Virtual Reunions

With the recent sadness of seeing so many deaths in the world, we all have friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one; due to social distancing they have not had the final farewell that they deserved.

In funeral parlors worldwide, only a maximum of ten people may enter, reaching this point of emotional intensity, it is doubly sad, not being able to embrace the pain both metaphorically and literally.

Returning to the subject that has me full of curiosity and uncertainty, some questions have arisen: What would it be like if we could communicate with the deceased. Would you feel happy?, Would you feel sad? Consider it as a form of therapy?, Would it help people in that delicate transition of missing the recently dead?, Would it work to know that it is a replica of the dead person? In a way, it is a lot like lying to yourself. Like some people say, “It´s better a beautiful lie, than a sad truth”.

I have a feeling that at some point three technology giants could form an alliance (or I don’t know, if they are already doing it), with the purpose of creating virtual funeral homes and taking technology to an unimaginable level, I am talking about Facebook, Apple and Google. There are applications that some funeral homes are using, as an emergency option during the pandemic, the relatives of the deceased, regardless of their physical location, invite family, friends and acquaintances, to be part of the occasion and thus show their condolences via whatsapp, SMS, email, facebook, twitter, etc; dedicating messages full of love and affection, with photographs and videos. 

However, what if they created a prototype that allows you to relive an experience, or even shared memories with the deceased person? How can we say goodbye now if the relative, friend or acquaintance has already passed away? It is precisely here I want to focus your thoughts for a few moments.

Since Facebook was invented, we have been consciously or unconsciously giving them access to our lives, the data and personal information that is managed by them, and other social media companies is all-encompassing.

You realize that they have the details of everything we do, our movements/location, details of the people we love, we care about, as well as who our family and friends are, how we interact with them, our school, our university and our life in general. They are now, even trying to create their own private digital money. In the case of Apple, it´s not just information, they have our fingerprints, scan of our faces; and even our voiceprints when we speak with the famous “Siri”, What´s next? They won´t steal your mind, you will give it to them. As you may already be thinking, the same thing happens with Google, they know our preferences, what we search for and they have absolute control of our search results. Who has not used Google?, when I think about it, I was attending an international conference, with IT professionals and executives, one of the speakers; trying to impress the audience, asked: Has anyone present tried to give the Apple logo a ninety-degree turn? If you did, what image have you seen? He immediately told us: “You all/all of you have Satan in your life, 365 days of a year”; I was personally puzzled by his statement. Do you know why? He asked with his laugh, satisfied that he had broken the ice, and could start his presentation.

“In the notebook that staff provided to everyone, write the word “safari”, done?. Now cover the top of the word with your fingers, then cover the half arc of the letter f, leaving the middle script that forms it, and a little more, ah, please, make sure you don’t expose the i point, he insisted.”

This is the reason why from that day, I use other browsers, but fear not my dear readers, God is my browser always.

If all of these giants work together, they could create something completely unique. I am not just talking about 3D glasses and virtually witnessing funerals. The prototype that I am imagining will be able to gather and recreate the characteristics of the people who are no longer physically with us, their gestures, tone of voice, moments that were shared now in the present.

How many times have we seen our friends report someone’s death on Facebook?, think for a moment about all the photos and videos that we or they have shared on social media networks and other platforms? Facebook even allows you to create an avatar. It piques my curiosity.

In my case, my grandfather, two months before he passed away accompanied the rest of my family to my graduation from middle school. If Facebook has that reference, then from that photo they can determine that it was a very special moment for me, this would be an indicator for the giants to use it and make the encounter more realistic.

Now imagine that with just one click we could have in front of us a 3d replica of the person that we miss so much, who can be present and appear able to interact wherever you are; and not only that, we will have the opportunity not just to see, but also to share pleasant conversations and laughter. Some nostalgic fans have attended events where the performers are holograms of deceased artists, such as: the Rapper 2PAC and pop icon Michael Jackson, however in Japan; they even have an artist who has never physically existed. She is acclaimed by many, and it´s widely acknowledged that the creation of Hatsune Miku has been a resounding success. I have thought long and hard on this matter, and I have concluded it could be used a double-edged sword; even as a style of corporate espionage, even if the person is alive, the computer can perfectly re-create a simulation of the individual realistic enough to fool, and in that way manipulate or influence their family, friends, or professional networks.

