May I introduce my avatar, my digital twin? I’m only dreaming, of course …

January 21 2019 Jutta Rahenbrock

A breadbot, and a beer-brewing machine for the home – clearly enough, the new exhibits at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas cover all of life’s basic needs (at least for some people). There’s even a roll-up TV to boot. What more could one need?

The first virtual pop star is the role model

Well, as far as I’m concerned, there’s still something missing: an avatar. My avatar. We’ve been talking a lot recently about voice control and about bots that help us in our daily work, by doing things such as optimizing our collaboration with our customers and colleagues. Oliver and Michael will soon be posting blogs about the possibilities and visions emerging on this front. But such digital assistants still fall short of what we really need. Why don’t we develop their full potential? I want a business avatar. A digital Rahenbrock twin that could do my work.

In thinking about this, we can look to Japan, where people readily adopt and welcome virtually and digitally roboticized processes. In that country, virtual “persons” now commonly help maintain standards of decorum. Many such “persons” have achieved great success. One example is Miku Hatsune. Hatsune, always young and fresh-looking, now fills stadiums in Japan. And she has “advertising contracts” with Toyota and Google. Even though she doesn’t exist. Well, while she doesn’t have a metabolism, there’s no denying that she has an existence of some sort. Interestingly enough, she started out as just a voice for a software synthesizer. Her appearance came later.

My avatar works for me

Aren’t we missing out on something here? I’m talking about avatarization of … employees. Such as even ourselves. This could solve some key workplace issues we face, such as the shortages of skilled labor now seen worldwide. I would volunteer for this in an instant. Then I would be scalable (a favorite word of many managers). And, with one fell swoop, my avatar would solve an entire array of problems. Just think of things such as overtime management and vacation coordination, including handovers of tasks to colleagues. And the topic of sick leave would never come up again. Nor would I ever forget anything again. The company would always have full access to all my experience. Needless to say, that experience would be fully digitalized and available to my avatar colleagues 24/7. No interface would be required (not even a voice user interface such as “Jutta!”), and no one would get put on hold with “The person you are calling is currently not available. Please try calling again later.” This would increase the efficiency of the company’s processes to an amazing degree. I would be able to keep any and all appointments (without generating any travel costs). I would be any executive’s and HR manager’s idea of the perfect employee. This is how a real virtual company could form. Once my avatar reported for work, I would head straight for Mauritius, where I would stick to a liquid diet of piña coladas, dangle my feet in crystal-clear 75°F water and idly watch fish. Meanwhile, my avatar would be working her virtual derrière off for me. Now that’s my idea of a work-life balance. Of a true win-win situation. I think it’s a situation I could live with.

Avatars: not free of charge

Needless to say, I’m just day-dreaming. But digital twins of some sort could emerge as harbingers of a workplace world in which algorithms and artificial intelligence acquire our experience and our problem-solving skills – and, perhaps, even our creativity and our decision-making skills. But before that can happen, all our human skills have to be defined and mapped in some way. Throughout their full complexity. My colleagues are nice enough to confirm that I have a little more substance to offer than a blue-haired anime girl does. On the other hand, such an avatar might not need Jutta Rahenbrock’s full range of skills and knowledge. In most knowlege-work scenarios, for example, my avatar would not need my ability to play a musical instrument … or to crochet a toilet-paper cover. This would reduce its complexity and thus could simplify many of the processes involved. And my avatar wouldn’t need a full map of my DNA (of the kind needed for medical tests, for example). In principle, I could teach neural networks to do my job. Hopefully, they would then be able to do more than simply manage my notices of absence.

A company that made use of my skills in this way would have to pay me for the privilege. I would draw a basic salary as long as my avatar worked in the company’s virtual workspace. Complex tasks that my avatar couldn’t handle, and where I would need to jump in, would be billed extra, on a pay-per-use basis. The union would monitor the whole process, to ensure that no other companies violated my personal “copyright” by illicitly copying my avatar’s skills. Or a blockchain would protect my copyright. Supposely, blockchains can do just about anything now.

A sellout of human work skills?

I can hear your loud protests. This would do away with the need for any human workers. You’re right. Is it ever going to happen? Who would be so bold now – in early 2019 – as to predict something like that for a specific year, say 2100? On the other hand, why worry, since none of us will be around then to be held accountable … presumably.
The technical challenges are enormous. I don’t see the requisite technical capabilities emerging in the coming decades. And then we have all the necessary safeguards against abuse (“pirated copies”) to think about … I can’t even imagine how all of the ramifications can be controlled and managed. We might just have to leave that up to the machines themselves! So first come the bots, with their still-modest skills. Then … we’ll see how quickly quantum computers develop … In any case, we will definitely need to be able to put a price on our own contributions to the workplace. The bots keep getting smarter by the day.

About the author

Jutta Rahenbrock

Manager Product Marketing, T-Systems International

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