Eternal You
Photograph: Dogwoof
  • Film
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Eternal You

4 out of 5 stars

This troubling deep dive into the ‘digital afterlife’ explores the AI that helps you talk to the dead

David Hughes

Time Out says

What if you could talk to the dead? In ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, there’s a spell for that. In horror movie Baghead, a basement-dwelling witch offers two minutes with the deceased. Countless mediums, clairvoyants and Ouija boards provide such a service to the gullible. But what if AI could make chatting with the dead as simple as downloading an app?

Brace yourselves – because it already can.

Jason Rohrer’s Project December is among several Silicon Valley startups that allow people to interact with their dead loved ones, via an AI Q&A platform that uses minimal data about the deceased person to create a digital simulacrum. A grieving woman called Christi talks to her boyfriend, Cameroun, who died young. ‘The damn AI texts like him,’ she says. ‘The vernacular, the shortened words. How would they know that?’ Rohrer suggests it’s no more harmful than rewatching old videos of the dead, or calling their voicemail to hear their voice – but things go south when Cameroun’s AI avatar tells Christi that, on the other side, he meets ‘mostly addicts’. ‘In heaven???’ she asks incredulously, ‘No. I’m in hell.’

It’s a ghoulish business, and there are horrifying implications for the living: can such a mechanism be part of the healing process of grieving? If grief is a vital part of moving on from loss, how can people properly move on if they never have to let go? 

Project December is just one example of ‘death capitalism’. The ‘digital afterlife’ phenomenon is already big business, and will grow exponentially until entire human personalities are stored digitally in perpetuity – or as long as the bills get paid and the power stays on. 

Eternal You explores these emergent industries through interviews with startup CEOs, coders, psychologists, digital ethicists and, most importantly, users of the new technology. There’s also footage from last year’s Congressional hearings with Sam Altman, dubbed ‘the Oppenheimer of our age’, who has called for guardrails on AI development while pushing the coders at his own Los Alamos. 

Filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick let the audience make up its own mind about the ethical, philosophical, and existential questions the subject raises. One can only imagine how Werner Herzog might have approached the material, and editorialised its wider implications. (‘What eef the dead – were ayb-el – to comyoonicate – from beyond the veil?’)

The issues are so profound, in fact, with such implications for the human existence, a single film could hardly scratch the surface. Yet Eternal You is a very good way to start digging.

In UK cinemas Jun 28.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Moritz Riesewieck, Hans Block
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