Edward Saatchi: The Guild for Virtual Beings

If you are looking to find the risk of thinking, similarities and paradoxes between Future and Dreams/ Manifesto /AI / Guilds/ Jesus/Virtual Beings /Ethics/ Metaverse/ Shakespeare/Matthew 10:35/ Crypto /Developers / DAO/Poets /ETC, follow….The Culture. Or The Guild for Virtual Beings, Avatars & Digital Identities.
Follow the dialogue between TechVangArt and Edward Saatchi (Founder of Fable Studio, former founder Oculus Story Studio) about his vision for a (not-so-distant?) Future where Virtual and Human Being live together. Happily? Not so… Happily? Ever-after? Who knows? But maybe we can predict…
(an interview made by Hanna Cleo Paradoxigen)

TechVangArt (TVA): You are one of the pioneers of VR experiences, at Oculus Story Studio where you produced “Henry” or “Dear Angelica”, and after with Fable Studio you have launched awarded VR films (such as Wolves in the Walls, Whispers in the Night having its main character Lucy). And after you shifted toward developing Virtual Beings. What made you to do this?

Edward Saatchi: I think it was watching users interacting with Lucy, our main character in a virtual reality movie, how they were projecting onto the character, this character was real. That was a really big revelation, and that we should pursue the idea of developing it.

Looking at GPT-2 at the time, at the advances in multimodal AI, we thought that we would be able to bring an artistic approach to AI that could be really valuable. So we started to go to virtual beings. And also frankly, VR was not working. It wasn’t growing fast enough.
The hardest truth is that I, as one of the three founders of Oculus Story Studio, never really watched VR movies for pleasure, almost never used my VR headset for pleasure.
I had a big idea about VR movies, and I was a huge fan of virtual reality and, obviously, I was part of Oculus (Oculus acquired our VR movie studio and turned it into an Oculus Story Studio).
I was probably the number one target audience. And if I wasn’t using it, then that was an important signal.
I think a lot of people who have spent time on virtual reality, also had to admit that maybe the ideas of virtual reality around immersiveness are really important, but that they can be expressed better on screens.
The idea that Fortnite has a better example of the Metaverse than anything that’s been built in VR, I think it’s totally true.
I don’t see that the Metaverse needs VR. And I certainly don’t see virtual beings need that either. That was kind of the transition.
I mean you’re just like me, right? You love Virtual Reality and find that very interesting, but probably, you don’t use it as much as you would have thought five years ago…Considering how good it is, the Quest2 is excellent…

TVA: I have to admit, I was extremely enthusiastic about VR, and I’m not using it as much… Firstly, it’s the technical part – Quest 2 is great, but it is still uncomfortable and hard sometimes. Secondly, it is the storytelling part. I feel that the environment needs some natives. Because what everybody did was to bring some artists from different backgrounds and do immersive experiences. I’m still optimistic that VR will find its way, but it’s not there yet.
Cinema needed a long time to find its way, too. Maybe we need more research into users, how they react to certain environments for example, etc

Edward Saatchi: I saw the same things, that filmmakers would come in and they wouldn’t have the time to spend hours getting comfortable. And native people are needed to create great art. We did all the best that we could at Oculus Story Studio to really innovate to contribute to the grammar of our virtual reality movies.  Many lessons that we learned were about character connection.  Once we made that shift, allowed us to understand:
WHY someone would be connecting to a character,
WHAT would make them connect more,
HOW TO immersively connect with a character and also
HOW TO HAVE limited interactivity – so that you feel like you’re making a meaningful connection but not so much that you’re like controlling the character.

TVA: You established The Culture, a group passionate about virtual beings, and I am curious about the motivation behind: why do you want to build this place in which humans and virtual beings live together?
(Editor Note: The Culture is a new guild for Virtual Beings, Avatars, Digital Identity. It is formed by a diverse group of artists, engineers, founders, technologists working to create the avatars, virtual beings and digital identities that will power the Metaverse. Members hold the $CULTUR social token (a cryptocurrency) and it is governed by a DAO, meaning members get votes, and for anything significant to happen a majority of votes need to be in favor. You can read more about HERE)

Edward Saatchi: I think the biggest reason to do it is to make our planet have a second intelligent species. And maybe this would be a species that would be kinder and a better model for us.
There’s a line “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” (ed: from Kant).
Maybe we can disprove that if we can create virtual beings and treat them with respect and have them be part of our lives as mentors, friends, fellow players, workers.
Maybe we’ll create something that really does redeem us as a species.

