The implications of @_LivesOn, a service that generates tweets after a person has passed on, may be more grave than we realize.
Written by Michael Thomsen (@mike_thomsen)
It's never a good sign when someone tells you they want to live forever. Experiencing all the things you love in life as transitory and ultimately indifferent to your place in the world is the birthright of every human. The desire to find a way out of this confrontation is understandable, dying and ceding your ego-gilded fiefdom in the universe is no fun, but we cannot really become ourselves until we accept the fact the fun must stop. It's doubly unnerving to encounter someone who wants you to live forever, to deprive you of your life's reckoning simply because they love you too much to let go.
_LivesOn is an agent in service of this want, a technology that logs and analyzes a person's Twitter feed over the lifetime and, in the case of death, begins generating posts to simulate the departed's persona. The tool charts a person's "likes, tastes, syntax" and uses its A.I. to recreate them, the accuracy of which can be checked before one officially gives approval and passes into the never-ever-again. The technology, which will be available in March, is being developed by Lean Mean Fighting Machine, an advertising agency that's done work for Samsung, Emirates airlines, Strongbow, and Dr. Pepper.
That an advertising agency wants to erase death is redundant in a way. At it's heart advertising is a sentimental form of immortality that entreats one to imagine life in a perpetual state of present-tense, an experience whose only real challenges come from the occasional need to replenish material conveniences like dish soap and blue jeans when the old versions expire. In commercials we are already immortal, divine stewards of plastic and preservatives.
_LivesOn is an agent in service of this want, a technology that logs and analyzes a person's Twitter feed over the lifetime and, in the case of death, begins generating posts to simulate the departed's persona.
The invention of a tool meant to immortalize a person's narrowest and most constrained expressions on Twitter may seem like a cynical end--an exploitive late capitalist two-step that wows us with the delights of new technology, and then uses it to reverse-engineer our identities away from us, to make all the parts that don't fit through the social media keyhole irrelevant baggage. Only in death will these imperfections be removed from the system, allowing ad agencies to operate our digital personas as brand ambassadors, sponsored content that becomes inseparable from human socializing.
The extent to which this transformation has already happened is alarming. The most widely distributed movies have become self-replicating models of distraction ornamented with product placement, advertising that refuses to call itself advertising. There has been much worry about the practice of sponsored content on sites like Gawker (whose videogame site Kotaku is regularly syndicated by The New York Times), BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, and others. That the underlying influence of advertising on news has become so openly visible is not a preliminary problem but a sign of an end state.
The influence of advertising has been overwhelming for decades, implicit in the connection between size of readership and one's advertising revenue, meaning the basic metric of newsworthiness and story value was that which would be most widely read. There did not have to be any demands placed on editorial by ad-sales because the pressure was atmospheric. Your job is to generate traffic, and if that can be done by telling good stories all the better, but good stories are secondary concerns, exceptions you can fit in when the majority of the day's work has been done.
The same atmospheric influence is readily apparent on Twitter, where sloganeering, reports on consumption, and distribution of cultural products are practiced for free, considered an act of participation in a social experience. _LivesOn should be taken as an acknowledgement of something that's already far too advanced to reverse, and is building toward a natural conclusion. If your Twitter persona can be replicated by an AI and operated in perpetuity, you no longer have to worry about doing it yourself. And as magazines and websites are telling you there is no need to think of advertising as distinct from "content," they are implicitly releasing us from the compulsion of having to read them anymore to curate the illusion of being well-informed.
You don't have to trouble yourself to hate-link another Atlantic cover story because an ad agency has finally made an A.I. that will do it for you. Adver-bots have invented a technology that will take over the dizzying labor of linking to, promoting, and obsessing over the things created by other adver-bots. Perhaps the wisest outcome is to not wait for death to give one's self over to _LivesOn, but accept that fate now and return to the less perfected parts of your life, the unreliable ones imperceptibly decaying as you read what other people want you to.