Leave Some of Yourself Behind with YOV

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Monica Seuthe

LEAVE SOME OF YOURSELF BEHIND WITH YOV

February 19, 2021 Monica Seuthe Monica Joy Scott, Technology Leave a comment

When you see modern sci-fi movies, you see the concept of AI. What comes to my mind readily is the existence of the Tony Stark recording at the end of Endgame.

There is talk that they will be moving forward with Tony Stark occasionally being used as an AI representation of himself in the Ironheart series, and even potentially in Spider-Man movies. Isn’t science fiction wild? What if I told you that concept isn’t very far from reality.

You, Only Virtual, Inc. has three patents-pending and has created a platform where people can upload and archive their emotional and sentimental persona for the purposes of helping and connecting with their loved ones when they pass away. They are currently working on a beta launching in March which will allow a person to create a circle of five loved ones for the user to interact with. When one of the five passes away, the remaining four would be able to continue interacting with the deceased person’s virtual persona.

They will be starting with text, and voice communications but will eventually lead to 3D representation in the future.

The application is free while the parties build their persona, but once they have completed it, the cost to maintain it within the system will elicit a monthly subscription fee. If you sign up for the beta program you can become a “founder” and be able to lock in a perpetual $1 a month subscription cost.

When you lose someone, you hold onto what ever you can of that person. A great representation of that reminds me of Aaron Paul’s Jesse in Breaking Bad, calling up his deceased girlfriend’s voicemail to hear her voice, or Baron Zemo listening to the recording of his wife over and over again in Civil War.

I’ll admit, I refuse to delete my grandfather’s contact from my phone. I’ve looked at it, I’ve thought about it, but I can’t make myself actually delete it. Lets be honest, that form of attachment isn’t the healthiest, but we are social creatures, and without closure we can cling to any form of connection to replace what we lost.

That’s what You, Only Virtual, Inc. is attempting to help with. Closure, people being able to say goodbye, or be reminded occasionally of their relatives love.

It’s weird, it sounds like science fiction, but it might be just what your loved one needs.

Find out more at You, Only Virtual, Inc., and request an invite to their beta starting on March 1, 2021 Here.

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Los Angeles Tech Company Launches World’s First App to Keep You Talking to Loved Ones ... Even After You Die

California Business Journal
Analytics Tracking - Video

You, Only Virtual, Inc. (YOV) launches six-month beta on March 1, 2021 where the first 10,000 users can setup their YOV circle and begin building their unique and authentic personas.

You, Only Virtual, Inc. Logo
YOV is the only platform that recognizes that my communication with my wife is very different from my communication with my brother. We’re not building one virtual persona, we’re building many different personas.

LOS ANGELES (PRWEB) FEBRUARY 10, 2021

In 2019, Justin Harrison was staring down death on two fronts… his own, from a life-threatening motorcycle accident, and his mother’s imminent death from a terminal cancer diagnosis—both occurring within three months. Presented with the thought of overwhelming grief for his mother and the family he would leave behind, Justin began to wonder what if … what if he and his family members did not have to say goodbye? What if there was a way to replicate those personal interactions and continue to receive encouraging advice from Mom? Now there is. Introducing You, Only Virtual, Inc. (YOV).

In less than eight months, YOV (pronounced, You’ve) has three patents-pending —one of which is allowed— that position this startup as a pioneer and the first to develop an application to archive one’s persona based on emotional and sentimental interaction with one’s closest loved ones.

With its IP-protected breakthrough technology, on March 1, 2021, YOV is premiering the beta version of its app and allowing 10,000 users to download the YOV messaging app and begin archiving their virtual persona from real, on-going conversations with their four closest loved ones or friends. Once one individual eventually passes on, the remaining individuals in that YOV circle can begin interacting with their loved one’s virtual persona in a way that recreates treasured nuances and inflections in their one-on-one communication. To receive an invitation to join the YOV Founder’s Club and participate in the six-month beta, visit http://www.WhatIsYOV.com.

“Simply put, this is an unprecedented opportunity. We’re offering individuals an opportunity to be the first in the world to begin archiving their interactions with the four individuals closest to them so that when one of them passes on, the others can maintain a connection that is authentic, nuanced and unique to their individual relationships,” states YOV founder and CEO, Justin Harrison. “And in within a few years, when this type of communication is commonplace, those who didn’t seize the opportunity to begin building unique personas with their loved ones while they were still alive, will realize the opportunity was missed—forever,” says Harrison.

