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Director’s View

By Johan de Villiers

Welcome to our second edition of our quarterly E-zine for 2024!

In an era where technology intertwines intricately with every aspect of human life, the concept of immortality has been redefined. Entrepreneurs and technologists are pushing the boundaries of what it means to "live forever" by creating digital avatars that preserve a person's personality, mannerisms, and voice beyond their physical existence. This innovative leap, exemplified by technology entrepreneur Artur Sychov's creation, the "live forever mode," aims to offer solace to those grieving, a connection to future generations, and an immortal digital legacy. But, as with all groundbreaking technologies, it raises ethical, psychological, and philosophical questions about the nature of existence and legacy.

Artur Sychov, moved by the impending loss of his father to cancer, developed a virtual reality tool capable of creating digital avatars that mimic a person's voice, behaviors, and movements after just 30 minutes of observation. The primary goal of this technology is to enable these avatars to exist indefinitely online, allowing future generations to interact with them as if they were conversing with the person themselves. This concept not only redefines our interaction with the deceased but also challenges our understanding of legacy and existence beyond the physical realm.

The process of creating these avatars involves users being seen by the system, which then synthesizes their essence into a digital form. These avatars, styled in any manner the creator wishes, such as Sychov's choice of a blue robot for his own avatar, can interact, convey messages, and even mimic the humor of their human counterparts. Sychov’s "live forever mode" is not just a standalone project but part of a larger virtual reality platform, Somnium Space, which is a testament to the merging of virtual existence with physical reality.

The ethical implications of such technology are vast. While it promises an innovative way to preserve memories and personalities, it also raises concerns about the digital manipulation of the deceased's identity and the potential for misuse. Cyber psychologist Elaine Kasket voices concerns about exploiting existential fears for commercial gain, highlighting the delicate balance between innovation and ethical responsibility. The question of data ownership and control posthumously adds another layer of complexity, with potential risks including impersonation and unauthorized use of one's digital legacy.

The financial model for sustaining these digital legacies remains uncertain. Subscription fees are expected, but the responsibility for these costs after the creator's death is unresolved, raising questions about the accessibility and continuity of these digital avatars.

Despite these challenges, the allure of digital immortality is undeniable. Users like UltraLord see it as an opportunity to leave a tangible, interactive legacy for future generations, a way to be remembered and understood in their own words and actions. This transcends traditional memorials, offering a dynamic form of remembrance that can evolve and interact with the living.

The "live forever mode" and similar technologies are part of the broader metaverse concept, a collective virtual shared space that is being populated with digital avatars, virtual environments, and interactive experiences. With platforms like Fortnite, Roblox, and Meta's Horizon Worlds, the metaverse is becoming increasingly accessible, shaping a future where digital existence is as rich and complex as physical life.

This shift towards digital immortality also reflects a changing landscape of grief and remembrance. As technology offers new ways to remember the dead, it also reshapes our relationship with death and loss. The digital realm offers a space for memories to be relived and personalities to be explored, providing comfort to those grieving.

However, the march towards digital eternity is not without its hurdles. Issues of data privacy, ethical use, and the potential impact on the grieving process are critical considerations. The preservation of personality and memory through technology opens new frontiers in understanding human existence and legacy, challenging us to consider what it means to live forever in a digital age.

As we stand on the brink of this new reality, it is imperative to navigate these advancements with caution, ethics, and a deep understanding of their implications. The journey towards digital immortality is not just about preserving the past but shaping a future where the essence of human existence can transcend the physical boundaries of life and death.

Lots to digest on this subject. Until next time, thank you as always for your support.

Warm Regards,

Johan de Villiers


First Technology Western Cape

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