Voice controlled smart speaker.
David Lumb on CNET describes how, “After listening to someone’s voice for less than a minute, Alexa would be able to simulate that voice when speaking.” Further, “While AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last,” according to Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for Alexa (Allen).
As those who’ve read my posts before know all too well, I believe that we should stay connected to the dead and keep them present in our lives. I think that our culture promotes too sharp a division between the spirit of the dead and the living.
However, it is in the complexity of memory and a full range of emotions that the dead live on. We change our relationship with them as we move forward in life. We cherish aspects of them we neglected and we also question attitudes and beliefs which don’t stand the test of time passing. One of my widowed friends advocates “letting the dead grow”. It is in this flux and flow of movement that the dead stay alive. Their images shift and morph and collide with new forces, just as we the living do.
Sad woman mourning family loss on cemetery.
I think that listening to a recorded voice of someone who has died, with a script that has been fashioned to capture the person, only freezes the loss.
Undoubtedly hearing the voice of someone we loved who is dead will evoke a cascade of emotions and associations. But the voice, we know, is part of a living organism, whose heart is pumping blood and whose brain is housing billions of charging neurons. We can recreate the experience of hearing that voice but, after death, it is most “alive” in our imagination.
I think of the Netflix series “Afterlife,” written, directed by, and starring the brilliant Ricky Gervais. The protagonist, Tony, frequently watches videos of his deceased wife. It seems she had prepared several of them for him in her hospital room. The videos are loving and comedic and heartbreaking. I think, however, that they actually keep Tony locked into a state of paralyzed mourning; it is as if the illusion of her presence doesn’t allow him to shift into a new relationship with her. I think it would be even more limiting if he were able to script her messages to him.
Disheveled woman sits at the computer and crying covering her face with her hands.
Source: Mary Long/Shutterstock
I do think that social media offers us many novel and fascinating opportunities to keep the dead alive, which I will address in my next post. There are opportunities at funerals, at anniversaries, and in ongoing collective groups of friends and intimates. But we know that the keeping and crafting of memory is our unique privilege. We hear the voices of those whom we’ve lost but in a creative and imitative space that only we can program.