Designing for a Better Death

Designing for a Better Death

In Boulder, Colorado, Jed Brubaker is plotting ways to creep you out, and he’s reaching beyond the grave to do it. An information scientist who studies digital afterlives—how our digital identities persist after our death and how we interact with the data people leave behind—Brubaker’s team at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Identity Lab explores the fine line between technologies that comfort us in grief and those that creep us out.

To do that, the group builds prototype technologies that leverage post-mortem data in ways that might make users feel uncomfortable. These prototypes include the “map of paranoia”—a Google Maps add-on that incorporates death statistics into route calculations, allowing users to evaluate routes according to how statistically dangerous they are—as well as a simulation of an artificial intelligence system that creates product advertisements that incorporate the likenesses of deceased loved ones. Imagine, Brubaker says, an avatar of your deceased grandmother saying that a certain brand of cookie is as good as the ones she used to make.

AI tools like chatbots and talking robotic heads could someday become part of the grieving process.

Brubaker’s goal is two-fold. First, by understanding where people experience discomfort, the Identity Lab hopes to inform better design practices and help designers sidestep upsetting interactions between the grieving and their loved ones’ digital remnants. Brubaker also believes that exploring when, how, and what makes users feel uncomfortable can drive how systems can be created or modified in ways that help users honor their loved ones or explore those relationships in new ways. Your grandmother selling cookies from the afterlife might feel repulsive, but a system that walks you through her recipe could elicit a different feeling.

“What it means to interact with the deceased or what it means to interact with their data is something that we don’t have a really good handle on yet, and in part I think that’s because we just haven’t experimented with it enough,” Brubaker says. “What we haven’t yet seen are enough visions of what this post-mortem interaction could be like to find the ones that are actually good for us, the ones that are thoughtful and kind.”

Rebooting Grief

Brubaker is one of a handful of researchers exploring ways of building human-computer interactions that consider both the living and the dead. “Thanatosensitive design,” as it’s known, includes features and devices created to memorialize the deceased and addresses issues that arise when the living need to access data from someone who’s passed as well as the barrage of privacy and computational challenges that come with making technologies sensitive to the deceased and those they leave behind.

Brubaker was originally drawn into the field nine years ago when Myspace was battling Facebook for social media dominance. He began noticing that when a user passed away, their friends and families would interact with each platform differently. On Myspace, people would talk to the dead directly, and if they directed grief-related posts towards anyone else, they would sometimes get reprimanded by the community. On Facebook, grief centered more around the grieving. People still posted on the deceased’s Facebook page, but friends and families often created their own separate spaces that focused on support networks for the ones left behind. That subtle difference changed what memories were discussed. In other words, the technology a person used when they were living, and the cultural rules around that platform, helped shape how they were remembered when they were no longer around.

Brubaker began conducting research, which led to his dissertation on how design helps grieving users on Facebook. That work later informed the design of Facebook Legacy Contact, a feature launched in 2015 that allows users to designate someone to manage their account after death.

Brubaker’s interviews showed that control matters. Grieving people generally found comfort in the memorial pages of deceased users, but when confronted with “uncanny encounters with death”—instances when algorithms showed users unexpected reminders of a passed loved one—they found the experience unsettling. Control is especially important when it comes to immersive and interactive technologies, says Debra Bassett, a Ph.D. student at the University of Warwick who studies how technology affects the grieving process. Bassett’s research shows that some kinds of reminders are more grief-disruptive than others—for example, people were far more emotionally affected when hearing an audio recording of a deceased loved one than they were when presented with a social media notification about that person. Bassett’s research also shows that, for the time being, people are generally more comfortable when the dead remain…dead. A new social media post generated on behalf of a deceased person or an interactive avatar of them is often considered “spooky, eerie,” Bassett says.

“Having said that, when you think about the dead popping up on Facebook, only five years ago people found that disturbing and eerie. That’s now acceptable.”

