At the Northernlands festival hosted by ODI Leeds, Danielle Knight of Superflux explained that her company works in the futures field, and looks at the possible worlds that could be created from our current starting point. What could this mean for physical virtual assistants and how could we inject our personalities into them?
Knight said: “At Superflux, we play around with possibility and we look at creating plural futures. There are many, many different ways that the future can unfold and we like to look at the different choices and possibilities and the different consequences of different futures.”
Superflux created a video demonstrating a future in which a person called up their energy company asking for a refund. However, the person had actually instructed their virtual personal assistant to speak, which then entered into a conversation with a phone bot from the energy company. The human owner Leigh-Ann told the voice assistant to use her identity and demand the refund.
In the Superflux video, the human owner was able to turn up the dial on the rudeness scale as a result of being met with a flat refusal to expedite a six-month-overdue refund. What followed was an expletive-heavy exchange, culminating in the voice assistant Karma being directed to the complaints department.
This got me thinking that perhaps in the future personal proxy people or bots could interact with each other virtually, while being directed by their owners, like in the Superflux film, there would be so many tedious conversations we could avoid. Resolving issues with service providers like mobile phone networks and energy suppliers would be so much more pleasant without being kept in a queue listening to muzak and thus being able to cook dinner or wash the car at the same time.
Avatar is a Sanskrit word meaning the incarnation or embodiment of a person or idea. But if voice assistants developed and evolved into a physical manifestations like an avatar –- it could do so much more. They could do general life admin the odd jobs that people find laborious in the online world and in real life. Filing taxes, grocery shopping and ironing could all be outsourced to a mini-me.
What if the avatar became more like a body double you could send in your place for important events or meetings?
But maybe they could help with jobs or assignments that you don’t necessarily want to avoid but neither do you have time for. If you don’t have time to meet up with a friend but absolutely can’t cancel because you haven’t seen them in 18 months, your avatar could go instead. You’re in a new city and need to make friends and your one acquaintance has invited you to an event at the last minute but you need to go out of town.
The human owner/agent would need to do a massive data transfer for the assistant to accurately reflect the way they speak, reason, compromise and react. How long would it take for your mini-me to learn to be you? Would it learn by shadowing or countless sessions of word association games? Can the essence of a person’s nature and personality even be broken down into data points? After the avatar has met the friend or gone to the concert that the human agent couldn’t attend, how is the information about the new experience transferred back to the original?
Once again, there are answers, only questions. But it then poses the question, if some of your life experiences aren’t actually experienced by you, who’s doing the actual living?