This week: casting the dead, boss forever, and things that vanish. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
00:59 – Dead celebrities going on tour as holograms
16:16 – Living forever through digital immortality
22:35 – Everyday items vanishing from our homes
28:59 – Future bite: M.I.T. Media Lab’s Halloween social experiment
30:50 – Future bite: Instagram’s Halloween’s stage sets
The stories this week
Other stories we bring up
Future bites / short stories
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Disclaimer: We'd like advise at the following program may contain real news, occasional philosophy, and ideas that may offend some listeners.
Intro: This is The Future, This Week on Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter. And I'm Kai Riemer. Every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business, the weird and the wonderful and things that change the world.
Okay let's start.
Kai: Today on The Future, This Week: casting the dead, boss forever and things that vanish.
Sandra: I'm Sandra Peter. I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai: I'm Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School and leader of the Digital Research Group. What do Princess Leia Amy Winehouse and potentially your very own boss have in common?
Sandra: They might all come back to haunt you. From beyond the grave.
Kai: So Sandra, what happened in the future this week?
Sandra: Since Halloween is upon us fairly soon, we thought we'd do a few stories about dead things. And our first one comes from Vox, and it's titled "No industry is weirder than the dead celebrity hologram industry".
Kai: It comes as Amy Winehouse has announced her 2019 tour. And you might recall that Amy actually died a few years ago. Which hasn't stopped her tour managers to put on another tour for next year. So she's coming back to haunt her fans from beyond the grave. And how do they pull this off? What is happening here?
Sandra: Well this whole craze started about six years ago, when for the first time a little-known company at the time called Digital Domain decided to bring back Tupac Shakur to appear on stage at the Coachella festival and to play around living rappers like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
Kai: And as a reminder, Tupac had died 12 years earlier. And yet he made a surprise appearance to much acclaim, brought back as a hologram or technically not quite. But done with a technology that is actually quite ancient, pioneered in the eighteen hundreds, called Pepper's Ghost. A technology that uses glass, or Tupac's case a transparent foil, and a light projection or refraction which allows the person to appear on stage. In the eighteen hundreds, to be precise in 1862, that technology was used for the first time in a Charles Dickens play to bring a ghost to the stage. Which had a lasting impact on the audiences back then and it was quite spectacular six years ago when Tupac was brought back to life at Coachella.
Sandra: Equally resurrected are people like Roy Orbison or Whitney Houston, who perform posthumously. But bringing people back from the dead is not as easy as Halloween movies make it appear. First there are the technical challenges and the article gives us a couple of options for bringing people back from the dead. The hologram or the apparent hologram is one option, in case you do not have high fidelity scans of the people who are gone. But there are also other methods to bring them back from the dead.
Kai: This is the whole thriving industry, and we need to distinguish between the ways in which images of the dead celebrities, actors or singers are being created. And then the way in which they are being brought to life on stage. So, in terms of being brought life to stage there's been a whole bunch of controversies and patent lawsuits that have mired the industry and have slowed down progress in this field. Things seem to be reemerging and technologies are progressing so obviously projecting a video image on a foil or glass restricts severely what you can do on stage, because there needs to be space for the dead actor to be projected and they're quite limited in where they can go on stage. Future technologies holograms and lasers will give a bit more flexibility, but these things are only just being trialed. And then there's the question of how do you actually create those images. And obviously in cases where a singer or artist is still alive it's much easier because you can scan their face. But for those actors who have long gone, we have to rely on video and images that already exist that can then be used to create a computer animated version of the artist, to pre-record a performance that is then projected on stage. Now this is the technical side, but this is not really what we want to focus on today. Because there's some much more interesting issues around. First of all, the legal ramifications of using material of dead artists, and some of the more ethical and moral issues.
Sandra: And even some of the financial implications. So, first we want to talk about who has the right to bring you back from the dead. Let's say if I'm a record company who wants to put on a show of Amy Winehouse, how would I go about licensing that Amy Winehouse.
Kai: So on the one hand there's licensing of the artistic material. So music, videos, picture materials to recreate a digital Amy. All of this is not much different to licensing materials of artists that are still alive. But there's something else which the article focuses on, which is in the US called the right to publicity, or sometimes called the right to personality. And this is an area that is far from being clear or legally settled. Especially because the situation seems to be very different in different countries.