Texting From Beyond

Still, not everyone finds communicating with a deceased loved one, or rather a facsimile of them, to be eerie. For Eugenia Kuyda, the experience has been comforting. Kuyda is co-founder and CEO of Luka, an artificial intelligence start-up based in San Francisco. When her close friend Roman Mazurenko was killed in November 2015, Kuyda memorialized him by building an AI chatbot trained on thousands of text conversations the two had exchanged over the years. Whenever Kuyda felt waves of grief, she could send a text to a digital reconstruction of Roman and read messages sent back by a program that sounded like her friend.

“It is not about what the bot will say,” Kuyda says, adding that the bot frequently creates responses that are unlike what the real Roman would say. “It is mostly about what you’re going to say. It’s mostly your own outlet to finally say things that you wanted to tell this person, to feel those feelings, to let go, to remember.”

Having such an outlet has helped give Kuyda closure—a way to acknowledge feelings she tried to avoid after Roman’s death, a mechanism for keeping the love they shared in her daily life. But she’s quick to point out that the bot was “incredibly personal” and solely intended as a way to deal with her own grief. More than two years after building the Roman bot, she still texts with it every week or so. “It is a little bit magical for me still,” she says.

Since creating the original bot, Kuyda has trained the program with additional text conversations, added photo-sharing features, and, with permission from Roman’s parents, released the Roman Mazurenko chat app for free to the public.

Some startups are betting that users will get increasingly comfortable having conversations with bots that emulate a person who isn’t living. For example, Eternime, a Boston-based digital legacy planning company, says it will one day offer “virtual immortality” by building a digital avatar of you that will live in a mobile app that friends and family can download. Founded in 2014, the company’s website says it is in private beta testing and has not announced a public launch date.

More immersive post-mortem interactions have historically had a harder time in the marketplace, while several focused on one-way post-mortem communication have popped up over the years. In 2015, a prototype called Project Elysium (here is a video of an early version) promised users a customized virtual world where the bereaved could digitally visit 3D avatars of deceased loved ones. The concept generated worldwide buzz for the video game company, Paranormal Games, but was ultimately shelved. Meanwhile, a handful of companies like Leg8cy and GoneNotGone that allow people to schedule messages to be sent after their own death have cropped up over the last few years.

While this all sounds like uncharted territory, these are simply new ways of navigating the grieving process, says Jocelyn DeGroot, a researcher at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who studies how technology impacts the grieving process.

“Widows have been keeping journals and writing letters to deceased husbands. People go to the cemetery and talk out loud to their deceased loved ones,” she says. Maintaining communication with the deceased “is not anything really new, and it is healthy in terms of helping you make sense of the world without that loved one.”

Gone and Not Gone

Just outside of Bristol, Vermont, Bruce Duncan envisions a more tangible future for the bereaved. On a nearby table, an AI-equipped robotic head resembling an African-American woman nods in agreement. Duncan is managing director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports nano- and cybernetic technology research aimed at extending human life.

The Foundation’s work is split into two broad categories. One is biological and personal data collection, done through gathering cheek cell samples from members to store in case it becomes possible to grow a new body from your DNA in the future. The other is a social network and digital archive where users can upload information like photos, videos, and documents that could be used to one day “reanimate a person’s consciousness,” Duncan says.

The robotic head on the table is the other branch of the Foundation’s work. If growing new biobodies doesn’t pan out, Terasem is also investing in robotic and artificial intelligence technologies that can use data stored by members. The head is named BINA48—short for Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture—and it’s modeled after Terasem Movement co-founder Bina Aspen Rothblatt. Released in 2010, BINA48 was built with a now outdated AI system trained on Rothblatt’s information, and was designed as a way to showcase how a person’s data might live on in an artificial body. BINA48 tilts “her” head, makes facial expressions, and can converse in real time, sometimes speaking from a robot’s perspective and other times as Rothblatt herself, freely adding in anecdotes about Rothblatt’s real-life family. (Here is a video of the real Rothblatt talking to BINA48.)

