5. Memento Mori

So in the context of a machine "following" our speech to translate it, and generally keeping track of what we do, how we do it, and what caused us to do it in the first place, I struck upon something quite perturbing. Many of the applications for this built up warehouse of knowledge are based on predicting how people would react to something hypothetically. This enables us to anticipate reactions, such as the enjoyment for movies and clothes and all sorts of things. Great stuff.


Let's say I die tomorrow. 

None of my profiles are going anywhere. Which means that if a new movie comes out next week, based on my profile we could see whether or not I would probably, hypothetically, enjoy the movie from beyond the grave.


There's a couple. They're married for 30 year and during this time this device tracks their interactions on a daily basis. One day the husband dies. The wife takes his built up profile and turns it on. She sets it to hypothetical mode. She then says, “I had a bad day." The device runs through thirty years of data, looking for examples of when she had told him the same thing: over the phone, face to face, through text, etc. Thousands of times where she said pretty much the exact same phrase: "I really had a shitty day today." It then analyzes thirty years worth of his responses, based on their frequency of use, context, and tone. It comes up with, "I'm sorry baby, what happened?" as a suitable response in text form. It then passes this through a speech synthesizer [profile] it had created from listening to his voice for 30 years and suddenly she hears "I'm sorry baby, what happened?" in his actual voice.

The voice of her dead husband.

Responding as if he were alive.

But that's not all. It's also been watching his movements through her device's camera "eyes" this whole time. It watches how he eats, which hand he writes with, how his face reacts to certain phrases or news, how he turns when the doorbell rings, how often he sneezes, etc, statistically recording and tagging every single movement. She's stared at him long enough that her device has had enough time to put together a believable 3D image of the man. So now that he's gone it can actually render him in real time (seen through her display) sitting at the table eating breakfast with her. And as we just talked about, they can have a "realistic" [with twenty quotation marks] conversation.

With her dead husband. 

That's what this system can do.  Now for the hypothetical counter arguments and reasoning:

First of all, it's fake and unnatural as hell.

Agreed. And so is porn, but, believe it or not, a very small percentage of the population has been known to use that from time to time. Think about airbrushing in advertisements. Think about silicone breasts. Think about steroids, cod pieces, and hair pieces. Think about CGI in movies. Think about Neo fighting 50 computer generated animations of Agent Smith. It never looks perfect, but eventually it gets close enough that we can trick ourselves into enjoying it.

And using it for porn.

No matter how good this simulation gets, it won't be able to recreate someone's reactions perfectly.

That's right, but neither does a photograph perfectly recreate someone's visage, nor does a video perfectly recreate their movement, nor does a phone message perfectly recreate their voice. Still people look at photos of dead ones for various reasons. Just picture this system as a moving, interacting photo, which gives us an approximation of the way someone once was.

I'm reminded of Montaigne's introduction to his famous essays:

"[I am writing this book] for the pleasure of my relatives and friends so that, when they have lost me- which they soon must- they may recover some features of my character and disposition, and thus keep the memory they have of me more completely and vividly alive."

    While pictures, mannerisms, characteristics, and thoughts are not the person, in and of themselves, they can be used as stepping stone toward the real thing. Montaigne's essays are not the man- rather they are a path he has left us which leads us closer to understanding him in his entirety. Naturally this destination is unattainable, as no one really knows each other ("Everyone dies a stranger"). Still, the journey is interesting and much is learned in the process.
    So all these pieces of someone's profile would not make up the person any more than a book would. Rather they serve a dual function of remembrance for those who knew him in real life, and limited understanding for those who are born after his death. Personally at least, I would find it very fascinating to find out what my great grandfather's favorite songs were.  It would also be nice to hear him tell his favorite joke and to see the reaction on his face when I tell him, say, that my sister is pregnant (formula runs search for every time someone told him that someone was pregnant. Analyzes his reactive facial movement, tone of voice, content of speech, volume, etc. Synthesize these things and there you have it).   I'm left with a little piece of him, which helps me to imagine the whole person- a thought both comforting and disturbing for those of us who all must die eventually…


