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Digital Cloning: Rise of the Cylons?

Oct 20, 20106 mins
Data and Information SecurityEnterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Somewhere between epically cool and downright creepy, you can create a digital clone that looks like you, talks like you, sounds like you and takes on your personality, so that future generations can find out all about you after your death.

Have you ever wished to once again be able to talk with a loved one who has died? Hasn’t everybody wished it were possible to be in two places at once? Well, as of today, now you can. Intellitar is making software so you can create your own AI of a virtual you.

Hotmail, Gmail, Twitter and Facebook have policies on how they handle virtual affairs after death. Most of those are about pulling the plug on your virtual life, but what about plugging into the Matrix before you die, so you can social network after death and thereby live forever? This is your chance to create “living legacies” with “digital clones.”

Somewhere between epically cool and downright creepy, you can create a digital clone that looks like you, talks like you, sounds like you and takes on your personality, so that future generations can find out all about you after your death. This Intellitar, or intelligent avatar, takes virtual life after death to an entirely different plateau.

“Think of it as a digital clone,” Don Davidson, the founder and CEO of Intellitar, told Alabama Local. “We want to give users the gift of immortality while giving future generations a sense of connection to their roots.” Davidson intends for Virtual Eternity to take genealogy websites to a whole new level.

Virtual Eternity explains, “Through your Intellitar you will be able to preserve and share your personality, life experiences, knowledge, wisdom and memories in a way never before available.”

That’s great if it were a family member or someone that you would wish to interact with, but what if it happens 50 years from now? It’s not like you would know the name of a great-great grandson who you could give future access to your digital clone. What if your digital clone knows all medical or health history–not something you might wish for just anyone to know? A genealogy site can be accessed for anyone to research, for a price, so I emailed Intellitar to ask how the deceased person’s privacy would be protected?

The real Don Davidson explained, “Accounts can have a custodian in addition to an owner. Users don’t record their voice. We use a full voice synthesis technology where we create a full digital voice font from the user’s own voice. I’m not aware of any HIPAA issues of a user creating a digital image of them self for current or future use on social networks or online communities. Users have a privacy option to determine if they want their Intellitar to interact with other users or not.”

These avatars are meant to be dynamic and interact with people as if the digital clone is a living, breathing real person having a real-time conversation. “An artificial intelligent brain drives it,” Davidson said. “It has the ability to capture and maintain a virtually unlimited amount of content.” According to this report [PDF], “If you’re talking to your grandfather’s avatar and you mention your favorite movie is ‘The Terminator,’ his avatar will remember that and may bring it up in a future conversation.” This reports also mentions that Intellitar has been working on a concept of e-Mom…

If you want to be remembered as an expert in something, Davidson told Alabama Local, “There are membership plans available for Virtual Eternity, including ways to upgrade your Intellitar with ‘expert brains.’ If I wanted to be an expert on fly-fishing, I can go out and purchase that expert brain. I plug that into my Intellitar and know all there is to know about fly-fishing.” Other uses might include virtual assistants, online training and education, such as a virtual professor taught by a digital clone of someone famous in their field. Businesses could sponsor an “expert” avatar that “could be populated with all the content that’s been generated over 20 to 30 years.”

I also asked Intellitar about security. Will the Intellitar be hosted on a site or be available for download only? What if a business rival or enemy were to hack into the account and “re-train” your digital clone so that was an embarrassing representation of your life or your brand? That would surely not be the “satisfying legacy” you had meant “to pass on to future generations.”

I ran security questions past Davidson’s digital clone. His avatar did not know. Davidson said in the interview with Alabama Local, “It will tell you it doesn’t know the answer. It will then record the question in a log and send the collection to the owner, who can supply the answer so the next time someone asks that question, the Intellitar will have the answer.”

Davidson replied via email about security. “We use an encryption to protect all of the user data or content that is put into the brain of an intellitar. The account owner or custodian has the option to leave the Intellitar active on the site or within an interactive family tree with other Intellitars. Virtual Eternity is an interactive social network, so a user’s Intellitar is available for others to interact with on the web service. In the future, we have plans to offer a user or custodian the option to have their Intellitar stored and recorded offline on a DVD or other medium for offline interaction.”

Intellitar founders Mike Remus and Don Davidson continue to combine cutting edge technologies of “simulation, digital gaming, artificial intelligence, speech recognition/synthesis, and database structures,” so that Virtual Eternity can allow you “to create and train” an “artificially intelligent presentation of you.”

I have no idea what privacy rights that dead people turned into virtual individuals and avatars should expect. I’m also not sure of cybersecurity in terms of laws in case the avatar is hacked, turns evil, has an e-affair, or converts to a virtual life of crime. The potential to be in two places at once, and to virtually live forever, is both exciting and frightening. How did the Cylons get started? Just joking, kinda.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.