Home Cyberpsychology & Technology Living After Death: Digital Cloning and Ethical Aspects

Living After Death: Digital Cloning and Ethical Aspects

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Digital cloning is an emerging technology that involves machine learning algorithms through which it becomes possible to manipulate audio, photos and videos in such a realistic way as to make it extremely difficult to distinguish what is real from what is not.

These are publicly available technologies that can bring benefits but are creating a number of ethical and legal concerns.

How it works

To create a clone, it is necessary to feed the algorithm with numerous videos and voice recordings that teach it to create an exact duplicate of the original. This custom digital clone consists of a replica of all the known data and behaviours of a person, able to replicate choices, preferences, behavioural trends and decision-making processes.

The latest frontier of this technological evolution is turning to digital cloning with the aim of creating a digital immortality that allows the deceased to continue to live in cyberspace. Not only by capturing the visual presence of someone who is no longer there but also their behaviour, their attitude and their cognitive abilities. It creates a digital copy of a person’s mind, creating a digital immortality that allows them to continue to interact with loved ones even after death, overcoming the barrier of physical death.

What implications?

Among the main dubts and potential concernsthat these technologies bring with them are data breaches and personal privacy. Even assuming that the deceased had given his consent to the creation of his own digital clone, he may not have been able to authorise all future actions that a digital clone could take in place of him.

Not to mention the possible creation of deepfake, that is, intentional manipulations. They consider that apps capable of offering these services are potentially available to anyone, it becomes difficult to defend against any malicious use of them. This not only invades the privacy of the individual but also raises various ethical concerns.

And what about the psychological implications? How can continuing to interact with loved ones affect the ability to grieve? With what consequences?

Questions to which it is still difficult to give answers but which create anxiety and concern.

How to defend

If, in principle, we have defined the possible risks of these technologies, The difficulty comes at a time when we try to give a legal framework to these practices in order to make them fall within a specific legal system capable of penalising improper behaviour.

Spreading deepfake can cause harm not only in economic terms but especially in psychological and ethical terms.

Protection against these threats can be thought of as creating a way to analyse or detect the authenticity of a video but at the same time, it will be essential to intervene with special laws that regulate the use of these new technologies by pursuing any abuse.

Are we in favour of “virtual resurrection”?

An interesting study was conducted in the US by Masaki Iwasaki, professor at the Seoul National University, and subsequently published in the Asian Journal of Law and Economics. It involved a sample of 222 subjects of different age, education and socio-economic level. The people involved were described an imaginary scenario in which it was assumed that a young woman had died in a car accident. Relatives and friends, tried by this loss, were considering using artificial intelligence to revive her as a digital android.

At this point, a variant was introduced: half of the participants were told that in life the woman had not expressed consent to such an eventuality, and the other half were told that she had done it.

The result was that 97% of those who were in the first group found it inconvenient to resuscitate digitally without her explicitly expressing this intention, while 58% of the second group said they were in favour, in view of the fact that there was written consent of the data subject.

Later, the research moved to a personal level, asking the sample involved if, in their case, they would be in favour of being virtually “resurrected”. 59% said they were against giving consent and, perhaps even more significantly, 40% felt that digital cloning was unacceptable in any case, explaining their position on ethical, religious and psychological grounds, and supporting the need to address a proper mourning process.

Annalisa Balestrieri holds a master’s degree in modern literature with a psycho-pedagogical specialisation from the State University of Milan.


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