Digital Space Commons
Bruce Damer's Brave New World

Interview held on 4/11/2000 by Russ Spencer of Bruce Damer
for New Media Magazine

How will the new technology benefit humanity or the evolution of thought among people who are able to participate in these worlds?

I think the shared visual virtual world is the new communication medium of the 21st Century. Unless we invent telepathy. The telephone impacted the 20th Century, as did radio, movies, and all that. The postal system impacted the 19th century. Books impacted the 16th century in a huge way. But I believe this is the biggee because for the first time in the history you have crated a space that doesn't exist in the real world but has all these rich properties, where you can meet and represent yourself and converse with other people. And there is something immensely powerful about that. Of course authors, if they write a novel, are creating a virtual world and inviting people in.. A filmmaker makes a world. A good storyteller makes world. A shaman 10,000 years ago who was cave painting was making a world and inviting people in. Well the virtual worlds of cyberspace, which I believe is the true Cyberspace, is all that packed in.

And how will that grown and evolve in the next twenty years?

In any sufficiently complex medium that has structure and that has energy and parameters will spawn the emergence of self organizing systems. For example, like your Campbell soup pot, you heated your soup and left it for two days and there was nothing alive in it before but some little bot, as in robot, ie a little bacterium, found it, and now, it's an ecosystem. And cyberspace could well become such a place. And computer viruses are early indications that there is an ecosystem there.

But it wouldn't actually spring forward into some real biological creature of some kind.

Well, one can argue that real biology is just the information structure.

So what form would it take?

A different form that something that we would expect would be made of atoms. Because things that are made out of atoms are fairly slow. The evolution is very slow and they can only access resources within the range they can wander. So its a cyberbiology. We can say this thing is exhibiting all the properties of a live organism, it's evolved, its created a whole phylum and it's certainly not being driven anymore by the eight year old who coded the first genome. Tom Ray's Tierra project which has been running for ten years exhibits a lot of these properties. Stuff wanders across the net, reproduces and shifts offspring between servers. And parasites emerged in that system and started consuming creatures that then developed strategies against the viruses. So that has pretty big implications.

And what are those, exactly.

In three billion years of evolution there has never been a life form that wasn't made out of chemistry. Digital Biota are made out of some chemistry because they are running around in silicon, but for the most part they are really just information. This is a big deal in the evolution of life on earth. If you untwist it and say why has life created homonoids (replacing humanoids) to go out and etch silicon that look like their cities from the air? Why has the biosphere created this creature to do this thing? And Richard Dawkins would say that it's selfish genes, the whole plan is a gigantic gene trying to copy itself. And if it's going to find a mechanism to make a copy, then it's going to go hell bent for it. And the best way to copy the Earth is to make an environment where you don't weigh anything. Because if you can make a creature that doesn't weigh (replacing way) anything, you can evolve a lot faster. And it can travel at the speed at light. So life may have found a way into a longer term survival (replacing survival medium), into the chrysalis of the next medium. In other words, the technology that is being developed to sell pornography and dungeon games could someday help us make the next evolutionary leep? It's all happening in virtual world cyberspace. Why? Because there are gazillions of objects, people and transactions and activity in those worlds, and that's a lot of stimulus, a lot of stuff. People are making avatars and bots, digital biota, because it's cool. But then the biota go and find stuff, and if they have the ability to evolve on their own then they become cooler and cooler until they are a real bugger to deal with. Then eventually we will try to talk to them and we will find ET in cyberspace.

How close would you say we are?

This is way, way out. Because we have generations of technology and approaches to go through before we find a space big enough for a cyberbiology to emerge like that. Then humanity will be in a very interesting position. Because with the nanotechnology, in fifty or a hundred years, you'll be able to make anything you want out of atoms, so if something has evolved for five years in a virtual world that simulates asteroids, and you actually want a creature that eats asteroids, and reproduces and makes stuff out of asteroids. That creature could have evolved the equivalent of a hundred million years in a cyber space world. The world would be capable of modeling what asteroids are like and what the hard vacuum of space is like and solar flux and all that. Then you could attach you nano-spinner to the virtual space and actually make some of them out of atoms. And make sure they don't eat the earth, but allow them to evolve.

You're not kidding around here, are you?

No, and then you jam your little creature factory on to the surface of a big local asteroid and put a receiver on it and send the creatures to it, and then suddenly you've got an uncounted number of creatures out in the solar system that are going to create environments that they need to live in. Because we are never going to expand off the earth with our current stuff. Space ships have to be alive and have to repair their own bodies. Virtual worlds and cyberspace may be key for life's next step, and the key may necessitate the most dangerous imaginable tools and the most powerful imaginable tools that apes have ever made. So, it's all like a big metaphor for what's already happened over billions of years, only this time, it'll take maybe a couple years? The virtual world plays precisely into how we've evolved. So this is why I have devoted my days to this, because I think there is such lofty potential and its such an interesting subject area. It's not just about new media. There is something bigger going on. You might want to give the following website URLs for the readership:
The Contact Consortium:
Its Special Interest Group, the Digital Biology Project:
Digital Space Corporation and its virtual worlds:
Bruce Damer's homepage:
and book "Avatars" End.  

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