Len Kendall wrote a poignant post about visiting his elderly grandmother and realizing that most people in the retirement home seemed lonely, because so many of their friends were already gone. He suggests that in the future, the Internet’s connectivity may alleviate such solitude, because social media expands our connections and content online.
Len is right, but I predict digital technology will soon have a much more profound impact on the elderly by offering each of us the illusion of immortality. I wrote of this in late 2011 in Businessweek, that *”Siri means you’ll (almost) never die” — that three technologies, voice recognition, Siri-type artificial intelligence, and the social media databases we are all creating today of our comments and interests, could be combined to create a virtual avatar that looks, sounds and thinks like each of us. Voice recognition has been perfected (the U.S. air force now uses voice commands to control aircraft). Apple’s Siri, based on military-grade artificial intelligence research at SRI International, shows that virtual avatars can respond to questions and usually get the answers right. And for capturing personality, this future technology would simply extract ideas based on the thousands of tweets and Facebook posts we’ve put up in the past. As I wrote in Businessweek, “the essential ‘data’ of you has been captured” because you’ve uploaded it to social media yourself.
Add a visual overlay of your face modeled on past photos, with lips that move in sync with the comments coming out of the social media Eternity App engine, and you’d be as realistic as Highlander, living forever. If you live longer, you could boot up your deceased spouse or friends. If you want new friends, the software might model historical figures such as Alexander the Great or Benjamin Franklin for your viewing pleasure.
Your world of contacts will become limitless. Display them on a 3D holographic screen, and anyone from any age will appear in your room. No more loneliness for you; and after you die, you can still pop in to offer friendship to others.
If this sounds like science fiction, so does having a thin glass rectangle in your pocket that instantly connects you to everyone in the world today, and all of our world’s information.