As originally published in Venture Beat on May 21, 2017
What if all the emails you’ve ever written and any other published statements you’ve made could be incorporated into a digital identity? And what if anyone could access that identity to get your advice or opinion on something when you’re no longer around?
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My current work at the MIT Media Lab is dedicated to making that happen. It’s a capability I like to call “augmented eternity”; it curates all of a person’s digital information and stores it as a concierge bot that gives expert advice based on real human opinions. The idea is to create “swappable identities” for a bot, allowing a user to pose questions to an assortment of AI personas.
In fact, understanding how reality appears to others and deploying an appropriate response are two of the fundamental tools every successful executive should holster. This technology can streamline product and market research for new services and audiences, providing more direct access to valuable information that can help a company break out or break through in these three helpful instances:
1. Seeing through a new lens
Imagine you’re a tech executive trying to get a clear sense of how President Donald Trump’s views on net neutrality might affect your business. Soon you’ll be able to question Trump’s swappable identity on the matter directly. Or you could activate, say, Elon Musk’s or Jack Dorsey’s persona and get their opinion.
The process is simple: Activate the persona (or personality “lens”) within Siri or Slackbot, and ask your question. Semantics-driven algorithms will then search gigabytes of data, patterns, statements, and transcribed video statements, and the digital interface will show the answer to your question, including its level of confidence. Based on your interaction with the answer, the algorithm will adjust the confidence level for future interactions.
Back to our net neutrality example: By tapping into expert opinions on the matter, you have a better sense of what alterations to regulations may occur, which can help you ensure your company’s tech remains viable when those changes go into effect.
2. Streamlining the sharing of expertise
The world of successful tech companies is, if nothing else, busy. We’d all love to be in two places at once. Augmented lenses and swappable identities make that a not-so-distant possibility.
For example, team members could access a chatbot running lenses for managers 24/7 and get accurate guidance on work matters. This could allow for fewer meetings, enabling team members to focus on their work and not be burdened with workflow disruptions. Remember, the right information at the right time is more useful than the right information at the wrong time.
But it need not work only at the level of middle management. Tech executives will be able to consult different types of expertise in real time without arranging in-person meetings or phone calls. Of course, real human interaction will still be available. But conversations can commence with better preparation because leaders can do a virtual run-through before talking to the actual person.
3. Finding the right answers — faster
Sites such as Google and Wikipedia changed the game for accessing knowledge. Swappable identities and lenses will be the next step, a move from centralized repositories to well-orchestrated, distributed collective intelligence.
Now, information can be customized. Are you curious about how the best coders tackled or are tackling problems you face now? Because this technology is driven by advanced artificial intelligence algorithms, answers will be just as fast as today’s search engines. But unlike search engines, it will also provide all-important context: a person’s biases, record, and standing in the industry and in the wider world.
And keep in mind that such systems can learn from experience. With ways to provide feedback, these systems can be quickly trained to curate responses to your needs and keep answers accurate to the persona but focused on what matters to you.
For all these reasons, swappable identities are poised to be a new frontier for tech executives. Be on the lookout for opportunities to adopt the first offerings early and integrate them into your workflow over time.
Before long, the idea of working without your “team” of virtual advisors will seem as odd as any executive working without a personal staff.