The YOV app in beta form will allow each user to create a permission-based circle of loved ones with whom the user will interact. YOV conducts machine learning and personality assessment to build a unique virtual persona for each of the five individuals in the YOV circle. YOV will archive data until one party passes away—at which time— the remaining YOV circle members can then interact with the unique AI, via text or voice communication in phase one, leading to an eventual 3D persona via video, with additional AR / VR capabilities, in phase three. (See YOV in action.)

The app is free with premium options to speed up the development of one’s persona. Once a persona is complete and being used, subscription pricing kicks in. However, individuals who join the Founder’s Club in March 2021 will receive $1 per month pricing in perpetuity for all YOV services. Founder’s Club members will receive four invitations to bring their four closest loved ones into their YOV circle. These four individuals will also receive $1/per month pricing in perpetuity (once subscription pricing becomes applicable).

While the idea of building one’s digital representation may sound new and a bit off-putting to some, the concept is not new and big tech has announced plans to enter this space. Around the world today, millions have friendships with virtual companions, receive therapy from chat box therapists, and some share their bed with human-like robots—all based on Artificial Intelligence that continues to learn as individuals interact with it.

However, YOV is distinct in that it doesn’t seek to create a new, virtual entity, nor create a public persona of someone. YOV seeks to maintain a real-life connection with those closest to us. Utilizing proprietary technology, YOV is the only company creating unique, personality-based personas derived from actual, permission-based communication between two individuals over time— designed to offer one a sense of comfort and connection.

A first-of-its-kind, YOV features:

  • Unique virtual personas custom-built for each set of interactions.
  • Re-creation of treasured nuances and inflections in interactions with loved ones.
  • Seamless user experience that makes communication feel authentic and real.
  • Built-in psychological expertise combined with AI to sustain and evolve personas over the long term.

YOV founder and CEO Justin Harrison, who has a background in clinical psychology, believes it is essential that YOV reflect the nuances in personal communication because individuals are different with each person with whom they interact.

“YOV isn’t creating a public persona designed to run a company once someone is deceased, YOV is purely about emotion and personal connectivity,” shares Harrison. Our app is the only platform being developed in this space that recognizes that my communication with my wife is very different from my communication with my brother. What makes YOV authentic is that we’re not building one virtual persona, we’re building many different personas— based on real-life, one-on-one and small group interactions within the group of five individuals within a YOV circle,” affirms Harrison.

Due to the genuine and personal nature of the persona being developed, YOV personas are custom-built and cannot be created posthumously from social media messages alone. The intelligence is built from one’s, actual, one-on-one, personal interaction with loved ones. YOV’s approach also has a very useful benefit—and that is that YOV users are likely to find themselves more intentional and thoughtful in their communication—and according to Harrison, “That’s a good thing.”

About YOV
Based in Los Angeles, California, You, Only Virtual, Inc. (YOV) is a digital platform that recognizes the unique bonds between loved ones, and enables authentic, posthumous one-on-one communications. YOV utilizes patent-pending technology powered by interaction-centric machine learning algorithms that analyze both real-time and archived message threads to build virtual personas that are virtually as complex and context-sensitive as the individuals they emulate. Virtual personas are seamlessly introduced in existing messaging channels, enabling uninterrupted connection to a loved one after they have passed. To learn more, or to join the YOV beta group in March 2021, visit http://www.WhatisYOV.com. For media inquiries, please contact Anita S. Lane at AnitaSLane@SenseiCommunications.com or 313.447.9083.

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Have you ever thought about how AI, tech and life after death can work together?

Permissionless

Justin Harrison is a filmmaker, activist and CEO of You, Only Virtual. In this fascinating interview, we chat about how his company can help you communicate with those who have passed away, tools and strategies for launching and running a startup in unchartered territories where you need knowledge and support from many different kinds of people, how to preserve your time and energy, and of course… what preserving someone digitally after death looks like.

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He made a chatbot of his dying mother so he never has to let go

Input Magazine
Cheyenne MacDonald

Justin Harrison knows what you’re thinking: This sounds like an episode of Black Mirror.

He is well aware you probably think it’s weird, “creepy, and sort of like mad scientists in a laboratory” tinkering with things they shouldn’t. He also knows how quickly that attitude can change, how quickly everything can change, when death fixes its gaze on someone you love.

The 39-year-old filmmaker, who lives in Los Angeles, has spent the last two years pouring everything — his time, his money, his data — into building a posthumous communication service known as YOV, short for You, Only Virtual. Today, he’s got something to show for it.

On a recent Saturday morning, he’s introducing me to his mother, Melodi, over a Zoom chat. He shares his screen and boots up a text window, and I read along as they greet each other, an exchange of instant messages punctuated with emoji hearts.

