Author Archives: Phil Bowermaster

Movies Starring You

Young woman watching a filmThe technology already pretty much exists to recreate classic movies with a computer-generated version of you replacing the star. This could be extended to include your whole family or circle of friends. (Do It’s a Wonderful Life for Christmas for example.) Or you could leave some of the original actors in place,  depending on who you want to swap classic lines with, share a steamy love scene with, etc.

Studios will soon have to start licensing these one-off versions of movies, as well as one-off games based on them or face losing to pirates who will do so anyway.

But then if you can put your own likeness and voice into classic movies to provide a more egocentric way of enjoying them, you can also put yourself into wholly original movies. These movies might be based on stories that you have come up with yourself or built up from stories suggested by the movie-making system based on your expressed interests. They could be simple fantasy fulfillment, such as a love story involving you and a fantasy figure from your own life or popular culture. Or they could be the chance to re-experience memories: happy memories, painful memories, memories of important events.


Alternative Versions of You

CrossroadIn the future we will be able to interact with virtual versions of celebrities, historical figures, and fictional characters. Of course, these virtual people will be sophisticated software programs designed to approximate what their characters are / were / would be like. A useful variation might be to have a chat with virtual alternate versions of yourself.

What if I hadn’t taken that job? What if we had gotten married? What if I had majored in business?

Sit down and talk it over with a virtual version of you who took the road not taken. The projected alternative won’t be in any sense “accurate,” of course, but any reasonable extrapolation on what might have happened would have something to teach you. You might be surprised what you learn.

Eat All You Want and Never Gain a Pound

hamburger with fries and onion ringsOne of the most important applications of full-immersion virtual reality will be virtual eating. Like sex, eating is a pleasurable activity that can be disentangled from its risks and downsides in a virtual environment.

If people could virtually eat any and everything they want, any time, and the physical experience was identical to the real experience of eating — including feelings of fullness and satiety — it would make it much easier for people to eat healthily and moderately when really eating.

But the experience will have to be convincing. The technology to allow for such an experience is still some ways off. Currently the cutting edge of virtual reality has to do with creating an immersive visual and aural experience. That’s great, but it is no substitute for eating…

Existing VR interfaces stimulating the sense of touch are still fairly crude. And if there is any progress being made on VR taste and smell experiences, I haven’t heard about it. Eating will have to provide a highly refined synthesis of all three senses — plus vision and hearing for good measure. Such an interface is more likely to feed directly into the brain than into our various sensory organs.


The possibility of unlimited eating may prove to be one of the prime motivators for developing such technology, which may (paradoxically) lead to a big reduction in overeating. In fact, full-immersion virtual eating may lead to the end of overeating altogether.

Wealth Robots

Online Banking SystemsHumans and their machines are doing a fantastic job of making humanity as a whole wealthier through independent initiatives. But what if we deployed, within certain parameters (e.g., concern for the environment), machines focused on a single task: increasing the material well-being of all human beings?

Arguably, the arms race between intelligent trading systems is working on a goal similar to this, although those bots are concerned only with enriching their makers — not everybody.


Or go back a step: what if we deployed machines working on creating recursively smarter machines focused on the task of making us all wealthier? Machines can only tell us what they think we should do. They can’t force us. But then, machines who can make us rich could make a pretty good case that they should be in charge.

Virtual Friends for Hire

add as friendOne of the ironies of a more highly connected world is how isolated and lonely some people feel. There are online services whereby you can rent a “friend” for some task or occasion. (Say you have an extra ticket to the game, but no one to go with.) But there is no continuity there.

There are also sites that provide virtual girlfriends. One variety a downloadable AI software who provides some level of girlfriend-like interaction. The other variety relies on real women, but seems to be largely about establishing a paper trail to prove that you actually have a girlfriend.

Why not virtual online friends for the truly lonely? The page for the AI girlfriend linked above claims to be providing that, but I don’t think anyone would much go for it absent the implied sexual component.  Just somebody to talk to and spend some time with. Today they would be pretty crude, but they will only get better. They could make life easier and more enjoyable for a lot of lonely people.

And developing programs just to be friends with people seems like a good step to take towards friendly AI, doesn’t it?

Let’s Enable Failure

Confidence concept.While overconfidence can be an extremely dangerous thing, the lack of confidence is one of the biggest inhibitors of progress that we face. People who try something and fail have done something extraordinary. Most people don’t try much of anything — out of fear of failure.

Tremendous human potential is held back by a lack of confidence. We need a brain hack to make people more confident, to give them the unshakable belief that they can access their own untapped potential. People who overcome their fear of failure can do extraordinary things. If we unleash those possibilities, we will see a lot more failure as well as some amazing successes.

