Read This if You Want to Speak to Dead People

BreakingModern — When Martha’s boyfriend died, she was devastated. But a friend signed her up for a service that analyzed all of her lover’s online activities and created a virtual version of him. Soon, she was instant messaging with him as though he were still alive.

That description may be from the plot of an episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror, but the technology described in the episode is all too realistic. In the episode, Martha is first able to text her late boyfriend, then speak to him on the phone and finally order a synthetic clone of him. This sci-fi fantasy is eerie, primarily because the same results could logically be created using technology we already have. Do you want to speak to the dead?

cyborg woman speak to the dead featured

Digital Immortality

Perhaps the closest science that has come to the clone displayed in Black Mirror is Bina48. Described as the most-advanced humanoid robot in the world, Bina48 was originally unveiled in 2010 as part of the LifeNaut Project. That Vermont-based project stores the information necessary to give Bina48 its human-like qualities, including audio and video recordings, photos and documents. The LifeNaut Project’s intention is to store all of this information with the prospect of being able to recreate a person … once the technology is available.

By pairing up with LifeNaut, Bina48 exhibited astonishingly humanistic qualities, giving her the ability to participate in an interview with The New York Times. Millionaire Martine Rothblatt paid $125,000 to have Bina48 developed, having her made in the likeness of her wife, Bina Rothblatt, who is still alive. Bina48 is an early version, yet this demonstration of the social robot shows how astoundingly realistic it is.

Video: Bina48 Robot

The Terasem Hypothesis

On a more-scientific track, the Terasem Hypothesis proposes that an android version of a human can be created using a combination of data about that person. Bina48 was built to test this hypothesis, compiling more than 100 hours of memories, feelings and beliefs. The result is a sophisticated android being that can have conversations in a manner that is similar to the human it was modeled after.

Because Bina48 connects to the Internet, it can communicate on a wide variety of topics. Right now Bina48 is only a head-and-shoulders model, yet it’s possible the robot could someday be expanded to include a body with realistic movements, similar to the android depicted in the Black Mirrors episode.

clones speak to the dead header

The Controversy

The concept of gathering a person’s thoughts, personality traits and physical appearance to create a simulated version of that person has met with some controversy over the years. Due to its cost, it would likely be a luxury affordable only to the rich, which gives them an advantage over people in a lower-income bracket, who can’t afford to create clones of their loved ones. But the technology that lets a person instant message their loved ones is something a wider audience could enjoy.

However, the technology brings to mind an interesting question. By creating an immortal version of our loved ones, we actually may inhibit the healing process, leaving us forever communicating with a robot, rather than living humans. Bina48 may be realistic, but it’s no substitute for a person.

For BMod, I’m .

First/Featured image: © Dmytro Tolokonov / Dollar Photo Club

Second/Header image: © Kirill Kedrinski / Dollar Photo Club

Stephanie Faris

Author: Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of two middle grade novels, 25 Roses and 30 Days of No Gossip, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan chapter book series. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she worked in information systems for 13 years. Her work is regularly featured on a wide variety of blogs and websites, both under her own name and as a ghostwriter. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Neil.

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