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The Talking Dead: Can Technology Restore Lost Loved Ones?

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You wake up, get ready for work, have some toast and coffee with your spouse, then wave goodbye. It’s your typical workday. There is, however, something unusual: Your beloved has been dead for many years. You didn’t have breakfast with your spouse — but rather with a simulation of your spouse.

The simulation lives in a virtual environment, perhaps accessed by a device such as the Oculus Rift. A digital bereavement company has captured and analyzed torrents of data about your husband to create a digital likeness. His voice, his gait, his idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, the undulations of his laugh — all are replicated with near-perfect similitude. Spending time with your digitally reborn spouse has become a part of your daily routine.

Death is often viewed as the great leveler that marks the cessation of experience. But this needn’t be the case. Even if the dead can’t interact with us anymore, we can still interact with a simulation of them. It was the death of my father that inspired me to embark on a project to make this fantasy a reality.

Two hundred years ago, most people didn’t have access to a picture of their dearly departed, and a few decades ago the same could be said for any film of a person. Yet, soon, simulations could be able to accurately imitate those who have died so that we can continue to interact with them as if they continued to live. As emerging technologies conspire to make simulations of the dead a part of our lives, this possibility is no longer the realm of science fiction.

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Muhammad A. Ahmad, Ph.D., is a research scientist in the department of computer science at the University of Minnesota.

This article was originally published by Aeon Media (www.aeon.com, twitter: @aeonmag).

This article is featured in the March/April 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives. 

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