The boffins over at Daden Ltd have long been at the forefront of virtual worlds innovation and were recently made a Linden Lab (creators of Second Life) Gold Solution Provider. They've been working on various projects in virtual worlds including Artificial Intelligence mash-ups with chat bots. David Burden (Daden) has written a think piece here 'Toward Semantic Virtual Worlds' that challenges developers to rethink virtual worlds. It's worth reading if you are interested in virtual worlds development, artificial intelligence, web 2.0 and related issues of the semantic web.
This take on marking-up the virtual world strikes me as a timely bottom-up approach to the problem. I like the shift in perspective and it is useful in keeping the ‘graphics dominated’ focus in check. I feel that ‘non-player characters’ and chatbots, are the missing link in the social evolution of virtual worlds. It strikes me that there is no sense in building a world of zombies with no hope of original thought, however beautiful they may be. If we can begin the work of weaving self-governing behaviour from artificial intelligence programs with the social presence of virtual avatars, then however rudimentary these interactions may be, we have started a worthy journey.