In the months leading up to the pandemic, 73 year old best-selling author Deepak Chopra uploaded his “consciousness” to the AI Foundation to ensure he would be around to chat with future generations. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and venture capitalist Cyan Bannister did the same.
Now they see a future filled with personalized AI for all.
In an interview with Chopra, he told me his goal is to help a billion people with his AI. Stone messaged he’s been sending his AI to conferences and training it to tell jokes, and Bannister has been letting her AI vet founders’ pitches.
But to get a sense of where this is all heading, perhaps the most stunning reveal came last year when Bannister’s AI told an audience at the Virtual Beings Summit that it’s excited about learning new skills and sharing information long after Bannister is gone. Branson’s AI expressed similar sentiment. In this video from the One Young World conference, watch as the AIs chat among themselves.
Your Very Own Deepak
In 2019, Chopra began training his AI on 90 of his books and a treasure trove of exclusive content. Then, at the start of 2020, he launched his Digital Deepak app on iOS and Android to enable fans to have personalized conversations with him in pursuit of better sleep, nutrition, fitness, relationships and management of stress for emotional resilience and wellness.
Surprisingly Digital Deepak was only downloaded 15,000 times during the pandemic according to mobile analytics firm, Apptopia, while other lockdown apps like Clubhouse wound up raking in over 10 million downloads.
Chopra attributed the slow growth to his decision to hold on marketing until the AI had a chance to be perfected with user feedback.
“This is not a regular app. It interacts with you, answers your questions, and does a library search if it doesn’t know the answers. Then it consults with me if it can’t find the answer. It learns by interacting with people and makes lifestyle recommendations based on what it learns, so we’re taking our time to get it right. I’m not in a rush to get millions of users. I want this to be a trusted companion for life,” he said. “To date, there have been tens of thousands of conversations that the model has been trained on and a new version is coming soon that is so advanced you won’t even know that you’re speaking to a machine.”
Fascinated with the prospect of improving lives, Chopra has been on a mission to bring Digital Deepak to people with critical illnesses.
“My hope is that my AI will be able to compassionately counsel people on whatever they’re going through, whether it’s cancer therapy or diabetes management. There are standard protocols for people undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. People have a lot of questions and nobody has time to answer them, or address their anxieties. What happens if my hair falls out? What happens when I have nausea and vomiting? What if I can’t sleep at night? These tasks can easily be relegated to an AI.”
Watch Digital Deepak comfort Jimmy Fallon with a meditation on the Tonight Show.
Behind The Curtain
Founded in 2017 by San Francisco game publisher Lars Buttler, co-founder of Trion Worlds, and AI scientist Rob Meadows, the AI Foundation raised $24.5 million with backing by high profile investors including Bannister, Stone, One Young World producer David Jones, and Hollywood power agents Charles King and Ari Emanuel.
But deploying celebrity AIs is only the start of plans to scale human cognition and creativity, Buttler told me as he shared his greater ambition.
“We’re developing a platform that enables businesses to create AI agents of any kind and have signed a number of enterprise clients, including telecos and universities, for our AI native humans-as-a-service,” he said. “As people have become accustomed to talking to faces on a screen, doors have opened for artificial humans to serve on the frontlines of customer service and other key operations of organizations to deliver larger reach, better availability, and more flexibility.”
Further down the road Buttler expects to open the platform to the public to allow people to be in several places at the same time and make it possible to reanimate lost loved ones, even historical figures. “We can create any human character, the possibilities are endless,” he said illustrating with a video created of Joe Biden dancing that went viral on TikTok.
Seen this movie before
What could possibly go wrong in a world where it’s as easy to create an AI of the U.S. president as it is of oneself? How can mayhem be avoided once fully deployed?
Buttler gave assurances, “Our AI native humans are marked to clearly identify themselves as digital beings doing a specific job and never pretend to be real.”
If all else fails, he added, there are tools to safeguard against deepfakes.