How Virtual Avatars Could Disrupt Politics

New artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are making possible the "regeneration" of politicians such as Ronald Reagan in the form of virtual avatars.

If you thought the speakers at last year’s political conventions were dynamic – especially Michelle Obama making the speech of her life – just wait until 2016, when you could see famous politicans who are no longer with us making a guest appearance. New artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are making possible the "regeneration" of politicians such as Ronald Reagan in the form of virtual avatars. And, unlike the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who seemed to rise up from the grave and challenge Mitt Romney at this year’s DNC, these new avatars would be able to do more than just repeat snippets from past debates. In fact, they would be able to say anything you can type on a computer. Like, for example, a keynote speech.


The technology that makes all this possible is called cognitive video regeneration (CVR) technology. Essentially, CVR technology analyzes a database of previous facial expressions and spoken words; learns from them; and then adapts them for new phrases and expressions. When the machines are smart enough, you can start pairing together micro- facial expressions and words to an extent where it sounds just like natural speech.

And the results can be amazing.

One company – Seyyer – already has a virtual Ronald Reagan ready for demo. The "Great Communicator" is now able to reach us from the other side, providing commentary on this year's presidential election. Not only is this virtual Ronald Reagan theoretically capable of providing commentary about America's jobs crisis, the national debt and healthcare - he can also crack jokes about playing virtual checkers with JFK. On the Seyyer site, there are already 13 videos posted from the virtual Ronald Reagan - and he also has a "live" Twitter account. The possibilities are endless - including the possibility that political opponents could counter-program a Ronald Reagan to start spouting the latest liberal orthodoxy.

And if these virtual political avatars don’t work out by the time the 2016 election cycle rolls around, there are always holograms, right? Remember the Tupac hologram at Coachella earlier this year? A virtual Tupac Shakur showed up on stage, greeted the crowd ("What up, Coachella!") and performed with Snoop Dogg (who now goes by the name of Snoop Lion). There are rumors of other holograms in the works, including an Elvis Presley.

It doesn’t take much more to imagine holograms for any of the great politicians of the 20th century – maybe an FDR hologram telling people to expect a New Deal for the 21st century? Or an Eisenhower railing against a new military-industrial complex? And it doesn’t have to stop with “celebrities” or famous politicians... Imagine you’re putting together the guest speaker list for the DNC or RNC in 2016 and you want someone to complement your up-and-coming political stars or someone to provide a unique viewpoint from a specific demographic group you’re looking to target.

Well, you're in luck, thanks to modern avatar technology.

You can pick up the upwardly-mobile, Princeton-educated avatar Pedro Hernandez with the perfect demographic background - urban intellectual from Detroit, black, with Hispanic roots - to talk about the economic impact of your new policy proposal. In fact, there are several other pre-packaged avatars just waiting to be used anyway you want – like a TV-friendly social media strategist (Cat Schwartz) and a vivacious-looking blonde (Meredith Barge) who loves NFL football and wants to promote your product. Unlike the replicants in "Blade Runner", you don’t even have to worry about these avatars having second thoughts about their virtual humanity. They're essentially the equivalent of plug-and-play artificial Intelligence: while these avatars may seem “intelligent,” they basically just read a text dialogue that you type in. These avatars are closer to wind-up toys ready and willing to do your virtual bidding.

So where will all this AI cognitive video regeneration stuff end? Here's a scenario: imagine a virtual newscaster avatar from MSNBC interviewing a virtual political avatar from the Democratic Party, who is talking about her recent debate with a hologram of the current Republican candidate. Will you ever be able to trust anyone in politics ever again? Instead of taglines like “Fair and Balanced,” the major cable news networks may need to add another disclaimer, “100% real. No virtual avatars or holograms, ever.”

image: Ronald Reagan / Seyyer

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