Or do we first need a brain hack to help people behave rationally? There might be some tension there. We don’t want super-confident people trying every stupid, dangerous idea that pops into their heads.

But there is a lot of good stuff that is not being attempted for lack of confidence. That’s a loss we can’t afford.

Post-Scarcity Roadmap

city map with Pin Pointers 3d rendering imageThere is good reason to believe that we are heading towards post-scarcity, a new economy in which, basically, anybody can have anything they want. We’ll all be rich:

Post-scarcity is a theoretical alternative form of economics or social engineering in which goods, services and information are universally accessible.[1] This would require a sophisticated system of resource recycling, in conjunction with technologically advanced automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods.

Here’s the problem. Although we can describe what the enabling technologies for post-scarcity will be (nanotech, biotech, artificial intelligence) and while it is fairly easy to provide a sketch of what a post-scarcity world will look like, the question of how, exactly, we get there from here leads to a lot of hemming and hawing.

We need a roadmap that starts with the technology and economy we have now and that leads us, step-by-step, into post-scarcity. The roadmap needs to include thoughts on how we avoid various pitfalls (that is, scarcity scenarios) that a post-scarcity society might fall into.

Maybe Call it the “Bucky”

Montreal Biosphere, Canada“[We will do] more and more with less and less until eventually [we] can do everything with nothing.”

There should be a prize for the biggest contributions to the datafication of our world. Datafication involves replacing physical infrastructure with virtual or simply changing the relative value between the physical and data properties of any product or service.

For example, Netflix might have been nominated for such a prize when they shifted their business model from being about disks in the mail to being about streaming of content. They removed the physical aspects of their business and left only data. This is a critical trend in our world, and the largest contributors to it should be recognized and rewarded.

R. Buckminster Fuller called this process “ephemeralization.” Maybe the prize should be named after him.

Hallucinogens 2.0

psychadelicgirlIn spite of their reputation as being dangerous and their classification as illicit drugs, hallucinogens may have a lot to offer. Historically, they have played an important role in certain mystical and spiritual traditions, and they have been seriously studied as a potential means of coming to a better understanding of how our minds work.

And it has been suggested that they are one of the secret ingredients behind the success of Silicon Valley:

R. U. Sirius talked about this a bit on the most recent edition of The World Transformed. On the other hand, there is this quip: “Many people tried acid. Only one became Steve Jobs.”

Maybe what we need is Hallucinogens 2.0, a technology for safely and reliably tapping into the parts of our brains that hallucinogens are known uniquely to impact. We need a computer interface into our own brains to provide the insights of a hallucinogenic trip without the risks.

Anybody working on anything like that?

Where the Possibilities Are

??????????????????Where does the value of big data truly present itself, in the data itself or in the algorithms we use to make sense of it? Bill Franks of Teradata comes down sharply  on the side of the data:

…I’m convinced that new information will beat new algorithms and new metrics based on existing information almost every time. Indeed, new information can be so powerful that, once it is found, analytics professionals should stop worrying about improving existing models with existing data and focus instead on incorporating and testing that new information.

By “new information,” he means information that didn’t exist before or that we now have to a level of depth never before possible. Sensor data in Internet of Things environments can represent either of these kinds of data. For example, we may have always used temperature data in performing some calculation, but back in the day we used a daily average. Now we have sensors providing temperature data every few minutes (or seconds.) That’s data to a greater depth. For data that we didn’t have before, Bill cites sensors on cars that track wear and tear as the vehicle is driven. Previously, vehicle repair occurred in a primarily reactive way. Now we can begin to anticipate repairs before they are needed.

Somehow this reminds me of a talk that Eliezer Yudkowsky gave at the Singularity Summit back in 2007. He said:

In the intelligence explosion the key threshold is criticality of recursive self-improvement. It’s not enough to have an AI that improves itself a little. It has to be able to improve itself enough to significantly increase its ability to make further self-improvements, which sounds to me like a software issue, not a hardware issue. So there is a question of, Can you predict that threshold using Moore’s Law at all?

Geordie Rose of D-Wave Systems recently was kind enough to provide us with a startling illustration of software progress versus hardware progress. Suppose you want to factor a 75-digit number. Would you rather have a 2007 supercomputer, IBM’s Blue Gene/L, running an algorithm from 1977, or a 1977 computer, an Apple II, running a 2007 algorithm? And Geordie Rose calculated that Blue Gene/L with 1977′s algorithm would take ten years, and an Apple II with 2007′s algorithm would take three years.

There is a progression here, albeit a counter-intuitive one. We might be inclined to think that hardware adds more value than “mere” software and that software is inherently more valuable than “mere” (or the term we like to throw around a lot is “raw”) data. The opposite turns out to be the truth. The data itself is where the value is. Hardware and software only help us to focus on the potentialities, the possibilities, that it already contains.