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Tell Me a Story, Grandpa

Can we store loved one’s personalities in a computer after death?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't think humankind will ever figure out a way to upload human souls to a computer, like in the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror. No matter what you feel about spending eternity in a benevolent computer, there is an alternative that everyone can get around.

Imagine instead a computer game called “Tell Me a Story, Grandpa.” After feeding it enough information, the game would produce a life-size, moving-and-talking avatar of a deceased loved one. Simply upload their biography, photos, home videos, social media accounts, email and chat history. Artificial intelligence applications, like ChatGPT, could easily fill in the blanks and dynamically generate a live conversation from a loved one who has passed on.

The components for this game of the future already exist in our world. There are technologies that can listen to a person speak and then mimic their voice based on text prompts. Depending on the context of the writing, today’s technology can make the voice sound happy, sad, serious, etc. Already available lip-syncing applications can work in concert with three-dimensional, model-building tech that produces a countenance in relief and from all angles.  

The famous Morgan Freeman deep fake brought knowledge of so much of this technology to the masses, and, anecdotally, people seem to have become a lot more skeptical of every video they watch. At the same time, Apple is entering the virtual reality headset market — while televisions are getting wider and wider, filling up more and more of a human’s field of vision.

I think it’s great news for developers that Apple is getting into VR. It also promises to be a coup for end users, who will no doubt benefit from having a standard to coalesce around. Apple usually pounces into a market only after watching other companies fumble through it, so it will be interesting to see what their team found.  

Humans will do anything — and probably, pay anything — to take in a good story, from installing intense television sets to wearing a VR headset while your cat looks on, rubbing its front paws together.

Originally published: 05/18/2023

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