Monday, April 9, 2012

The Massively Multiplying Mini Me

The notion of the Quantified Self has been gaining popularity as people figure out more useful things to do with the data captured via their computers, devices and social networks. Many thinkers and companies (like fitbit) imagine this data can and will be used as a tool for revealing personal heath trends in areas like sleep, exercise, happiness, bodily functions and genetic disease. Some folks like mathematician Stephen Wolfram, who already are mining vast stores of personal data from over the years, believe introducing the appropriate search algorithms and systems to personal data will help us with identifying behavioral tendencies and thus help us be more productive. My friend, ASF President John Smart, takes a bigger more forward-looking perspective, sees a world in which this data will be used to create a Digital Twin for each of us that will fully anticipate our preferences and behavior and greatly assist us in all aspects of life.

I think they're all right.

That said, I believe there are also many less useful, but more entertaining uses for these growing pockets of personal data. Set up correctly, these could not only scale quickly, but also help people to more quickly realize the value of their personal data.

So here's a near-term Quantified Self product idea to test that assumption: the Mini Me or Pet Me.

Imagine taking all of your gmail, facebook, computer and sensor data, then putting it into a simple 3d avatar that looks like you and sits in a window on your facebook page or anywhere else on the web. Perhaps this Pet You is displayed on a wall in your house. You can interact with this Pet You - ask it questions, push it around, introduce unexpected elements like warm apple pie or a swarm of bees. 

Its responses all draw on your personal data history. Maybe 1 in 5 responses is really funny or bizarre. You yourself, family, friends or other users can then rate each interaction to guide the development of this Mini You, essentially raising it by rewarding the most desired behavior. (Maybe this growing up portion of the software is called Skinner Box.) 

Over time, some of these growing Mini Yous are bound to get interesting. These are the ones that will literally survive and thrive by being shared on different people's facebook pages, via email, in public settings and... this is where it can get really interesting ... as Non Player Characters (NPCs) in bigger virtual environments like Second Life, single player big world video games like Skyrim & Assassin's Creed, as cleverer A.I. in first person multiplayer games like Call of Duty & Halo, or as MMOGs like The Sims Online.  

Currently, leading edge video games utilize flavorful, but simple NPCs based on personality archetypes and solid writing. There's amazing craft that goes into constructing massive storylines and the corresponding character traits, language and behaviors. But NPCs are poised to very quickly grow in complexity as social and quantified self data is introduced into their systems. It occurs to me that whichever company can encourage people to grow the Mini You en mass will create a new category of NPC Unit or Tiny A.I. that can easily be introduced into a wide variety of these games and worlds to beef up, augment or replace these existing NPCs. 



I bet that over the next few years these little Mini Mes will start multiplying - initially driven by startups focused on scaling them across social networks. The first few gaming, app or super-simple A.I. companies to create interactive Mini You farm systems that are engaging and entertaining will probably claim dominant positions (just like Foursquare and Instagram did - scale first, get more complex later). It probably won't be the Wolframs, the Googles or the Hard A.I. start-ups that grab the initial user base and the big funding. It'll be some scrappy little team that builds a Mini Me game that's even more fun than Farmville, Angry Birds or even the current king of the castle Draw Something.

Then the entrenched right-fit entertainment and communication power houses will scramble to introduce these Mini Yous across their products and services, thus fueling the diffusion fire.

The result? As we use our personal data to grow our little Insulting Irmas, Cowboy Karls, Angry Alvises and Witty Williams we'll not only laugh, be shocked and express outrage - we'll also begin to understand what it means to embed our patterns into popular video games, into highly customized video games, into advertising, into the increasingly complex and pervasive web - and quite probably start earning money or other social credits for these forays. Many unexpected things will occur as these Mini Mes escape, like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, and begin to live autonomous lives as temes, co-mingling with viruses, surviving and evolving wherever there is silicon to be found, changing the nature of the web.

At some point the Mini Mes will surely match the capabilities of full on Digital Twins, but expect a lot of product iterations and cycles and evolutionary branching before then. Like life itself, these authorized and unauthorized little genies will resist all sorts of bottling, adding increasingly more simulations of ourselves to the wild west of the web.

About Alvis Brigis

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Alvis Brigis is a media specialist and futurist residing in California. Most recently, he was Story Producer on History Channel’s Invention USA and Executive Producer for The Future of Facebook, the first Open Foresight project to be funded and released to the public. He’s produced and written for TV networks including NBC, VH1, THC and Sundance Channel. Brigis co-founded Future Scanner (a prediction harvesting tool), Swarmado (a mobile content-sharing app for events) and has developed a variety of forward-looking startups. He serves on the advisory board of Acceleration Studies Foundation and blogs about the social side of accelerating change at Social Node. He’s also an avid sci-fi, comedy and quest adventure writer + co-creator of animated silicon valley satire Steve Ice.