One of the advantages of being a teetotaler is that when liberty-minded people get together and have brilliant ideas, I’m often the one who remembers them. The idea of a Keynote Robot is not my own. It was borne out of the frustrations among some of the attendees of PorcFest X that keynote speakers like Gary Johnson didn’t really reflect their ideas. Similar frustrations surrounded the selection of Naomi Wolfe as a keynote at this year’s Liberty Forum. The problem is it’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure more like-minded speakers like Larken Rose, or Ben Stone, because more principled speakers are refusing to fly. The liberty movement in general is losing a lot of great speakers to the TSA. Plus, a number of international speakers won’t set foot in the US. So, it’s time to take the idea of a Keynote Robot more seriously. And you know this is a viable idea because it recently made it possible for whistleblower-in-chief, Edward Snowden to speak at TED2014.
Victor Hugo famously said that you cannot stop a good idea whose time has come. That is not only because of the enthusiasm of its advocates, but also because the same idea emerges simultaneously in many different brains. You could think of this process as analogous to convergent evolution in nature, whereby similar adaptations emerge independently in distinct species of different lineages. The classic example is the evolution of flight in insects, birds, and bats despite wings not being present in the last common ancestor of those groups. This is also a pretty strong argument against intellectual property, because one cannot prove, simply by having an idea, that the same idea did not emerge independently elsewhere.
The earliest example of this idea that I’m aware of was fictional. On the TV show Big Bang Theory, brainiac Sheldon Cooper devises a Mobile Virtual Presence Device (MVPD), nicknamed “Shelbot.” I’m sure there are earlier examples, but it doesn’t matter where the idea originated. It’s time has come. In the case of Edward Snowden the device was termed a “Telepresence Robot,” and it enabled him to deliver his TED Talk, “Here’s How We Take Back The Internet,” without the threat government aggression. Imagine the reach of speakers like Stefan Molyneux if he fully capitalized on his YouTube name “StefBot.” Speakers would no longer need to choose between events with conflicting schedules. In fact, they could deliver the same speech live in multiple locations.
The Snowden Robot is a perfect prototype for what is possible at Liberty Forum, but PorcFest presents some unique challenges. Events like PorcFest and the Jackalope Freedom Festival are increasingly more about establishing an autonomous zone in which to put voluntaryist ideas into action, and less about speakers. Plus, the bandwidth limitations of camping style events make uninterrupted teleconferencing a challenge. But, these events would be ideal to experiment with prerecorded stuff.
I imagine a fully functional Keynote Robot operating like jukebox. Imagine if the keynote speeches of previous years were all preloaded and ready for playback. Or, perhaps the speakers who are physically present could upload their most popular speeches, so those who aren’t familiar with them could get a sense of their style before attending their talk. With a little extra design and programming the Keynote Robot could even include a virtual talking head of the speaker to mouth the words of the audio recording.
I doubt we’ll ever completely replace the physical presence of luminaries in the liberty movement. The opportunity to rub elbows and chew fat over dinner, or by a campfire is a pleasure not easily digitized. But we’ve already lost the company of the folks who can’t, or won’t fly. I don’t see the Keynote Robot replacing in-person speakers, but it would go along way toward circumventing the aggression that prevents some from appearing in-person.