NPCs on the Holodeck

Let’s fast forward to a time when technology has advanced to the point where we can share a fully immersive virtual world. We can walk around — or fly around — at will, pick up objects, have eye contact with each other, and all the while feel perfectly comfortable hanging out together in that physically plausible alternate space.

Now suppose that we decide it would be fun to populate that space with virtual beings — what in computer parlance are called “non-player characters”, or NPCs. What do you suppose they will be like?

In particular, will they be as photo-realistic as we can make them? Will they be indistinguishable from us humans in every way — or at least, indistinguishable from the avatars of ourselves and each other in this shared world?

Or will they be deliberately stylized, marking them as a separate species, much as in earlier times we would stylize animated characters such as Bugs Bunny or Woody the Cowboy?

I’m not sure it’s a question of what is possible. It might be more of a question of what we really want from these characters, and how we prefer to think of them.

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