Forget AR Dinosaurs, MIT Startup Wants to Bring YOU Back from the Dead

Augmented Reality pioneer Ronald Azuma ends his 1997 seminal essay A Survey of Augmented Reality with the prediction: “Within another 25 years, we should be able to wear a pair of AR glasses outdoors to see and interact with photorealistic dinosaurs eating a tree in our backyard.” Although his prediction would take us to a few more years in 2022, AR has advanced much quicker than any of us could have imagined. With the rise of wearables and devices like Meta’s SpaceGlasses, we’re getting closer to a true AR glasses experience and we WILL get there very soon.

We’ve had AR dinosaurs already appear just about everywhere — apparently a sure-fire source of go-to content. ‘What should we make with AR? Duh, a dinosaur!’.

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Image Source: The Advertiser

Dinosaurs, shminosaurs.

How about interacting with a realistic virtual long dead you resurrected in the backyard instead? Now that might startle the neighbours.

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Image: Screenshot from Eterni.me website

MIT startup Eterni.me wants to bring you back from the dead to create a virtual avatar that acts “just like you”:

“It generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends after you pass away. It’s like a Skype chat from the past.”

Eterni.me bares an eery resemblance to the Channel 4 Television Series Black Mirror, specifically Series 2, Episode 1, Be Right Back in which we watch widowed Martha engage with the latest technology to communicate with her recently deceased husband, Ash. Of course, it’s not actually Ash, but a simulation powered by an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) program that gathers information about him through social media profiles and past online communications such as emails. Martha begins by chatting with virtual Ash and is able to later speak with him on the phone after uploading video files of him from which the A.I. learns his voice. Eterni.me hopes to immortalize you in a similar fashion by collecting “almost everything you create during your lifetime and processes this huge amount of information using complex A.I. Algorithms.”

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Images: Black Mirror

But who will curate this mass amount of information that is “almost everything you create during your life time”? In an article on Eterni.me in Fast Company, Adele Peters writes, “While the service promises to keep everything you do online so it’s never forgotten, it’s not clear that most people would want all of that information to live forever.” Commenting on how our current generation now documents “every meal on Instagram and every thought on Twitter”, Peters asks, “What do we want to happen to that information when we’re gone?”

Will we have avatar curators?

This sentiment echoes Director Omar Naim’s 2004 film, Final Cut, starring Robin Williams. Williams plays a “cutter”, someone who has the final edit over people’s recorded histories. An embedded chip records all of your experiences over the course of your life; Williams job is to pour through all of the stored memories and produce a 1 minute video of highlights.

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Image: Film Final Cut (2004)

Will Eterni.me’s A.I. Algorithm be intelligent enough to do this and distinguish between your mundane and momentous experiences?

In Black Mirror, Martha ultimately tells simulated Ash, “You’re just a few ripples of you. There’s no history to you. You’re just a performance of stuff that he performed without thinking and it’s not enough.” Will these simulated augmentations of us be “enough”?

Marius Ursache, Eterni.me’s founder says, “In order for this to be accurate, collecting the information is not enough–people will need to interact with the avatar periodically, to help it make sense of the information, and to fine-tune it, to make it more accurate.”

This post expands on a recent article I wrote on Spike Jonze’s film Her, where I discuss the film from an AR perspective. Her introduces us to Samantha, the world’s first intelligent operating system and offers us a glimpse of our soon to be augmented life when our devices come to learn and grow with us, and in the case of Eterni.me, become us. I discuss how our smart devices, like Samantha, will come to act on our behalf. Our smart devices will know us very well, learning our behaviours, our likes, dislikes, our family and friends, even aware of our vital statistics. The next wave of AR combines elements like A.I., machine learning, sensors, and data all to tell the unique story of YOU. With Eterni.me we may just see this story of you continuing while you’re long gone.

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Image: Spike Jonze’s film Her (2013)

Gartner claims that by 2017 your smartphone will be smarter than you. A gradual confidence will be built in the outsourcing of menial tasks to smartphones with an expectation that consumers will become more accustomed to smartphone apps and services taking control of other aspects of their lives. Gartner calls this the era of cognizant computing and identifies the four stages as: Sync Me, See Me, Know Me, Be Me. ‘Sync Me’ and ‘See Me’ are currently occurring, with ‘Know Me’ and ‘Be Me’ just ahead, as we see Samantha perform in Her. ‘Sync Me’ stores copies of your digital assets, which are kept in sync across all contexts and end points. This data storage and an archive of an ‘online you’ will be central to Eterni.me’s creation of your virtual avatar. ‘See Me’ knows where you are currently and where you have been in both the real world and on the Internet, as well as understanding your mood and context to best provide services. If your mood and context can be documented and later accessed to know how you were feeling in a particular location, this will dramatically affect the curation of your memories to be accessed by the A.I. system. ‘Know Me’ understands what you need and want, proactively and presents it to you with ‘Be Me’ as the final step where the smart device acts on your behalf based on learning. Again, being able to document and access your personal needs and wants will paint a clearer picture of the story of you and who you were. The true final step of ‘Be Me’ will be put to the test once you are six feet under, which begs the question, will we become smarter when we die?

Will you register for Eterni.me?

Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter: I’m @ARstories. And yes I’m still alive.

*Update: January 23, 2015:

Yep 2015, I’m still *still* alive, and no this isn’t a bot writing this. However, it could be. You could be receiving a beautiful hand-written note from (A.I.) me right now from the afterlife. Except I didn’t write it. A bot named BOND did using my penmanship.

More in my upcoming book on the future of reality here: www.40ideas.com

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