Tech’s Humans

How far will we go in getting technology to imitate our human selves? In this quick post, I’m letting it travel in the context of two new, but strangely mature-feeling, technologies: Chatbots and virtual reality.

Now, I’ll confess that I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I’ve been playing with Chatbots over the past couple of weeks, especially the simple RunDexter bot-building tool created (in part) by the good folks at Betaworks. And wow, it’s amazing. I’ve been on the client side of a few of them as well: Botwick, Poncho, Digit, and the “StarBots” bot. For me, this is the first tech I’ve experienced that possessed person-like artificial intelligence.

Some of these bots are purely transactional (e.g., “here’s your bank balance and your last 10 transactions”) and not trying to have a certain personality. Others (I’m looking at you, StarBots) are more fuzzy: is this a person, or a machine? I’m not the first to point this out. In fact, in tech, I might be among the last.

But it startled me and made me think a little bit harder about our online lives. During the past decade, our human relationships have migrated into new forms that were previously lost. We might (or might not) have a close knit group that enjoys getting together IRL, but we also have a collection of “friends” who are online only. And from that latter group, we might go for many years without seeing many of them in person.

So why does this matter in the context of AI? Well, as evidenced most readily by our Chatbot friends, artificial intelligence can now seem, well, quite human. Once AI starts plumbing the vast corners of our online existence — which is already disturbingly complete — it will learn to sound more like us than we sound to ourselves.

Humor me as I peek around the corner a bit into our future. I see these tech bots training themselves about us, certainly. At some point, our human forms will die, but I don’t think it’s too farfetched to think that our AI persona could keep following, tweeting, liking, posting photos, and becoming more lifelike. And for those friends with whom we only interact via social media, we may never really know the difference.

And this is where the confluence of AI and virtual reality can start making things feel weird: do you know anything about volumetric capture? Companies like Uncorporeal and 8i are making it possible to use camera systems to capture the world — or say, a person — in 360 degree live video. You may decide to have your own self recorded in volumetric capture — and here’s why: at some point, in the not too distant future, you’ll converse with someone — maybe your “today’s self” — who lived long ago, and they’ll seem more real, and more alive, as any other being we interact with, be it in the physical or the digital realm.