Recently, a Second Life veteran named Hikaru Yamamoto told me about the plans she'd heard Philip Rosedale was cooking up for his new company, LoveMachine. He wasn't just building a public version of Linden Lab's employee rating system. Turns out that was just one project. A somewhat more ambitious goal, she told me, was, well, creating a sentient artificial intelligence which existed in a virtual world.
"He wants it to live inside Second Life," as she put it to me. "It will think and dream and everything." Indeed, the company's website now lists as one of its three projects, "The Brain. Can 10,000 computers become a person?"
This seemed somewhat unbelievable (but only just), so I checked with Philip himself.
"Yeah," Philip Rosedale told me, "that's the general direction we're going... but I'm not wanting to talk about it until we start making some progress."
That Philip plans to revolutionize AI technology -- in effect, achieving singularity in a virtual world -- isn't that surprising, because he said as much when I talked with him for The Making of Second Life:
"It'll be possible for constructs that we build in Second Life and things like it in a simulated space to actually think," he told me in 2007. "It's only a decade away, the simulation engines." I just didn't imagine he'd essentially take the helm on that project himself.
But as the man suggested, progress on that project is still in early stages. However, due to the company's innovative structure, pretty much anyone with the willingness and the talent can get involved: as the homepage explains, people can apply to take on tasks from an open worklist, and discuss them in a shared chat system.
For now, the company itself remains a roaming two man operation, him and early Linden employee Ryan Downe, who are apt to set up shop wherever there's a wireless Internet connection -- one day a new MMO company, another day at the Nikko, a luxury hotel in downtown San Francisco. Which is where Philip took the photo above; which also means I get to write a paragraph that sounds like rehashed William Gibson, but in this case, actually happens to be true:
Without an office of their own, they poised their decks on the great marble slabs in the Hotel Nikko lobby, and continued creating a sentient AI who could dream in the metaverse. While his partner the retired rockstar plugged away, Philip kept wondering when the waiter would ask them to buy a drink, or tell them to take their singularity noodling elsewhere.
Update, 12:35pm: Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka has a 2009 post with more background on the thinking behind Philip's project, which has apparently been gestating for quite awhile:
With the time horizon for enough computing horsepower to simulate the entire brain only 10-15 years away and a theoretical blueprint for design and simulation well underway, synthetic brains may finally achieve what we’ve been promised since the 1960’s. The focus on neocortical columns was made famous in geek communities by Jeff Hawkins’ book, On Intelligence. Philip was very excited by the book in 2004 and it made the Linden rounds in 2004... At the time, I would have bet that by 2009, a group of us would have moved on to the brain project. After all, building Skynet always felt like an appropriate follow on to Second Life. [emph. mine!]