A techno-cult is swarming across the planet. For the adherents, technology is the highest power. Some call themselves “futurists,” others “transhumanists.” Many go by “chief executive officer.” They plan to create digital deities through AI, merge their minds and bodies with them, and live forever in electronic bliss.
Until then, they need lots of money. Once they achieve their goals, they’ll probably need a lot more, if only to keep their resurrected avatars updated.
The virtual reality company Somnium Space has resurfaced in the media after offering digital immortality. Their nascent “Live Forever” mode promises to transform you or your deceased loved ones into a cross between an NPC and an NFT. They’re just one of many companies working on resurrection tech, including Microsoft and Amazon. The weirdest part is the technology works. Sort of.
Voice recordings, photographs, videos, emails, social media posts, and any other personal data are fed into AI systems. After a brief training period, the digital undead shamble out the other side. These wraiths will go on to haunt a hard drive or cloud storage space. Invigorated by recent advances in artificial intelligence—particularly OpenAI’s GPT—the Somnium Space CEO, Artur Sychov, believes he’ll be uploading human souls to the metaverse within the next few years.
As the futurist Ian Pearson might say, your digital twin will attend the funeral when your body finally dies. Unlike Pearson, though, I doubt the emulation will see your corpse laying there, or feel anything one way or another. Chances are, it won’t be conscious. It’ll be more like those computerized picture frames people put on coffins, except your deepfake will talk to the bereaved as they file past. At least you’ll be animated. That’s better than nothing.
Riding this morbid wave, the AI investor Pratik Desai sent out a Holy Week tweet urging people to start “regularly recording your parents, elders and loved ones.” In other words, turn mamaw and papaw into surveillance state superstars. “With enough transcript data, new voice synthesis and video models, there is a 100% chance that they will live with you forever after leaving physical body. [sic] This should be even possible by end of the year. [sic]”
It was an unnerving Easter message. The blowback was immediate and relentless. Interestingly, after people convinced Desai to watch the relevant Black Mirror episode—presumably “Be Right Back”—he apologized and insists he’s changed his mind completely.
I’d like to think these ghoulish bots will be so half-baked and deformed that most people will refuse to buy them. Then again, ten years ago I hoped most people would abandon smartphones in favor of face-to-face interaction. It could be a matter of time before I’m at a party where the guest of honor is an electro-specter. Maybe for some, this tech is “inevitable.”
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