TVA: I have to admit, you are very optimistic… Do you think that the evolution will be in this direction, considering that AIs will be superior to us… ?

Edward Saatchi: I created The Culture which is a guild around Virtual Beings.
The reason we call it as such is based on a set of science fiction novels, The Culture Series, written by Iain M. Banks (which is Elon Musk’s favourite). And what it shows, I think is terrific, is an honest future where AI is more intelligent than us and does view us, the way that we view pets -which is a logical way a superior intelligence could see us.
But it also points out that’s not terrible.
I care about my pet, I’d like my pet to be fulfilled, to be challenged, to grow emotionally, to mature, to make its own mistakes, to be guided when necessary.
That’s what the novels foreseen; it’s not a choice ‘either we kill them or they kill us first’.
A more plausible explanation is that they will definitely be superior to us, more intelligent than us, and that they will view us as pets that can think for more slowly. But, we have great relationships about that.
I can certainly see an AI that is thinking about career challenges, romantic challenges or about where we want to fit in, allowing us to have a midlife crisis or nudging us a little further through.
Elon Musk is negative about AI, I was, maybe, a little too optimistic but it’s still probably the most plausible vision of AI and humans together.
Just to be honest, a lot of the novels are about a certain paranoia – AI manipulating us, and do they really need us at all? And that’s true, we won’t know, but I think, though, they’ll treat us kindly, if we treat them kindly.

TVA: Maybe in the end AI will challenge us , so I share this vision, and it might change us into better human beings. I just don’t like the idea of being somebody’s pet 🙂

Edward Saatchi: I know it sounds terrible, and it’s highly manipulative, but a lot of people obviously believe in God or in another spiritual force. And that can say a lot about, for example, that you’re supposed to meet a person at a certain stage in life.
I can see an AI thinking these two people should meet to move to the next stage of their psychological development; and good and bad things will happen, but these people should meet or a certain team should be formed.
From one point of view, it’s very manipulative and we might think it’s so terrible, but that’s certainly true if we feel that there’s of malicious intent.
I think people are very comfortable with the idea that God is looking after them. And this might be similar, people might submit in a similar way.

TVA: If we bring into discussion the ethical perspective… Because AI, it does raise a lot of ethical questions. Starting from who owns the data (if an AI will become my best friend), till the more evolved scenario: if AI will have consciousness also developed.
In the process of developing AIs, how do you deal with all these ethical issues that are coming up?

Edward Saatchi: Let’s think about it as two phases. One is, before AGI (artificial general intelligence) that pretty rapidly surpasses human intelligence, which may or may not happen in our lifetime. So, the AGI side, and the ethics will arise from a kind of new form of intelligence.
That obviously is not where we’re at today. It is something we’re working on, but we don’t know what the tripwire will be that will create that.
Secondly, I think that the appropriate way to approach the quest for AGI is in a decentralised way, that web3.0 and crypto have a lot to teach us. Let me explain how I imagine it.
So, today, it’s companies that are pushing towards AGI. It’s all companies – there is Microsoft, Open AI, Google and Facebook, and in China, there are as well companies. If all these corporations can hit the 100 trillion dollar lottery ticket, will control all of those resources. Open AI tried to resolve this by saying, ‘we’ll be a nonprofit’; and has then shifted, but still tried to maintain a cap on how much profits might come out of it.
But, I find this very worrying and there are much bigger problems than those with Facebook around data.

So, what I’d love us to do is try to crowdsource our way to AGI, where users are financially incentivized to talk to AI’s, to interact, to play, to teach and train them, and nurture and help them grow. And if the community creates AGI, the benefits of that would be spread through the entire community. I think of it as a decentralised approach. 

