Would you want to ‘live forever’ in digital form, so your partner could interact with you after your death? Would you be happy to record data from your loved ones now, so they could be ‘recreated’ after their death for your benefit?
Technology promising to enable this is already in the works. Somnium Space, a VR metaverse space, is working on an avatar-based ‘Live Forever’ mode, creating virtual versions of users.
Now an AI professional has caused a cascade of debate about the morals and desirability of such technology, by suggesting that people should be recording their loved ones for its imminent development.
“Start regularly recording your parents, elders and loved ones,” Pratik Desai, who has founded multiple AI startups, tweeted on April 8, 2023. “With enough transcript data, new voice synthesis and video models, there is a 100 percent chance that they will live with you forever after leaving [their] physical body. This should even be possible by [the] end of the year.”
This led to many people considering whether they’d be comfortable planning for a digital version to replace a family member, or lover, when they pass away. With sextech device pairings, it’s not difficult to imagine a near-future where you can have a form of physical intimacy with such an avatar.
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Would that be comforting and erotic, or just profoundly sad and potentially mentally harmful?
As is the case for many current AI issues, the debate has proved to be a moralistic minefield. Desai’s tweet had been viewed over 11 million times by April 13, with many commenters criticizing him for appearing to promote such technology. He clarified that he had no desire to make a ‘live forever’ AI product.
“Topic turned out to be very touchy for many folks on [the] internet,” he wrote. “You can see from replies and QTs [quote tweets]. We celebrate life/death in our culture and even remember them during the month of Shradh every year.”
On the surface this is —in part— yet another unpleasantly-toned Twitter ‘debate’, with many people citing the stark 2013 episode of the TV show Black Mirror, Be Right Back, as an example of why this kind of tech shouldn’t be encouraged. But with AI development rampant and linked technology like deepfake videos progressing at a similar pace, technology along these lines is surely set to be a reality very soon.
Artur Sychov, founder of Somnium Space, recently told TED Radio Hour that a ‘live forever’ avatar was a logical next step from existing memory triggers such as photos and videos. Sychov said he would “pay anything” to be able to have a conversation with his late father again.
“Videos are windows to how people were to people who watch those videos later,” he said. “But meeting those people and being able to make a conversation with that person is next level and a natural progression of the technology.”
Of course, if Sychov was able to converse in Somnium Space’s ‘Live Forever’ mode, it wouldn’t actually be his father he was speaking to, rather a digital approximation of him. Some commenters called this technology “unhealthy” and pointed out that when you’re dead, “you’re dead”.
Varsha Joshi, additional secretary, cattle and dairy for the Indian government, said that the technology Desai was talking about was “technically feasible and definitely will find some customers – so is sure to happen soon.”