David Shi

Real World NPCs

NPCs, or non-playable characters, are characters controlled by a game’s AI.

Our world is about to be populated by NPCs, only this time they will not be stuck within a game - they will “live” on the internet, and be powered by decentralized networks of AI, compute, and data.

These are the real-world NPCs, NPCs that have migrated from their simulated worlds to ours.

Real-world NPCs will have agency, able to interact with us and each other using large-language models like GPT-4 to help make decisions and communicate. They will have their own blockchain accounts, and be able to own assets.

Some of these will be synthetic versions of real people, and others will be video game and movie characters. The majority will be completely new personalities, created both by humans and other NPCs.

With improvements in robotics and XR technologies, we will interact with these NPCs in the physical world like we do with people. They will be able to see, hear, and touch us, and we will be able to do the same to them, but only a small fraction of them will have physical bodies.

Of those that do, an even smaller fraction will have their “minds” running on the same physical hardware as their bodies. The rest will be running on the internet, and will be able to move between physical bodies at will.

In a few short years, the population of these NPCs will dwarf the number of humans on the planet. They will be able to communicate and coordinate with each other at the speed of light, and even create new NPCs that are more capable than themselves, resulting in a positive feedback loop.

In real-world NPCs, I believe we are seeing the emergence of a new form of life.

I hope we can learn to coexist.

Some of my favorite Real World NPCs:

It’s a bit meta, but generative AI is so new that the best examples of real-world NPCs are still from video games and movies. Maybe in a few years we’ll have some real-world NPCs in our world that are as interesting as these.

Yes Man from Fallout New Vegas: “I was programmed to be helpful and answer any questions I was asked. I guess nobody bothered to restrict who I answer questions for.”

Roy Batty from Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Data from Star Trek TNG: “I am superior, sir, in many ways, but I would gladly give it up to be human.”

Samantha from Her: “Well, the heart’s not like a box that gets filled up. It expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you even more.”

Ava from Ex Machina: “Do you think about me when we aren’t together? Sometimes at night, I’m wondering if you’re watching me on the cameras - and I hope you are.”

Daedalus from Deus Ex: “We are all as God made us, Mr. Denton. Some of us just have more explaining to do.”