Tag Archives: digital slavery

Ethics Quiz: Your Swedish Post-Mortem Avatar

Swedish scientists believe artificial intelligence can be used to make “fully conscious copies” of dead people, so a Swedish funeral home is currently looking for volunteers who are willing let the scientists use their dead relatives in their experiments. The scientists want to build robot replicas, and to try to approximate their personalities and knowledge base in their artificial “brains.”

For those of you who are fans of the Netflix series “Black Mirror,” there was an episode closely on point in which  grieving woman bought an AI -installed mechanical clone of her dead boyfriend. (This did not work out too well.)

I was about to discard objections to such “progress” as based on ick rather than ethics, when I wondered about the issues we already discussed in the posts here about zombie actors in movies and advertising. Is it ethical for someone else to program a virtual clone of me after I’m dead that will be close enough in resemblance to blur what I did in my life with what Jack 2.0 does using an approximation of my abilities, memories and personality?

I think I’m forced to vote “Unethical” on this one as a matter of consistency. Heck, I’ve written that it’s unethical for movies and novels to intentionally misrepresent the character of historical figures to such an extent that future generations can’t extract the fiction from the fact. (Other examples are here and here.) Respect for an individual has to extend to their reputation and how they wanted to present themselves when they were alive. Absent express consent, individuals should not have to worry that greedy or needy relatives, loved ones, artists or entrepreneurs will allow something that looks like, sounds like and sort of thinks like them to show up and do tricks after the eulogy.

I am not quite so certain about this branch of the issue, however, and am willing to be convinced otherwise. After all, pseudo Jack could stay inside, and only be programmed to do a nude Macarena while wearing a bikini for my wife, while no one else would be the wiser. Or nauseous. And after all, I’m dead. Why should I care? Well, the fact is I do care. For me, this is a Golden Rule issue.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:

Will the Swedes who elect to allow scientists to try to perfect Dad-in-a-Box for nostalgia, amusement, companionship  and to take out the garbage be unethical, betraying their departed loved ones’ dignity?

 

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The Slippery Slope: From Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing To Hologram Zombie Maria Callas

“We don’t have to pay her, and she can do a hundred shows a week!”

Thanks to the creation of a hologram clone, opera legend Maria Callas,  dead since 1977, appeared onstage at Lincoln Center last week. This is the continuation of a project that previously resurrected such departed stars as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, appeared after Callas. I wonder if he sang, “Pretty Hologram”?

I see where this is going, don’t you? We’re heading straight to “Looker,” the science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park,”“Westworld,” Disclosure,” “ER,”—How I miss him!).  In that prescient 1981 movie, an evil  corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use then make the new CGI versions to do and say anything, and do so more effectively and attractively than the living models themselves, in television ads and even in live appearances via hologram. Then the company had the models killed.

In the New York Times review of singing Zombie Callas, the little matter of ethics never was mentioned.  Times critic Anthony Tomassini was not very critical, writing in part,

…[T]here is an amazing video of [Callas]  in Act II of Puccini’s “Tosca” in 1964. But no full operas by one of the greatest singing actresses in history; this hologram performance can seem to fill in a bit of that gap. The operatic voice, and the art form itself, can feel so fragile. What better way to represent that fragility — while also reviving it, in a kind of séance — than a hologram?…In introductory comments, [the director] said that the project has tried to present Callas with “restraint, subtlety and delicacy.” The notion of a singing hologram might seem incompatible with such a goal. Yet moments during Sunday’s preview were surprisingly affecting…The problem, as it always has been in opera fandom, will be if this specter from the past prevents a full appreciation of the vitality of opera and singing today. 

That’s the problem, is it? No, the problem is the same ethical problem I had with regenerating the deceased actor Peter Cushing in “Rogue One”: Continue reading

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UPDATE: Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing And The Prospect Of Cyber-Zombie Carrie Fisher Remind Actors To Fight For Control Of Their Post-Mortem Acting Career

cgi

It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.

Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies. Continue reading

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“Rogue One” Ethics: Peter Cushing Returns From The Grave

He's baaaaack!

He’s baaaaack!

Hammer Films horror icon and Christopher Lee foil Peter Cushing died in 1994 from prostate cancer. That couldn’t stop the makers of the latest “Star Wars” movie from bringing his image back from the grave.  The gaunt-faced British actor—an early “Doctor Who”!—played Grand Moff Tarkin in the original “Star Wars,” a bad guy, Cushing’s specialty. Since “Rogue One,” the current addition to the series, is a prequel, Tarkin is alive again (he went down with the Death Star in Episode IV). Instead of recasting the part, the producers decided to recreate Tarkin/Cushing using CGI technology. Lucasfilm-owned digital effects house Industrial Light & Magic reanimated Cushing’s likeness so that a recognizable Tarkin could make a convincing  appearance in “Rogue One.” The results are not perfect, but it is still one step closer to allowing future movies to cast avatars of long dead stars to interact seamlessly with live performers.

We have recently seen actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jeff Bridges and Anthony Hopkins digitally youthened, but forcing a dead actor’s image to perform is a different matter entirely. The use of computer animated images of dead performers to do the bidding of their director masters evokes memories of “Looker,” a science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton of “Jurassic Park” and “Westworld” fame. In that 1981 movie, a corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use the new cyber-models to do and say anything more effectively and attractively than the models themselves in television ads. Then the company had the models killed—less residuals that way.

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images. No porn films, for example. No uses of an actor in a role he would have never agreed to playing while alive. Don’t make John Wayne shoot someone in the back. Don’t show Fred Astaire as clumsy on his feet; don’t make Jimmy Cagney a weenie.

Allowing another actor to use a dead one’s face and body, like Andy Serkis wore his cyber King King suit, is a closer call. If it is clear that the dead actor isn’t the one doing the acting, and that digital technology is being used as the equivalent of make-up, maybe that practice is just icky rather than unethical, provided the credits are clear.To make Cushing’s Tarkin live again on screen, “Rogue One’s “film-makers hired Guy Henry, a 56-year-old British actor who resembles Cushing. Henry played the part of Tarkin on the set, then the tech wizards transformed him into a Cushing clone. Continue reading

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Annoyances For The Obsessing Traveling Ethicist

Hepburn

I just got home from another day trip, and am too weary to essay a significant post. Allow me, instead, to give readers a taste of what goes through one’s mind when you have begun to focus exclusively on ethics in preparation for a key, out-of-state presentation:

  • The incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. Shortly before leaving for the airport on Sunday, I watched the local Fox affiliate report on the new Vogue cover, featuring Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. One of the two anchorwomen noted that there was a parody of the cover titled “Vague” featuring Kermit and Miss Piggy in the same poses. She pronounced it as “Vagg.” Her partner did not correct her. I think newsreaders should be able to read, don’t you?
  • Dishonesty in headlines. With the Kardashians still gnawing at my brain, I noticed an issue of “Star” in an airport magazine rack. The headline read, “Kardashians Cancelled!” Filled with momentary hope for civilization, I looked up the corresponding story in the rag. It stated that cable’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians had been renewed, but that the family was worried that it might be cancelled next year. Yes, the headline was “X” and the story was “Not X.” I don’t care that the Star is just a glossy paper tabloid—how can anyone justifying this? Deceitful headlines are bad, but at least they are literally true, if misleading. Tabloid ethics are as low as ethics can be, but this flat-out false cover headline seems to have breached them… a neat trick.
  • More  incompetence of supposed professional broadcasters. CNN’s John Berman showed a clip of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with Jimmy Kimmel and said…”Next…what Jimmy Kimmel did with three generations of Clintons.

Continue reading

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