Listen to Steve to read this post (8 min audio) – Do I sound like I write?
Last week I watched an increasingly rare moment of linear, live television – The AFL Grand Final. As a long-time Collingwood fan, I rejoiced in an eventual victory and immediately thought about how much my late mother would have loved seeing her Magpies win. We could’ve watched it together, followed by hours of post-game discussions, analyzing it play-by-play. While I’ll never watch another game with my mother, the prospect of discussing it—or anything else with her—is closer than we think.
How to Create a AI Twin
It won’t exactly be her, and she’ll have no idea about it, but soon we might be able to ‘access’ the minds and faces of those who’ve passed. In fact, a basic version of this was achieved years ago when James Vlahos created a chatbot of his terminally ill father. He conducted deep interviews with his dad for months, resulting in a basic DadBot he could interact with posthumously. We’ve progressed significantly since then; interviews are now optional.
Currently, anyone owning a smartphone is inadvertently creating a Digital Twin of their existence. ChatGPT can already mimic my writing style. Given that much of my life is public, it possesses an extensive database of not just my work but also my experiences, acquaintances, and hobbies.
But the younger an individual is, the higher the ‘resolution’ of their twin. Nearly every action a youngster takes is now digitized and documented since birth. Both my children, born in 2010 and 2012, epitomize this. Their digital footprints reside in server farms globally. Even though it’s not in the ‘public domain’, tech giants have access to all components of their life stories.
Consider what today’s youth have shared for their future digital twins:
Photos: Most pictures of my children, taken by myself or my wife, originate from an iPhone. Stored in iCloud and with other cloud providers, these images are geotagged, timestamped, and analyzed by AI.
Videos: The data obtained from videos is even more detailed and accurate than pictures and importantly builds a database of our voices, facial expressions and body movements, all of which are as unique as fingerprints.
Diary: Our family’s whereabouts and plans have been meticulously logged. Even if we forget an entry, GPS and Google Maps fill in the gaps.
Phones: My daughter’s iPhone tracks her content preferences, friends, and interests. My son, though phone-less, is still monitored by big tech when he uses my devices, as they create something called a shadow profile of his clear habits and preferences.
Laptops: Both kids use laptops for schoolwork. This offers insight into their intellectual growth and thinking patterns, much like a school principal from a smaller primary school might track and take an interest in a student’s development.
And we can be sure that big tech is tracking all ambient conversations of anyone in earshot of a smartphone and knows exactly who is speaking, despite claims to the contrary.
This is just a glimpse of the data available. For anyone who has been active online for over a decade, we can create a high-definition AI replica. And for those born post-2007, it’ll be nearly perfect. This means very soon we’ll be able to create interactive AI Chatbots of anyone once they die. When it does arrive, we’ll all be astounded, though we shouldn’t really be surprised.
Combine the aforementioned personal data with a Large Language Model trained to mimic human behaviour, and we can produce a convincing deep fake of almost anyone.
It’ll be like having a Zoom call straight from the afterlife. It will be as simple as logging into and choosing who you want to chat to from your Posthumous Contacts List. In moments a life-like AI bot of a person you once knew, will be there conversing with you in real time, with the same ‘brain’ and life they had before they passed. The kicker is that they’ll continue to learn as you chat with them. Adding what new experiences you’ve had and keeping up to date with everything going on in the family.
Of course, you’ve already guessed what the red flags are:
- Who owns our data and biometric records?
- Does the person who died need to sign off on their AI replica being created in their will?
- Who profits from all this?
- Is this a healthy idea for people coping with loss?
If we’ve already relinquished our life-data to Big Tech, will we need to pay subscription fees to converse with AI renditions of departed loved ones?
Perhaps this tech will be reserved for forming parasocial relationships with AI Taylor Swift or our favourite celebrities?
One certainty is this will happen. The allure of fantasy, love, and loss is undeniable. How could anyone turn down the opportunity to be able to talk again to someone once close to your heart, even if you know it isn’t real?
And it’s the usual suspects who are in the best position to be able to do this: Apple, Meta and Google – and if that happens the most powerful companies in the world will have reached an almost religious status – by creating a new kind of afterlife.