SECOND LIFE is an online “virtual world” which enables users to create a customised avatar, or digital persona, with which they can interact with each other. It has become incredibly popular since its launch just over 6 years ago, with millions of “residents” now using it regularly to meet others, socialize and even to have virtual sex. Second Life is now filled with virtual communities and institutions – it has businesses and universities, and its own virtual economy.
Now, imagine a futuristic version of Second Life, in which avatars can transfer sensations to the bodies of their users. Such a scenario may seem far-fetched, but a team of European researchers has just taken us one step closer it. They demonstrate a perceptual illusion in which a computer-generated virtual body can be made to feel like one’s real body, so that one can feel sensations from it and respond to it as if it were real.