Virtual Kids Could Be the Next Hot Metaverse Trend

Ditch the diapers

  • A new book claims that within 50 years, babies could be born and raised virtually. 
  • Virtual children could be used to reduce overpopulation or even train new parents.
  • Experts say virtual kids might be technically possible, but not everyone thinks they will be able to replace real children.
An elderly person interaction with a virtual image of a child while wearing VR glasses.

Kohei Hara / Getty Images

Your kids might one day be born in the metaverse, but experts are divided over the pros and cons of messing with the old-fashioned approach to child-rearing. 

The author of a new book claims that within 50 years, babies could be born and raised virtually. Catriona Campbell, an artificial intelligence (AI) expert, writes that virtual children could be used to reduce overpopulation. The idea may not be far off from reality and could have benefits.

"Some of the straightforward selling points of digital kids are: easy to conceive, no physical pain or medical risk of giving birth, low maintenance, and less taxing," John Guo, a professor of computing information systems at James Madison University, told Lifewire in an email interview. "At the same time, digital kids offer unprecedented human-to-machine relations."

The Next Tamagotchi?

In her new book, "AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence," Campbell says humans will soon turn to virtual children rather than real ones. She calls the digital kids the 'Tamagotchi generation' in a nod to the handheld digital pet toys.

"Virtual children may seem like a giant leap from where we are now, 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," Campbell writes.

"... digital kids are: easy to conceive, no physical pain or medical risk of giving birth, low maintenance, and less taxing."

Parents of the digital kids would be able to interact with their offspring in virtual environments. The children would have realistic-looking faces and bodies. 

Guo said digital kids would be "intelligent, interactive, and even intellectual, thanks to AI technologies such as deep learning, machine learning, neural networks, and natural language processing (NLP). Moreover, digital kids can be engineered to adopters' likings in terms of biological features and personality attributes." 

Digital Playground

Virtual kids are a natural extension of the growing interest in the metaverse, an iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world, Atharva Sabnis, a metaverse expert at Eugenie.ai, an international sustainability technology company, told Lifewire via email. He said that in the near future, people will begin spending considerable stretches of time in various metaverses for work and leisure, making it standard practice for people to interact with digital companions. Real kids will seek to cultivate friendships with their digital counterparts, and single children may seek virtual siblings. 

"Childless parents and nostalgic grandparents may want to vicariously relive their childhood," Sabnis said. "Digital kids may appeal to a variety of groups, who have the common goal of feeling and forging a sense of connection."

Virtual kids might also be useful as a training simulation for real parenting, Peter Kao, a VR instructor at Vancouver Film School, said via email. Kao is expecting his first child. 

A person wearing a VR headset while sitting on a couch, seeming to cradle a baby in their arms.

miljko / Getty Images

"One of the most important lessons I've learned from that experience is that we as humans will endeavor ourselves to solve any sort of technological hurdle if that technology affords us real benefits," Kao added. "Creating a hyper-realistic baby in VR provides so many benefits to new parents that I think we will get ourselves there."

Kao said the technical challenge of creating a hyper-realistic baby wouldn't be difficult to overcome. Babies have perfect skin, so there's less of a need to create subtle details when 3D modeling.

"Babies aren't exactly the most complex thing to model or program behavior AI for (I might take that back after I actually have our baby)," Kao said. "And if I'm being perfectly honest, babies look kind of weird anyway. Simulated babies also don't need complex behavior AI systems. They eat, poop, and sleep. Throw in crying tantrums here and there and wave their hands and feet around, and you'll have a simulated baby."

Not everyone is on board with the idea of raising small virtual humans. Parenting blogger Joanna Stephens, a mother of two, told Lifewire via email that having an online kid could never replace a real-life child. 

"There are some things even AI can't replicate, and this is one of them," she added. The only appeal I can think of to a digital child would be that it is easier to raise, but you would miss out on all the quirks of parenthood that make the job of being a parent worthwhile. For instance, your digital child is only around for as long as you are, with real children, they live on after you have passed away. They carry your legacy and shared memories on to their generation of children."

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