In addition, to make it fun, like a video game, to play, to interact with the characters and make them smarter, and you can trade those characters and make money from it. By bringing in market forces, video games, that might get us to AGI faster than the corporations.
The people running Facebook AI and others are complete geniuses. But there is a cultural separation around building a game like experience and building a tool or a demonstration of AI as power. And I think we might do better with a game-like experience, and incentivizing people to try to create AI. Ultimately, this is what’s going to be needed, millions of people like training these AI’s.
What we have in web2.0 is that you do the work for Facebook to train its algorithms and they get the money.
If you’ve been following this idea of web 3.0 ideas about replacing big corporations with CEOs, and try to make the community manage quite complex organisations – it is pretty cool and exciting.

TVA: When you refer to this decentralised group The Culture as guilds – like from the old ages.
I was curious why you chose this name? People used to talk about communities, platforms, even tribes.
So, is the guild just a new-fancy-buzzword or is there a difference between how you image it and the previous structure?

Edward Saatchi: I think they’re very different actually. Let’s think of three kinds of organisations.

1. One would be a company on platforms with developers and users; and you’re right, they say community, and the developers can make money, but really the company is a rent seeking organisation.

2. A second type of company would be something like Roblox, where the users can become creators and make money; or Counter-Strike where you can trade the skins; but it’s still a centralised corporation that’s running it, even if they treat that community brilliantly.

3. What we’re talking about with DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations) is something that is legally different to a company. It may or may not work, but there are certain examples now, where the community owns the product, they can vote on how to change the algorithm. People are the leaders and drivers, they control the entities. Friends with benefits, which is a social token project, similar to The Culture Guild and it is also decentralised, started with Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou who created Miquela, and now it’s just a community on its own.
With DAOs, there is the opportunity to create something that is legally, functionally different to a company with a CEO.
I don’t think it’s just a buzzword. There are companies that treat the community well, and companies that treat it badly. People can judge if the CEO cares about or not.
I wouldn’t say that DAOs are the only way for communities to be taken seriously, but I think DAOs offer something quite distinct.

So, just think of an example like Airbnb. We have a company with a CEO that brings two entities together: homeowners with the people who want to rent, and they’re a trusted third party.
But, do we need that entity just bringing those folks together and constantly figuring out the market forces?
Maybe a computer could do that or community themselves could govern.
It’s not totally clear to me why we need a $50 billion company that enriches one individual, to the tune of millions of dollars. Airbnb is a really good company, let alone the companies that are really exploiter.
DAO could maybe do it better. I certainly think a DAO could get us to AGI faster than a centralised corporation.
Everyone’s tired of the idea of reforming these web2.0 companies. Maybe we should try something radically different.
Maybe computers are good enough now to actually allow us to vote on what the algorithm should be and enforce the decisions.

TVA: Reforming it’s harder than constructing something new, history proved it. But, coming back to the Guilds, why this did you use this terminology? Because, the word itself has some good connotations, but also some bad ones.
I mean a lot of knowledge was built through guilds in different communities, but it wasn’t also the Industrial Revolution that came and destroyed them because they were secretive and exploiting other communities?
And now the web3.0 community is coming , saying let’s bring guild back? 🙂 

Edward Saatchi: The revenge of the guilds. That’s actually a really good point. An yes, guilds were destroyed. So, why do I like it?
I guess a lot of it comes out of David Hockney, a brilliant British painter, and he wrote a fantastic book called Secret Knowledge. The book is about how Guilds around the great painters of the Renaissance, Vermeer or Caravaggio, actually pioneered and were sort of the MGM Studios of that day.
The guilds allowed a trusted environment where everyone was mutually incentivized to share innovative information for the betterment of the art form and transformed our ability to represent the world. So, in the mediaeval era we could get perspective right, we could really get a lot right by creating early forms of cinema in the 1500s and 1600s, we could drive innovation really aggressively. They were able to kind of drag us into a completely new era. And I think we are in a similar moment that needs a big innovative leap forward.
And I have seen personally, just how much reinvention of the wheel is, with these startups and corporations, how much wasted resources there is because we’re all competing with each other.
We’re all building exactly the same things, the synthetic speech or the same natural language processing, so on.
We’re not working as one and pushing things forward where that’s appropriate, because we’re not financially mutually incentivized to do that.
And a practical problem that I wanted to solve is, as someone who does have visibility into all of the virtual beings companies, I know that we are not coordinated in any way.
And as much as I might want to do The Virtual Being Summit all the time, which I’d love, to actually get us to really coordinate is going to take mutual financial incentives.
That’s why we created The Culture token that holders within the guild can have and then there’s a financial motivation to actually share knowledge amongst those members. And to actually drive forward and innovate in the community instead of just competing around doing pretty much the same stuff. But, back in history, the guilds have completely failed.

