“This Mum and Dad live inside an app on my phone, as voice assistants constructed by the California-based company HereAfter AI and powered by more than four hours of conversations they each had with an interviewer about their lives and memories. (For the record, Mum isn’t that untidy.) The company’s goal is to let the living communicate with the dead. I wanted to test out what it might be like.
Technology like this, which lets you “talk” to people who’ve died, has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades…
…“The biggest issue with the [existing] technology is the idea you can generate a single universal person,” says Justin Harrison, founder of a soon-to-launch service called You, Only Virtual. “But the way we experience people is unique to us.” …
But she warns that users need to be careful not to think this technology is re-creating or even preserving people. “I didn’t want to bring back his clone, but his memory,” she says. The intention was to “create a digital monument where you can interact with that person, not in order to pretend they’re alive, but to hear about them, remember how they were, and be inspired by them again.”-Charlotte Jee, “Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?” technologyreview.com. October 18, 2022
Advances in artificial intelligence are opening up new possibilities of creating virtual representations of people. It’s a kind of advanced Turing test, not of a machine intelligence being able to pass itself off as human, but instead, being able to pass itself off as a person that you know or had known.
If you provide enough data – in the form of video, voice and text – you presumably can approximate what a person might do or so in certain contexts. It becomes possible to create individual avatars or constructs that approach the real thing.
The first application is for people to process grief. It seems obvious that this will be a thing, where people will use this technology to capture people around them and keep them alive in a sense. As with most change, there are benefits and risks to consider. On one hand, it would be nice to be able to talk with and confer with digital avatars of people that have died or left our lives for one reason or another. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine that these “relationships” would become maladaptive, where they call upon the limited time that we have and prevent us from meeting new people and spending the time necessary to have meaningful relationships with them.
Beyond grief, I think, in some sense, we already have inner representations of people in our minds. For example, I will sometimes want to make a comment that lacks tact, I sometimes have a version of my wife in my head saying something like, “You can say that, but say it nicely,” which, in fact, is something my wife says to me several times a year. I’d guess a digital assistant version might be better than the version I have in my head who I could consult about the right way to handle certain social situations. But, then again, I could just ask her in person. Wouldn’t the digital version get in the way of the real person, and ultimately damage my real relationship?
I like the idea of having multiple versions of myself. I imagine the process of adding data to be much like working on a blog, where the process of documenting surfaces thoughts that you might not have had otherwise. It changes you.
Then, you’d be able to consult with a different version of yourself. You’d be able to check in with past versions, and see how you have changed. You could get second opinions, from a close approximation of your self. There are also hazards here because ultimately this is a past facing exercise, and temperamentally, I try to live more in the future, or in the moment, when I can manage it.
In any event, this is interesting food for thought. I’d expect using this technology at funerals or by people that want to live on in a sense beyond when they die to be common within the next decade or two. It’s probably useful to think about the various tradeoffs before then.