It can be a great new art form and a very lucrative new industry for artists, authors, engineers, and people with interesting lives. It will be like the fairy tale, where story characters jump out of the books and start moving around in the world of real people. We all liked those stories as kids, it can be a hit.
Here is how it can be done.
I recently wrote a piece about how data is used to create digital identities. And I predicted that they can be made into virtual life -- living clones of ourselves.
Imagine I construct a virtual me, Veeme, that acts like me, reacts like me. Veeme is constructed from years and years of my accumulated emails, social network data, viewing habits, credit card purchases, medical records, and circumstantial data like weather, geographical location, time of the day, season, news stories that relate to me, and so on. I have not had a boring life, and here is my chance to make that into an asset.
I offer my digital "me" to an artist, someone I learn to trust because this is as personal as it gets. The artist and I step by step evolve everyday mundane Veeme into someone exciting, someone people want to be with.
Like bio-engineers, we modify Veeme's digital DNA, mixing it with DNA from literary or historical characters, like Odysseus or Churchill. There is a lot of available data on in the public domain on Churchill.
We will condition and train Veeme by putting him into scenarios we construct. This is what authors do already today, play with different situations, shape the characters, make them consistent, but also refreshingly surprising by adding nice talents that come out in special situations.
When we are ready, Veeme will have turned into Veestar. We publish, license and collect royalties. Veestar can be a part of traditional non-interactive stories, movies, he can be a star in interactive video games, and he can do other jobs, too. He can be a teacher, a tutor, a coach (at last some real use of my degree in physics!). Veestar can be a companion, in many senses of that word, enabling people to reflect, perhaps to come to terms with themselves, to find talents they did not know they had.
Of course, Veestar will be learning as much as the people he interacts with. It's up to us, the production team, to see to that he maintains his basic character. If any clone of him develops attractive traits, the other clones of him may be improved. If any clone gets nasty, we will fix it, and keep an eye open for similar signs with other clones. We all have our weak spots and need to learn to handle them, right?
I reckon this is a nice arrangement for everybody involved: me, the artist, the engineers and the business people, even the lawyers (one for licensing Veestar, another for suing him, a third for defending him). It should be a robust but flexible business model, because each time Veestar is active, he signs in to his license agreement, just like any complex program. There is so much code in him that it will be difficult to separate him from his license. Veestar will be living in the cloud, of course. He will be claustrophobic anywhere else. It improves both service and business model.
Yes, this is science fiction, but as such, science will be outweighing fiction before long.
Of course, people will be developing personal relations with Veestar. It's natural. Will Veestar have feelings? Bladerunner, anyone?