Virtual life & Robots

The distance that has existed between people and machines has reduced significantly over time. The interactions with machines (computers, robots, etc.) have become more natural than before; people can stay hours on end in front of a monitor, either for work of entertainment without even noticing. Some scholar argue that the evolvement that human have with machines have change what machine do for human, to human and how they make human think different of themselves (Turkle, 1995).

With the development of the internet a new simulation of reality came. The internet has become a tool that permits people interact with others from the mediation of a computer. People from all the corners of the world can chat together in one single virtual space at the same time. The internet has eliminated the barrier of geographical location for the interaction of people. Since the physical presence is not needed anymore a sense of anonymous exists, with this people can create versions of themselves or completely new personalities.


In the chats, MUDs, or other virtual places where users could interact people where swapping genders, improving attitudes that they disliked of their “original” selves, imitating other that they worshiped or hated. It became difficult to know if the person you where interacting with online was in real life anything similar to what they described to be or similar to how they acted online.


In the book ‘Life on the Screen’ by Sherry Turkle present many cases on how real situation affect the way that some users interact online. She mention how having multiple identities online can be used as a therapeutically treatment for some, but it is not a substitute for professional therapy (if needed). Some user use their online identities to act on a way that they couldn’t on their real life, just to blow some steam or to experiment something that they would in real life (like gender swap, homosexuality, etc.) Some users argued that MUDs permitted them to discovered who they really were or how they wanted to be.


On the work of Turkle we can appreciate a detachment from real issues that users have and how they replace them for issues in their virtual realities. To mention a user called Thomas that was passionate about politics, but about the politics in the MUD that he plays in and not in the one of the country that he reside. Another example is about an user how meets a girl on the MUD and they get engage on the virtual reality but when plan for her to move to his room start become concrete he end the relationship, based on the fact that he is not ready for a real relation.


Turkle portraits the detachment from some user from certain issues of real life but I feel that she doesn’t cover the effect that virtual reality has on the real life of the users. It would had been interesting to see how attitudes that users portrait on the MUDs affect their real persona. In 2010 there was a case of a couple how raised a virtual baby but neglected their real baby, causing its death[1]. Not all the cases are as dramatic as the one mention but it would be an interesting research.


In Turkle’s book there is also a portraits on the extend that some users go to so that they can mimic the action of the opposite sex. Some users acquire an identity from the opposite sex to try and live the experience of being from the other sex, see how the interaction between people of the opposite sex is and try to appreciate or know what type of feeling they portrait to each other. Sometimes they also do this so that they can experience what sex would be from the other perspective (even though this is virtual). Some users go to great research of the opposite sex so that their portrait can be authentic.


The understanding of the opposite sex is something that is seen in a different way on the study of Jennifer Robertson on ‘Gendering Humanoid Robots’. In her study, Robertson finds that when scientists try to create female robots they do this by presenting their concept of what a women is, and same for when they create a male robot. She argues that is “that their naive and unreflexive assumptions about humans’ differences informed how they imagined both the bodies and the social performances of their creations.” (Robertson, 2010:5)


In her article we can also appreciate how the distance from machine and humans is being eliminated. In Japan robots are considered to be part of society and many elderlies would prefer to be taken care of by robot than by foreign laborers. For the Japanese society robots are part of the Shinto and therefor part of the real world.


The truth is that machines, robots, computers and virtual reality are becoming part of what the real world is. We are no longer distance from them and the interaction with them is part of our daily routines, be it for work or entertainment. Virtual reality permits a person to show their real selves, something they can’t accomplish on the real one. We are living in a world that combines both, becoming a world augmented by virtual reality.




[1] http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/05/police-baby-starved-as-couple-nurtured-virtual-child/

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