It is human nature to want keep alive the memory of loved ones. Photography, for example, has proved to be a powerful tool in this sense, an aspect that in 2020 I explored in the project Alive: Lost for Words, in which I photographed people accompanied by the projection of the image of the loved ones they had lost. Recently, the pandemic has made us feel closer to death than ever, forcing us to come to terms with our own mortality and the legacy we leave behind. With the normalcy of our lives being undermined by enforced social isolation, digital tools have also had a drastic impact on the rituals that traditionally surround death. We used Zoom to say goodbye and mourn together, or lit virtual prayer candles from our laptops.
In the coming years, technologies like artificial intelligence (Ai) and the blockchain will allow us to create new forms of posthumous digital presences. The adoption of these technologies is already opening our minds to the idea of living forever in the virtual world. In 2020, for example, the company Kaleida created in collaboration with Kanye West for a hologram of his deceased father by Kim Kardashian, on the occasion of the influencer’s fortieth birthday. The site dedicated to genealogical research MyHeritage developed Deep Nostalgiaa tool for making deepfakes that animate the faces of missing relatives in family photos. Stonesa blockchain-powered memorial platform, can store nft replicas of our most cherished possessions, granting immortality to the memories we associate with these objects.
The greater diffusion of Web technologies3 will take this concept to the next level. There immersive virtual reality, combined with multi-sensory stimulation, will allow us to interact with the image of our loved ones. We have already seen applications of this technology in the entertainment sector, where the startup positron has created a range of armchairs that amplify the cinematic experience thanks to haptic cushions and perfume diffusers. Redesigned for commemorative purposes, this technology will allow us not only to see the image of the deceased, but also to smell him and physically perceive his presence.
In the near future, technology will be used not only to save conversations with our deceased loved ones, but also to replicate them, thanks to tools such as the hyper-realistic online chatbot Project December, which uses artificial intelligence to emulate the style of any text you submit to it. By learning from digital footprints – text messages, blog posts, late-night tweets – AI will enable us to talk to a supertetch tool capable of imitating a person who is no longer there.
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