Japan Has “Human Uber” So People Can Live For You

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A developer demonstrates a telepresence technology called ChameleonMask

The “Human Uber” could soon hit the gig economy in a big way. And though it sounds like a service where you pay strangers for piggyback rides, rest assured, the reality is somehow stranger.

ChameleonMask hopes to provide people with human surrogates who would interact with the real world on the customer’s behalf, achieving something known as telepresence. To do this, each surrogate would wear a screen on their head that displays the customer’s face and plays the customer’s voice. The service would theoretically allow you to attend parties and other social functions from the comfort of your bed, all while you give directions to your surrogate – even down to what they wear

If the technology seems incredibly complex, it probably shouldn’t. The technology seems little more complicated than taping an iPad to your broke friend’s forehead, switching on FaceTime, and then paying him to attend a work party on your behalf while you try to act like it’s all normal, presumably by ordering your surrogate to strike a nonchalant pose.

ChameleonMask creator Jun Rekimoto, a Japanese AR/VR researcher affiliated with Sony, showed off his new tool at At MIT Tech Review’s EmTech (the em for emerging) conference in Singapore last week. He reportedly called it “surprisingly natural.”

In the past, telepresence technologies have used robots as surrogates. But Rekimoto claims that using human surrogates makes for a better experience, and “also eliminates many difficulties of teleoperated robots wandering in the environment.”

Still, Rekimoto’s service isn’t exactly brand new. The writers of Arrested Development came up with a very similar idea more than a decade ago in episodes where a man on house arrest hired a “surrogate” who wore an earpiece and webcam so he could be the man’s stand-in for the real world.

Who knows whether ChameleonMask will catch on or not. But considering the success of Postmates, Amazon, and Netflix, it makes sense that there should be a service that automates what these companies are already making less and less necessary: leaving the house.