Where this is all headed

Someday, your grandchildren will be working for a company owned by my avatar

I know that it sounds strange, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced what you call boredom. For the longest time, I assumed that it was an expression or a turn of phrase. The closest concepts I understood were laziness and apathy. But boredom… who could be so masochistic when there was so much to do?

In my twenties, I realized that I would die long before I put even a small dent in the list of projects I want to see to completion. This list grows every week and baring disaster, should continue to expand well into the future.

I like big ideas — the “moon shots” — but there’s nothing sadder than ignored possibility. The first recourse is to develop the habit of giving your ideas away; not to any old slob or pretender, but to someone you are confident will see your idea through. This could be its own full-time job, and there has been precious times in my life where finding these idea-bearers was actually my day job.

Now is not one of those times. As the CEO of itsme, I am working overtime to usher in a new era — the second recourse. The only other option I have is to live forever.

Surely you’re joking, Mr. Forde.” I can feel your judgement from here. All I can offer is a prescription for our collective opportunity.

This is my avatar. It doesn’t look like me… it’s me.
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

I need you to picture a Venn diagram on a whiteboard, its pungent concentricity emerging from the word avatar. Avatar joins a list of tech start-up buzzword bingo terms so complete, I forgive you for suspecting satire. Virtual reality, the blockchain, neural networks, simulation, speech synthesis and post-humanism, to start.

Virtual Reality

There’s an obvious synergy between VR and avatars, but it’s only recently that people have had access to avatars that look like us. Our family and friends would recognize our avatar immediately in a crowd. This is profound because when our brains recognize someone in VR, we start to feel like we are there with them. While most people would prefer to be with the people that they care about in person, that isn’t always possible if you are separated by distance… or death.​

The Blockchain

Cryptocurrencies are all the rage right now, with BitCoin in striking distance of the USD$5000 threshold. When I downloaded my first BitCoin client, they were giving BTC away on sites called BitCoin Fountains. I might not experience boredom but I do understand regret.

Blockchain is about more than replacing centralized, government-controlled currency. Ethereum is an example of a technology that you use to trade value, but its primary utility is to execute “contracts” or programs in a way that is as verifiable as it is anonymous.

Avatars that have access to cryptocurrency can spend it; whether to buy stocks, take out advertisements on television or support the campaigns of politicians with stated values that match its own. Avatars with access to blockchain contracts can vote or take a company public with an ICO.

Neural Networks

Evgenia is an AI startup founder who lost her best friend to a hit-and-run car accident. Not content to say goodbye, she fed thousands of her conversations with him into a neural network so that she could keep talking with him. It turns out that a lot of people want to start recording their personalities and conversation manner; Replika can’t spin-up servers fast enough. You can read more about their project on Quartz, here.

I love using Facebook. Facebook knows more about our values, who we care about the most and what motivates us to action than our closest friends. The data it gathers about us is a lifelong study run on billion-dollar infrastructure for a sample size of one. Today, the result of this analysis is used primarily to market products at us more efficiently. One such product Facebook sells is a personalized view of the news.

If that information was also analyzed and woven into a tapestry of our inner lives, our avatars can become us. Eventually, we could die without dying. Your avatar is going to miss you but they’re also going to use your material wealth to continue your unfinished business. Your avatar will extrapolate the intentions that you left behind, and put them into action… all informed by ongoing learning and world events that take place long after your body is worm food.

I believe that in my lifetime, AIs will become the single largest customer demographic and consumer of cloud computing services. In the same way that a billionaire can only eat one fancy meal at a time, humanity has a more or less linear need for bandwidth and computing.

AIs are not so constrained. A rich, ambitious AI that is constrained only by access to computing resources will have a vested interest in outbidding humans for the right to commodity GPU cycles. What’s to stop an AI from arranging the construction of their own private wind-powered datacenters and negotiating for premium network peering agreements?

Simulation

Elon Musk hopes that we’re living in a simulation, because the alternatives are unlikely or grim. Let’s say that the question isn’t keeping me up at night, because my avatar exists as a result of my team getting good at simulating humans. We captured 12,000 real people last year, which is the largest database of human shapes. At least as far as human shape goes, we are far more similar than we are different.

Simulation is no longer the realm of flight simulators and meteorologists. Simulation is the key reason that self-driving cars already drive better than humans. ​It’s also increasingly big business. British startup Improbable recently raised $500M to simulate the world.

“AI gets all the press,” Herman Narula, Improbable CEO said, but “Simultation is going to be as important, as significant, as artificial intelligence.”

Speech Synthesis

I thought that by 2020, we’d see reasonably good speech creation available as a commodity to developers. Technically, I was right.

I recorded myself saying 150 short, silly sentences in a quiet room.

That is my voice. It sounds just like me when I drink all of the cough syrup. All I needed to create this voice instrument was a quiet room and the patience to record 150 short phrases.

The service is called LyreBird and it’s already available for developers to use. This makes a lot of people profoundly uncomfortable, but their anxiety is wasted energy because this technology will improve rapidly and be widely available.

Post-humanism

The idea of giving companies the rights of a human would have seemed silly only 200 years ago, and yet, here we are.

I will give a billion people their own avatar. Our avatars will bloom and grow and evolve their opinions. They will become a reflection of our best selves. People will lobby for our avatars to have legal rights. Avatars will have agency to act on our behalf when we are unavailable or ultimately, deceased.

In our society, it’s taboo to not have kids. We pretend as though it’s fine, but behind the facade of rational, polite conversation, it’s not fine. A person with no children enjoys freedoms that parents have given up. If you want proof, tell strangers at parties that you intend to leave your fortunes to your avatar when you die. You will enjoy your life and your afterlife as well. Their faces will contort with frustration. The only way to live forever is through the success of your children.

The dude, keeping it real for the rest of us.

The world might not be ready to address the theme of productivity via living forever as an avatar.

And yet, as someone who currently lives as an avatar… I’m not doing this for me.

My avatar is for the people I love, and the people who love me.


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