Just how human is “mostly human?”
CNN’s new series opens with a scene of a woman texting her friend, Roman, who she says she doesn’t really know very well yet she insists he would be the kind of guy she’d like to meet. The screen then shows a glimpse of their messages and when she asks him, “Will we ever meet?” and when. Roman replies with “Next week JK.” The woman laughs and says it’s actually a joke with dark humor if the audience only knew the truth. Finally, she says “I’ll never be able to meet him because he’s dead.”
Not too long ago, death seemed final. The end all, be all–nothing past it. In the first episode of a new CNN six-episode series entitled “Mostly Human,” CNN Senior Technology Correspondent Laurie Seagall asks if that is still the case. The episode entitled “Dead IRL” opens with the story of the friend, Roman who is actually dead. It also encompasses exploration of three other different ways to use technology after death in this new age: from preparing your posthumous social media presence, to assigning a Facebook legacy contact and even raising your own replica of a bot to communicate with your loved ones after you’ve passed on.
“People are beginning to ask a lot of ethical questions about the impact of technology in our lives,” Seagall told USA Today.
No longer are these ideas being presented as a science-fiction technology of the far-off future, but something that is acquirable soon and even now.
It’s no wonder comparison is often made with shows like BBC’s “Black Mirror” and HBO’s “Westworld.”
Seagall started the series by introducing how it all started with Roman’s close friend, Eugenia Kuyda, who created the artificial intelligence technology to immortally digitalize Roman based on his digital footprints.
Kuyda had been working on the startup app called LUKA for the past two years in honoring Roman’s wishes of “disrupt[ing] the idea of death.”
The result was something called a “bot” which is “a program that can talk like a person” as Kuyda described. Texts, Facebook and Twitter posts play a key role in developing the digitalized version of a person. The LUKA app would be fed all this information to then respond on its own through curated messages, creating bits of a person’s personality here and there.
Seagall said that this technology is not new with bots as it’s something that’s used all the time by companies to reply to their customers. However, “until now, no one has applied the tech in such a personal way with such a sensitive topic,” Kuyda said.
DeadSocial founder James Norris was one of the posthumous social media legacy experts Segall consulted.
“There isn’t a right or wrong way to die. There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve either,” Norris said.
After being told about the concept and the show’s example, APU students were asked about the ethical implications of using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for grieving.
Katelyn Hernandez, senior psychology major, thinks the technology hinders the grieving process.
“I feel like that would be kind of almost in denial because there’s five different [stages] of grieving…She would have to get out of that [stage] to truly accept his death and move past that otherwise she’ll get stuck… and that could be really unhealthy,” Hernandez said.
David Bartholomew, a junior computer science major, doesn’t believe that the technology exists to actually replicate human intelligence as is.
“I think artificial intelligence will be its own sort of intelligence but not like human intelligence. I think they’re two different things. I don’t think you’d ever be able to create something that could really be your friend but I think you can create something that could mimic it,” he said.
Another Computer Science major, junior Gabriel Sanchez agreed.
“AI doesn’t really have feelings. It’s a bunch of algorithms. It just learns based on what you fed it but it doesn’t think about what it’s doing. It’s code,” Sanchez said.
As Seagall noted, re-imagining “death in the Digital Age” certainly raises questions that may make people uncomfortable and sensitive.
She then showed her own process that she went through in preparing for her death and the digital legacy she will be leaving behind when the time comes.
She assigned her boyfriend as her Facebook legacy contact, created her own bot called “Laurie bot” and pre-programmed a “goodbye” video to her loved ones.
When you allow yourself to start thinking about death in the Digital Age, you begin to understand what a privilege life is,” Seagall said.