“How are you doing, son?” “Not great, mom. I have a sore throat. I felt tired all day.” “Are you drinking enough water? You should talk with your doctor and try to get more sleep.” “Thanks, mom. I love you.” “I love you too, honey.” Can you guess which one of the speakers is dead? If you guessed both, you are close. It’s the mom! The son is alive, he’s just really boring.
Justin Harrison created an AI version of his late mother that he can talk to or text with. He says it captures the essence of the relationship they had. I listened to a few of their interactions on the podcast, “Hidden Brain”. It sounded like AI-speak to me – impersonal, rote, predictable – but then I never met his mom.
Justin founded the company, “You, Only Virtual”, or “YOV” (myyov.com), which promises to keep loved ones alive forever, or as long as you can stand them, whichever comes first. His obsession with his mom and the company he founded took a toll on his marriage. His wife gave him an ultimatum – YOV or me. She has my sympathy. Getting along with a spouse’s family has enough challenges. But how do you deal with a dead, virtual mother-in-law? Supporting a money-losing company designed to keep your in-laws in nagging order well past their expiration dates is a recipe for divorce. Justin held on to his mom virtually, but lost his wife in real life. Condolences, Justin. The Netlix show, “Black Mirror” has an episode about a bereaved, pregnant wife succumbing to bring- back-the-dead tech. I thought, “That’s not sci-fi! It’s real!” Black Mirror took it up a notch by adding a robot that looked and acted enough like expired hubby to replace him – for a while. I won’t spoil the plot, but let’s say she learned something Justin hasn’t.
The technology he created has NOT enflamed popular imagination. But it doesn’t take much imagination to see the potential for exploiting this technology. Like cashing in on fan- fixation. You could rent out virtual Taylor Swifts and Michael B Jordan to the lonely and obsessed. Celebrity Versonas TM (virtual personalities) could make appearances at bachelor and bachelorette parties, bar mitzvahs, or any festive occasion. The drunk version of a virtual celeb would be more candid, obnoxious and expensive. Might even be a pricier porn version. Scorned lovers could leave voice mails for them that dumped ‘em with a sexy virtual voice in the background. Divorced spouses could leave hidden voice bombs to pop up on their ex’s devices.
Bet you’ll never guess who would pay the most. Grandparents! They are already making YouTube videos to preserve their hard-earned life lessons for future generations. Imagine if they could do this interactively. AI could make anyone seem wise by tapping into the current collective wisdom and issue platitudes using language younger generations will understand. Imagine the satisfaction of telling your grandchildren in perpetuity how naughty their parents were! Instead of leaving their kids an inheritance, self-absorbed elders could spend their fortunes on creating virtual selves, or “Versonas TM” as YOV calls them. Then they could nag future generations from beyond the grave!
How to get your heirs to interact with your VersonaTM? Attach it to their inheritance. They get $10 per minute to engage with virtual you. Elon Musk’s grandkids might demand a mill a minute. Have trouble with confrontation? Program virtual you to be more direct, to say what you think without regard to kid’s feelings because – you’re dead! Dead you doesn’t care if adult kids are hurt or offended. Virtual you is a software program. No more anodyne aphorisms. You get to unleash all your favorite acrimonious invectives on them without remorse.
Hate to wait? You can unleash YOV on future generations while you are still alive to watch the fun! When harsh words fly out of your virtual mouth, blame the software. Tell them you need to fix a bug and test it again. And again. Foul- mouthed virtual you can stand in for real you at holiday dinners, so you can relax in the Bahamas. Let your Versona TM do the hard work of telling your daughter her turkey is dry, and her tablecloth is wrinkled.
Have fun with tele-marketers! Your Versona TM could be trained in the fine art of baiting and taunting. You get hours of entertainment without the stress of actually engaging with a salesperson. ‘Virtual you’ can attend boring meetings while real you naps. Thumbs too big for texting? YOV can return multiple texts at the same time, faster than you can type a poop emoji. YOV could take all those surveys for you, leaving you to actually enjoy the hotel, restaurant, etc. without feeling guilty if you don’t take a survey and like them on social media. Virtual you can talk with several people on the phone at once, while texting. Add this to a self- driving vehicle and you can let AI take over most of your life, leaving real you to do as you please. What could go wrong?