Sandra: So the article goes into discussing how in the US it varies widely from having basically no rights after a person has died. Pretty much anyone can use their likeness and benefit them profit from it. To places like California where a person's family or estate hold the rights to the dead person's image or any royalties from potential content being created on their behalf for about seventy years after they die.
Kai: So in New York for example if someone dies, anyone can theoretically go and profit off that person by recreating a digital version of them. So in the US it very much depends on where a person used to live. In Australia, the situation is much less clear. While it is generally accepted that people have a right of personality, so I can prevent someone using my picture in advertising. For example, there have been court cases where people in the public domain were unable to actually prevent people from using their images. And so while that already introduces some ambiguity to our knowledge no clear legislation exists that would cover those rights after the death of a person. So as this technology comes online, and an industry emerges that brings back celebrities and identities of public interest after their death, there seems to be the need of legislators to engage with this not only to prevent the inappropriate use of images but also to regulate who gets to benefit or profit from the proceeds of such entertainment opportunities.
Sandra: And also in what way would they get to profit. Obviously once a person is dead you could have them singing different genres of music in places that they would have never considered. For instance, back in 2009 Elvis actually made an appearance on American Idol alongside Celine Dion. Is that something that Elvis would have actually done?
Kai: And similarly Justin Timberlake just last year hinted that he might perform together with a hologram of Prince at the Super Bowl.
Sandra: Which didn't go down too well, did it?
Kai: Prince fans furiously circulated a quote by Prince. Who in his lifetime was asked to potentially perform with a hologram or projection of Duke Ellington. And here's what he said. "That's the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age that whole virtual reality thing is really demonic and I am not a demon.
Sandra: But really not everybody feels that way. Some people actually do want to come back from the dead. And come haunt us in very cheerful ways through our movies.
Kai: So there's a related article in MIT Technology Review titled "Actors are digitally preserving themselves to continue their careers from beyond the grave".
Sandra: And the article talks about Carrie Fisher, who has recently passed away, who has starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars story from beyond the grave. Similarly, Paul Walker has appeared in The Fast and Furious movie. All these people who are very much dead come back and they are magically preserved.
Kai: And looking better than ever, being de-aged, as the article says.
Sandra: Digitally resurrected to come and star in movies. And the article asks rightly so, will Meryl Streep be taking home an Oscar every year from now until the end of time.
Kai: So while in the music industry, a lot of buzz is created around bringing back artists from the dead, actors in the movie industry are thinking ahead preserving themselves to continue their careers after their demise. And the article quite nicely puts it, just because your star is inconveniently dead doesn't mean your generation spanning blockbuster franchise can't continue to rake in the dough.
Sandra: And this made us think about the jobs of the new economy. The future of work in the movie industry.
Kai: And since we don't actually need any new actors on camera, because we know digitally preserve the current generation of successful celebrities, jobs will have to change because while we have the current generation people in front of cameras someone actually needs to do the acting.
Sandra: So whilst everyone's heard about Carrie Fisher in Star Wars, very few people have heard of Ingvild Deila who was actually the actress who played Princess Leia for about 15 seconds. No one knows what she looks like, no one has seen her being herself, but who served as the body for the reconstruction of the actress.
Kai: So it is Ingvild actually moving about in that scene, with Carrie Fisher's face being digitally projected on to her body.
Sandra: Interestingly, ghost acting might be a job of the new economy. We had Danny Chan acting as Bruce Lee in a Johnny Walker commercial. We've had Ingvild Deila being Carrie Fisher.
Kai: And let's not forget that it was Andy Serkis who quite famously established this form of acting in his role as Gollum in the second Lord of the Rings movie. And he has since perfected the art form of motion capture and puppeteering digital actor. So in this case of course a fully digital synthetic actor but equally this is now being used to bring to life new images of dead actors.
Sandra: And it will be interesting to see what happens to wages in the movie industry in this case. Let's not forget that people impersonating dead people are not really free to act or use the whole range of facial expressions. But rather have to stay within the constraints of their original characters which is why these movie franchises actually reach out to them.
Kai: And also of course, it is to be seen how widespread this will become as a phenomenon. Whether this is going to be the odd novelty case where we bring back a dead actor, where this is a technology that allows to manage risk should an actor actually die on set or while a movie is being done, or to prolong a certain franchise to another installment in the series. Or to what extent this is actually going to be a widespread phenomenon.
Sandra: Well my money is that this might actually be quite lucrative. We've discussed before that the more Tom Cruise runs in the movie, the better the movie does at the box office. So you might want him running for a long time to come.