Technological advances are evolving constantly; and in some cases, granting more encroaching control to states and countries over their citizens and inhabitants. China has already leapfrogged the decentralized nascent digital currencies popular at the moment, the State has created its own digital currency, “Digital Currency Electronic Payment or DCEP”, where each citizen can only spend in authorized establishments and stores, in addition, “facial recognition” is highly developed, as you know China is a world power, the country applies a system whereby people are rewarded or punished (depending on their actions and activities) for their behavior towards society, this is referred to as “social credit” and it has already been in operation for several months. 

Without a doubt, China ranks first with this kind of innovation, the question is, How much do people enjoy this idea? If you are constantly vigilant, knowing that someone helped a puppy or other animal cross the street that they will be rewarded for their good actions, earning points, or, consider the opposite, that a person crossing the street during a red light, clearly, will have a penalty, and that may have the effect of forcibly canceling those dream holidays to the Caribbean, ​​the government having videos that reveal these “unacceptable” actions of its citizens, and therefore they would be punished. Will China have a better socio-economic future with such a system?

Addressing the last giant of our study. Apple with its recent announcements regarding Apple Glass scheduled to be released in 2022. Having a direct insight into what you are looking at, how often and how much attention you give to something will greatly influence the marketing strategies and sales methods of many companies. While this is fascinating at the same time it seems a little invasive about how far this data could be taken from pulling information from your about your activities to pushing influential messaging into your brain affecting your decisions according to the intentions of the companies employing these strategies.

What we need to consider is we may be in the middle of a paradigm shift. Even as Apple´s first version is without a camera it is not hard to imagine the addition of a small camera in the not-to-distant future versions. These glasses could capture everything you observe and convert that into usable data via an Artificial Intelligence or other heuristic algorithms and transmit that to both governments and private entities. Even the smallest detail albeit seemingly insignificant to you can contribute to your profile. 

It´s not such a big jump to imagine a future where dynamic advertising in the form of personalized QR codes would be deployed. The advertiser noting your profile could design offers only for you given it can calculate the odds of you accepting the offer based on your previously shared data.  Its possible that two people with different profiles would be offered different pricing or different products/offers entirely creating a system of technology-driven inequality. One glance of the QR code would be enough to prompt a notification exposing you to personalized offers. Your reactions to the offer providing real time feedback to advertisers allow them to further sharpen their selling tools.

The retail experience of the future with these brands able to derive data from your perceptions, how long you looked at something as an indicator of level of interest, able to recognize and mesh with other glass users data to create composite profiles and demographics. Combine this with payments data and the value to advertisers increases exponentially. 

Let´s not forget the other biometric data Apple has access to via its other products like the Watch, measuring pulse and heart rate to detect if something excites you or sedates you. This combination of physical datapoints and behavior detection e.g. if you are looking at too much junk or sugary foods can be transmitted to your health insurance vendor to provide real time risk assessments and flag dangers to their portfolios allowing them to directly or indirectly intervene by positioning healthy alternatives via their advertising and offers platforms.

Let us also not forget the ever so useful airpods. That can also form part of this prototype. Combining the capabilities of all of these points they titans can create a complete immersive experience with sight and sound and using familiar voices and lost friends to guide you to the advertisers commercial offerings. 

Think about your very senses, that these companies can capture. What you see, what we listen to, what we touch or pay attention to.  They can also cross-reference this with your location, your favourite places and your regular movements to categorize and profile you further.

If this prototype is ever developed or something similar. The first people I would like to meet virtually are my grandparents. On the other hand, I feel discomfort in empowering these global giants to know me so intimately. 

We need to appreciate each sunrise, love each new day. Reflect on the advantages and disadvantages that these technologies offer us. Don´t substitute these valued moments with whatever else we want. The idea is to live in a world full of innovation and not to be controlled by innovative and invasive technology. 

4 Responses

  1. What a wonderful idea! I hope “Virtual reunions” will be possible soon and we will be in a position to see, hear and even interact with our beloved ones!
    I am sure the technology is already there. We just need people like you to spread the idea and then the people will push the technology companies and universities to start working on this.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Fabiola

    Btw, have you seen this?

    1. Thank you very much for your feedback and kind comments Dear Dinos!
      Ohh! That video is very touching. The words of the mother “Maybe it’s a real paradise”, thank you for sharing.

      All the best,

      Fabiola Cuestas.

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Virtual Reunions

With the recent sadness of seeing so many deaths in the world, we all have friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one;

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