They will cuddle you, play with you and, of course, resemble you. They will require minimal resources and cost next to nothing to bring up. But, if these sound like ideal children to you, be warned: what has just been described is a virtual child.
An artificial intelligence expert has predicted that these metaverse-hosted digital babies will be commonplace in 50 years. Catriona Campbell, one of the UK’s leading authorities in AI and emerging and disruptive technologies, made the eyebrow-raising prediction in a book published this week.
In AI by Design: A Plan for Living with Artificial Intelligence, Ms. Campbell argues that concerns about overpopulation will prompt society to embrace digital children. It is a demographic transformation that she has nicknamed the “Tamagotchi generation.”
“Virtual children may seem like a giant leap from where we are now,” she writes, “but within 50 years, technology will have advanced to such an extent that babies which exist in the metaverse are indistinct from those in the real world.
The metaverse is an immersive digital world. It is seen as the future of the internet and will be more physically interactive. Ms. Campbell suggests that high-tech gloves able to deliver tactile feedback might reproduce the physical sensations of cuddling, feeding, and playing with one’s offspring.
Ms. Campbell cited widespread concern about the environmental toll exacted by the world’s increasing population, which is nearing eight billion. A 2020 YouGov study into why couples choose not to have children found that nearly 10 percent remain childless because of overpopulation concerns, while a further 10 percent choose not to start a family because of the cost of raising a child.
Nevertheless, Ms. Campbell argues in her own words that consumers will be attracted to environmentally friendly digital children. Referring to the virtual pets that were created in Japan and became a craze among Western children in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
A proof of concept for virtual children already exists in the form of “BabyX,” an experiment by New Zealand-based Company Soul Machines. The project aims to humanize AI so that it is more appealing for the public to interact with.