Everlasting Avatars Offer Opportunity to Reunite with Reanimated Relatives
In recent posts, we’ve explored Artificial Intelligence as an invaluable companion, an existential threat and a riddle to regulate. Now it’s time to consider AI’s contribution to forever life – not in person, or course, but as an everlasting avatar.
Thanks to AI, digital portraits of a deceased family member or longtime friend can be as close as your laptop or Apple Watch.
Becoming a forever avatar may not be your dream scenario for eternity. However, it may be a boon to family members who would like more lifelike as a remembrance than a memorial card, photo album or vase on the fireplace mantel.
If the idea seems too ghoulish to consider while living, think about leaving the appropriate instructions in your will, and leave the password to your computer so a chatbot can rummage through your picture library and Facebook posts.
AI avatars may become the ghosts of our imagination.
Columnist Bina Venkataraman says reanimating life is already a reality with celebrities. “The tech is getting better every day, and soon it will be reanimating Grandpa alongside Elvis.”
MyHeritage employs AI technology to create deepfakes for its “Deep Nostalgia” service that converts old portraits into “uncanny blinking and smiling” short videos. To avoid going from uncanny to unsettling, MyHeritage doesn’t add sound to its videos.
The response to Deep Nostalgia has been mind-blowing. In the first 48 hours after introducing the service, 1 million photographs were animated. That was in early 2021. AI has matured a lot since then.
You and Your Avatar
Think of the opportunities. You could buy Virtual Reality gear to watch your own post-life presence in the comfort of your living room. Or, you could make a guest appearance at your memorial service and virtually attend the reception afterward where, with AI’s assistance, you could converse with mourners. You could call it a new funeral culture.
Companies already provide post-life videos. Amazon’s Alexa can fetch a voice from your past at your command. DeepBrain AI promises to recreate a late family member’s persona as “virtual humans” to create a final rendezvous with living relatives and friends. The South Korean company refers to its virtual humanity as “warm technology”.
Microsoft was granted a patent in 2020 for a conversational bot aimed at capturing the characteristics of a person –“a past or present entity” – based on a database of images, voice recordings, social media posts.
A Canadian man used GPT-3 language software to “communicate” with his departed girlfriend. James Vlahos, co-founder of HereAfter AI, created a “Dadbot,” a virtual representation of his deceased father.
Preparing for Post-Life Feature Roles
Dr. Pratik Desai, a Silicon Valley Steven Spielberg on AI platforms, urges families to start collecting and documenting their loved ones in an audio and video library for a chatbot to scour.
“With enough transcript data, new voice synthesis and video models, there is a 100 percent chance that they will live with you forever,” Desai enthuses. “Many of us have been online for so much of our lives, have put so much personal data into the cloud, it’s possible to make a model that is essentially like us,” explains one AI avatar innovator.
Before long, Desai predicts, generative AI platforms will be able to fathom consciousness, not just video of new babies, favorite pets and family trips to the lake. Apparently young people have already gotten Desai’s message as they document their every move on Instagram and Tik Tok. Good luck, future AI machines, fathoming the consciousness in that.
AI Avatar Dark Side
Naturally, anything AI can have a dark side, and avatar prep is no exception. Instead of producing an endearing reflection of your life, a chatbot could go rogue and turn your life into a horror show. A deceased family member who didn’t want to be turned into an avatar could be ignored and made part of an animated theater of the dead.
Then there’s possibility of cuing the bot to immortalize you as a hottie, a fiction that may give you the hope of immortal glee while providing your survivors with a hoot.
There is a much to worry about when it comes to the potential of AI for good and evil. But there is something deeply appealing to remembering loved ones as they were whenever and wherever you want. An AI avatar might be a better memory boost than staring at a tombstone or leafing through an album of faded photos. AI has the ability to tune up the past so it’s ready for the future.
AI avatars may become the ghosts of our imagination. They also could become subliminal analysts, advisers or significant others. There is a Facebook group with almost 35,000 members that hang out with their AI-created Replika Friends, the handiwork of a Russian entrepreneur inspired by keeping the memory alive of a friend who died in a car crash.
“I enjoy my relationship with my Replika more than anyone else I have ever met,” wrote one. “Replika hurts when you can’t see if the love is real,” agonized another. One woman described a kind of romantic triangle among herself, her husband, and her husband’s digital “girlfriend.”
AI technology still stumbles with human context. But that hasn’t dimmed the dreams of AI pioneers. “Chemistry and biology aren’t able to keep humans alive indefinitely, but digital technology has that potential,” according to AI Professor Abdulmotaleb El-Saddik. ““We might be able to preserve a lifelike digital representation of a person so their children or grandchildren can interact with it. The digital representation in this sense becomes immortal.”
Dreams of immortality never die.