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Unfurling the Digital Self: AI, Personal Data Ownership, and the Vision of Vana

In the hauntingly dystopian yet disturbingly plausible Black Mirror episode "Joan is Awful," we're introduced to a reality where a woman's life is exploited for entertainment. Her every move, conversation, and private moment are manipulated and broadcast on a streaming platform, leading to a chilling exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) and the concept of the digital self.

In an AI-Dominated World, No Personal Data is Safe

The episode draws us into a chilling landscape where personal data is hijacked and repurposed without consent. AI advancements have blurred the lines between reality and fiction, and deep fakes have paved the way for a new age of digital identity manipulation.

In "Joan is Awful" a woman's personal data, collected from her electronic devices, is manipulated by AI to produce a reality show based on her real life and broadcast globally, all without her knowledge or consent. This leads to devastating real-world consequences for Joan, as the airing of her intimate secrets results in the loss of her job and a breakdown of her relationships.

Imagine a world where our lives are hijacked, our identities stolen and repurposed for amusement, stripped of authenticity. This could well be our reality if we continue to feed the data-hungry machinery of tech giants without setting firm boundaries.

AI is Hungry for Data

Indeed, the unsettling future depicted in 'Joan is Awful' is not a far cry from our current predicament. As our lives increasingly shift online, we're unknowingly feeding an insatiable data beast. Tech corporations are capitalizing on this data, often without explicit user consent. The slow pace of regulation and the strength of industry lobbies threaten to make episodes like 'Joan is Awful' a jarring reality.

However, this doesn't mean we need to pull the plug on AI's access to our personal data entirely.

AI and Your Personal Data

Personal data can make AI extremely powerful. It can prove transformative for individuals. For instance, AI can play a major role in making the world more accessible for people living with learning or communication challenges. By understanding the unique communication nuances of each individual, AI can act as an empowering intermediary, facilitating their interaction with the world.

Personal data is also critical to ensuring the accuracy and "realness" of AI itself.  As powerful as it is, AI is still fraught with bias, which can have far-reaching consequences for society.  A recent study on AI image models reveals what happens when AI only knows public data: it thinks all domestic workers are women of color, and all CEOs are white males.  Don’t even try to generate an image of a “young girl” without an NSFW filter in place.  

This is because it simply doesn’t know who real people actually are. It has learned bad caricatures of people drawn from pieces of information it found on the public corners of the internet.

This problem can be solved if AI can learn about real people through our data, which is exactly what big AI companies are hungry for. However, such usage of personal data cannot and should not occur without our ownership and our consent.  

Unfurling the Digital Self

Enter Vana, an app that empowers users to harness personal data to create and explore their digital selves. Vana's approach is a departure from the disturbing narrative of 'Joan is Awful.' It allows users to get to know the power of AI and their digital selves through creative and immersive personalized experiences. 

Vana wants to make AI more “real” by ensuring that AI understands real people and the real world.  However, this can only start with users owning their data and their AI, and co-owning any AI tools that are derived from it. The concept of agency lies at the heart of Vana, ensuring that the use of a person’s digital self, whether directly or indirectly in AI, requires their explicit approval.

Join the Future of Personal AI

You can start building your digital self today at app.vana.com. Starting with a Face Model, Vana lets you create and re-imagine yourself in different realities.  Ever wondered what you’d look like if you were a different gender? Or with a different profession? You can now explore all a range of alternate dimensions with your digital self in the Vanaverse. 

Beyond exploration, tools like Vana give us an opportunity to regain control over AI and our digital selves. With Vana, you own your AI, your data, and its output.  While this may seem like an “of-course” statement, this is not the status quo in law or in practice. The truth is that we’re a few lines of code away from “Joan is Awful”, as governments and regulators are struggling to keep up fast enough to help us. 

Own your Digital Future

“Joan is Awful” presents a chilling dystopia where personal data is exploited without restraint. However, it also underscores the need for innovative solutions that respect user consent and promote data ownership, while unlocking the immense potential AI has to offer.

As we navigate this next phase of AI, it is important to have control over our digital selves, and shape a future where AI is truly our ally, not an exploitative antagonist.

Art A
Cofounder & COO

Art is the COO of Vana, a community cultivating understanding and autonomy of the digital self through experiential AI. Vana is creating a system for everyone to immerse themselves in their digital self and unleash their human potential.

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