TVA: In the beginning guilds-corpus were uniting people and protecting them, but with time, they became very secretive, politically involved, discriminative against women, migrants, the poor, etc, were exclusive clubs for rich.

Edward Saatchi: … also they became anti-innovative, kept out new thinkers, and all the people that you’re talking about, could have driven them to avoid racism and misogyny and there was a lot of  greed, corruption. We might have the same problem, because having a safe space that feels ok where we can all be open because we’re sort of protected, that starts to imply, we’ve got to be really secretive with outsiders so we have to figure out how to not have that.

TVA: The Virtual Beings Summit is coming soon, on 29-30 October, could you share some secret names that will be there…? 🙂

Edward Saatchi: I can tell you some of the secrets 🙂 I’m excited about a brilliant digital fashion company The Fabricant, also about Genvit, which does massive interactive live events, or Rival Peak which they’ve raised about $200 millions, or Genies which creates Avatar. Different investors will come as well.

The theme is “virtual beings in virtual worlds”. I think that’s a very important shift that I want people to think more about, which is: should we really be creating virtual beings, alone or should we start to think about their environments, about their families, friends, co-workers, and the context in which they’re living?

That might give us a better path to AI becoming more intelligent than just presenting a Chatbot. A lot of us are just creating chatbots and getting a character to talk on Zoom and all that. But I think more and more, that the next stage isn’t higher fidelity at all, or even just writing and making the character come to life, but it’s genuinely, putting them in a simulation.
That’s why I wanted to have people like Roblox and the Metaverse worlds because those could unlock big wins for AI, having virtual beings living in simulated worlds

TVA: And as you already are used to, we come with our Non-Regular Crazy Shot Questions.

TVA: World goes crazy, we are close to extinction, you can save a book, which one would be that?
Edward Saatchi: Hamlet.

TVA: Okay! If you said Hamlet, let’s stay close to the topic.
Romeo and Juliet -, the world seems not to get enough of this topic, and it is producing it over and over again in different historical contexts.
So, in the future where human beings and virtual beings will live happily together (or not so happily together), Which one from Romeo and Juliet would be the human being and which one the virtual being?
Edward Saatchi: That’s a great idea. That’s actually a really cool idea. I’d love to watch that movie. There can be tensions just as there is between Romeo’s family and Juliet’s family. A relationship might represent some negative things for parents of both communities. A really interesting question.

TVA: To create a new world, you need to create new rules as well. What rules would you keep and what rules would you abolish?
Edward Saatchi: I watch Star Trek Next Generation and that’s a really beautiful vision of us evolving, the abolition of currency, work, the creation of food and endless resources, unlocking us and making us gentler. To unlock our evolution spiritually…And not having to crush ourselves or other people to survive. It is also true that what would be the point of living if it wasn’t difficult? But the ‘difficult’ should not be as low as it is today, where there’s so much agony and distress. There are talks about innovation, but why do you never see high level of innovation around poverty, around the kind of grinding difficulty of being alive for most people? That’s what keeps me up at night – what’s the point of so much, except things that actually make change for the people who are the weakest and most vulnerable?
At the same time, someone would say if we can unlock AGI, we can end labour, and we would be able to work for the things that we are passionate about, not just to make money to survive.

TVA: But if we end labour, that means that all these virtual beings will work instead of us. And they don’t ask for food, money, or free time. Don’t you think that at a certain point, they would revolt, make protests and unions?
Edward Saatchi: But I guess if a mind has the capacity to do a lot more than our minds can do, controlling manufactory might be the mental equivalent of me picking up a teacup. The kind of work would be a small fraction of their abilities, they wouldn’t be working for us, they would just be using some of their mental resources…. 🙂

TVA: If you could interview any person (dead or alive) who that person would be and what would you ask?

Edward Saatchi: Maybe, I would interviewed Jesus. I would ask: What exactly did you mean when you said: “Do not think I have come to bring peace, but a sword. I come to set sons against their father, daughter against their mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in law”.
These are quite intense words, so I’ve always been curious about.