In a world on the brink of an imminent climate crisis, there’s no better way to fend off the effects of fine lines and mass extinction than honing in on your digital identity so that it can live on and on while you… don’t. As we cry out for digital salvation, we are many steps closer to being able to emulate ourselves online. This idea became more mainstream this past year thanks to Elon Musk and his pursuit of transferable brains via Neuralink, which hopes to offer a less invasive way of reaching and interacting with the brain’s cortex and, in his own words, achieve a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
2019 was also the year that data surpassed fossil fuels in value. Documentaries like Netflix’s The Big Hack have proven how much personal information data reveals about us, from our targeted ads and our political views to things that we may not even know about ourselves or the people around us, like that one time Target predicted a daughter’s pregnancy before her parents did. As we realize just how much information about the way we think is readily available and accessible online, we’ve now become more mindful and militant about protecting or, in this case, reclaiming our psychological data.
Before you get too overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming another code in the system, we’ve provided a meticulous guide to give you a crash course on the ins and outs of transferring your buying habits, taunt face and organic soul onto the world wide web, and dissect the very real methods we are using to imitate and revive ourselves online.
Working from the inside out, the first vital step is to cover the human personality. You would think that robots would have a while to go before they can rebel against their sentient and superior fleshy counterparts, but the joke’s on you because they’re already learning how to think and speak exactly like us.
To begin transferring your personality and vocal structures to the digital abyss, you can most notoriously use The Replika application. Born from the grief of its creator, Eugenia Kuyda, the app was at first a bid to resurrect the comforting conversations she used to have with her best friend who had passed a few months prior. Via machine learning, the app which went open source in Novembe of 2018, enables you to chat straight to it via its Ai text messaging format, so that you can, according to their website, “create a personal space where you can safely share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, memories, dreams – your ‘private perceptual world.’”
In addition to its therapeutic benefits, Replika also boasts the ability to mimic over time, the texting styles and vocabularies of its users. This is thanks to the Ai which powers it and, more specifically, its deep learning “sequence to sequence” model. The way this model works is via algorithms, modeled loosely after the human brain, that are designed to recognize patterns. They interpret sensory data through a kind of machine perception, labeling or clustering raw input. Thus enabling the app to feed on the way you speak and the things you say, one day at a time, and the more you feed it the more it grows.
In terms of uploading your personality to the internet, you’ll be in good company, as celebrities such as Elton John, are already working towards feeding an AI of themselves, in this case enabling him to extend his Las Vegas residency to FOREVER.
Ever wondered how you’d digitize your movements? Look no further, EpCoc has got you covered. Still in rudimentary stages, the CamSoda-developed platform attempts to record tongue and hand movements to build a global forum of simulated VR hand jobs. Through the application, users can lick and touch the sensors which will them calculate the pressure and speed sequences of the hand job. These sequences can then be stored onto their database, which boasts hundreds of simulated happy endings.
We recently spoke to CGI artist and motion tracking specialist Jon Emmony to gauge where he thinks the convergence between biological and technological is headed, and to learn more about our capacities to record and predict muscle patterns.
“It seems natural to me that humans will extend their physicality through technology,” he said. “In many ways, we do already – our phones have become an almost permanent appendage, our memories and ideas are stored in the cloud. With augmented reality becoming ever more popular, we enjoy living a multi faceted existence via technology. The current trend of hardware design is for it to become more seamless; invisible to the touch – our content without barriers. The inevitable end game of a singular plane of glass as a portal to our digital lives.”
According to Emmony, the human thirst for converting all human capabilities to the digital realm seems instinctual. This idea of seamlessness now even extends to converting brainwaves thanks to advances in bionics and the rise of the biohacking movement. Companies such as Clinatec are spearheading the movement, having this year successfully converted and processed a tetraplegic man’s brainwaves to control a bionic exoskeleton, so who’s to say that in the future we cannot mimic and predict our physical capabilities too. This could enable us to potentially decipher how and what makes the best musicians, athletes, and others the best in their professional field.
Ever wondered how you’d digitize your movements? Look no further, EpCoc has you covered. Even though it’s still in rudimentary stages, the CamSoda-developed app and website attempts to record ones tongue and hand movements to build a global forum of simulated VR hand jobs. Users can lick and touch the sensors which will them calculate the pressure and speed sequences of the hand job. These sequences can then be stored onto their database, which boasts hundreds of simulated happy endings.
Given that Emony has a basic understanding of our capacities to record and predict muscle patterns, he sees the convergence between biological and technological as a natural progression. “It seems natural to me that humans will extend their physicality through technology,” he explained. “In many ways, we do already – our phones have become an almost permanent appendage, our memories and ideas are stored in the cloud. With augmented reality becoming ever more popular, we enjoy living a multi faceted existence via technology. The current trend of hardware design is for it to become more seamless; invisible to the touch – our content without barriers. The inevitable end game of a singular plane of glass as a portal to our digital lives.”
Additionally, we can now successfully convert and process brainwaves to control bionic prosthetics, so who’s to say in the future that we cannot mimic and predict our physical capabilities. This could enable us to potentially decipher how and what makes the best musicians, athletes and more, the best in their field.
The brain is the most complex organ in our bodies so materializing it online is no small task. Thankfully we have megalomaniacs like Elon Musk to take on the challenge. His widely publicized venture, Neuralink, looks into the possibility of transferring and analysing our brain frequencies on a nervous level, thus enabling us to more easily interact with the deep corners of our brain, and potentially our psyche.
