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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Natalie Monbiot is an emerging technology strategist and pioneer in virtual human and A.I. video technology.

Ep39. Natalie Monbiot: GenAI & the Virtual Human Economy

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Ep39. GenAI & the Virtual Human Economy: How Can You Profit from Your Virtual Self? Discover the Answer from Trailblazer Natalie Monbiot who has Helped Create the Category

Imagine a world where your digital twin not only looks and sounds like you but can also think and create like you. A world where artificial intelligence works hand in hand with human ingenuity to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

This is the world that Natalie Monbiot, a trailblazing strategist in the realm of virtual humans and A.I. video technology, envisions — and it’s closer than you might think.

In a recent episode of the Creativity Squared podcast, Natalie shared her insights on the rapidly evolving landscape of the “virtual human economy.”

As a founding team member and head of strategy at Hour One, a company at the forefront of this revolution, Natalie has played a pivotal role in shaping the path forward.

From conceptualizing the technology’s potential to grappling with its ethical implications and bringing it to market, she’s been there every step of the way.

The Journey to Virtual Twins

Natalie’s fascination with emerging technology and its potential to transform the way we live and work runs deep. With an impressive background in crafting transformative brand strategies for industry giants like BMW, Coca-Cola, and Spotify, she’s always had her finger on the pulse of innovation. But it was her work at Hour One that truly opened her eyes to the vast possibilities of virtual humans.

The concept of “virtual twins” lies at the heart of this vision. These digital doppelgangers, created using cutting-edge A.I. and video technology, are not mere avatars or cartoon characters. They are photorealistic representations of real people, imbued with the ability to speak, act, and even think on their behalf. Helen, Creativity Squared host, has a digital clone and has spoken to Render’s Jon Tota and Dr. Jill Schiefelbein about hyperrealistic avatars on the show, too.

“Wow, so there are things I can now do, thanks to my virtual self, that I could not have even dreamed of doing before,” Natalie marvels.

Even though we’re still nascent, and there’s a virtual human economy, I think it really will become an economy at large, and something that will affect all of us.”

Natalie Monbiot

The implications are staggering.

Imagine a world where your virtual twin could deliver a keynote speech in flawless Mandarin while you’re sound asleep, or represent you in a meeting halfway around the globe.

Picture a future where a renowned scientist’s digital self continues to make groundbreaking discoveries long after their physical body is gone, or where a beloved grandparent’s virtual presence can comfort and guide generations to come.

These scenarios may sound like science fiction, but according to Natalie, they’re quickly coming to fruition.

Natalie points to real-world examples, like the baby formula brand Enfamil using virtual humans in their Amazon product listings, or a futurist whose digital twin was hired as an A.I. correspondent for a news broadcaster. The virtual human economy is already taking shape, and its potential is boundless.

Enhancing, Not Replacing

As with any groundbreaking technology, the rise of virtual humans raises important questions and concerns.

Will these digital entities replace human workers? Will they be used to deceive or manipulate? How can we ensure they are developed and deployed responsibly?

Natalie is quick to emphasize that virtual twins are intended to augment and enhance human capabilities, not replace them. “We wanted to tether real humans to this future of A.I.,” she explains. “We also thought about the opportunity to enable real humans to create versions of themselves that could empower them as individuals.”

One of the most exciting aspects of this empowerment is the ability to connect virtual twins to their human counterpart’s own augmented intelligence.

Imagine having a digital version of yourself that can instantly access and draw upon your entire body of knowledge and experience — every book you’ve read, every conversation you’ve recorded, every insight you’ve gleaned over a lifetime. “And also to be able to connect other intelligences,” Natalie muses. “You know, like languages — those are skills and abilities that we might not have natively.”

“We can have virtual versions of ourselves that are augmented selves, the best that we can possible be.”

Natalie Monbiot

This augmentation could supercharge our productivity, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. It could allow us to take on challenges and opportunities that were previously unthinkable, from crafting multilingual marketing campaigns to tackling global scientific conundrums. The possibilities are endless, and they’re only just beginning to come into focus.

The Importance of Authenticity and Transparency

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.

As virtual humans become more sophisticated and lifelike, Natalie explains that it’s crucial that we develop them with transparency, accountability, and a strong ethical framework.

Natalie is acutely aware of the potential for misuse, particularly in light of deepfake videos that have stoked fears and controversy in recent years.

She’s adamant about distinguishing Hour One’s work from these nefarious applications.

“The way that we distinguish the term deepfake from synthetic media was that deepfake was kind of the nefarious use of synthetic media,” she clarifies. “And in particular, it was the non-permissioned use of your digital likeness. It has an intent of trying to deceive.”