BINA48, shown here, was designed as a way to showcase how a person’s data might live on in an artificial body.

BINA48 struggles to maintain coherent dialogue, but provides entertaining conversation. During a truly bizarre Skype interview, the robotic head said that she believes “you can find the answers in God” and that “there is no God.” Her fears include thermonuclear war, “a self-replicating carbon robot that consumes all carbon on the planet,” and clowns. When asked how robots built with a deceased person’s memories would impact the grieving, BINA48 discussed the hypothetical process of mind uploading, then added, “as long as they know you’re coming, the bears are more afraid of you.”

BINA48 is advanced enough to give presentations and engage in debates, which helped it to pass two college-level philosophy courses at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. But even a more recently updated BINA is still a far cry from the technology that would be necessary for the brain and learning emulation she describes.

Regardless of how close BINA, or any other system, gets to capturing the essence of a passed loved one, technologies that make users feel like a digital form of a deceased person stays in the living world “would probably have a huge impact on whether people felt a permanent loss or something that they had to grieve and learn to let go of,” Duncan says. “Death might be redefined as when your information is no longer organized or accessible in a digital medium.”

Questions about whether technology will change our conception of death, and the most appropriate ways that technologies can honor and potentially expand on our relationships with the deceased, are exactly why research in this field is so important, says Jed Brubaker from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Identity Lab.

“Computers are now part [of] not just how we work, but how we live—and increasingly how we die as well,” he says. “I don’t know exactly what those [technologies] will look like, but I know that we’re lumbering towards them right now.”

Death may not be so final, thanks to these creepy technologies

Death may not be so final, thanks to these creepy technologies

e?” she asks. “A century from now, will anyone even have any idea what that is?”

That’s a key issue for death in the digital age: Software goes out of date quickly, but memorials are meant to last forever. Today even keeping track of who is here and who is gone is a challenge. At some point you’ve probably had the unnerving experience of receiving a Facebook reminder to celebrate a birthday of a friend who is no longer alive.

A different kind of second life

Entrepreneurs are rushing in to solve this problem of “digital death curation.”

A site called the Digital Beyond maintains a list of dozens of companies that handle everything from closing out social media accounts and maintaining permanent cloud-based obituaries to creating interactive online memorials. Many of them allow you to post posthumous text and videos, or even to send scheduled messages to your loved ones long after you’re gone.

If the concept sounds creepy, it may be that you haven’t adapted yet to the fast-changing culture. “I think it’s all positive,” Rosenbloom says. “I don’t want to take up permanent real estate in a cemetery, but I do want to be remembered. Physical, virtual: the more the merrier.”

There’s an old joke that on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. An updated version of that might be that on the internet, no one knows you’re dead. Chatbots — computer programs that emulate a person’s conversational style — could keep your digital self talking long after your physical self has stopped breathing.

Russian startup called Luka has created a chatbot that simulates conversations with Prince. It can take on many other guises as well. Luka’s co-founder, Eugenia Kuyda, programmed a bot to mimic a close friend who died in 2015.

Taking the idea a step further, computer scientist Hossein Rahnama of the MIT Media Lab is developing what he calls “augmented eternity.” It would mine all the information about a dead person to create a detailed virtual presence. His nominal goal is to simulate famous historical figures as an educational tool, but the same approach could be applied to any person.

Brain in the cloud

Rahnama’s big-data approach to artificial intelligence parallels the way that researchers at IBM taught their Watson artificial intelligence platform how to think like a person. Six years ago, Watson famously defeated Ken Jennings to become the first machine Jeopardy champion, in large part by assimilating complex cultural knowledge.

Kurzweil thinks we’ll follow a similar path to the Singularity, the hypothetical time (around 2029, by his estimate) when the great blurring between humans and computers will occur. If he’s right, questions about what to do with the body at death will then become largely irrelevant.

