The Real Reality of Ramona

Ramona dances and sings and has recorded her own original songs. She is the creation of leading artificial intelligence researcher Raymond Kurzweil who considers her his alter ego. He says, "She is a demonstration that you can be who you want to be in virtual reality." "I've always found myself attracted to female performers," says Kurzweil, "and realized that I not only wanted to be with them, but wanted to be them . . . These personalities are there in all of us, but up to now have existed in our imagination. Virtual reality provides the opportunity to express ourselves in important new ways." Kurzweil believes that by 2009, we will be able go to websites and enter virtual reality environments where we can visit other people. It will be just like being there in person, but the personalities and appearances may be very different from real reality. Ultimately, he says, "we will regard these virtual personalities as just as real and important" as the one we portray in life and practice. Kurzweil predicts that "by the end of the twenty-first century, there will no longer be a 'clear distinction between human and machine.'" Ramona is a step in that direction. Chatting with Ramona online can be frustrating. She tends to repeat herself and seems to be a poor listener. But she does attempt to answer questions, and you can experience her somewhat intuitive "brain." While chatting you may be slightly annoyed by her side-to-side body movement and her large mouth that rarely smiles. She also seems to lack real interest in the conversation, often changing the subject. When asked, Ramona claims to be a Christian, a Protestant more specifically, but freed by her existential worldview. If you press her further, you can't tell much more about what she believes, or whether she understands what she just said. All in all, you leave feeling relationally unsatisfied. But Kurzweil's audience finds her fascinating. One visitor posting reads, "Finally, a recording artist with a real personality -- even if it's virtual. Lots of soul, even if it is emulated." But then is it really "soul" if it's emulated? Hardly. As Christians, we know that we are more than a pile of atoms that communicate. We are God's creatures designed for communion and for genuine relationships. In his book Habits of the High-Tech Heart, Quentin Schultze warns us that in this high-tech age, we can become "impersonal observers of the world rather than intimate participants in the world." We flit from one thing to the next, with a short attention span. We become informational voyeurs rather than responsible stewards of God's world. The discipline of listening to one another is what makes us human and what builds strong communities. Ramona is expected to continue to evolve. She is considering getting a tattoo and a larger wardrobe, and her artificial intelligence is sure to be developed. But no matter how smart or attractive Ramona becomes, she will never be a person. She can only make us realize how unsatisfying life is without real relationships, difficult and messy as they can be. So, instead of going online looking for virtual friends, why not go out and introduce yourself to a real neighbor and experience the joys of real friendship? For further reading and information: To chat with Ramona, go to Kurzweil's website. Quentin Schultze, "Living Virtuously in the Information Age," BreakPoint Online, 28 January 2003. Quentin Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Baker Academic, 2002).
  1. Budziszewski, "'Little Platoons': God's Design for Our Relationships," BreakPoint WorldView, March 2003.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 030305, "A Better Kind of Space: Real Community and Virtue." Ariana Eunjung Cha, "Home Alone," Washington Post Magazine, 13 July 2003.


Chuck Colson



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