| One CD-ROM, Highway 61 Interactive (which alas is no longer available since Graphixzone, the company which produced it, has gone out of business) permits you to wander around Greenwich Village in the 1950s to explore the world of Bob Dylan. There are no distracting puzzles to solve. One simply wanders into a bar and plays some Dylan songs on the jukebox or chats to one of his old friends sitting at the bar or meanders down the street and into a coffee shop to see some of his performances on the stage. It is difficult to imagine how we could recapture this person in this place at this time as well with whatever number of books we read, documentaries we watched, or CD audios we listened to.|
Development of avatars also emphasises entertainment. The prospect of digitised actors replacing grossly overpaid real actors is tantalising. Wired magazine keeps us abreast of such developments in articles such as The New Hollywood: Silicon Stars [PARISI, December 1995] and Hollywood 2000 [DALY, November 1997]. We are getting used to seeing anachronisms of Humphrey Bogart drinking Coca-Cola and Elvis Presley eating pizza, in ads taped long after they had died. Digital Domain, the company which did the special effects for Titanic, is working on Avatar, the next film by James Cameron, in which it is hoped that for the first time actors created in computers will be indistinguishable from real actors. The project has apparently been shelved because they are not yet able to simulate hair convincingly. However, it is only a matter of time before they will get over their bad-hair days and we will see the resurrection of an electronic Elvis.
There is little interest in recreating enlightenment as opposed to entertainment figures. As usual, however, artists point the way for scientists. REWIND. In 1726, Jonathan Swift had his hero, Lemuel Gulliver, visit Glubbdubdrib, where the Governor "hath power of calling whom he pleaseth from the dead" [SWIFT]. He proceeded to demonstrate this power by calling up Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, and Brutus (the latter two apparently reconciled in the after-life). FAST FORWARD. In the 1989 movie, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, two high school students "study" history by visiting various historical figures and consulting them directly. FORWARD. Neal Stephenson, in his 1992 scifi novel,Snow Crash , imagines a virtual world in which the Librarian, noted for being well-informed rather than simply well-formed, is a principal character [STEPHENSON]. FORWARD. Gregory Benford, in Foundation's Fear, his 1997 novel within the Foundation world of Isaac Asimov, has simulated personalities of Joan of Arc and Voltaire as characters [BENFORD]. These are the types of people I'd like to hang out with. At the moment, I can only meet them in those books and films. However, after considerable effort by programmers and out-of-work History, Philosophy and Literature graduates, I will look forward to meeting them in virtual worlds.
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