Via groups of minuscule, flexible electrode “threads” implanted into the human brain by a neurosurgical robot, the software then detects and records the electrical signals in the brain, and transmits this information outside the body. This has the potential to create a scalable high-bandwidth brain-machine interface (BMI) system, meaning that it connects the brain to an external device to form a brain-machine interface. Interacting with this interface could mean a breakthrough in psychological analysis and bring us so much closer to understanding the infinitely complex systems of the brain, and facilitate treatment for a plethora of illnesses.
Neuralink can also enable tracking, storing and accessing data straight from our craniums. It could not only build bridges within the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s to reassess their memories, but could also enable us to store our thoughts and brainwave patterns onto desktops long after we’re dead, serving as the ultimate personal memento.
While I firmly believe that these softwares are mainly made to cater to us better, I also believe in transparency and the ability to access this data which is rightfully yours, so you can craft your digital self. To do this, it’s best to start off with the biggest wranglers of digital data: Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple. Accessing and understanding your data has never been easier since Mark Zuckerberg went to trial for unlawfully spying on us (and got roasted for actually being a reptilian shapeshifter).
Coding specialist Rifke Sadleir provided some insight on where she sees coding and harnessing data going now that people are more aware of it, and if it will be used as a means of rebellion (perhaps via only sharing your data selectively, like for causes you believe in) as well.
“I think the increase in transparency surrounding data harvesting and protection that came with the advent of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018 is a lovely idea,” she explained. “Despite this, I don’t feel peoples’ online habits and attitudes to data-harvesting have changed significantly since it came into place, apart from developing lightning fast impulses when it comes to clicking ‘accept all cookies’ on autopilot. GDPR has brought with it an over-saturation of jargon-filled dialog boxes, and not much in the way of digestible, comprehensive information on what any of this actually means, or which bits of our data-self are being stored. The sheer number of cookie notices we have to click out of every day, coupled with the fact that data-harvesting doesn’t usually carry with it an immediate or acute threat, creates a similar effect on people to that of the boy who cried wolf.”
So whilst many still struggle to truly comprehend what threats data harvesting might entail, setting up protective frameworks such as GDPR is providing a new lease of power to those who wish to have their say in who can use their information and what that information means.
To enforce your own GDPR rights on Facebook, simply go to your settings and select “download my data” then sit back and relax as the fruits of your data demands are compiled and sent off to you via a neat email link. Next, look through all the targeted ads you’ve been clicking on and buying from, and add that to the long list of personal traits that will build your future self. Maybe once you passover to the digital realm, thanks to this information, you’ll be able to wear those Kiko Kostadinov Asics you’ve been saving up for.
The most visually literal of the digital reincarnations, deepfakes offer a range of possibilities as to how to resurrect yourself online. Once again using the capabilities of an Ai and machine learning, these softwares can create new never before seen content of you alive and well long after your flesh prison has turned to ashes. Deepfakes work by combining and superimposing existing images and videos onto source images or videos using a machine learning technique known as generative adversarial networks.
Earlier this year, the museum of Florida took the title of their exhibition “Dali lives” and resurrected the artful icon for our viewing pleasure (whether he wanted us to or not) through the use of these networks.
Whilst the software has been around for a while, new developments in its software have made it more accessible and easy to utilize. Its younger counterpart FSGAN can generate face swaps in real time, with zero training, making faking your own life so much easier! To do this it trains itself on one of the two faces fed in for swapping, which differs from all other algorithms which feed on thousands of images which must be manually input beforehand of the subject picked.
As of last week, you can now deepfake your voice too, enabling Alex Jones to spout moronic hate speech long after his radio show is put to bed. The implications of this could mean our faces might live on forever, so could we see the rise of identity laws and maybe even identity “patenting”?
To better understand where the identity industry could be heading, AI expert and deepfake creator Ryan Vautier shared his thoughts on how he sees the concept of identity evolving in the next 50 years, especially now that we can generate them so well.
“From a technical standpoint, I think that from signatures to PIN numbers to thumb prints to Face ID, the technology we use is simultaneously absorbing more data as well as becoming ultimately more efficient (for both consumer and cooperation),” he says. “It;s much easier to look at something and it recognize the user rather than have to mash in a memorable 4 digit number sequence, drunk as a skunk after having a night out, and the easier it is for the consumer the more money the cooperation makes. I think that realistically in 50 years time, recognition would be so autonomous that it wouldn’t be something we actively think about anymore, last year people were freaking out about their data being used, now we just spam click agree until we get onto that website we so desperately needed to see.”
In a way, identity “patenting” and protection is just another temporary clog in our data machine. But the possibility for unlawful activities is still there, so perhaps it’s a case of trial and error till we figure out how to reclaim our likeness.
While these softwares and data can seem daunting, it must be remembered that for the most part they are being cultivated to cater to us better and learn more about us. The ways that we mitigate these new ways of operating is yet to be foreseen but symbolize a departure from traditional ways of processing information, managing one’s identity and more.
What once seemed like utter fiction has now become, in many ways, a reality. We can’t expect everyone to convert themselves into HAL 9000, but we should stay hopeful about the fact that when faced with a crisis, our legacy as a civilization will ultimately live on.