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Startup 'ObEN' Is Betting the Future On Personal AI Avatars

Friday May 17, 2019. 12:40 AM , from Slashdot
merbs shares an excerpt from a Gizmodo report: In January 2019, when China Central Television, the largest broadcast network in the most populous nation in the world, aired a special to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the hosts welcomed four life-sized 'personal artificial intelligences' to share the stage with them. Called PAIs, they were three-dimensional holographic replicas of the presenters that moved, spoke, and sang to the delight of the cheering live audience. The program was viewed some 1.8 billion times. One of the most-watched TV shows in the world had been hosted by AI avatars. The company behind those avatars is the Pasadena-based ObEN. This startup, with its 100 plus employees, is betting that in the future, everyone will want their own PAIs -- to digitally try on clothes, to interact with friends, to keep the kids company while you're away on a business trip. In that future, celebrities will create PAIs to interact with fans to promote their latest films and albums. Teachers and doctors will have PAIs that offer personalized services to their students and patients. When you go to the mall, PAIs will pop up on the interactive screens there, enticing you to buy stuff. ObEN describes its ambitious vision of the future as 'personal AI for all.' And ObEN is far from alone, of course. Investors, tech giants, and even governments are betting big on lifelike digital avatars -- between Facebook's push to port your likeness into VR, the eerily lifelike AI news anchors put on the air by Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, and the burgeoning CGI celebrity simulacra scene in Hollywood, there's a newfangled interest in the (potentially vastly profitable) art of porting people's digital likeness to our screens. Cyberculture has revolved around avatars for decades, but the avi-to-avi future pursued by ObEN and others promise a level of representation saturation hitherto unimagined by even the most fervent cyberpunks. Would a world filled with PAIs really beget more convenience and entertainment? Or would it further accelerate already ascendent trendlines of the crowding and hyper-commercialization of our digital spaces? To better understand this new frontier of companion AI, and both its utopian and dystopian implications, I headed to Pasadena, to ObEN's HQ, to become the first non-celebrity civilian to get my own PAI.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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