The Download: bots for the brokenhearted, and AI for life and death decisions

The Download: bots for the brokenhearted, and AI for life and death decisions thumbnail
Charlotte, my colleague, started an experiment during the pandemic. She created digital versions for her parents. These voice assistants were created by HereAfter AI. They are powered by over four hours of conversations that each person had with an interviewer about their lives, memories, and daily routines.

This technology, which allows you to “talk” with people who have died, has been a staple of science fiction for decades. It’s now a reality, and it’s easier to access thanks to AI and voice technology.

While Charlotte’s flesh-and-blood parents are still around, their avatars give a glimpse into a world where you can converse with loved ones (or simulacra) long after they’ve passed.

But, it is understandable that the ethics of creating virtual versions of loved ones can be complicated. Some people worry that digital representations of grieving relatives could prolong your grief or even make you lose touch with reality. Read more .

–Charlotte Jee

Charlotte’s touching piece is from our forthcoming mortality-themed issue, available from October 26. If you want to read it when it comes out, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

AI could one day help to make life-and-death decisions

Philip Nitschke, also known as “Dr. Death, also known as “The Elon Musk of assisted suicide”, has a curious goal. He wants to “demedicalize death” and make assisted suicide as unassisted through technology.

Nitschke is the founder of Exit International, a nonprofit that uses algorithms to assess psychiatric needs. This will allow people to end life without any human intervention. While Nitschke is a extreme example, AI is already being used in many health-care fields to triage and treat patients.

But many people feel extremely uneasy about letting algorithms help to make decisions about whether people live or die, and rightfully so. Read full story .

–Melissa Heikkila

This story is from The Algorithm, our new weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things AI. Sign up and receive it in your email every Monday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Russia is terrorizing Ukraine with deadly Iranian drones
The unmanned “kamikaze” drones are targeting infrastructure in Kyiv. (FT $)
The US government has committed to another billion-dollar aid package. (New Yorker $)
China, India and Turkey are still buying fuel from Russia. (Vox)

2 Kayne West has agreed to buy Parler
What happens now is anyone’s guess. (CNBC)
West said he was driven to make the purchase after being banned by Instagram and Twitter. (Bloomberg $)
He’s been repeating extremist conspiracy theories lately. (Vox)
As fringe social platforms go, Parler is extremely small fry. (Slate)

3 China is struggling to control its fans
Fandoms are notoriously competitive, and they’re undermining Xi Jinping’s vision of a united China. (Vox)
How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Astronomers have witnessed the brightest explosion of all time
This kind of gamma ray burst is estimated to occur once every thousand years. (New Scientist $)

5 Why “zero trust” is losing its meaning
Partly because not all cybersecurity teams can agree on what it refers to. (Protocol)

6 Iodine tablets aren’t a magic cure for radiation exposure
They can, however, protect one specific part of the body. (Wired $)
NATO is watching Russia like a hawk for signs of a nuclear attack. (Economist $)

7 We need to change how we view the ocean
That should involve giving it a legal right to life, researchers argue. (Motherboard)
Sponge cities are changing our relationship with water. (Wired $)
The architect making friends with flooding. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The home surveillance industry thrives on paranoia
The question is, what to do when nothing happens? (The Atlantic $)
How Amazon Ring uses domestic violence to market doorbell cameras. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Teenagers want to be nice to each other online, actually
Luckily, there’s an app for that. (WSJ $)

10 A bionic nose could help covid patients to smell again
By communicating with a brain implant. (IEEE Spectrum)

Quote of the day

“If you’re looking back at those experiences to be a guide on what will happen, you are playing out of a bad playbook. “

–John Lovelock, an analyst at Gartner, tells Insider why the current economic uncertainty, which is driven by inflation and not cash or employment problems, differs from other recessions in recent memory.

The big story

Why venture capital doesn’t build the things we really need

June 2020

Venture capitalists sell themselves as the top of the heap in Silicon Valley. They are the talent spotters and risk takers. They support people who dare to challenge the system and deserve to be well-respected and lightly taxed. This largely white, male, corner of finance has supported software companies that grow quickly and generate large amounts money for a shrinking amount of Americans, such as Google, Uber, Uber, and Airbnb. They don’t create many jobs, especially when compared to the industries or companies they disrupt. Things are slowing down. Venture capitalists are finding fewer ideas that match their preferred pattern lately. Read the full story.

–Elizabeth MacBride

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. Have any other ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me. )

Even babies in the womb aren’t sure about the taste of kale.
AI’s interpretation of what comedy flyers should look like is truly frightening.
Aww, this baby pangolin is really enjoying its back scratch.
A quick trip through how witches have enchanted art over the centuries.
I can’t get enough of these banging bongo beats (thanks Afroditi! )

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