AUSTIN — Four years from now, physical attendance at SXSW could be optional for those who choose to send a sci-fi-style avatar in their place.
That vision closed out Monday’s programming at the festival, as sold in
Faraway, so close
Diamandis pitched the avatar concept as the logical outcome of exponential advances in computing power and robot capability meeting
Avatars would enable their human operators to see, hear and touch via the robot’s sensors and actuators, essentially allowing them to teleport their skills and knowledge to anywhere in the world — although the contest requirements only require the avatar to work from at least 100 kilometers away.
“It’s about dislocating the knowledge from the physical location of action,” he said.
The doctor and entrepreneur described three possible use cases: disaster recovery, multi-purpose utility and personal care.
The first seems obvious, since we already use robots to extend human senses to places too dangerous for a direct human presence. Diamandis raised the example of sending an avatar into a failing nuclear plant to adjust whatever controls might stop a meltdown.
The second might be a harder sell, at least in the examples of surgery by avatar that Diamandis raised. While avatars could get around the uneven geographical distribution of medical talent and training, they won’t give the world’s most talented surgeons any more time in which to practice their craft.
And personal care — as Diamandis put it, to “go someplace and give someone a hug” — will depend heavily not on how effectively the avatar conveys the scene to its human, but on how the avatar represents the human.
The contest rules don’t mandate human-looking robots. “We don’t specify what technology they should use or what it should look like,” Diamandis said. The avatars depicted in his presentation made no attempt to mimic humans along the lines of, say,
XPrize feats and flops
The ANA Avatar XPrize’s goal might seem solidly locked in the realm of science fiction, but past XPrize competitions — all modeled after the 1919 Orteig Prize that rewarded Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic — have motivated engineers and programmers to accomplish things previously deemed implausible.
The first such contest, 1996’sw noopener” target=”blank”> <span style=”font-weight:400;”>Ansari X Prize</span></a><span