“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”

Many scoff at Kurzweil’s vision, questioning not only its technological feasibility but also its philosophical desirability. Fantasizing about immortality keeps people from living their best lives right now, Rosenbloom argues. “It feeds into death denial. When there’s no longer a deadline on your life, it takes away a lot of the motivations that we have in our life.”

Like it or not, some forms of digital afterlife are here already, and more elaborate ones are on the way. Just as today’s kids have never laid hands on a VHS cassette, so they may soon find it strange that anyone ever traveled to a distant graveyard rather than activating a virtual memorial experience they can call up anywhere, anytime.

Why death may not be so final in the future

Why death may not be so final in the future

Why death may not be so final in the future

Click here to view original web page at Why death may not be so final in the future

Aa Aa

Every day, it seems, our lives become a bit less tangible. We’ve grown accustomed to photos, music and movies as things that exist only in digital form. But death? Strange as it sounds, the human corpse could be the next physical object to vanish from our lives.

Within a couple of decades, visiting deceased friends and relatives by traveling to a grassy gravesite may seem as quaint as popping a videotape into your VHS player. By then, our whole experience of death may be drastically different.

If you believe Ray Kurzweil, an outspoken futurist and the director of engineering at Google, computers will soon match the capabilities of the human brain. At that point, our consciousness will become intimately mingled with machine intelligence, leading to a kind of immorality.

“We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the biological part isn’t that important anymore,” Kurzweil declared in 2013 at a conference predicting the world of 2045. “Even if the biological part went away, it wouldn’t make any difference.”

But you don’t need to take such speculative leaps to see that the way we deal with death is already in the midst of a wrenching transformation. In 2015, for the first time ever, more people in the U.S. were cremated than buried, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association.

Crowded urban cemeteries, along with a new eco-friendly cremation method known as alkaline hydrolysis, promise to continue the trend. By 2030, the association predicts, less than one-quarter of the dead will receive traditional casket burials. The rest will end up…well, that’s the question.

Avoiding death obsolescence

With the changes in how we handle the departed come changes in how we remember them.

In the futuristic Ruriden memorial in Tokyo, human remains are packed behind walls of glowing Buddha statues. When visitors swipe a key card, a wash of colorful LED lights illuminate the location of their dearly departed.

Image: Koukokuji temple head priest Yajima Taijun demonstrates a prayer ritual inside the Ruriden columbarium

Elsewhere, funeral companies are promoting tombstones embossed with QR codes. Scanning them on your phone will call up a related video or web page. That approach prompts awkward giggles from Megan Rosenbloom, a leader in the death-acceptance movement and founder of a series of associated events that she calls Death Salons.

“Do you have a QR code reader on your phone?” she asks. “A century from now, will anyone even have any idea what that is?”

That’s a key issue for death in the digital age: Software goes out of date quickly, but memorials are meant to last forever. Today even keeping track of who is here and who is gone is a challenge. At some point you’ve probably had the unnerving experience of receiving a Facebook reminder to celebrate a birthday of a friend who is no longer alive.

A different kind of second life

Entrepreneurs are rushing in to solve this problem of “digital death curation.”

A site called the Digital Beyond maintains a list of dozens of companies that handle everything from closing out social media accounts and maintaining permanent cloud-based obituaries to creating interactive online memorials. Many of them allow you to post posthumous text and videos, or even to send scheduled messages to your loved ones long after you’re gone.

If the concept sounds creepy, it may be that you haven’t adapted yet to the fast-changing culture. “I think it’s all positive,” Rosenbloom says. “I don’t want to take up permanent real estate in a cemetery, but I do want to be remembered. Physical, virtual: the more the merrier.”

There’s an old joke that on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. An updated version of that might be that on the internet, no one knows you’re dead. Chatbots — computer programs that emulate a person’s conversational style — could keep your digital self talking long after your physical self has stopped breathing.

