More than a decade ago, the television show Arrested Development came up with the amazing and ridiculous idea of the surrogate — a helper equipped with an earpiece, a forehead camera, and a baseball cap labeled “SURROGATE” in all caps. The point of the surrogate (named Larry Middleman) was to have him function as a stand-in for a rich man trapped in prison. It was a very funny gag because you thought, This could never be real. Now, it’s real.
At the MIT Tech Review’s EmTech (the “em” stands for “emerging”) conference in Asia this week, researchers showed off a Human Uber, in which someone straps a screen to their face and fills in for someone else. Jun Rekimoto, a Japanese AR/VR researcher affiliated with Sony, showed the tech off using some very funny photos.
The tech, known as ChameleonMask, “uses a real human as a surrogate for another remote user. To do this, a surrogate user wears a mask-shaped display that shows a remote user’s live face, and a voice channel transmits a remote user’s voice.” It looks, to be sure, extremely natural and not unsettling.
According to Rekimoto, “Our pilot study confirmed that people could regard the masked person as a right person.” The developers also tested cosplaying as an anime character in real life.
So, get ready for the next step for the gig economy. Hey, sorry I missed your birthday, but I’m sending an anonymous person wearing my face so I can Skype in, okay?