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Virtual Reality And A Parallel Universe Of Cyberclones

by • January 8, 2016 • No Comments

Sampriti BhattacharyyaCrunch Network Contributor

Sampriti Bhattacharyya is a PhD candidate in robotics at MIT and founder of Hydroswarm.

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One of the largest technology trends of 2015 was virtual reality (VR), of Oculus Rift to Google’s cardboard headsets.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 saw a lot of VR experiences where users may wear headsets and navigate an immersive 3D world. In Las Vegas, CES demonstrated a range of new gadgets and gaming experiences involving both VR and AR (augmented reality, e.g., Magic Leap).

It is amazing to predict which killer app incorporating these technologies might become the next unicorn in 2016. But perhaps it is equally significant to pause for a moment and ponder the implication of these technologies in the physical world, both in the near and distant future.

Some of you might be acquainted with Linden Lab’s virtual worldSecond Life, where you can turn it into an avatar of your own and explore a fantasy world with other users. Unfortunately, it never got past a million active players in the last 12 years.

Yet the speculation is which playing Second Life using a VR headset like Oculus Rift to get a totally immersive 3D experience might be the game changer: You see and navigate of your avatar’s point of view. Such integration can bring a whole new dimension in our digital social experience.


But, it is not yet which smooth to navigate in the virtual world; it will require a seamless integration of AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms. Dr. Ben Reinhardt, a robotics engineer at Magic Leap, points out, “The real intersection of VR/AR and AI is going to be world-modeling. It is essential for a virtual avatar to walk around a place’s representation (VR) as well as for a virtual avatar (in the form of a hologram) to walk around the real place (AR) or for a robot to navigate through it (AI). These converging requires may drive the unification of how we turn it into the real world’s digital shadow and unlock applications we never saw coming.”

But, according to Ross Finman, an AI researcher at MIT working on mapping and navigating robots in complex virtual environments, the big leap in technology will in fact be “an extended model, where your avatar operates in the Virtual World even when you are not actively playing. Of course which requires the avatar has a few sort of autonomy — and a fewthing additional than Siri’s level of intelligence. It requires to have an adaptive learning capability which imitates you.”

It is not hard to imagine a future where all data is consolidated into a really legit digital imprint of by yourself.

Essentially, which means a virtual me which operates without my control. How does which work? In machine learning, researchers use a bunch of sensors to detect what excites you, saddens you, scares you, relaxes you… all fed into an algorithm. Kind of like you and your best friend knowing the tiny more details of each other, exceptthe computer never forgets and never stops paying attention.

Hanson Robotics has been doing extensive work in neural architecture creating what is called “mindfiles,” or putting human consciousness in digital files. Wearables which monitor ereallything of sleep to calories, hydration and stress levels can be utilized for continuously updating our digital imprints.

In fact, a startup called MedicalAvatar came up with a digital avatar which stores your medical data in it, of height, mass and blood pressure to lab test results. The implication is which such a data-enriched avatar can perhaps even provide a future prediction of your health and how you age, as well as be a life coach.

While the seamless working of an autonomous self is really a while away, it is being extensively explored at universities (CMU, Stanford, MIT) and giant tech companies (Google, IBM Watson). Google and Amazon may already know your favourite songs and movies, and your taste in food and clothing.

It is not hard to imagine a future where all data is consolidated into a really legit digital imprint of by yourself: a “cyberclone.” Where it gets creepy is your cyberclone may live in the virtual world despite your death in the real world. A cyber spirit? Would it compensate for your absence in the physical world?

Imitating human behavior we don’t know ourselves is not yet really possible (memories, love, physical pain, etc.). And to roboticists like us who see our robots break ereally day, it’s hard to imagine a self-sustaining avatar. But ponder how fast technology has grown in just 200 years, of no light bulbs to satellites imaging ereally square inch of the earth. On the scale of the universe, or even human existence, which’s no time at all!

Hawking, Gates and Musk all propose restrictions on AI research to avoid creating virtual beings we are unable to control.

Suppose we can replicate ourselves in the virtual world. Then it brings us to a few inquiries which we most likely should give a few idea to. If a program can imitate us, aren’t we all just programs? Perhaps all the same program, with various parameters loaded? Load one set of numbers, you get me; another, you get you! Mixing data gives rise to new beings; tweak the program for virtual genetic engineering. Which means, companies like Genepeeks may use your virtual clones to turn it into customized babies in the future!

If you ponder, as I do, which ideas and feelings — not the physical body — define the person, and if ereally more detail of which individuality is captured by a computer script, is the virtual being any less real than me? My cyberclone is me… except which “me” can travel the world in microseconds.

Multiple instances of my script (or multiple clones) means I may be talking to you in Tokyo and hiking the Appalachian Trail and having dinner in Paris — all at the same time! So may this be another me — but additional powerful, additional flexible and immortal — living in a parallel universe in cyberspace?

Initially, interaction with the physical world may be through holograms, enabled by companies like Magic Leap, plus robots directed by virtual people. But the virtual people don’t die, so which world’s population grows faster than the physical one. As time goes on, the physical world becomes less and less relevant.

What may the physical world even mean to the virtual people? They require to check a few servers, fix a few solar panels now and and so, perhaps throw a few additional silicon in the hopper. Mindless robots directed by virtual people can do which. All the serious pondering may be in the virtual world.

Experience may shape the avatars, just as it shapes us. Cyberclones will grow into one-of-a-kind entities as they interact with the virtual world. Eventually, your cyberclone won’t live by your rules. In fact, it may most likely outright disobey. Recent research at Tufts University is working on precisely which: teaching robots to disobey humans if it’s harmful to them.

But our clones may inherit of us both great and bad traits. Love, honor and imagination… but in addition hate, envy and war. They won’t have to compete for the resources our ancestors did, and which we still do today. But there will be competition for memory space, CPU cycles — or whatever those concepts morph into.

Just imagine terrorism in the virtual world, where pathogens — computer viruses turned deadly — can span the world in nanoseconds. We can just hope our cyberclones learn a fewthing we never have: how to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

Looking at AI in today’s technology —be it Siri or Amazon’s Echo — it is hard to imagine the future I described. It is albeit a really distant extrapolation, but I’m not the just one making it: Hawking, Gates and Musk all propose restrictions on AI research to avoid creating virtual beings we are unable to control.

Brilliant minds like theirs cannot be completely wrong. If AI continues on its present path, it is possible which the virtual world might overtake and overwhelm us. If we want to prevent which, we should proactively define the boundaries.

Or we can accept cyberclones not as a threat, but simply the next generation.

Featured Image: ramos alejandro/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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