Somnium Space announced that it is developing a way in the metaverse for the people to talk with their families and friends even after they die. All it needs is massive amounts of personal data.
Nearly five years ago, Artur Sychov’s father was sadly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, which would eventually kill him within a few years. The news of his father’s sickness devastated Sychov. He stated:
“It kind of hit me that the time I had with him was limited.”
At that time, Sychov’s children were just a few years old and maybe too young to understand and it was devastating for him to think that the children might grow up without any memories of their grandfather. In those moments, he began wondering whether there was some way through which his children would have a chance to have a conversation with their grandfather, even after he was long gone.
Sychov is the CEO and founder of Somnium Space, which is one of the many versions of the metaverse that have sprouted in recent years. Unlike most of its competitors, Somnium Space is already compatible with various virtual reality headsets, enabling users to enjoy an immersive 3D experience.
The demise of Sychov’s father served as the main inspiration for an idea that he would eventually come to call “Live Forever” mode.
Live Forever is a forthcoming feature in Somnium Space that lets people have their movements and conversations safely stored as data, and then duplicated as an avatar that talks, moves, and sounds just like you. The avatar can continue moving and talking long after the person has died. In the Sychov dream, people can talk to their dead loved ones whenever they want.
“Literally, if I die—and I have this data collected—people can come or my kids, they can come in, and they can have a conversation with my avatar, with my movements, with my voice. You will meet the person. And you would maybe for the first 10 minutes while talking to that person, you would not know that it’s actually AI. That’s the goal.”
To Sychov, these are the types of potential innovations that make the metaverse a new space of human experience that is worth every investment that comes in. He commented:
“They think that it’s about selling NFTs and brands selling their stuff, but it’s not about that. It’s much deeper.”
Somnium Space Overview
Somnium sold 20% of its available land in its Initial Land Offering (ILO), in October 2019. The company got $200,000 for the digital land sale. In its 10-week event, the firm offered 25 land parcels every Thursday in a majorly Dutch-style auction. This auction features a type of bidding war that begins with high prices and then lowers the offer systematically until an investor takes the bait and buys the land.
Somnium Space put most of the money that it eventually raised back into the platform. Sychov said:
“Somnium Space always uses the vast majority of community-raised funds toward development and making our platform even better. We are rolling out new features weekly such as the release of our complimentary 2D non-VR mode, live audio streaming and zones for Builder, Oculus Quest standalone app development, and much more.”
Somnium is compatible with all of the PC VR headsets available on the market. A total of 5,000 Somnium Space land parcels exist. They boast resource scarcity that prevents the platform from any arbitrary expansion of its realm with new land creation.
Virtual Reality Is ‘Magical’
Sychov’s moment of revelation came when he noticed that there is an incredible data collection potential of virtual reality (VR), a technology that he believes is ‘magical.’
“The amount of data we potentially could record about you is probably on the magnitude of, I’d say realistically, 100-to-300 times more than when you’re on a mobile phone.”
Virtual reality technology is designed in a way that it can collect the way your fingers, eyes, mouth, and the whole body move and can rapidly identify you “more precisely than fingerprints”
Most of the available research backs up Sychov’s claims there. Notably, one October 2020 research published in Nature, for instance, discovered that after less than five minutes of tracking people’s body motions, VR technology could easily identify someone with 95% accuracy out of a group of 500 people. Sychov stated:
“That’s why VR is so powerful. You will not fool it.”
Somnium Space has also invested some funds in and partnered with Teslasuit. Teslasuit is a firm that is not related to Elon Musk in any way whatsoever. But, it is currently developing a full-body haptic suit for VR.
Their suit is designed to enable the people wearing it to receive electrical signals that are comparable to human touches. They also offer additional data thanks to the integration of a medical-grade biometric scanner that collects a lot of data about cardio and stress levels, as explained by Sychov.
Sychov also alleged that the data can collect how the users talk and sound. Nonetheless, he never provided adequate details about how that would work, except to make some quick mention of how he at times gets duped and fascinated for a short while when speaking to the online chatbots.
“The same will happen in VR with time, but even more convincingly.”
With all that data collected and stored, Somnium Space will then strive relentlessly to develop an immortal mirror image of all the users. It will use the same manner of speech and visual movements, which many think is just the stuff of a cumbersome amount of science fiction that ranges from Dollhouse to Dune to Man of Steel.
The plot, in this case, revolved primarily around Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon who were fighting over a thumb drive that contained a sentient postulation and representation of Russell Crowe. Although Crowe is long dead, he sought to mentor his son Cavill. Sychov commented:
“We can take this data and apply AI to it and recreate you as an avatar on your land parcel or inside your NFT world, and people will be able to come and talk to you.”
It all starts with the recording process that comes concurrently with storing the data of the users who desire to pay for and participate in the “Live Forever” mode. Somnium Space wants to start its operations this year, although it said that it will limit the data collection to the sounds and movements that the users make whenever they are on their plots of land, called parcels in the metaverse world.
Somnium Space is planning to roll out the first set of artificial intelligence versions of the users, in which people can be remodeled and recreated as avatars with most of their movements and basic conversational abilities, by 2023.
However, Sychov believes that the beauty of this idea is that the digital version of the users can continue evolving alongside artificial intelligence technology in the coming years, even if all the data was collected many years ago. He elaborated:
“Let’s say you die or someone dies. With the same amount of data we collected about you, with the progression of AI, we can recreate you better and better over time.”
Data Security Is Still A Concern
The probability of a virtual reality firm having unlimited access to such huge amounts of data about the users is quite worrying, to say the least. Something that Sychov does not shy away from when asked about it:
“That’s why Facebook is so scary. It’s scary to have Facebook as the leading metaverse.”
Unlike Meta, which was recently rebranded from Facebook, Somnium Space does not make any money by selling people’s data to advertisers. Sychov mentioned:
“We are a decentralized world. We don’t want to know your name. We don’t care about who you are.”
Sychov thinks that he is developing a more responsible business model that he believes will enable the users to feel comfortable when providing unlimited amounts of data to the firm for in-depth and extensive analysis. The “Live Forever” feature will always be off by default, and the firm insists that it will not collect any data on anybody unless they choose to pay for it.
The firm aims to make the price as low as it possibly can. Somnium Space reportedly charged the early adopters about $50 for the annual plan. Nonetheless, Sychov forecasted that the intensive costs of data storage will always demand some payment. He insisted:
“If you don’t pay, we will never collect a single point of data, because we don’t sell your data. You have the control.”
Those that want to participate can turn the record function on and off as they want and tell the firm to delete all data whenever they choose. But Sychov said that the more data Somnium Space collects, the more accurate the other avatar versions of you will be in the future.
Although it is still a young company, Somnium Space has managed to deal with death on its platform. One of the landowners died suddenly in what Sychov said was a tragic moment for the company. The family then requested that Somnium Space should transfer ownership of his parcels to a friend who set up a memorial that still exists within the metaverse.
With all the ethical preparations and experience that the company can aggregate, there will be some justifiable and inevitable ethical questions about enabling a version of a person to continue living in perpetuity.
What if, for instance, the children of a deceased Somnium Space user felt some pain knowing that he was continuing to live on in some form in this metaverse? Sychov concluded:
“These things, we’ll have to figure out with our legal team, and also with our users.”