How close is Bell Labs to Bringing Us Life after Death?

Like many others at Alcatel-Lucent, I attended the Bell Labs Open Days on May 10 at Villarceaux, about 20 miles from Paris.

I took my time going around all the demos and taking them for what they were – grainy snapshots of work in progress, hastily put together in an effort to socalize what science all these great minds are working on. I am very grateful to all the Bell Labs people who contributed to this, and it was interesting to get an inside look.

Examples of what I saw, beyond the networking and communication technologies I was expecting, included a robot remotely mimicking my every gesture, 3D avatars or video representations of myself presenting from afar while still being able to "feel" my audience, algorithms deciding who I should accept as a friend on my social network platforms or which applications I should have on my smartphone.

My initial thoughts were, "That’s pretty cool. It’s ubiquity and it’s better control of my online presence: exactly what I need!"

Then on my train ride back to Strasbourg another thought came to me, one of an old technology called an answering machine. Remember: people would call you and hear your friendly voice asking them to leave a message.

Where are we now? What if someone wants to reach me or to be friends with me?  They would go to Facebook.  So how will that experience change in the future?

They might still go to my Facebook page, but instead they would see a lively 3D me greeting him or her warmly as he or she qualifies as an "acceptable" friend. This new friend would then automatically get updates or even responses from me based on content generated by the various semantic bots scanning the world for information that could be of interest to me according to my profile. Text-to-speech and voice synthesis would even allow me to talk, or have my 3D avatar smile or display emotions. There you have it, I don’t need to be there anymore as my virtual "me" takes care of everything, thinks and communicates like me, albeit without the typos or casual mistakes I would make.

If I define myself as how I interact with others, this means I would truly live on to all these online friends even after I am gone. Maybe people wouldn’t even notice thanks to this new absence-based communication. Scary.

I am glad that in a few hours I’ll be able to embrace my wife and kids. I will hug them just a bit harder than usual.

I am also glad that some people at Bell Labs are reintroducing physical objects in their demos and using the immaterial world of communications to handle objects of our daily life. Kudos for up and coming technologies Augmented Techcards and Gesture Recognition for delivering real world, interactive demos.

Vincent Weyl

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