Someone demonstrating the use of the Chameleon MaskChameleon Mask

You may soon be able to send ‘Human Ubers’ as your surrogate

“It’s surprisingly natural,” says the inventor.

Tomasz Frymorgen
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Before you ask, no this is not a teaser of a new Black Mirror episode.

This is 100% genuine, real-life 2018. 

And in this world we live in, people are developing technology that will allow you to send human surrogates to represent you at meetings, parties and untold other social occasions.

Let us introduce you to Chameleon Mask, a product showcased at this week’s EmTech Asia conference in Singapore and marketed as a ‘Human Uber.’

DiagramChameleon Mask

The technology works by strapping a smart-pad to the face of a human ‘surrogate,’ along with a speaker.

The ‘director’ of the surrogate will then command their loyal minion to travel to wherever they need them to be. The 'director’s' face will be projected onto the smart-pad, and the pad’s camera will give them a first-person view of wherever the surrogate is.

Meanwhile, the director’s voice will play out of the speaker, so to some extent, it really will seem like they are there in person.

Lest you have any qualms about this all sounding a bit dystopian, rest assured. According to MIT Tech Review writer Will Knight, the technology has been described as “surprisingly natural” by its inventor, Jun Rekimoto.

According to the project’s homepage, “Chameleonmask is a telepresence system that shows a remote user’s face on the other user’s face.

“While most telepresence systems have been designed to provide a remote user’s existence with a teleoperated robot, the system uses a real human as a surrogate for another remote user.

“To do this, a surrogate user wears a mask-shaped display that shows a remote user’s live face, and a voice channel transmits a remote user’s voice. A surrogate user mimics a remote user by following the remote user’s directions. 

The project’s developers also add, “Our pilot study confirmed that people could regard the masked person as a right person.”

In case all that tech talk has gone over your head, here’s a break down of the technology, as shown at the emerging technology conference. 

That’s right, Telepresence Mask + Human Surrogate = 'Human Uber'.

Simple as.

Now if you’re thinking that this all looks a bit familiar, then you’re not alone. Twitter users have been quick to point out some similar ideas popping up in popular culture over the years.

More than a decade ago, US TV series Arrested Development introduced a strikingly similar concept through the character Larry Middleman.

Larry was tasked with being the eyes and ears of real estate tycoon George Bluth after the latter was placed under house arrest. To enable this body takeover, Larry had a camera attached to his forehead, an earpiece and even a baseball cap reading ‘surrogate.’

Then there was Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

In a 2010 episode of the show Sheldon created a similar surrogate set up, but instead of using another human he opted for a robot. He called the invention a ‘Mobile Virtual Presence Device.’

And in 2015, Modern Family had an episode where Phil used a robotic tele-phonecall device to attend a graduation party because he couldn’t make in person. 

We really should have seen this coming people.

But now it’s too late. The robots are coming for us.

To the hills!