We talk about personality, be that for brands or individuals, as if it’s something that comes naturally. Actually, in an ever-growing digital environment where we face a multitude of platforms and networks, it’s all too easy to lose your voice in a maelstrom of white noise.
If you believe Mark Zuckerberg, the future of VR is Social. Of course he’s going to say that with the backing of the world’s largest social network, but what does this mean?
Last week, Facebook revealed a set of much better looking avatars for their foray into social VR as part of their expanding Oculus lineup. It’s an important second step – the first being ‘Spaces’ earlier this year and other established networks such as vTime and Altspace offering a few customisable features to allow visitors to feel comfortable in their virtual skin.
Whether you want to accurately represent yourself or an ‘alternative you’, the audience needs to overcome the fact you can’t currently broadcast your own face thanks to the lump of plastic and a screen in the way, so let’s not get hung up on that. Think about the avatar itself and how it needs to become platform agnostic – not just across VR environments, but also into AR, regular digital screen content and even an audio signature.
We have yet to witness VR’s Pokemon moment as the platform still doesn’t fit into many people’s lives. It is taking hold for enterprise but consumers still couldn’t give a crap as it requires too much effort and is too easy to put down. This is why personalisation and realistic avatars are a vital step on the road to success.
The concept of lurking in alternate worlds and sharing quality time with others will be experienced by a mainstream audience when Stephen Spielberg brings Ready Player One to life in cinemas next year. Although HTC has plans for actual VR content, you won’t need to watch the film with a headset on so there will at least be more eyeballs on the VR lifestyle. Let’s see how many like the idea of the real thing.
I’ve been tackling the significance of avatars in general but they’re more of a branding exercise. What happens when you add real substance, with AI sitting behind the facade?
With a recent death in the family, mortality is something close to my heart right now. This was brought into focus a few weeks ago when I received a LinkedIn status message “Wish Matt a happy birthday” – from a colleague and friend who died in 2015. You could say he lives on through social channels but this isn't really true is it?
I've pondered the social and emotional benefits of preserving VR snapshots in time with family members for future generations – those no longer with us or simply to remember magical moments with your children and loved ones. The true measure of technology is when it exists for a reason, rather than simply existing.
We talk about Artificial Intelligence and automation stealing jobs from the rest of us but they'll be freeing up precious time for us to be more productive in other key areas. What if we use AI to deliver immortality? Sounds far-fetched, but it isn't.
When we have perfected digital personalities, mimicking real individuals and 'thinking' as they do, why wouldn't the LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook status of the future be delivered from beyond the grave?
Of course there are ethical and religious issues and a few technical hurdles to overcome, but I’m not suggesting we take control of someone else’s personality, rather it becomes a box-checking exercise to ‘live on’ or ‘delete persona’ beyond death. This throws up the question of whether erase means erase or we’re merely placing our personalities in a ‘recently deleted’ folder.
It’s easy to see how a grieving relative could be tempted to have one more conversation, or ask the questions you never seemed to find time for. Does this become a path to acceptance or a way to normalise post-life interaction? For some it will be a simple choice, others may decide on both.
Filming VR moments offers us a virtual time machine, with the ability to relive events as if we were there again, albeit passively. Add layers of interaction across multiple devices and platforms and you begin to see how this becomes about the persona, rather than the delivery mechanism – like real life.
In a deluge of indiscernible Fake News, a hacked personality in VR will offer the ultimate brain-washing medium so there are some enormous hurdles plus new levels of digital encryption and authentication required.
We could potentially face a transitionary period where we’re testing AI avatars as a direct replacement for genuine social accounts to see if audiences notice the difference. It’s these standards that bots and personal assistants need to strive for, proving this research is essential.
Avatars are the ringtones of the future and will be a huge growth market over the next decade. Control the supply of these and you own the gateway to digital personality, the most comprehensive database on earth. You’ll make yourself useful in a world of useless and provide a service as a brand or build a business driven by data, insight and creativity.
I plan to add more substance to this subject over the next few months through the written word and on the global conference circuit. It deserves the widest possible audience.