Talk about a change of heart.
Just days after tweeting that tech designed to emulate dead loved ones would be available to the "masses" by the end of the year, Pratik Desai, a computer scientist and AI investor, has done a full 180 — and all it took was watching a single "Black Mirror" episode.
Investors are eager to find ways to extend life beyond death by making use of AI technology. Though specifics vary between projects — from disembodied voices that were trained on data collected before their death, to metaverse-based avatars — the idea is generally the same: with enough data, you can recreate a version of human consciousness with the use of AI algorithms.
That also means there's no need to say goodbye. Here they are in lines of code, always there when you want to talk.
"Start regularly recording your parents, elders and loved ones," computer scientist and AI investor Pratik Desai tweeted on Friday. "With enough transcript data, new voice synthesis and video models, there is a 100 percent chance that they will live with you forever after leaving physical body."
"This," he added, "should be even possible by end of the year."
The "Black Mirror" episode, titled "Be Right Back," questions the ethics of tech like this. It follows a character named Martha, who turns to a text-bot service after losing her partner, Ash, in an accident, which later turns into a voice chat and eventually a physical android representation of her deceased partner.
It's a harrowing narrative that reflects the broader concerns surrounding this unsettling tech, which could stand to have a major impact on the way that we grieve and remember our loved ones. What does tech like this do to the process of grieving itself? What happens if there's a glitch in the system, and you lose your mom all over again?
And on the privacy side, who's collecting and storing data for these binary purgatories? What about the consent of the deceased?
Unsurprisingly, a number of users jumped into Desai's replies to raise these and other questions, with several "Black Mirror" fans urging Desai to watch the episode for himself.
Desai apparently did, and as of last night, he was singing a remarkably different tune.
"Saw the 'Black Mirror' episode everyone is suggesting. I get it now," Desai wrote in a Monday night tweet, adding that grief is a "very personal issue and I sincerely apologize for hurting anyone's feeling."
Losing loved ones is painful, and building shrines and tributes to our dead is just as human as death itself. Historically, humans have built altars and even pyramids or dedicated entire holidays to remember the ones that we've lost. Today, we get tattoos, we keep their t-shirts and voicemails, and maybe, on occasion, send messages to the digital void that is their now-vacant Facebook profile.
But in all of this, we still have to live with the reality that they are no longer with us. And Desai, after a bit of reflection, seems to have learned a valuable lesson.
"Sometimes when you see technology making it possible in your grief process and you think it is possible, you may go out of character and say something without thinking seriously," he later admitted in a follow-up.
"I’m not a ghoul nor do I have [the] desire to make any product like this," he added.
More on grief tech: AI Allows Dead Woman to Talk to People Who Showed Up at Her Funeral