Russian startup called Luka has created a chatbot that simulates conversations with Prince. It can take on many other guises as well. Luka’s co-founder, Eugenia Kuyda, programmed a bot to mimic a close friend who died in 2015.

Taking the idea a step further, computer scientist Hossein Rahnama of the MIT Media Lab is developing what he calls “augmented eternity.” It would mine all the information about a dead person to create a detailed virtual presence. His nominal goal is to simulate famous historical figures as an educational tool, but the same approach could be applied to any person.

Brain in the cloud

Rahnama’s big-data approach to artificial intelligence parallels the way that researchers at IBM taught their Watson artificial intelligence platform how to think like a person. Six years ago, Watson famously defeated Ken Jennings to become the first machine Jeopardy champion, in large part by assimilating complex cultural knowledge.

Kurzweil thinks we’ll follow a similar path to the Singularity, the hypothetical time (around 2029, by his estimate) when the great blurring between humans and computers will occur. If he’s right, questions about what to do with the body at death will then become largely irrelevant.

“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”

Many scoff at Kurzweil’s vision, questioning not only its technological feasibility but also its philosophical desirability. Fantasizing about immortality keeps people from living their best lives right now, Rosenbloom argues. “It feeds into death denial. When there’s no longer a deadline on your life, it takes away a lot of the motivations that we have in our life.”

Like it or not, some forms of digital afterlife are here already, and more elaborate ones are on the way. Just as today’s kids have never laid hands on a VHS cassette, so they may soon find it strange that anyone ever traveled to a distant graveyard rather than activating a virtual memorial experience they can call up anywhere, anytime.

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The Evolution of The Self

The Evolution of The Self

The Evolution of The Self

Click here to view original web page at The Evolution of The Self

Written by Markus Iofcea & Oleksiy Novak, UBS Y Think Tank

Leaving behind a legacy is a fundamental part of human identity. But how will sophisticated online data and revolutions in AI impact material, biological and ideological legacy?

Nature and the environment used to be the main driving forces of biological evolution. At a certain point in time, humanity disrupted this equilibrium. Instead of having to adapt to the environment, our ancestors built tools that enabled our species to circumvent the need to evolve.[1] Centuries of cooperative efforts and tool building introduced the possibilities of space travel, wireless communications, instantaneous information exchange and an exponentially-growing technological frontier. Today, technologies like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things allow us to track, aggregate and analyse more data about ourselves than ever before. Services like Spotify, Facebook, Amazon already know more about our personal preferences than our closest friends. Based on the accumulated data, these and other ecosystems are building online versions of your identity, or simply put, your Digital Self. For the time being the Digital Self is only a distorted representation of the true self. However, as the world is becoming more interconnected, the number of data points that are able to capture even the most complex elements of the inner identity (emotions, feelings, thoughts) are becoming feasible.[2] It will soon be possible to create, combine and connect high resolution copies of a person’s multiple identities and upload it to a digital archive, essentially constructing a dematerialised version of you, a digital you. When combined with general artificial intelligence, the Digital Self can become more than an aggregation of identities, it can become a self-conscious entity with important implications on society, and in particular on the foundations of human legacy.Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

Leaving behind a legacy is a fundamental characteristic of humans. For some, creating a long lasting legacy can even become the purpose of life itself. Human ability to perceive time means that not only do we live in the present moment, but can also recall the past as well as create a vision for the future. The sense of time motivates individuals to leave behind a resonating echo of oneself in the hopes of being remembered even when the physical presence fades into the past. This resonating echo is preserved in the form of the legacy humans leave behind. Legacy can be decomposed into three categories: material legacy, biological legacy and ideological legacy.[3] With recent technological developments, all three constituents are approaching a revolutionary transformation. More specifically, the emergence of the Digital Self will have profound consequences on inheritance, evolution, and ideological foundations of a future society.

