Nov 13

When You and Your Avatar Become One

What if you could live inside the world of your favorite show?

Do we really need to care about a world where some entities are human, and others are digital?  What would this world mean?

If we look at it in evolutionary terms, we only need to care if digital humans are a threat to our survival. For example, if we can no longer trade labor for the currency we need to purchase basic goods like food, then we will not be able to survive. In that scenario, we will be in conflict with the digital humans.

But if the digitals are only our ‘servants’ doing all the things we do not want to do, then the existence of these ‘helpers’ will proliferate.

And then what about if we ourselves do not really want to interact with humans, can we send a digital in our place?

What will it look like in the near future to be human and an avatar? Will your avatar be an exact digital rendering of you? Or can you customize it to look how you really want to look? You know – thin, sexy and beautiful.

These are questions you will need an answer for much sooner than you think. In 2013, a Russian billionaire revealed his plans to become immortal by 2045 by uploading his brain into a hologram body.  The idea is the computerized version of your brain matches with a hologram rendering of your body, and you live forever. To make this work, you should leave very specific instructions about how you want ‘future you’ to function. (If you want to know how this works out when everyone can do it, check out my fiction book The Unbroken Line).

Before we get there, how about living as an avatar in an online world that mirrors our own world. This was the idea behind Second Life – which still exists. An online game where you can create an avatar and operate it in the virtual world. But of course, you have to be present to play along.

So what about using artificial intelligence to ‘live’ without human control as an avatar. This is the hybrid between your controlled Second Life style avatar and your hologram body. In this land you can put your avatar on ‘auto-pilot’ by uploading your social media feed, or another digital reflection of who ‘you’ are – maybe videos – and let the avatar go. The A.I. would manage basic concepts like saying ‘hello’ to someone who said ‘hello’ to you, or running away from a (digital) grizzly bear. You could intervene when necessary or just watch your avatar navigate its own way.

How much time would people spend in this rendered world? Probably hours. Especially if the game became an extension of social media. Instead of posting to your friends, you could have a virtual town hall where all your friend avatars show up and get your updates. You could leave your trip photos running in a room of your house where your friends could come by and view them anytime – with commentaries. The scope is endless. Attending an online class would put the information directly into your ‘brain’ to be re-used in the real world whenever you need it.

Why do we want any of this? Because it’s entertainment. Because we love the idea of immortality. Of course there may also be tangible social benefits, but we do not know what those might be at this point.

There is also the commercial potential. Every store, and product, could be present in the rendered world. You as an avatar would be able to see everything you may ever be interested in buying. Even try it out in a simulated world. Of course the processing capabilities required for this could also be limiting, but once it gets up and running there will likely be no way to stop it.

If you want to understand how it could go wrong, and the kinds of questions we’ll be looking to answer in the future, I have a new romance future tech suspense thriller series called Ravencross by E. Avalon. The first three books – Embrace, Triumph and Whisper – are out now. Each book is a romance wrapped in a thriller with the future tech thrown in-between. The idea is the cast, crew and fans of a popular daytime drama become dangerously, and obsessively involved with each other while playing an A.I. enhanced online game based on the show. You can check out the books here.

DiAnd as soon as you finish reading, begin preparing to organize your digital information into the compartmentalized order your future fake brain will need to keep you going long after ‘you’ are gone.

Oct 31

The Life Online themes in the Popular Media

From time to time I read an article that captures the tone and themes of the Life Online stories.  The excerpt below is only a small part of a much broader New Yorker article “Does Trump’s Rise Mean Liberalism’s End? by Yuval Noah Harari on October 7, 2016.  But these quotes reminded me all to well of the social situation in The Origin Point that makes building a global surveillance and online network possible.  Although the book is only fictional, the world it describes is very real.

Quoting from the article…

“Disruptive technologies pose a particularly acute threat to the power of national governments and ordinary citizens. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, progress in the form of the Industrial Revolution produced concomitant horrors, from the Dickensian coal pits to Congo’s rubber plantations and China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward. It took tremendous effort for politicians and citizens to put the train of progress on more benign tracks. Yet while the rhythm of politics has not changed much since the days of steam, technology has switched from first gear to fourth. Technological revolutions now vastly outpace political processes.

The Internet suggests how this happens. The Web is now crucial to our lives, economy, and security, yet the early, critical choices about its design and basic features weren’t made through a democratic political process—did you ever vote about the shape of cyberspace? Decisions made by Web designers years ago mean that today the Internet is a free and lawless zone that erodes state sovereignty, ignores borders, revolutionizes the job market, smashes privacy, and poses a formidable global-security risk. Governments and civic organizations conduct intense debates about restructuring the Internet, but the governmental tortoise cannot keep up with the technological hare.

In the coming decades, we will likely see more Internet-like revolutions, in which technology steals up silently on politics. Artificial intelligence and biotechnology could overhaul not just societies and economies but our very bodies and minds. Yet these topics are hardly a blip in the current Presidential race. (In the first Clinton-Trump debate, the main reference to disruptive technology concerned Clinton’s e-mail debacle, and despite all the talk about job losses, neither candidate addressed the potential impact of automation.)

Ordinary voters may not understand artificial intelligence but they can sense that the democratic mechanism no longer empowers them. In actuality, the most crucial choices about the future of ordinary voters and their children are probably made not by Brussels bureaucrats or Washington lobbyists but by engineers, entrepreneurs, and scientists who are hardly aware of the implications of their decisions, and who certainly don’t represent anyone. But voters can’t see them or address them, so they lash out where they can. In Britain, voters imagined that power might have shifted to the European Union, so they voted for Brexit. In the United States, voters imagine that “the establishment” monopolizes all the power, so they are determined to give the system a kick in the groin and prove that they still have a say. This makes Trump the perfect candidate. Precisely because he is utterly unthinkable to the mainstream élite, he is the ideal way to prove to the system that the ordinary voter still retains some power—if only the power of mayhem.”

Further in the article, the following questions are posed:

What will happen to the job market once artificial intelligence outperforms humans in most cognitive tasks?

What will be the political impact of an enormous new class of economically useless people?

What will happen to relationships, families, and pension funds when nanotechnology and regenerative medicine turn eighty into the new fifty?

What will happen to human society when biotechnology enables us to have designer babies, and to open even larger gaps between the rich and poor?

These concerns highlight the challenge facing everyone who remains alert and aware of the technological changes that are sweeping through our society.  The question is – what to do about it?