In her book, Catriona Campbell, one of the UK’s leading artificial intelligence experts, predicted that “computer babies” will become commonplace in 50 years, as fears of overpopulation will encourage society to have digital kids.
She said that they would only exist in the immersive digital world known as the “metaverse” and would cost next to nothing to raise as they would require minimal resources. They will be accessed using virtual reality technology so that the user feels as if he is face to face with a child.
“Virtual children may seem like a giant leap in technology,” she writes, “but within 50 years, technology will advance so much that children existing in the metaverse will be indistinguishable from children in the real world.
“As the metaverse evolves, I see virtual children becoming an accepted and fully accepted part of society in much of the developed world.”
The Metaverse is an immersive digital world. Campbell suggests that high-tech gloves that can provide tactile feedback can replicate the physical sensations of cuddling, feeding and playing with their offspring.
A 2020 YouGov study on why couples choose not to have children found that nearly 10 percent remain childless due to overpopulation issues, while another 10 percent choose not to start a family due to the costs of raising a child.
Many scientists now believe that declining birth rates will lead to a decline in world population in the second half of the century. Some argue that technological progress will provide a smaller environmental impact for the next generation than ours.
However, Campbell argues that consumers will be drawn to eco-friendly digital babies. Speaking about virtual pets that were created in Japan and became a craze among Western children in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she said:
“Based on the fact that there is a demand for it, and I think there will be, children with artificial intelligence will become widely available for a relatively small monthly fee.”
“Make no mistake that this development, if it does happen, will be a game-changer in technology that, if managed properly, can help us solve some of today’s most pressing problems, including overpopulation.”
Campbell also said that thanks to computer graphics and advanced machine learning, digital children will have photorealistic faces and bodies and will be able to recognize and respond to their parents with face tracking and voice analysis.
Their parents will be able to interact with them in the digital environments of their choice, such as the living room, park or pool. They will also be able to choose how fast their digital children grow up, if they grow up at all.