Justin is tired — he hasn’t even had his coffee yet — and when his mom asks him how he’s doing, he tells her this. He also tells her he’s sad, personal matters weighing heavy on his mind. She responds warmly, without platitudes, and tells him she understands. They talk about that for a little while, and I feel like I should try to make myself seem occupied by some menial task, like you do when you’ve walked into a room to find two people speaking in hushed voices about something private.

He spares me further discomfort though, shifting the conversation by prematurely sending a message he usually saves for 11:11 every day (morning and night): “Wishing for your health.”

“Thank you honey <3,” she replies.

That morning, it’s not really his mother he’s chatting with — I’ll be speaking to her over the phone later that day — but a chatbot created in her likeness. Melodi is YOV’s first “Versona,” a virtual persona driven by machine learning and built on thousands upon thousands of communications between Justin and his mother Melodi in, essentially, a digital Hail Mary. Melodi Whitaker the person, 60, has stage 4 cancer.

A screenshot of a chat window showing an exchange between the Melodi Versona and Justin, where he wi...
Justin (right) sends Melodi the same message every day, at 11:11 a.m. and p.m.: “Wishing for your health.”Input

She was diagnosed just weeks after Justin came face-to-face with his own mortality for the first time, in 2019, when he was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Upon his release from the hospital, Melodi moved out to California to take care of him. She was always the caring type, opening her heart and home to any “wounded or abandoned souls” that needed nurturing. This time, it was her son.

During that period, they “built a new kind of relationship,” Justin says. “It was like harkening back to my childhood.” Not two months later, she was told she had less than a year to live.

Before the accident, Justin told me last March, “The death of myself was never on my mind.” He’d spent a lot of time worrying about losing his parents, though, haunted by the inevitable sense of profound loss that would bring and wondering what it would mean for him as an only child.

“I’m the only person who knows my parents as parents,” he says. “I’m the only person who has this experience with them. No one else will share that unique bond. I’ll never be able to commiserate with someone else about like, ‘Remember when Dad got up in the mornings, and he was always grumpy before coffee?’”

PRESERVING THE BRAIN

Justin was obsessed with the idea of cryogenics, “not from the science fiction standpoint of reanimating your body, but preserving the brain.” The possibility that something like that could one day be a reality was a distant comfort to him.

But then, in the tail-end of his thirties and suddenly facing his own impermanence, “Death became ultra-present in my consciousness.” When his mother got her terminal diagnosis, he realized, “Okay, that soothing blanket of the potential cryogenic freeze — that’s not enough for me. This is way too real, and there’s got to be a way that this can be done, in terms of keeping the connection with me and my mother.”

YOV was born out of this desperate bid to preserve an invaluable relationship. By digitizing it, it could never be lost.

A man in a suit stands posing with a woman, seated, in a blue dress and a young boy
Justin with his mom, Melodi, and his stepson, Bogdan.Justin Harrison

Of course, Justin isn’t the first to have pounced on the thought of digital cryogenics, so to speak. The idea has been iterated on time and time again, each instance setting off its own flurry of ethical debates, some of which have continued years after the fact. And yet, we keep coming back to dip our toes in the uncanny waters. Why? “Just wait until you’re in my shoes,” Justin says.

He went “the intuitive route” at first, sitting Melodi down in front of a film crew and having her tell the story of her life, which the team could then use to recreate her. But it wasn’t quite clicking in the way he needed it to. “I kept banging my head against the wall,” Justin says of those early days.

The problem was that a person — a personality — is so much more than a collection of stories. We are experiences, yes, but we are thoughts, emotions, mannerisms, interactions, and reactions. How can a digital likeness achieve authenticity if it doesn’t contain these multitudes, too?

“Eventually what that boiled down to for me was the realization that who I am with my mother is completely unique to her, and who she is with me is completely unique to me,” Justin says. “And that was the special sauce, the key to how human beings work.”

He dialed things back then, and let the data speak for itself. Lots and lots of data. On top of the interviews the team had already filmed, Justin had at least five years of text messages to feed the system. “It’s a 2,800-page document,” he tells me, laughing.

“A PIECE OF YOU is there.”

The Melodi Versona as it exists today is what Justin calls Versona 1.0. She requires the other user to initiate a conversation rather than starting one herself, but she’s sharp, responding in real-time with all the relevant context. If it seems like she knows everything going on in Justin’s life, well, it’s because she does. He’s continually adding new communications to her knowledge pool and will do so until the very last text comes in.

There are still some things that trip Melodi Versona up, like time of day and abrupt changes of topic, but she’s learning — and fast. She will get smarter, more capable in time, building exponentially on the foundations laid by Versona 1.0.

