(4x10) Life in Another World: Part 1, Episode 1
Over a century passes after the launch of Virtuality. Under Pacifica's leadership, the world has been united into a peaceful, technologically-advanced, post-scarcity utopia called the Internation. Virtuality has become a pervasive aspect of the glorious future that humanity has been ushered into, secretly, through Pacifica and other smaller interventions around the world, by Xio and his Foundation.
Over time, generations have grown up moving seamlessly between the virtual world and the real world. Many adults work there, inasmuch as "work" is still a thing in this post-scarcity future, and children grow up playing there like it's an enormous massively multiplayer online game with near-infinite diversity and replayability. As such, people have grown up interacting with the artificial intelligence characters of the Sphidiverse – the goddesses Fire and Ice; the Merfolk who ferry users between realms; the Ents and Trolls who guard the mountains and caves, forests and meadows; even the were-Wargs and were-Stags who tend the herds of virtual fauna – as though they were familiar friends, every bit as real as their human friends.
Because of this familiarity, some human users of Virtuality begin to think of the AI characters as actual people, and subsequent questions about their moral and legal personhood arise. Unlike humans users, virtual characters' minds do not survive the death of their avatars to be regenerated in new ones. When a human who has befriended a were-Stag since childhood witnesses him die at the hands of a hunter while defending his herd, the Stag's friend seeks legal action against the hunter in a landmark case. Despite some compelling legal arguments to the contrary, it is ultimately concluded that the virtual characters are not people, and the hunter is not punished for his actions. Nevertheless, the trial becomes a rallying point for a human social movement pushing for legal personhood of artificial intelligence characters, despite the characters themselves not seeming too bothered by their own legal status.
Tom and Xiuying separately witness and discuss (among their separate groups of friends) these events as they unfold. Xiu is surprised to find herself sympathizing with the arguments for virtual personhood, despite her traditionalism. Tom meanwhile struggles with fears that he is merely rationalizing his desire to continue treating the virtual characters as non-persons, when his transhumanist principles would generally lean toward accepting AI personhood.
Next: Life in Another World: Part 1, Episode 2