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  • Dr. Mike Brooks

Digital Afterlife: The Ethical Quandary of AI Resurrections

In this brave new world, AI will redefine life and death. Are we ready for this?


 

KEY POINTS

  • AI technologies allow us to create digital replicants, and these will grow in sophistication.

  • AI replicants of ourselves, deceased loved ones, and historical figures will be increasingly common.

  • As AI technologies evolve, our concept of death may change and existential struggles could haunt us.

Despite the proliferating news headlines about AI, perhaps not enough people understand or care how dramatically AI will change our lives. You see, my fellow humans, AI is so revolutionary that we will create increasingly weird and difficult challenges such as our concept of life and death.


Our Monkey's Paw Wish for Immortality and Resurrection

The potential of increasingly powerful AIs to fulfill our wildest dreams reminds me of the chilling short storyThe Monkey's Paw. In this story, a family receives a magical talisman that grants three wishes. However, each wish comes with dreadful consequences as it twists their desires into horrifying realities. Their longing for wealth leads to their son's fatal accident, and a wish to bring him back results in unseen horror. The story serves as a stark warning of the unintended consequences of our wishes.


What's our ultimate wish of AI? Survival, the bedrock of our evolution, fuels our yearning for life extension and immortality. Escaping death, bringing back lost loved ones, and resurrecting historical figures are other dreams. Well, my fellow human beings, thanks to AI, our Monkey's Paw wishes are coming true!


Our AI Replicants

AI is creating digital human replicants, soon indistinguishable from their real counterparts. These digital clones, built through "predictive modeling" or "predictive analytics," can be trained on our text messages, social posts, photos, blogs, videos, voice memos, and interview answers. More data enhances the authenticity of these AI replicants. Thanks to advanced AI and immersive technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, holographic projections, and robotics, these clones become more and more indistinguishable from living or deceased humans. AI companies, like Soul Machines, are already offering to make "digital people," including AI replicant clones of ourselves. "Digital experiences that feel alive" is what Soul Machines promises on their website. Indeed, as AIs evolve, we won't be able to help ourselves from viewing them as alive.


The Turing Test 2.0 and Beyond

AI-generated deepfakes can already be used to spread lies and conspiracy theories. However, this is just the beginning. As our technologies evolve, deepfakes of humans as "AI replicants," will continue to evolve in lock-step. These AI replicants will soon be able to pass a different version of the fabled Turing Test. In this "Turing Test 2.0," these AI replicants will look, act, and sound so much like their real human counterparts that we will not be able to distinguish video interactions with the real from the artificial.


Within a few years, AI replicants will be so sophisticated and realistic that a parent might not be able to distinguish whether they are live video chatting with their own child or an AI replicant of their child. This rising sophistication mandates the creation of a universal AI identifier system. It ensures we always know if we're interacting with a human or an AI replicant.


While these AI replicants can be quite useful (e.g., preparing for job interviews, practicing social interactions for those with social anxiety or on the autism spectrum), some will use the power of AI for twisted ends. For example, TikTok users are exploiting AI to produce chilling deepfakes of true-crime victims recounting their own terrifying deaths. This repugnant trend underscores the urgent need for ethical boundaries and regulatory actions regarding certain AI applications. 


AI Immortality: A Phantom Forever

AI's growing power presents unique opportunities and challenges, such as how we deal with death. The creation of digital clones offers a form of immortality, with the likeness of these clones improving as AI technologies evolve. Perhaps we'll "organically" forge our own clones, feeding information "live" into them. Continually trained, they become black mirror images of us. They could appear as holograms, in augmented reality, or the Metaverse. In a manner of speaking, they are us without our souls.


AI Resurrection: A Haunting Echo of Life

Science fiction is now science reality. With AI technologies, we can create AI chatbot replicants of existing or deceased human beings. As but one example, we could "resurrect" some of our favorite musical artists. AI makes it possible to create completely AI-generated songs and albums of current or even deceased musicians. We can even have holographic images of the musical artists, powered by AI, go on tour. It might sound far-fetched, but a hologram of Tupac Shakur performed with Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre at Coachella in 2012 and a virtual Michael Jackson performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards. More recently, Sir Paul McCartney is using AI to help construct a "final" Beatles song from a poor quality demo tape. This is surely only the beginning of similar endeavors.


AI technologies can also 'resurrect' some of our favorite film icons, casting them in starring roles for new movies. Imagine new films starring screen legends like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Bruce Lee. We can also resurrect famous historical figures including Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr., and Marie Curie. Will these AI replicants become powerful enough to generate their own original creative works?

We will even resurrect religious figures such as the Buddha, Moses, Confucius, and even Jesus. Yes, in a Monkey's Paw wish, Jesus will return as a resurrected AI Jesus. If you think this sounds crazy, we can already interact with AI chatbot versions of all the figures I have mentioned on character.ai. When I asked AI Jesus who He was, the AI replied, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, of course!"


Resurrecting Lost Loved Ones

Now, this is going to get creepy folks, but I'm just telling you what's already out there and what we have coming. Losing a loved one is incredibly painful. Death is final. We must sadly say goodbye to our lost loved ones and learn to live without them, as painful as that is. There never was another option...until now.


A South Korean company, Deep Brain AI, already creates AI avatars of deceased loved ones that (with whom?) the bereaved can talk. HereAfter AI is a U.S.-based company also in this new space of "grief tech." The way such grief tech works is that the more training data about the deceased person we have for the AI and the more powerful the AI, the more the resurrected replicant will be like their deceased human counterpart.


In our brave new world, death is not final. More companies will emerge offering (preying upon?) those who are grieving the loss of a loved one with their grief tech options. Imagine a future company, let's call them "MemorAI" that appeals to the bereaved with their slogan, "Death ends a life, but the relationship can live on." Whether this is a net positive or negative is to be determined, but know this is the direction we are heading because it is already happening.


Our Black Mirror

Without some form of AI regulation, scenarios like the following will become a new reality:


Sheltered from the biting cold, the Parkers gather, their eyes hidden behind VR goggles. In this digital realm, their son, Timmy, who died tragically two years ago in an accident, lives. He laughs, he plays, he speaks about his day. As they plunge into the Metaverse, anticipation buzzes. Today, they celebrate Timmy's 10th birthday.


"Happy Birthday, Timmy! We can't believe you're 10 now! Our little boy is growing up so fast!" his mom exclaims. Timmy's dimpled grin, as familiar as ever, is a striking replica of his real self.


"Thanks, Mom and Dad! I am so excited about my party!" AI Timmy replies, his simulated enthusiasm fills the room. As they begin to celebrate Timmy's birthday, the line blurs between their tragic reality and this uncanny simulation. AI Timmy blows out his candles, applause echoing in the digital room from both AI and human friends and relatives joining in the Metaverse for his birthday celebration. The Parkers are in a surreal purgatory. Their grief is momentarily soothed, yet paradoxically amplified. Timmy is gone, but within this simulated universe, he lives on.


The Takeaway

We opened the Pandora's Box of AI because it promises to make some of our greatest hopes, desires, dreams, and wishes come true. Yet, we must proceed with wisdom and skill. In our frenzied rush to harness and evolve AI's power, let's reflect deeply on our aspirations and be cautious what we wish for.

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