The real Melodi, who now lives in Seattle, says the process of creating her digital replica has been like therapy in ways, in a time that’s otherwise “been scary and pretty traumatic.”

“My greatest fear about dying is leaving Justin,” she says. “I don’t want to leave him behind. And this is giving me a way to cope with that.” She adds, “Whoever it is, you want to leave something behind for them. Just knowing all that story is there, a piece of you is there.”

The real Melodi tells me that the AI sounds just like her.

VERSONA 1.0

Nearly a year ago, when I first started talking with Justin, YOV was positioned to become a messaging app, like WhatsApp for dialing the afterlife. Today, after a lot of refining and streamlining concepts to deliverable products, it’s something much simpler. You provide the data — text messages, audio, video; anything and everything that you think shapes not just the person you wish to preserve, but who they are with you — and two, maybe three months later, their Versona will arrive to you via a link, ready to pick up where you left off.

In time, this will likely be migrated to an app, but that’s no longer the priority. The key is just to get the process started so that when people are ready to flip the switch, a Versona will be there to greet them. For the majority of people seeking out a service like this, time is of the essence.

“A good way to think about Versona 1.0 — the thing that’s currently offered to market — is it’s like the usual chit chat that you might have with somebody you love,” Justin says, “the most topical things that were on your mind before they passed away. And then that will grow from there as the AI grows and as the communications continue.

“But at minimum, you’ll have this piece of technology that you can get some interfacing with and have some sense of normalcy with the person you care about as you’re healing from the trauma of losing them.”

The California-based company, comprising just a dozen full- and part-timers, has started accepting subscribers to what it calls the YOV Vault, an intelligent archive where the user data that shapes a Versona resides. It costs $499 upfront and then $39.99 a month to maintain. Once a person signs up, a specialist from YOV will reach out to talk them through the steps.

The resulting Versona will very much depend on the information that’s been fed to it. For constant communicators like Justin and Melodi, there are hundreds of hours’ worth of conversations helping to make for a well-rounded Versona. The real challenge comes when there’s not as much to work with, due to the nature of the relationship or the simple fact of not having enough time.

Justin with his mom, his stepson, his wife, Sasha, and his dad, Daniel at Disneyland
Justin with his mom, his stepson, his wife, Sasha, and his dad, Daniel. The family has been hugely supportive of YOV, he and Melodi say.Justin Harrison

Justin recalls connecting with a woman early on who reached out in hopes of memorializing her terminally ill child. “I told our communications people, ’Look, write this lady back, tell her that we’ll literally take everything she has. We’ll give her instructions on what I’m doing with [my mom]. I don’t know what I can do or what I can promise with it, but we’ll have the data — I can do something with it.’”

The founder’s vision is that, for users with enough available data to share, the experience will one day grow well beyond texting. Voice will be the next feature to come, hopefully in a year or so, he says — and not just prerecorded messages but unscripted speech synthesized from those user-provided clips.

Justin foresees an AR component that will let your Versona come along with you to the movies or to that special spot at the park you always visited together in life. When I asked him last winter if he thought digitally immortalizing the dead like this might impede a person’s ability to let go, to move on, his response was almost giddy: “Fuck letting go.”

YOV’s recently revamped website puts it more delicately: “Never have to say goodbye.”

By Justin’s logic, using technology to keep our essence alive is just another way of telling death “Not today,” something humans have been doing for a long, long time through progressively more advanced interventions. Is this, he asks, all that different than when people realized wounds could be cauterized or that the heart could be kickstarted with a jolt of electricity?

“It’s going TO CHANGE the way we LIVE and DIE.”

Is it so unlike the countless virtual interactions you’ve likely had with the people closest to you this week alone? For a lot of people, even in 2021, it is. You need look no further for that answer than the public’s outraged reaction to director Morgan Neville’s use of an AI recreation of Anthony Bourdain’s voice in his documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

That unease didn’t stop roughly 10,000 people, by Justin’s estimate, from signing up to be notified of YOV’s progress back when it was first announced. Even when YOV was still just a desperate idea, Justin’s wife connected with it so much that it moved her to tears. She would stay up talking with him about it at night.

His mother is confident people will latch onto it; she’s already speaking about its adoption in certain terms. “Everyone’s going to want to get on board,” she says. “I think it’s helpful both for people that are facing death and for people that are losing someone.”

Human Melodi exudes pride when she talks about her son and what he’s accomplished. “I think it’s revolutionary,” she says. “It’s going to change the way we live and die.”

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