Enough with Desktop and Mobile: Let's Virtualise the Operator

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After many years jockeying against each other in the race to find the next big thing, Apple and Google secretly joined forces last year to address the final frontier: ways to virtualise the operator.

Senior executives spent an amusing night calling up their main engineering teams and shouting “Drop everything, and I mean everything. Tomorrow we start on operation iGuy.”

The criteria set was simple: the Turing test, which evaluates a machine’s ability to behave in ways that are indistinguishable from a human being. Senior management determined they should not know if it was their real employee or the employee’s iGuy avatar who was carrying out their role and tasks.

The engineer who appeared to go to work, but in fact sent his iGuy, undetected for an entire week, would be given the product manager role and would own the iGuy project.

When all was said and done, this was the product that the mass market really wanted.

After a few false starts to the project -- during which a few engineers who did nothing anyway attempted to run their prototypes past their management and were promptly fired -- the remaining teams got down to work.

Initially the teams split into three projects:

  • The Reactive iGuy, who worked at a terminal all day and so required no robotics
  • The Manual iGuy, who essentially had to process repetitive small tasks such as putting the companies’ products together in child-labour conditions, presented a robotics and high-availability challenge
  • The Generative iGuy, who sat around installing and uninstalling applications on his Macbook all day, while appearing cool, seemingly unproductive in the short term, and yet invaluable.

Some clever executives then decided that it was important to make sure the iGuys were fully interoperable and so the Apple-Google team decided to combine the different aspects of the iGuys into a single bigger iGuy.

But as often happens in an industry prone to chasing trends, just as soon as the prototype iGuy was brought into testing, a new and overzealous young tech pointed out the single point of weakness of a single-body incorporation, and lobbied successfully for a distributed architecture.

The first distributed iGuy was, to be honest, a bit of a mess. Released as “Furbies,” the small, semi-intelligent representation of Apple and Google key engineering staff were often found having defaulted to “I am sleeping” mode or “Feed me” mode. And while a vast swath of the Gmail team was replaced by their own Furby iGuy avatars -- who had perfectly replicated their creators -- the Furbies failed because they were deemed to be a risk if introduced to the IT sector. Instead they now populate toy stores worldwide, along with their own iPhone and Android apps for flexible working arrangements.

The swarm mode in the distributed architecture has been cited as a bit of a risk. All the iGuys ultimately work as a commodity tin model, with shards of owners’ own personalities in each individual iGuy and the rest distributed across all iGuys, but this poses a potential security risk.

Indeed, one poor programming experiment with a Chaos Monkey left every iGuy connected to Fox News one morning, requiring a reboot to get them back under full control.

Amazon has been watching developments closely. The drone delivery experiences it announced earlier this year show that this is a space it is clearly monitoring. A comment from an undisclosed source suggested that it may try to get a positioning deeper into the iGuy edge networks and develop an iGuy delivery driver, complete with an “indifference engine,” to become the face of the company.

It is certainly an interesting space. My iGuy will be bringing you updates going forward.

This article appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Streaming Media European Edition as "View From the Edge: iGuy."

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