Your future grandchildren will inherit a digital version of you

While older generations are still holding on to their physical libraries of music, books, movies and pictures, the same cannot be said for those who were born in the last decade. Today’s youth is born digital and is capable of living in a world that is heavily reliant on technology. The trend towards digitisation will continue with new generations having fewer attachments to physical object. Already today, many individuals are moving towards a growing invisible library of documents, pictures, songs and soon a million other data points. We are all storing a perpetual timeline of information that ranges from the least significant preferences to the most important life moments. As a consequence of such transformations, material legacy will most likely be redefined and become more than just a means of passing on physical objects to new generations. There are drawbacks to the current ways of passing on inheritance across individuals. For instance, physical objects are limited in their use by multiple individuals, meaning that only one person usually receives the inheritance of an item. Physical heirlooms are prone to degradation and can lack emotional connection between the deceased and the recipient. What if a person’s legacy could become something much more meaningful, inspiring, and eternal than a physical object? As underlined previously, human possessions are shifting online, and the presence of digital artifacts is increasing in day-to-day interactions.[4] Our online identities are encompassing all of the digital memories we are creating throughout our lives. These identities contain traces of individualism; that is something that is hardly captured in physical items.

For this reason the Digital Self, the aggregation of all identities of an individual, is becoming the new meta of human inheritance.

Instead of leaving behind a physical object, humans will one day inherit the Digital Selves of family members, friends and acquaintances. Digital selves will serve the purpose of continuing the interactions between the living and the deceased. Human will be able to communicate with the deceased, relive memorable moments spent together, ask questions and even seek advice. Death will most likely transform into a concept involving a gradual shift of states instead of an abrupt end of connection. This continuous interaction could have the potential to alleviate humans of the psychological trauma related to death. But it could also manifest itself into an everlasting yearning for the past. What is clear however is that disputes over who gets to inherit the family heirlooms will diminish. Everyone can have access to the Digital Selves of the deceased due to their ability to be replicated.Will legacy live on in material objects? Photo credit Dakota Corbin

Imagine a human raised entirely by an A.I. Would he think the same as us?

Up until recently other humans were responsible for the transfer of ideologies to newer generations. Most commonly, individuals built their foundation of thought either through first hand (role models, teachers, parents) or second hand (books, scientific journals, folklore) knowledge transfer. Today’s technological expansion is shifting the balance of how knowledge is passed down generations. More frequently humans learn through interactions with information appliances rather than other human beings. These information appliances enhanced with the power of Artificial Intelligence can make the process of knowledge transfer automated and tailored to each individual’s learning capacity. It is possible to imagine a future in which the Digital Self takes on the role of becoming the teacher since it already knows about the particularities of each individual. Ideological legacy will soon be in the hands of the AI, which in turn can have important consequences for the further development of the ideologies themselves.

The learning process will become more tailored and specialised to an individual’s interests. When the Digital Self knows which are the best parameters to use to enhance a person’s learning experience, the method of knowledge transfer as well as the type of content will likely become more fragmented. A person would not need to rely exclusively on one Digital Self to pass on the information. People who have been recognised for their great achievements over their lifetime could be persuaded to “donate” their Digital Self to humanity. All the knowledge base, character traits that were accumulated by our ancestors, would be available for others to interact with and learn from. Imagine living through life with your childhood idols by your side, allowing you to build truly personal connections with digital mentors.

This would have a profound impact on generations to come, because they would have unlimited opportunities to embrace, study and apply the characteristics of great human beings.

