Last year I shared some “postinternet photography” from Google Street View, showing how it can transport us across the globe to strange, unfamiliar places and situations. But we can travel through time, too, with profound results.
Memory lanes: Google’s map of our lives – The Guardian Street View traps the dead and the living alike between pages of cartography, like dried flowers. The dead may not be visible to us in the living world any more, but on Street View, they achieve permanence. “They keep updating the images for her street every few years,” Bell says, “but you go back to that year, and she’s still there. Sometimes I think about it and have a little look. I turn back the clock on the dial and she’s there again.”
But Street View does more than just capture our loved ones in candid moments. Because you can turn back the clock on earlier versions, Street View allows us to move through digital space in a non-temporal, non-linear way and connect with the past on an emotional level. “A sense of place is so important in memory,” says the photographer Nancy Forde, from Waterloo, Ontario. Her Addressing Loss project asks users to submit stories and images of loved ones they miss, and the comfort they’ve found remembering them via Street View images from when they were alive.
Another article about grief and chatbots, and another one about the end of the web.
The Jessica Simulation: Love and loss in the age of A.I. – San Francisco Chronicle As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?
The day the good internet died – The Ringer The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets, too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to. Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.
Today marks a year of Covid-19 – Kottke According to an unpublicized report by the Chinese government, the first documented case of Covid-19 was a 55-year-old person living in Hubei province on November 17, 2019. That makes today the first anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A year later, and 1,340,000 people have died. That might not be enough for some, though.
Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.
Who knows how all this will end, it’s all guesswork. Will the final figures for the UK be between 7,000 and 20,000? Perhaps as high as 66,000? Depends on your model. Can we at least say for certain that this will end at some point? Are things already slowing down?
Three graphs that show a global slowdown in COVID-19 deaths – The Conversation
Other published graphs have shown the number of deaths reported each day for various countries. These are more useful, but the reader is still left trying to discern the extent to which the rise from one day to the next is larger or smaller. The graph below is different. It shows both the number of deaths each day and the rate of change in that number. Most importantly, it uses smoothed data – a moving average from the day before to the day after each date shown.
OK. I think I follow that.
Here’s something simpler that caught my eye, a way of looking at one of the (positive?) effects of this pandemic.
“It is a very emblematic piece,” said auctioneer Gregoire Veyres. “The fact that it’s a gun, it’s an object of death. And if van Gogh is van Gogh, it’s because of his suicide and this gun is part of it.”
Van Gogh’s gun, ‘most famous weapon in art history’, sells for €162,500
The auctioned Lefaucheux pinfire revolver is almost certainly the weapon used, although this cannot be conclusively proved. The type of weapon, its calibre, its severely corroded state and the location and circumstances of the find strongly suggest it is the gun. In the evening of 27 July 1890 Van Gogh suffered a gunshot wound while in a wheatfield and he then staggered back to the inn, dying two days later.
Two fascinating documentaries on how we respond to mortality.
To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity
Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet.
“If a group of Tibetans were to surround a Chinese funeral and watch, laugh, and take pictures, it wouldn’t be tolerated.”
From the mountains of Tibet, to the miniatures of the US.
Abigail Goldman spends her work days as an investigator for a public defender’s office in Washington state, helping people who are seriously in trouble—which can mean hours of staring at grisly pictures of crime scenes, visiting morgues, even observing autopsies. By night, she dreams up gruesome events, which she then turns into tiny, precise dioramas. Rife with scenes of imminent death and brutal dismemberment, the fruits of Goldman’s painstaking labor would be adorable … if they weren’t so disturbing.
We all need someone to talk to. A problem shared is a problem halved, they say. But is that still true if the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually exist?
Chatbot therapy Since virtual therapy seems to work, some innovators have started to suspect they could offer patients the same benefits of CBT—without a human on the other end. Services like Replika (an app intended to provide an emotional connection, not necessarily therapy) and Woebot (a therapy service that started in Facebook Messenger before breaking out on its own) allow human patients to interact with artificially intelligent chatbots for the purpose of improving their mental health.
I gave Woebot a go some time back. It felt potentially useful but quite scripted, a little heavy-handed. I’ve just started with Replika and so far the conversations feel more natural, though a little random at times.
This app is trying to replicate you Replika launched in March. At its core is a messaging app where users spend tens of hours answering questions to build a digital library of information about themselves. That library is run through a neural network to create a bot, that in theory, acts as the user would. Right now, it’s just a fun way for people to see how they sound in messages to others, synthesizing the thousands of messages you’ve sent into a distillate of your tone—rather like an extreme version of listening to recordings of yourself. But its creator, a San Francisco-based startup called Luka, sees a whole bunch of possible uses for it: a digital twin to serve as a companion for the lonely, a living memorial of the dead, created for those left behind, or even, one day, a version of ourselves that can carry out all the mundane tasks that we humans have to do, but never want to.
That line above, “a living memorial for the dead”, is key, as that’s how Replika started, with the story of Eugenia Kuyda and Roman Mazurenko.
Speak, memory Modern life all but ensures that we leave behind vast digital archives — text messages, photos, posts on social media — and we are only beginning to consider what role they should play in mourning. In the moment, we tend to view our text messages as ephemeral. But as Kuyda found after Mazurenko’s death, they can also be powerful tools for coping with loss. Maybe, she thought, this “digital estate” could form the building blocks for a new type of memorial.
She’s not the only one wandering down this slightly morbid track.
The goal is to collect enough data about you so that when the technology catches up, it will be able to create a chatbot “avatar” of you after you die, which your loved ones can then interact with.
But would they want to? Grief is a very personal thing, I can’t imagine this approach being for everyone.
‘Have a good cry’: Chuckle Brother takes aim at the grief taboo “It’s like when you are a kid and you fall over and you think it’s all right and then your mum comes and says, ‘Are you all right, love?’ You burst into tears,” he said. “It was the same when Barry died. Everybody was saying sorry about your brother.”
Replika seems less about leaving something behind for your family and friends when you’ve gone, but more about making a new friend whilst you’re still around.
The journey to create a friend There is no doubt that friendship with a person and with an AI are two very different matters. And yet, they do have one thing in common: in both cases you need to know your soon-to-be friend really well to develop a bond.
Strange, funny, and occasionally creepy nonsequiturs are not new to Replika, in fact, there is a whole Subreddit dedicated to weird exchanges with the bot. Overall, however, the bot seemed to follow the train of the conversation reasonably well, and even told me a joke when I asked it to.
How dead bodies save lives every day on the road But to get the really good data, they had to push past the limits of human endurance. And since it was illegal to kill a grad student—yes, even back then—that meant getting access to some dead bodies. […]
Bodies were slammed, smashed and thrown from deceleration sleds by grateful grad students who were no longer subjected to the same tests themselves. At testing’s height in 1966, cadavers were used once a month. The data they gathered was used to write the “Wayne State Tolerance Curve,” still used to this day to calculate the amount of force required to cause head injuries in a car crash. […]
These days, only a couple of cadavers a year are used in testing at Wayne State, but they are still needed to perfect the next generation of crash test dummy. A lot more industry-wide effort is now put into preventing crashes in the first place—think automatic braking and lane change warning lights—rather than keeping car occupants safe. But the need for human bodies still occasionally arises.