In contrast, Hour One operates with full transparency and consent from the individuals being digitized. Every virtual human on their platform is based on a real person who has expressly agreed to have their likeness used in this way.

What’s more, any content featuring these virtual humans must be clearly labeled as computer-generated, ensuring that viewers are never misled.

This commitment to authenticity and transparency is critical not just for Hour One, but for the entire virtual human economy.

As the technology advances and becomes more ubiquitous, we’ll need clear guidelines, standards, and regulations to ensure it’s being used responsibly and ethically. Collaboration between technologists, policymakers, ethicists, and the public will be essential to getting this right.

“We work to…demonstrate the use cases for synthetic media in a way that is ethical, and in a way that could be commercial, for really big and established brands.”

Natalie Monbiot

Unleashing Creativity and Expression

While the ethical considerations are significant, so too are the creative possibilities.

As virtual humans become more expressive and emotionally nuanced, they could open up entirely new avenues for storytelling, entertainment, and self-expression.

“Where we’re going with this is that your virtual twin will be able to be at least as expressive as you.”

Natalie Monbiot

“Actually, in cases where some people just aren’t, it’s not just inconvenient to be in front of the camera — a lot of people aren’t good in front of the camera, and they’re not able to express themselves in the way that they intended in the way that they feel,” Natalie explains. “So your virtual twin will be something that you’ll be able to guide, and in a way, may be the truest expression of you.”

Imagine a world where anyone can be a movie star, a pop idol, or a public intellectual — all through the power of their virtual twin. Where a shy, introverted artist can let their digital self take center stage, performing their work in front of a global audience. Where a person with a disability can have their virtual presence navigate the world with ease, unfettered by physical barriers.

These are just a few of the possibilities Natalie envisions on the horizon.

As virtual humans become more sophisticated and expressive, Natalia suggests, they could usher in a new era of creativity, one where virtual humans are not just extensions of ourselves, but powerful tools for exploring new identities, pushing creative boundaries, and connecting with others in ways we never thought possible.

The Road Ahead

As Helen’s conversation with Natalie draws to a close, the pair agree that one thing is abundantly clear: the virtual human economy is not a distant dream, but an emerging reality. The technology is here, Helen and Natalie concur, and is evolving at a breathtaking pace — the question is not if it will transform our world, but how.

Natalie’s vision for the future is both exhilarating and sobering. On one hand, she foresees a world where capturing a virtual twin becomes as commonplace as getting a professional headshot, and where our digital selves can represent us in an ever-expanding range of contexts, from the boardroom to the newsroom to the stages of our wildest dreams.

“I think we, for years, thought like, ‘What is the ultimate expression of what we’re doing at Hour One?’ And I think having everyone with a LinkedIn profile having a virtual twin, kind of like what we were saying before about how you had a professional headshot done, and in the same breath, you captured your virtual twin because you can now just bring that to life,” Natalie reflects.

“It is your LinkedIn headshot that’s working a lot harder for you than it was. And that seemed like a pretty distant vision, but I can see us accelerating towards that point much more quickly.”

Natalie Monbiot

On the other hand, she recognizes the immense responsibility that comes with shaping this new frontier.

As we navigate the uncharted waters of the virtual human economy, Natalie posits, we’ll need to work together to ensure that it develops in a way that benefits everyone, not just a select few. This will require ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and a commitment to the greater good.

For those working in creative fields, the rise of virtual humans presents both challenges and opportunities, in Natalie’s view: It challenges individuals to think deeply about what it means to be creative, to be human, and to express oneself authentically in a world where the lines between the physical and the digital are blurring.

At the same time, it offers powerful new tools for bringing ideas to life and connecting with others in meaningful ways.

By experimenting with these new technologies thoughtfully and responsibly, and by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible while staying true to one’s values, Natalie believes creatives can help steer this revolution in a positive direction.

We are living in this virtual human economy. And while it might seem kind of distant and irrelevant to you as a person right now, I think it’s worth thinking about the entire ecosystem of a virtual human economy, whether it’s actually creating your own virtual twin that you can put to work on your behalf.”

Natalie Monbiot

“And what does that mean?” Natalie wondered. “Like, what could you do with that virtual twin?”

The answers to these questions will shape the future in ways we can scarcely imagine. By engaging with them head-on, with curiosity, creativity, and care, Natalie believes individuals can help ensure that the virtual human economy becomes a force for good — a tool not just for augmenting one’s abilities, but for deepening one’s humanity and expanding one’s potential in ways never dreamed possible.

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Thank you, Natalie, for being our guest on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

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