Kai: But also given how complicated the issues are around digitising actual people, preserving their image, reenacting their bodies, the legal rights, the licensing, the commercial rights to the estate of a deceased person. There is another phenomenon that is happening again in the music industry and the Vox article points that out which is fully synthetic digital characters.
Sandra: The article brings up Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku, who went on such a successful tour of North America a couple of years ago that people paid the same amount of money to see her as they did for Taylor Swift.
Kai: And so this is entirely a YouTube sensation. A singer, a character that was completely synthetically created. She does not exist. Much like little Miquela in those famous Instagram influencer posts does not exist.
Sandra: And we have mentioned little Miquela before. She made it to be one of the 100 Time people of the year, and yet she is fully digital, has over a million followers on Instagram, and large fashion houses use her to advertise their products. We'll include the link in the show notes.
Kai: So digital technology being used to prolong life, so to speak, of living actors, bring back people from the dead or create entirely new artists that cannot actually die unless we delete their digital image.
Sandra: So whilst these technologies seem to be working with us, they are either lowering wages or taking jobs all together it seems.
Kai: Well, or are they creating entirely new jobs, because you know those little Miquelas and Hatsune Mikus, they have to be created. They have to be scripted, they have to be given songs. So increasingly it will be advertising agencies, digital studios, digital agencies, animating artists who are going to make a living in this brave new digital world.
Sandra: But we're here on The Future, This Week, so we need to ask - but is it?
Kai: Exactly. Is this all good? Is this what we want? People not dying anymore. Creating more digital people.
Sandra: Yes, well I'm just imagining my Halloween party, where it’s not only my current friends but also all of my relatives, my friends come back on holograms still haunt me. Also, maybe Tom Cruise, because someone decided to bring Tom Cruise as a date to one of the parties because now they can license this on their mobile phone and bring them along. This will be a very crowded future.
Kai: This very immature person bringing him along is actually little Miquela, who you didn't invite either.
Sandra: Yes but she is sponsored by one of the drinks brands that I have at my party. I think this future might be actually a very crowded one from looking at megatrends. That demographic one gives us ten billion live people. God knows how many dead people.
Kai: And this comes off the back of a democratisation of this technology which brings us to our next, yet related, article from MIT Technology Review. "Digital immortality - how your life data means a version of how you could live forever". Guess what. You can create an avatar of yourself and go and haunt your loved ones forever. Or at least next Halloween. The article delves into the idea that digital versions of people can now be preserved. Be it as chat boards, or photorealistic avatars. And it goes on to discuss this in a business context. Imagine that the CEO of a company could digitise her or himself and then live on as a digital consultant beyond their life lifetime to advise the company on business matters into the future. And obviously personalities such as Steve Jobs come to mind. So, what would Steve say about the latest generation of iPhones. Could we have a digital avatar of people like Steve Jobs in the future who could be with the company forever?
Sandra: And would we even want that? Some of these companies are coming across challenges that were not present in the time of their founders. So, we know Disney has shifted its focus, and were quite sure that someone like Walt Disney would not have endorsed the company making a movie like Deadpool, which contains a lot of profanity that is not common to early Disney days. But then on the other hand if we think back to our previous story you could have a digital version of Walt Disney being puppeteered by whoever happens to be the CEO of a company. But the public face of the company would forever remain Walt Disney.
Kai: So let's set aside the fact that - and the article says that - we're not quite there yet. No technology exists and might not ever exist that can actually preserve an intelligent being as an avatar, as an artificial intelligence. We're talking about relatively dumb pattern matching, text snippet regurgitating algorithms here. Let's set aside the fact that these things are not really intelligent. What if, you know, we had the digital CEO who is with the company forever. How would that even work organisationally? Would people be bound to act according to what this digital entity says? Who gets to govern the lifetime of this entity? Could we vote out that entity? Could we switch it off? Could we delete it? How would that even work?
Sandra: Would we even be able to fire them? Who would be in charge of the informational corpse at the head of your company?
Kai: And is this actually for those CEOs and managers who do think that they are indispensable beyond their lifetime? Is this actually the best way for them to leave a legacy? Because Steve Jobs at least, I mean arguably, has instilled a lot of his values and ways of designing and thinking about the world into the processes, the training, the education and the structures of Apple as a company. Which is probably much more effective than having a digital Steve Jobs as a text blabbering avatar on site.
