-20 years time someone does a search on the history of all this, I want my name in the footnotes.
"I'll be in my 60s in 2030. I have a fair chance of being alive by then, if the world doesnt suffer thermonuclear meltdown before then. If technology indeed does the unprecedented jumping through hoops I think it can, I want in on all that. And my guess is the best way to achieve that is to leave a mark, influence people, create awareness, foment discussion and maybe even political activism. I don't want my already small chances to experience all this to be halved into the single percent digits. I am convinced that what I do and say, right now, can increase the chances, with whatever modest resources I have, of me seeing some spectacular sights in the next decades - or maybe the next centuries.
"And yes," she concluded, referring to the brunette avatar in fetish wear, "Khannea fits a central role in that. In fact, it is my sincere ambition to be her. I think that I have a fair shot of experiencing her, being her, to the best of my ability, before 2040. Maybe even well beyond 2100."