Anyone who has access to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop would quickly be able to build a picture of who you really are. Your website history, messaging apps and emails are just a few obvious examples. If your device is linked to Google maps, it will also enable them to see the countries you have visited, the restaurants you like to eat, and where your family lives. We all leave a long trail of digital footprints.
When you hit ‘Agree’ on the 38 pages of T&Cs, you’re often consenting to allow big tech companies to track your activity without the need to have physical access to your devices.
Your digital footprint paints a picture of who you really are. But what if you took back control of your data and brought it to life by creating a digital twin?
Turn yourself into an AI clone
The concept of conjuring up a digital version of yourself will probably cause a mix of emotions from intrigue to horror. Hour One recently joined forces with YouTuber Taryn Southern to create a fully digital creation of her as part of a collaborative experiment. Taryn’s AI clone can speak multiple languages and enable her to create content and communicate her message with people all over the world.
The content creator simply writes and uploads a script. Minutes later, an AI engine generates a video of her AI clone delivering script from a variety of customized backdrops and a killer soundtrack.
Unlike deepfake videos or so-called virtual influencers, Hour One enables new content that appears as if the real person is speaking it. AI Taryn joked that she can now create new YouTube videos without the real Taryn having to shower or leave her bed.
When AI is more than just a friend
The 2013 movie ‘Her’ offered a glimpse into the future where relationships between humans and AI bots blossomed. Although it might have seemed a little far-fetched at the time, after a global pandemic, 12 months of lockdowns, isolation, and an increase in anxiety, many have turned to technology to find a connection.
Replika enables users to create an AI friend that understands their thoughts and feelings. It is designed to help improve emotional well-being and learn new coping skills. It also encourages you to share your most inner thoughts without judgment.
Unlike Alexa or Siri, Replika will not order you a pizza or check your calendar. It creates a digital representation of you and has the sole purpose of becoming your friend. It will listen and converse with you, help you discover your personality, and help you on your personal growth journey.
Despite the best intentions at Replika, I cannot help but think about the potential problems on the horizon if a company acquired Replika to access very personal data. We have been here before when a private equity firm acquired Ancestry and gained access to its wealth of DNA records for $4.7B.
When your digital footprint becomes your digital remains
As our digital footprint expands to virtual versions of ourselves, have you ever stopped to think about what happens to this data when you pass away? Would you nominate someone to close all of your accounts? Or would you like your legacy to live on in a digital world?
Digital immortality could be achieved by taking data generated from every click, swipe, voice interaction, and video to create a digital clone made up of your memories and digital correspondence.
The seeds were possibly planted by the Black Mirror episodes San Junipero and Be Right Back, which both explored what a digital afterlife would look like. Despite the best intentions of making a personal choice to leave a legacy or a way for loved ones to find comfort after you have passed, it still feels incredibly creepy.
Protocol recently discovered a patent by Microsoft that suggests that the tech giant is exploring how they could combine personal digital content such as images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, and machine learning to train a chatbot to replicate how a person would sound. After years of struggling to reach the mythical island of inbox zero, could a digital twin unlock greater productivity?
Once again, the patent drifts into creepy territory by stating that it wouldn’t matter if its subject is dead or alive. The patent excitingly talks about opening up the possibility for users to train up a digital version of themselves before they pass. The prospect of training a chatbot to ensure it masters our style, diction, tone, voice, intent, and consistency for an effective handover before we die feels incredibly sinister, even in these early stages.
The blurred lines between our digital and physical worlds are beginning to disappear. Our digital twins are waiting in the wings to increase our productivity, offer a shoulder to cry on, or be a friendly ear when we need it most. Virtual versions of ourselves can even provide digital immortality. As our data develops a life of its own, the bigger question that remains is who will own this treasure trove of information, in this life and the next?