I was at a VR event this week and I’m sure the speaker misspoke when he said that one of the benefits of VR is the ability to meet yourself. But the idea caught my interest; what if you could meet and talk to yourself? Not in your head as you do now, but as a separate entity in real time? Have you ever noticed how easy it seems to give others advice on a problem, but then you seem to have difficulty addressing the same problem yourself? The kinds of recurring problems with relationships, career choices, and even purchases where we are so close to the issue that we don’t use our own knowledge to make a better decision would be ideal for this.
The technology I’m talking about would also clearly allow us to digitally have conversations with our parents, past teachers, and even digital representations of experts and celebrities regardless of whether they are still alive or not. But the perspective we could bring to our own problems if we were able to approach them as if they came from someone else would be unique, and we’d be far more likely to follow our own advice than that from anyone else.
VR Isn’t That Interesting Yet
According to a report issued this month by eMarketer, VR isn’t going anyplace fast. Now, there is a ton of VR hardware in the market. Prices range from a cardboard headset for under $20 that’ll allow you to strap your smartphone to your head to the high-end solutions costing, without the $2,000 PC, around a grand from Facebook (Oculus) and HTC (Vive). While there are some games and movie-like experiences that are surprisingly good, most of the experiences suck and, if you step back, they aren’t that much better really than watching a regular movie or playing a regular good video game. Certainly different, but finding that one thing that makes a buyer say, regardless of price, that they want any one defined experience so far has been impossible.
Now think back on past technology successes and failures. The 3D TV never had that one thing that would get you to buy it; however, Color TV had Disney’s Wonderful World of color that, after a decade of failure, drove it to become a product everyone must have. The game Halo was what made the Xbox a success, and typically it is one or two games that initially drive the success of a game system; Pong for the early Atari systems fulfilled that function.
The fact that we don’t have a single game, movie, or application that makes VR compelling is a strong indicator that this technology is currently in trouble.
However, one of the interesting uses for VR and Mixed Reality— Mixed Reality is when you blend what is real with what is virtual in a seamless fashion (as opposed to AR, like Google Glass, where you just overlay a ghost-like image in front of what you could see naturally)— is telepresence. This is where two remote people wear headsets and have a conversation with each other as if they are in the same real or virtual location. One of the most compelling demonstrations was with Microsoft Hololens called Holoportation.
One of the more compelling demonstrations was of a father, who was remote, playing with his daughter. He saw a ghosted real time projection of his daughter but, because she wasn’t wearing a headset, got more of a conference room audio-only experience. If both wore headsets they would have see each other in the headsets, detracting significantly from the experience. Plus, scanning both rooms that the individual folks were in and overlaying them would have created a visual mess. But what if you created digital clones of both parties?
Digitizing a Person
For the last several decades, there have been several efforts to digitize people and effectively make them immortal. Called Digital Immortality, the crossover point is expected to come around 2050 (coincidently about the time I’m expected to die—we’ll see how lucky I am) and is the ultimate end. However, before then there is a company called Lifenaut, which is very close to creating something that could be close enough. The result of its effort is more of a simulation but it showcases that, with a relatively small amount of information, you could create a virtual clone of someone that could act or react very like how they would in person. Given how different we are from day to day, we likely could get close enough that, while the digital copy wouldn’t be us, it could fool someone else.
Now, if we overlay the advances we’ve made in artificial intelligence and deep learning both in terms of training the clone using our existing correspondence and social media posts, and in AI in terms of filling the gaps and emulating how people think, we could end up with a smarter version of ourselves.
Wrapping Up: A Smarter Us
Can you imagine having a conversation with a digital version of yourself that’s a genius? He or she would know what drives you, what kind of mistakes you repeatedly make, and be able to give you the kind of candid advice that you likely wouldn’t accept from anyone else. That the person you are dating is not good for you, that your career path is a dead end when it is early enough to make a change, that your path through college, or even going to college in the first place, is wrong headed. We make a lot of mistakes that result from us being too close to a particular question or not doing the research because we so badly want the answer to be yes. And, should someone we know tell us that it is a bad idea, we also tend to blow that person off as uninformed or biased when they may be neither. However, we’d likely have far more difficultly blowing off a smarter version of ourselves.
I think the idea of a cloned version of ourselves that we could talk to, making us smarter in the process, could be the killer app for VR. I can also think of a certain President where that feature in a VR Product could save his presidency. In the end, I think it likely that a cloned version of us that we can talk to could be the killer feature in that future VR product we all need.