Sandra: But whilst at Halloween this might make us think about the Black Mirror episode where someone's loved one comes back from the dead to be a hologram and keep them company for the rest of their lives, such scenarios actually do have implications for the business world. Given that such likenesses could be used for advertising purposes, could be used to sell you products or services, could be used to manipulate you into making certain decisions with respect to your private life, your political life and so on.
Kai: There could also be a temptation for a busy manager or CEO to create an avatar of themselves that could sit in on meetings...
Sandra: Do The Future, This Week.
Kai: I'm real. Or am I? This is Halloween after all.
Sandra: Are you actually back from Germany?
Kai: Or did I send my avatar? My hologram? Well since this is a podcast our listeners will never know.
Sandra: But regardless it seems like we are at the very beginning of the afterlife industry. And whichever way it ends up going we will need some sort of ethical and legal frameworks to guide it. And the article mentions a couple of ethicists from the Oxford Internet Institute that in a paper published in Nature Human Behavior earlier this year argue that we do need to address questions about the informational corpse of the deceased, the way in which companies can use or exploit that data, and really in the end who and how we get to profit from people's digital remains.
Kai: Because as more and more data of each and every one of us is in the public domain. On social media, or on websites, in the media, for Sandra and myself on podcasts, potentially all of this could be exploited by someone who wanted to bring people back to life as a chat bot or as a digital avatar. To have them say things that they would have said by training an AI in natural speech engine in that way. And the question then is much like for the artists and celebrities as well, who gets to have a say over these digital remains. Will this change the way in which people leave a will, where each of us now has to think about what they want to do with their digital data and their digital profiles beyond their lifetime. And also, who owns this data given that much of this exists on platforms that are run by third parties such as Facebook.
Sandra: Or are indeed available in the public domain.
Kai: Which brings us to our unrelated third story. And we are staying with the cheery Halloween topic of demise and vanishing. This time we're talking about things. The everyday stuff in our lives that tend to vanish over time.
Sandra: So we thought since this Halloween why not have an article from Country Living.
Kai: And we're not talking pumpkins here.
Sandra: Although we were looking for pumpkins.
Kai: The article mentions six home buys that became less popular in 2013. Which made us think what are the things in our lives that we are no longer using?
Sandra: So, quite often we talk about technology trends, and the new things the new gadgets we want to buy. But of course, as we adopt new technologies and new gadgets, some of the other stuff in our lives tends to disappear. And the article reports on John Lewis and Partners latest retail report that really showcases some of the items that have started to drop off people's radar. And some of them are quite obvious. The DVD player, sales down by 40 percent. Of course, the DVD player will go the way of the Walkman and the Discman.
Kai: And the VCR of course.
Sandra: The trouser press.
Kai: Yeah, I don't own a trouser press. So, you know...
Sandra: I don't think many people do these days.
Kai: I think there's a few boutique hotels where you might find this curious object.
Sandra: Interestingly the alarm clock and the desktop computer are also down.
Kai: Yeah, the desktop computer. No wonder because most people these days even if they work at a desk would prefer a laptop which is just much more flexible. And it's not much different in terms of performance of course.
Sandra: And interestingly the desktop computer got hit by a double whammy in the past year. First, it's down because of our increasing reliance on laptops and on tablets, on phones. But the decline in the desktop PC has also been hit quite hard in the past year by the increasing amount of graphic cards being used by cryptocurrency minors which has led to a shortage of graphic cards and again hit the desktop computing sales.
Kai: Good news for any Nvidia shareholders, of course. The whole cryptocurrency/artificial intelligence business has completely revamped and relaunched this company. But let's talk about the alarm clock which I find curious. So, I don't use an alarm clock and I haven't used one for a while. I actually use my Apple Watch to silently tap me on the wrist to get up so that no other people in my house are woken up. Because I usually get up a little bit earlier than everyone else. The alarm clock would probably be too disruptive.
Sandra: Incidentally on the list there's also the small TV which has gone the way of the DVD player. With a huge increase in large screens up by ninety seven percent.
Kai: And small screens because many people use their iPads or their smartphones for watching Netflix and other things. So, you know, the smartphone does away with the small TV and the alarm clock and the desktop computer and the DVD. They have all been - you know except maybe for the trouser press - the smartphone can replace any of those because the last on the list is the doorknocker.
