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Artificial Authenticity at Google I/O

The Pioneer plaque.
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Artificial Authenticity

The first day at Google I/O, I met Trevor: intelligent, handsome and brilliant blue eyes that lit up when we made eye contact.  The connection was undeniable.  He was also a charming conversationalist, but I noticed his speech patterns and body language were a bit off.  Yes, I realize developers often poke fun at their eccentric social skills, but this was beyond anything I had seen at other tech gatherings.  Every few minutes, Trevor’s bright eyes faded mid-sentence, his head dropped forward and he went mute.  A few seconds later, Trevor recovered.  He picked his head up, his eyes filled with that mesmerizing light and he continued speaking as if there were nothing out of the ordinary about his behavior.  Narcolepsy?  No, blame it on Moscone center’s poor connection.  Trevor’s real name was not Trevor.  It was QA1, a robot and not even a 3G robot.

I returned to the conference the next day and ran into QA1 in the middle of a crowd of spectators entranced by that electric blue gaze.  I joined the crowd and noticed someone standing beside QA1 whose badge read: Trevor, CEO, Anybots.  Trevor was the man “behind the curtain” who spoke to me through QA1’s body the day before.  Speaking to Trevor was awkward, as if we had almost met before, although we had communicated only through QA1’s cameras and microphones.  The day before I was under the guise that I was speaking to a robot, and, oddly enough, I could accept that, but I could not transfer the relationship to the stranger/human being standing before me.

What does this story reveal other than the fact that I enjoy talking to anyone, robots included? It demonstrates that connection, however futuristic or traditional it may be, is obviously dependent on authenticity, but authenticity is no longer obvious. Authenticity becomes increasingly complicated as we interact in many more ways both online and in real life (“IRL”).

I compare this to meeting Andy Wang at the same conference.  I had communicated with Andy for about a month on Twitter when Andy and I met for coffee.  We had never met IRL and know very little about each other, but the conversation flowed.  We discussed careers, our favorite sushi places and Slideology.  We also discussed how meeting IRL vastly improves future online communication.  Why?  I can anchor a physical experience to the online identity of the person behind the name/handle who was once simply an avatar.  The real world interaction reinforces our trust in the person the behind profile. That person becomes more authentic, because interpersonal chemistry, body language and other characteristics contribute to that individual’s identity.  Each of us walked away with a more complete mental profile.

Nothing will ever replace human interaction IRL, no matter how rich the user experience or how far technology advances.  Accordingly, artificial intelligence will become more sophisticated and blur the line between humans and robots, but I will always know there is a man behind the curtain, and I prefer to speak directly to that man than to speak through his robotic counterpart.

Posted via email from www.LizaSperling.com

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