Imagine logging into a virtual summit and bearing witness to an array of digital characters interacting on screen—avatars, virtual assistants, AI-generated models—engaging with attendees through personalized messages, music, conversations, and performances. As fantastical as this vision seems, it captures the ethos of the pioneering Virtual Beings Summits that have quickly become a nexus point for professionals across technology, entertainment, research, and business with an interest in pioneering the future of virtual entities.
Spearheaded by Edward Saatchi, co-founder of the trailblazing startup Fable, the first Virtual Beings Summit materialized in San Francisco back in 2019 to little initial fanfare. However, Saatchi’s reputation as a leading force behind viral virtual beings like Lucy soon attracted interest from researchers, investors, and creators intrigued by the promise of what Saatchi called “living fiction”—virtual characters you relate to as sentient beings. Subsequent summits drew speakers from prominent companies like Google, participants from global academia, and audiences tuned into lively discussions spanning AI ethics, virtual fashion, simulations, and the coming age of the metaverse.
The accessible online evolution of the summits in response to the pandemic opened the floodgates to even wider participation. Demos by pioneers in graphics, robotics, and speech synthesis captivated audiences globally. Bold predictions about assisting virtual beings from the likes of Soul Machines and Replika coexisting with humans in the near future kept enthusiasm high. Novel showcases also abounded—digital singers auctioning off their voices, tools for customizing personalized metaverse avatars, peeks into the next generation of video game characters.
Central to the allure and influence of the Virtual Beings Summits is the spirit of collaborative creation and future-focused vision embodied by participants like Saatchi. More than a spectator event, the summits actively catalyze the community, not only through the exchange of insights but also via grant programs supporting promising talent and projects on the frontend of innovation. The focus is on hands-on education, inspiration, and empowerment, allowing relative newcomers and students glimpses into pioneering R&D so they may take the next daring steps.
While recent years have seen an explosion of investment and interest in virtual worlds, digital identity and human-AI interaction, the Virtual Beings Summits had the prescience to kickstart the conversation before metaverse mania. Looking ahead, the summits are poised to continue spearheading discourse and creativity at the human-technology frontier, tackling issues like the environmental impact of blockchain-based virtual worlds, generative AI in Hollywood’s de-aging revolution, and emotional bonds with compassionate AI companions.
Part conference, part masterclass, part genetic blueprint for envisioning life-like digital entities, the multi-day Virtual Beings Summits represent an accessible apex for all fascinated by the concept of authentic virtual existence. They signal a future where simulated teachers, philosophers and friends shape human skills and social fabrics as profoundly as the analogue technologies of books or automobiles once did. For those curious about the forefront of this eventuality, the Virtual Beings Summits offer a sneak peek and a welcoming community to take part.