Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller

Science fiction idea

I should go to bed, but.

A week or so ago I was listening to This American Life, and specifically the "Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Milestones" episode, and there was a little discussion of funeral technology.

The idea was that the last real innovation in funeral technology, when embalming made open-casket funerals possible, so people could actually see the deceased in some semblance of what he or she looked like when alive. The story was about a funeral home (or chain of funeral homes, I don't quite remember) that are trying to go the next step: people make videos of the deceased, possibly including video clips but also maybe just the equivalent of a slideshow, with narration to talk about the deceased's life and what was appearing on the screen, and music to set or reinforce the mood. I think in many cases these videos are put together by the people themselves before they die, although in some cases they might be put together after their deaths.

As you'd expect, these videos tend towards the trite; a lot of people use the same music, the focus is always on the positive in the deceased's life, etc. But attendees to the funeral invariably find it incredibly touching, and people often openly weep during the presentation.

The family gets a copy of the video, but I seem to recall that they also keep a copy at the cemetery, so that those who wish to pay their respects can also see it.

Well, this got me to thinking. Suppose that this does catch on, and in fifty or a hundred years practically everyone is doing this. What would the next big technological leap be?

I figure it would be some sort of simulator, so you could have the illusion of actually talking to the person. It would probably be pretty crude at first, sort of like the robots in Starship Titanic, and maybe there would be some set sentences or phrases that the people recorded in advance to respond to specific questions. As technology advanced, appropriate replies to more and more varied questions would be possible and more precise replicas would be possible.

Except you don't really want a 100% precise reproduction of your personality to greet people after you die. Currently the ultimate tribute to a mortician is to say He never looked better in his life. Similarly, the person portrayed in the videos at the funeral home mentioned above isn't shown having temper tantrums or being thoughtless or callous; you want people to remember you as being a great guy or gal!

So I see people saying to their cybermorticians, That's great, it's just like me, but could you make it a little more ... I don't know ... nicer? Or smarter? More tactful? I don't want my replica screaming at anyone, so could you get it to control its temper a little better? You name it.

And this will be successful! So soon you'll have a situation where you can go and ask your deceased father for advice -- but the advice he gives will be better, more loving, more understanding! People will swarm to the cemeteries! A great new era of enlightened leadership will come to being!

I have no idea what to do with this, but if someone else does, feel free.
Tags: science fiction, writing

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