We can pay people to do practically anything for us in today’s world. Soon, that may include remotely renting people’s bodies to do your work for you.

Grocery shopping, food delivery, dry cleaning pickup, commuting–all can be outsourced for a price. Obviously, we don’t yet have robots or driverless cars to assist us with these tasks. However, companies like InstaCart, DoorDash, and Uber are laying the groundwork for these innovations.

Unfortunately, we can’t substitute others for ourselves in line at the DMV. There’s no clear-cut channel for hiring students to be present in class in our place. But, there are already ads on Craigslist for students looking to take the SAT test for interested buyers.

Think of this as the Human Uber. A system wherein you pay someone to do something for you. Only, using technology, the person you hire wears your face while they complete your tasks. You can even interact with the environment through them.

Researchers in Japan may already be developing a device that makes the “Human Uber” a reality.

image of ChameleonMask telepresence system by Rekimoto Labs via sway.com for article Why "Human Uber" may Become a Viable Career Path After 2020
Rekimoto Labs via sway.com

Be in two Places at Once with ChameleonMask

Okay, calling it “being in two places at once” is a little generous. But still: you use a human surrogate and the ChameleonMask to essentially do just that.

Japanese researchers at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Singapore debuted the face-sharing technology. Lead researcher Jun Rekimoto was the one to dub it the “Human Uber”.

The concept itself sounds like something from a Black Mirror or Futurama episode. But it’s a real technology and it has been in development since as early as 2015.

According to the below YouTube video, research began at the University of Tokyo with Jun Rekimoto and Kana Misawa. The “ChameleonMask” was born for the experiment called “Embodied Physical and Social Telepresence using human surrogates”.

A Human Connection for a More Realistic Imitation

The video also highlights the difference between ChameleonMask and other telepresence systems. Similar to the No Isolation robot we covered recently, this works as a surrogate.

The researchers raise the question many people have about automation: can robots ever truly replace humans? While this particular example of automation isn’t as pressing as others, it raises the same question.

But the idea of a human surrogate isn’t novel alone. You can see in the below photo a depiction of the concept on the tv show Arrested Development.

image of human surrogate in Arrested Development for article on ChameleonMask and Why "Human Uber" may Become a Viable Career Path After 2020
Larry Middleman, a surrogate and proverbial “Human Uber” | Arrested Development | 20th Television & Netflix via Tumblr

This invention seeks to merge human surrogates with other technology without robots.

So, in the interim before telepresence surrogate robots can be mass produced, ChameleonMask may be a solution.

image of ChameleonMask telepresence system via sway.com and Rekimoto Labs for article Why "Human Uber" may Become a Viable Career Path After 2020
Rekimoto Labs via sway.com

How ChameleonMask Functions Using Humans and Telepresence

It works by affixing a tablet or smart-pad to the head and face of the human surrogate. There is also a speaker attached to relay audio communication. This fixture allows a remote user to project a likeness of their face via the surrogate and the smart-pad.

It features two communication lines: a public channel and a private channel. The public line includes audio and a detected face image. The private line includes audio, a remote environment image, and an overlay script and hand gesture.

The remote user (a.k.a. the Director) gains environmental input from a camera and microphone. The surrogate can provide more information via these inputs and text as well. From there, the Director can guide the surrogate regarding actions and communication.

Using a public channel, the Director can communicate with others. Using a private channel, they can communicate with the surrogate.

image of Tina and Jimmy Jr. from episode Ex Mach Tina of Bob's Burgers for article on ChameleonMask telepresence technology entitled Why "Human Uber" may Become a Viable Career Path After 2020
Bob’s Burgers | FOX via Bob’s Burger Wikia

How This Differs From Using a Robot Surrogate

In similar ways to other automation applications, there is potential for human involvement to make a difference. There are limitations to robots, after all.

Having a human surrogate instead of a robot allows for instinctual improvisation only humans can provide. It also amplifies the similarity factor; there is a human with your face (even if it is on an IPad).

It does raise questions like potential surrogates for waiting in line to renew a license or passport. If someone is present with your face and you can communicate directly with the licensing body, you are basically present.

Of course, the argument exists that without your physical presence, the licensing body is libel is some regard. But, utilization of this technology could set a new precedent for legislation moving forward.

Unfortunately, the possibilities don’t just relate to useful applications of ChameleonMask.

Empowering Directors to Dehumanize Surrogates?

The idea of a Human Uber is cool. The fact that we can basically make it happen–even cooler. But it does raise the question of dehumanizing the surrogate.

Does covering up their face with yours have implications beyond allowing the Director to “be in two places at once”? Does this fit in with the rest of the service based careers we are seeing more of as we approach increased automation?

Furthermore, it could become like the above movie trailer for the film Surrogates. While the film uses robots, the same question of risk posed to the surrogates applies to robots and humans alike.

Could a human surrogate using ChameleonMask be put in danger thanks to a Director?

Only time will tell as ChameleonMask becomes a more honed idea and developed technology. We also will have to see how automated telepresence solutions develop.

Could ChameleonMask have other applications such as helping connect families in different countries or prison inmates with their families or legal counsel?

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