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Memento Mori | Tamara Kneese

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article explores the intersection of transhumanist ideologies, generative AI, and the commodification of grief and intergenerational connections. It examines how tech companies like Amazon and Google are leveraging sentimental narratives around resurrecting the voices of deceased relatives to further their data collection and surveillance agendas. The article also delves into the broader transhumanist movement's preoccupation with extending human lifespan and consciousness beyond physical death, and how this manifests in products and projects aimed at digital immortality and kin-making.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Alexa's Resurrection Demo and Amazon's Data Exploitation

1. What was the purpose of the Alexa demo showcasing the resurrection of a dead grandmother's voice?

  • The demo was designed to prove that Alexa could resurrect the voices of dead relatives, leveraging sentimentality to elide the ghoulishness of the technology.
  • However, this was really a backdoor for Amazon's ongoing investment in surveillance tech, as the company planned to capitalize on private conversations between Alexa and household members, including those with dead relatives, to help train its large language model.

2. How does Amazon's data handling practices raise concerns?

  • The Federal Trade Commission has regularly criticized Amazon for mishandling data, including data attached to vulnerable groups like children, by retaining voice recordings forever rather than deleting them at parents' request.
  • Intergenerational communication with dead family members is a selling point for Amazon's smart devices, but it is a fantasy that covers for the company's real goal of harnessing and selling data produced in intimate home settings.

[02] Transhumanist Ideologies and the Pursuit of Digital Immortality

1. How do transhumanist ideologies manifest in products and projects aimed at digital immortality?

  • Chatbots, smart speakers, and other algorithmic apparitions of the dead provide a glimpse of how technologists are conceiving of intergenerational inheritance and kinship ties that transcend physiological death.
  • Projects like Ray Kurzweil's attempt to revive his dead father through AI-powered chatbots and data doubles reflect the transhumanist goal of extending human lifespan and consciousness beyond physical death.

2. What are the ethical concerns around these digital resurrection projects?

  • The ethics of enlisting an AI data double to connect with users' family and friends after they die are unclear, especially if the AI can be perceived as sentient.
  • The control and ownership of the source material and data used to create these digital replicas is also a point of contention, as the technology companies behind them may claim ownership over the recontextualized content.

[03] Transhumanism, Generative AI, and Existential Risks

1. How do transhumanist ideologies intersect with the hype around generative AI and the threat of artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

  • The fear of AGI posing an existential threat to humanity has brought renewed attention to transhumanist ideologies within Silicon Valley, with technologists like Nick Bostrom and Marc Andreessen promoting the idea that powerful AI will enable us to become superhuman and solve global challenges.
  • However, these speculative fears about the future of AI often distract from the tangible harms that current AI technologies are already having on workers, marginalized groups, and the environment.

2. How have AI researchers pushed back against the transhumanist narratives around AI?

  • The "Stochastic Parrots" paper by Emily Bender and Timnit Gebru outlined the environmental impacts of large language models and their perpetuation of biases, while cautioning against the dangers of focusing on imagined capacities of AI like sentience.
  • Gebru's criticism of the tech industry's lack of support for marginalized voices and the derailing of important discussions about the harms of these companies was met with her dismissal from Google.

[04] Intergenerational Relations and Reproduction in Transhumanist Thought

1. How do transhumanists view the role of sexual reproduction and inheritance?

  • Transhumanists like Hans Moravec celebrate the idea of "mind children" over flesh-and-blood progeny, as part of their promise to obviate the need for reproduction.
  • However, sexual reproduction and inheritance continue to haunt transhumanists, with figures like Elon Musk expressing concerns about the reproductive capacity of transgender individuals.

2. How do initiatives like the Long Now Foundation engage with intergenerational relations and kin-making?

  • The Long Now Foundation, co-founded by Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand, calls for being "good ancestors" to future descendants, through projects like erecting monumental clocks and reviving extinct species.
  • This "cathedral thinking" to extend beyond the limited individual human lifespan and plan for a more sustainable world for future generations is also a focus of TESCREAL (Transhumanism, Extropianism, Singularitarianism, Cosmism, Rationalism, Effective Altruism, and Longtermism) beliefs.

[05] Ethical Concerns and Alternatives in AI-Powered Memorialization

1. What are the ethical concerns around using AI to create digital replicas of deceased individuals?

  • The use of deepfakes and generative AI to revive the dead and facilitate posthumous intergenerational interactions raises issues regarding labor, scams, ethics, and privacy.
  • Projects like the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation's Dimensions in Testimony, which create interactive AI-backed versions of Holocaust survivors, have been criticized for their misguided attempts at using virtual reality to elicit empathy.

2. How does Stephanie Dinkins' project "Not the Only One" offer a more thoughtful approach to AI-powered memorialization?

  • Dinkins created an interactive AI entity, N'TOO, that reflects and is empowered to pursue the goals of underrepresented communities in the tech sector, providing a form of AI subjectivity that is not white-coded.
  • The physical vessel used as a conduit to the AI creates a sense of intimacy and allows for a more collaborative, community-driven approach to collective memory and storytelling.
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