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Technology’s Contribution to Immortality and Nonmortal

Those that are immortal are not susceptible to death, in a state of never dying or decaying. To be nonmortal means not to be subject to mortality; death not even being an option.

Deepfakes support both.

AI Anthony Bourdain

Recently, the internet became flooded with new information on Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. The film, directed by Morgan Neville, covers the late celebrity chef’s years in the spotlight, starting at the exact moment when Bourdain heard his book Kitchen Confidential hit the bestseller list. Viewers learn about his life during stardom up until his tragic death, focusing on the years when the world knew his name. It includes clips of TV shows, radio and podcast recordings, and even audiobooks Bourdain narrated. It also includes AI-generated voice overs to blend with other recordings Bourdain spoke premortem. That’s where things get sticky.

Critics have opinions on all sides. Sean M. Burns, whose Tweets I initially saw covering the film, said his review posted on WBUR came before his knowledge of the AI recording. “I feel like this tells you all you need to know about the ethics of the people behind this project.” he tweets.

Jason Sheehan also reviewed Roadrunner for NPR before the use of AI became public knowledge. His ideas on the matter are more hesitant. “This is the (admittedly queasy) choice to bring back to life the voice of a dead guy, and make that voice speak words that already existed in another form. Is it creepy, knowing about it now? Absolutely. Was it wrong? I don’t think so… all of us having been forced to briefly consider the possibility of an endless zombie future where nothing we’ve ever said or written ever really goes away.”

On the other hand, New Yorker writer Helen Rosner Tweeted, “I think there’s something to the idea of manipulation, enhancement, and remixing as creative tools, which — meaningfully here — is entirely consistent with how Bourdain worked.” Rosner went on to write, “I think the nature of the film — structurally, topically, and tonally — tempers my kneejerk recoil to the idea of AI line readings. I don’t like it! But I don’t think my dislike makes it grotesque, opportunistic, or morally wrong.”

Whether we like it or not, the mortality of our living selves is being questioned with the use of deepfakes.

Defining Deepfakes

The term “deepfake’’ comes from “deep learning,” the underlying AI technology used. Deep learning algorithms can teach themselves how to solve problems with large sets of data. With deepfakes, those algorithms produce realistic fake media. Dave Johnson, a Business Insider technology journalist, wrote that many experts believe “…deepfakes will become far more sophisticated as technology further develops and might introduce more serious threats to the public, relating to election interference, political tension, and additional criminal activity.”

Different Cases of Deepfakes

Bourdain is not the first iconic late figure we’ve seen brought back to life through deepfakes; we all saw Carrie Fisher resurrected as Princess Leia in Rogue One. However, unlike Bourdain’s case, Fisher was represented as a character rather than herself. Late actors are not the only target of this technology. Harrison Ford’s young face was seen on Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, even though the actor was ​​about 76 years old when it came out. An incredibly realistic Tom Cruise shocked the internet when the TikTok account @deeptomcruise created believable short videos of a deepfake posing as the actor.

Deepfakes have the potential to spread misinformation and heighten scams and mistrust. Take the video created by VFX studio Framestore of Queen Elizabeth that aired an “alternative Christmas message.” The deepfake of the Queen brought up topics the Royal Palace avoids typically, such as Pricy Harry and Meghan’s move to the United States. “There are few things more hurtful than someone telling you they prefer the company of Canadians.” the deepfake stated. In the end, she warns viewers to question “whether what we see and hear is always what it seems.” Although it was comical to see the deepfake Queen perform TikTok dances and cover gossip, it was jarring to think how far misinformation, or deformation, could occur with political figures as deepfakes.

Deepfakes are not exclusive to those with celebrity status. Genealogy company MyHeritage uses photos and within a moment can animate facial movements using deepfake algorithms. Family members can take pictures of long-deceased loved ones and turn still images into remarkable uncanny blinking, smiling videos. This technology is called deep nostalgia and comes from Israel-based company D-ID. “While many love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, others find it uncanny and are uncomfortable with the results,” MyHeritage posts on its website. “Our driver videos don’t include speech to prevent abuse of this feature, such as the creation of ‘deep fake’ videos of living people. Please use this feature on your historical photos and not on photos featuring living people without their permission.”

Deepfakes take away the full experience of death. They also create a life where death is not even an option; nonmortality. The 19-year-old Brazilian-American Instagram influencer, model, and occasional pop singer, Lil Miquela, has three million followers on Instagram. She’s seen rocking designer clothing, posing with other friends, and hanging with her dog. There is just one catch: she doesn’t exist. Outside of the walls of Instagram, Lil Miquela only lives in the form of algorithms. She is a CGI character, a digital avatar created by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. She has no option of death or aging, even joking about the fact that she’ll never be 21. Unrealistic standards change when we have deepfakes involved because reality doesn’t even exist.

Ask Yourself

Should there be a line drawn for the use of deepfakes between the living and the dead? For fictional characters in movies and real experiences? For nonmortals and humans? Should there even be a line drawn at all? Is this mere creation of reality or our new reality?


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