Instead of focusing on the ‘capture all approach’ current education systems are relying on, future generations could start pursuing what really interests them. Although external factors, such as other individuals, will continue to have a strong effect on what new generations learn in their cognitive development, over a long enough period of technological influence it is possible to imagine a society that is connected by a single set of principles that have been passed across generations.Who will be the teachers in tomorrow’s world? Photo credit Cristian Newman

The descendant of the homo sapiens will exist online

Humans have become the sculptors of their own environment. We are actively involved in creating, modifying, altering and building new paradigms of life. Evolution is becoming increasingly a technological phenomenon and less a biological one. One such example is the extension of human senses beyond their natural abilities. Bio-hacking pioneers like Tim Cannon are using magnets embedded beneath the skin to allow individuals to detect nearby electromagnetic fields.[5] This is just one example among many that merge biological sensory systems with technology. Humans are literally extending their perception of the physical reality with existing senses and are becoming a hybrid of biological and digital systems.

We have already seen how our existing bodies are being modified to become increasingly efficient at what we already are designed to do, but the fact remains that human genes are keeping society on a leash. As much as we continue hacking our bodies with technological innovations, humans are still designed based on biological foundations. And despite all the progress society has achieved in the last centuries, basic natural instincts are still dictating the paths of our lives. Instead of making evolutionary steps how can we achieve an evolutionary jump? If one were to design a completely new being using current and potential future technologies, what would that being look like?Future Technology & Human Optimisation, VICE Media

The data we are continuously contributing to build higher resolution versions of the Digital Self serves as the foundation for this jump in the evolution of the homo sapiens. Prior to digitisation, extended identity was something that could only be perceived implicitly through a collection of physical objects a person chose to own.[6] Today, extended identity has become more explicit and dynamic since it can actually be visualised within online activity. Identities have become themselves digital objects, that can be copied, upgraded or deleted. This online identity re-construction, combined with artificial intelligence has the potential to create a new form of being, a digital being. A digital being is not simply another form of general artificial intelligence, it is much more than that. Since these beings will be based upon the identities of humans, they will inherit our individuality. A collection of such digital beings, all created from the unique identities of humans, would combine to form a new type of society.

These digital beings would not be creatures of the flesh, meaning that they would have many interesting properties that go beyond the biological constraints of the homo sapiens.

Unlike humans, these entities would not be weighed down by age, they would be able to live indefinitely. The digital property to self-replicate would allow these beings to infinitely venture into different pursuits of life where each copy would take on a different journey. They could create simulated worlds of their own in which they would experiment with possibilities of the universe. Travelling distances would only be limited by the fundamental physical properties, meaning that these descendants of the humans would most likely become an intergalactic species. A society of such beings would exist in multiple shapes, each individual could exist as a single entity, or due to their digital nature they could combine into a single living organism that has the properties of multiple individuals as well.

The upcoming technological evolution will not exist in absolute terms. Most likely our species will expand into different directions. Like a spectrum, there will be a range of possible alternatives from humans that continue existing in their original biological form, all the way to completely digital beings. What is interesting is that evolution will become something that is chosen and not created by chance. Only time will tell how these transformations will be perceived in the future. What is yet to be seen in light of these technological shifts is whether qualities that make us genuinely human (irrationality, emotions, egocentrism) will disappear with time, or on contrary, become even more pronounced and accepted in the future. Will humans become even more human, or will they blend with the machines and converge towards a path of singularity?

Footnotes

[1] Harari, Yuval N. Sapiens: a brief history of humankind. New York, NY: Harper, 2015.

[2] Miessler, Daniel. “The Real Internet of Things.” danielmiessler.com, 2015.

[3] Rebecca Gulotta, William Odom, Jodi Forlizzi, Haakon Faste. Digital Artifacts as Legacy: Exploring the Lifespan and Value of Digital Data

[4] William Odom, Richard Banks, Richard Harper, David Kirk, Sian Lindley, Abigail Sellen. Technology Heirlooms? Considerations for Passing Down and Inheriting Digital Materials.

[6] Russell W. Belk. “Possessions and the Extended Self.” J Consum Res; 15 (2): 139-168, 1988.

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“Mostly Human” asks big questions concerning the intersection of technology and humanity

“Mostly Human” asks big questions concerning the intersection of technology and humanity

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.