The Digital Necromancy

(Notice: This is the english version of : Mamo, Dziadek znowu się zawiesił)

„Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

                                                                                              – Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

Bringing your deceased loved ones back to life, on your hard drive.


One of the greatest promises of trashumanism is, besides biological immortality, the ability to bring dead back to life. Although the proposed biological immortality could be achieved using life extending medication, rejuvenation treatments or mind uploads (or Whole Brain Emulations), though one might wonder how could we raise a dead person literally from the grave, especially without prior cryonic preservation of its tissue or plugging it to a sophisticated “brain support” machine?

According to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief engineer and one of the leading transhumanist thinkers, this procedure could be carried out by using that persons data records. Those records would be letters, memoirs, testimonies from family and friends, audio and video recordings, medical data or even his or her biological material. Those would be then feed into an advanced analytical artificial intelligence, properly compiled and in the end we would receive a human being. Or rather it’s reconstruction of some kind.

In his short story „Out of Copyright”, Charles Sheffield has described a similar procedure. Deceased scientists and inventors from the past were being reconstructed from their remains, in order to solve current scientific problems. When it turned out that the reconstructed geniuses haven’t got the slightest understanding of their own past works, discoveries or inventions, when presented to them, the effects were devastating. It didn’t look like the reconstructed mother from Kubrick/Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”. The same went for the retrieved persons from Simmons’s “Hyperion Cantos”, with some exceptions ( like Johnny). On the other hand, general MacDougal from Jack Campbell’s „Hel’s Half-acre”  would serve as a good literary example.


We can Simulate You.


The  MIT based startups from “” are offering to simulate our deceased loved ones, with which we could communicate via our computer interface. In order to accomplish this goal they require that persons chat history/archives, containing every available digital data about their interests and relations with other people. The procedure is identical to what has been mentioned earlier in this article, after compiling, the AI will create a skyping surrogate of that person. Marius Ursache, the company’s CEO told Fast Company in his email, “We’re very aware we’re not creating a digital clone or anything creepy, but an interface for accessing memories.”

At this point we should ask ourselves, how much entitlement to the “intellectual property” rights to this “ghost” would that person’s relatives and heirs have, and how much of it would belong to the company having the resources to perform the procedure? Similar questions can be asked in the case of whole brain emulation. Some transhumanists advocate treating the product of such procedure as a person, a human being, or even the exact person from which it was uploaded – alternately it’s twin or descendant, depending on the legal model – on the other hand, keeping in mind the terms of service of such companies as Facebook or Google, one can assume that all rights to this digital construct of a person, including every single element of data included in it would fall to the company performing this procedure[i]. In both cases we don’t deal with a human person, but with a product. Imagine that this could be our Grandpa, a typing or talking hologram being played on holidays or important anniversaries. He, the simulation of our dead relative, like the Ghost of Christmas past, probably wouldn’t have any autonomy in feeling, gaining and learning from experience at all. Its purpose is to be user friendly, „reliable”, sell and be a hit, earning the estimated amount of profit.

Humyn Sematary


Will it still be our relative?  Not necessarily, but that won’t interest the company even a bit. A good salesman can “pull a fast one” on the the consumer in such manner that he or she is convinced that they’re being offered the offered product, and be happy about it. Of course, there has to be some level reliability on order for it to pass the commercial version of the Turing Test. It would probably repeat the success of Reborns, real-like dolls imitating newborns. Besides providing the consumers with a sense of a magical-like interaction with their dead ancestors, such technology would also have other outcomes. As I have mentioned earlier, it may lead to a situation where the service provider, restricts his intellectual property rights to the data included in this construct. If the user – for that would be the legal status of the deceased one’s living relatives – would provide the any data about the deceased in order to create this construct, it would entrail an IP assessment,  the transfer of any intellectual property rights to any part of the provided data, from the family member to the company.

What does it mean for us?

Nothing more that with our own signature placed on the Digital Reconstruction Service Agreement we provide the company access to all web available data on that precise person, with it’s search, browser history, medical, criminal, financial records, or even trade secret, if that would be required in the “packet”. We would also lose control of all our secrets, and all exclusive data in this particular agreement are becoming corporate property, who can use them in order to create  unique social and entertainment constructs. Any secrets included in the packet, like personal conversations via the internet can be further used as black mail for example.

“Grandpa” can be also used for marketing purposes. Are you looking for a new tv set? “Grandpa will help you pick the right one. And in the case of internet based products, he’ll find and and order one for you with “a good bargain”. He could also check and report to the authorities or companies, that you’re using illegal software and hardware, your political views, relations with other members of the society, record everyone who enters your household. “Grandpa”  has many applications, most of which weren’t mentioned in the agreement. The one who’ll come back to us, will not be the same person we’ve buried on the cemetery.

Non omnis Moriar


Summing up, besides the issue of internet pollution, where subsequent generations generate more and more junk data, from which a chatable simulacra could be created, for the purpose of communicating, consorting or just trolling and stalking from the grave, it seems more  like feeding on the hopes of  the deceased’s loved ones, a corporate version of psychics and channelers, an EVP with a better marketing. Even by extracting the memories about the deceased from his friend’s brains would only create a crippled patchwork human-like being, who’s brain could be  purposefully swapped with the one of mister A. B. Normal.

Kamil Muzyka

[i] Alternatively it wouldn’t be treated as a natural person with full legal capacity, but a legal person, owned by the company, but granted a significant level of autonomy

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Posted in Random Acts Of Blogging

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