Prologue -1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - Index and Short Summaries  

Life Recorders May Be This Century’s Wrist Watch

by Michael Arrington on September 6, 2009

hfjgImagine a small device that you wear on a necklace that takes photos every few seconds of whatever is around you, and records sound all day long. It has GPS and the ability to wirelessly upload the data to the cloud, where everything is date/time and geo stamped and the sound files are automatically transcribed and indexed. Photos of people, of course, would be automatically identified and tagged as well.

Imagine an entire lifetime recorded and searchable. Imagine if you could scroll and search through the lives of your ancestors.

Would you wear that device? I think I would. I can imagine that advances in hardware and batteries will soon make these as small as you like. And I can see them becoming as ubiquitous as wrist watches were in the last century. I see them becoming customized fashion statements.

Privacy disaster? You betcha.

But ten years ago we would have been horrified by what we nonchalantly share on Facebook and Twitter every day. I always imagine what a family in the 70s would think about all of their photo albums being posted on computers and available for the entire world to see. They’d be horrified, they couldn’t even imagine it. Heck, a life recorder is less of a privacy abandonment step forward than we’ve already taken with the Internet and electronic surveillance in general.

A Business Week articlesfg talks about a ten year old Microsoft project called SenseCamrtyu (more herek) that is just such a device.

It’s clunky today and doesn’t do most of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph above. But a true life recorder that isn’t a fashion tragedy isn’t that far away.

In fact I’ve already spoken with one startup that has been working on a device like this for over a year now, and may go to market with it in 2010.

The hardware is actually not the biggest challenge. How it will be stored, transcribed, indexed and protected online is. It’s a massive amount of data that only a few companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon) are equipped to really handle anytime soon.

But these devices are coming. And you have to decide if you’ll be one of the first or one of the last to use one.

Will you wear one? I will. Let us know in the poll below.


Last call: Japanese tombs link up with cell phones

Mon Mar 24, 2008 3:12am EDT

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Bereaved Japanese will be able to keep in touch with their loved ones beyond the grave by using mobile phones to scan bar-coded tombstones and view photos and other information about the deceased.

In tech-savvy Japan, the square black-and-white codes are already widely used to load maps on to mobile phones, and are usually printed on business cards or restaurant brochures.

Ishinokoe, a Japanese tombstone maker, will place the codes behind lockable stone doors on the tomb so only relatives with a key can scan them.

The idea was to create a tomb that would not just be a site for storing the remains of a person, but a place to honor the deceased, the company said in a press release.

Using their mobile phone displays, relatives can post and view different items that reflect on the life of their departed loved one, such as holiday snapshots.

A sample Web site displayed one photo showing a man posing with his family on a boat, and another showing the same man and a woman in front of a cluster of skyscrapers (here).

The stones will go on sale next month and cost around 1 million yen ($10,010).

But those who neglect their filial obligations should be warned -- the code will also allow other relatives to see a list of people who have recently visited the grave.




At first glance, iWise is “Twitter for dead people,” says founder and CEO Edo Segal. You can find nuggets of wisdom from famous people about anything—love, change, happiness, truth. Then you can follow those people in your own “Wisdom Tree,” which is a feed of quotes from the people you follow. In my Wisdom Tree, for instance, I’m following Benjamin Franklin, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, the Dalai Lama, and Jim Morrison.

There is some integration with Twitter itself in that you can sign in using your Twitter account and Tweet out any particularly good quotes you want to share. When you search for a quote about a particular topic, iWise shows you results both from the quotes it indexes off the Web and Twitter. The results are presented in a flowing real-time stream, to give them a feeling of immediacy. You can also receive quotes in your Twitter feed once a day, but only as a private direct message. And there is even a free iPhone app (iTunes link), designed to give you a little bit of wisdom every day.