Sandra: Oh yes, the doorknocker. It seems traditional doorknocker are down because people are buying now the smart doorbells, which are up three hundred and sixty seven percent since John Lewis started selling them in the middle of last year. And that's an interesting one because we've seen companies like Amazon invest enormous amounts of money into smart doorbells. They bought a company called Ring for about a billion dollars. We spoke about this previously on The Future, This Week.
Kai: And of course someone appearing at the door, their video and audio will appear as a live stream on your smartphone.
Sandra: And we've seen this huge popularity in smart doorbells because of the claims that have been made around its ability to reduce burglaries of your house and even crime in neighborhoods where many of these are installed. And they've been touted only by companies like Amazon or Ring, but they've been in the media. There have been reports on CNN and on BBC, but turns out - and MIT has looked into this recently - that many of those studies are actually not as solid as you'd think, and the jury seems to be still out. On this Halloween your smart doorbell might not be keeping you safe. An article in MIT Technology Review that we will include in the show notes that looks at the fact that these devices are said to slash crime, but the evidence is actually quite flimsy, reports on a study that looked at two neighbourhoods next to each other. One that had a lot of smart doorbells installed one that didn't. And it turns out burglaries fell in one of them by 50 percent compared to 41 percent next door. Similarly, one of the neighbourhoods saw all property crime fall by 32 percent while the other one had only a 25 percent dip. And in the last month of the test, one of the areas experienced no property crime whatsoever. An outlier that was very hard to account for. The only problem with the study was that the safer neighbourhood was actually the control group and not the one that had the smart doorbells installed. So, the jury seems to be still out on that one.
Kai: And just yesterday on the radio there was a report about crime statistics in Australia, and apparently theft and burglary are way down in New South Wales. And one reason given was that people increasingly don't have things of value in their house. And it's no surprise, because the desktop computer has gone, and the DVD player is gone, and in many houses the TV is gone. And while you might want to steal a trouser press many people have their expensive gadgets on them. They are no longer at home, they're actually portable, so the reason given in the report was that people buy either cheap items or, increasingly take their gadgets with them.
Sandra: Okay so I think it's now time for something really spooky before we go. A couple of spooky future bites. And mine was quite scary. Comes from the Boston Globe, and it talks about the M.I.T. Media Labs social experiment that will be unleashed on Halloween, where you will get to control a person's actions. So, people who will register to the web based social experiment will get to control a character's actions, will see the world through their eyes and we'll be able to control their hands and their movements and there will be a mission. And in real time, whilst experiencing and seeing everything that the character sees and hears they will be able to call the shots as it were. Drive the narrative and have the person - a real actor not a digital - one can execute whatever it is that they want to. Of course, without infringing on the person's privacy or dignity, there are rules around what you can and cannot do. It not only is an interesting social experiment, but it allows for a broader discussion of ethics and privacy. And it's not the first time that the Media Lab has pulled off such a stunt. Couple of years ago they've released the nightmare machine where an AI would create zombified portraits of people. And last year of course, they came up with Shelley. A collaborative project where again AI together with humans would come up with horror stories online.
Kai: So it remains to be seen whether decisions by committee where the crowd decides on what the person does ends up being completely random, or whether a creepy, scary pattern of behaviour will emerge as the Internet so often brings about. See social media: Google, Facebook and recent events. Now my future spooky bite, also Halloween related, concerns Instagram once again. Vox reports that apparently in the US, haunted houses thing at Halloween. People go and have the shit scared out of them in haunted houses. But this year a new trend has been emerging which is Instagram optimised pop up installations. So, rather than going out with friends to a haunted house you go to these installations where you can bathe yourself in a ball pit that is actually filled with plastic cockroaches. A butcher's room with blood smeared all over the walls where you can have your photograph taken. In essence, a stage set where people can go to create those most authentic Halloween photographs of themselves. Nice selfies where your costume can really shine in an appropriate Halloween environment. And Sandra looks at me. She's almost out the door wanting to find one of those installations for herself.
Sandra: So Kai, that's starting to sound actually truly scary. So, I think that's all we have time for this week.
Kai: Bye bye dear audience.
Sandra: Happy Halloween.
Kai: Happy Halloween.
Sandra: Thanks for listening.
Outro: This was The Future, This Week. Made awesome by the Sydney Business Insights Team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us our sound editor Megan Wedge who makes us sound good and keeps us honest. Music is composed and played live from a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak.
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