Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My digital afterlife

By now, many of you have heard about the Tupac Hologram that performed at the Coachella music event* and seen the footage on Youtube and other places. I just want to say that the whole thing creeps me right the hell out for a few reasons.

Tupac wasn't the only hologram in attendance...from
For a while now, we've been approaching what I like to refer to as the "Entertainment singularity", a point which actors and singers will not be integral to the entertainment process. At some point, creating TV, Movies, Plays and such will be as simple as pointing and clicking any live or deceased performer into my manuscript, and watching the computer render it. Take Tupac's hologram... while I admit that I don't actually know the source of the voice, it would not be hard to digitize Tupac's performing style and voice with a computer based on samples taken throughout his life. Suppose I could make that hologram say and do anything I typed into my word processor.

And why stop with the dead? A mid-thirties Harrison Ford would make an excellent Jake Price in a Dimensional Games movie, and with this technology, I should be able to theoretically put any words I want into Harrison's mouth. Or how about Rosario Dawson? I could make a ninety minute loop of her saying to me whatever naughty, sexy things my twisted little mind came up with. ("Can I get you a sandwich, Rob? would you like extra bacon on that? Would you like me to do your dishes too?")

My point is, that if they could do this with Tupac, then they could probably do it to anyone that had enough source material. As the technology improves, less source material will be necessary to make a digital representation of just about anyone. Which brings me to the second thing that creeped me out this week... Post-Mortum Facebook pages.

Over the past year, I have had two good friends pass away. Their Facebook accounts remain active, and as their birthdays rolled around, people posted to their pages to commemorate their passing. I understand that grief is a tricky thing, and we all grieve with what we think is appropriate, but seeing the dearly departed pop up as important in my news feed over a year after their passing is downright creepy. I suppose the solution is to unsubscribe their feeds, but that seems heartless somehow. As creeped out as I was by all this, I have to admit that it made me remember my departed friends for the first time in about a month, and I kinda smiled at that.

Where I think that it would become a problem is if you start combining these technologies. Imagine for a second a world where anyone can create a Tupac-style Hologram from the information on your facebook profile. It's not really that big a stretch when you think about it... a computer model of your image can be extrapolated from photos, even aged appropriately if the viewer desires... a synthetic personality could be constructed as well if you post status updates enough. (Snarky? Check. Loves Bacon? Check. Unhealthy infatuation with 80's cartoons? Check.) I would imagine it would be harder to deal with a loved ones passing if you could just whip up a digital version of them to chat with any time you want, or if a friend used their image in a youtube video he thinks is totally appropriate to your loved one's memory. The odds of a video of Grandpa on a skateboard doing a triple ollie into a swimming pool full of lime Jell-o and bikini clad women being 'appropriate' to your Grandma are sketchy, no matter how much you think he would have loved it.

We may come to a point where it will be necessary to bequeath the rights to your digital likeness to specific people on your passing, so that your image won't be plundered by those that don't share your vision of your legacy. Heck, in many ways we're there already. My wife has given me permission, (should she kick first... I think we all know how unlikely that is) that upon her passing I can keep updating her facebook page with her thoughts and impressions on the afterlife. ("Boy, it's a lot hotter here than I expected, and since when does God have horns and a pitchfork?")

*the DOA management admits freely to not being hip enough to really know what this "Coachella" thing actually was.... for all we know, it could have been a Cinderella-type ball for high school football coaches. we also acknowledge that it is equally unlikely that Snoop and Dr.Dre would perform at such an event, much less spend several thousand dollars to have their dead friend perform at one.


Melinda said...
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Melinda said...

This reminds me of an episode of Century City where a scientist downloaded himself into a hologram. His wife and the company he worked for were fighting over "custody" of it after he died. It definitely raised some interesting moral quandaries.