Imagine waking up one morning to find your bedroom full of smiling, expectant family and friends, albeit all looking a bit older than your remembered them, poised for a celebration, with champagne corks popping the moment you utter your first words:

“Where am I?”

What you mean to say, though, is ‘WHEN am I’, and the answer to that may be: in a future not too far away, but in any event not before you have died, because the party is being held for your (digital) resurrection.

It is a future the first glimmers of which are already in the headlines.

What is the Digital Resurrection?

Russian researchers Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov recently published a paper regarding the practicalities of digital resurrection. If for you, ‘digital resurrection’ means nothing if it is not the complete digital re-assembly of our human consciousness, these are your guys. However, it may be a while before they can put their plans in motion.

First, they need to build an artificial intelligence system that would be capable of the digital fireworks of the incredibly complex workings of the human mind. That system, in turn, might require the assistance of a Dyson Sphere – a hypothetical artificial megastructure designed to surround and absorb the total energy output of a small star. So (ahem), definitely nothing doing by the end of this year!

More prosaic versions of digital resurrection have already arrived, however, as any Star Wars fan can tell you.

Actor Peter Cushing, who appeared in 1977’s Star Wars, and who died in 1994, re-appeared with new lines in 2016’s ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, thanks to the magic of digital rendering technology. In a later release in the same series, Princess Leia appeared for a final send-off in 2019 after Carrie Fischer’s premature death in 2016.

Unusually for Star Wars, these resurrections were nowhere near the first post death appearance on the big screen. Actor Oliver Reed’s death in 1999, during the middle of the filming of ‘Gladiator’, became the cause of Ridley Scott’s largely successful efforts to use a body double and digital facial feature rendering to complete the blockbuster film.

The Concerns for Digital Legacies

These examples lead into concerns that actors have about their own digital legacies: notes:

“Whether or not you agree with the idea of putting dead actors’ likenesses back on the screen . . . actors now need to be mindful of their digital copyright and what will happen to their likeness after their death. Actors are able to leave their likeness rights in their wills, entrusting those closest to them to decide whether or not to reuse their image in posthumous projects.”

However, it is not just actors who may want to reconsider their digital legacies.

With Amazon’s Alexa adding items to our shopping lists and providing updates on deliveries, Microsoft’s Cortana dimming the lights, and Google Assistant reminding us to take the dog for a walk, voice bots are becoming as familiar as they are ubiquitous.

Voice bots like these are supported by huge databases to assist them navigate verbal communications. At the same time, every day each of us adds to our own digital footprints with the addition of 24 hours’ worth of links and ‘likes’, online purchases, texts and emails sent, with those footprints already being used to build digital empires whilst targeting us with online advertising.

Where are the Boundaries of the Acceptable?

This is where things could soon take a turn towards the creepy. What if instead of targeting ads towards us, our digital footprints were used to create digital versions of us? Recent advances by none other than digital giant Microsoft, suggest that early versions of this type of functionality might be here already.

If so, what’s then to stop Amazon, say, from offering an Alexa ‘skill’ that allows us to say “Alexa, let me talk to my late father” – and for Alexa to answer back in our late father’s voice, with details about us that only he knew, and done with his own unique sense of humour?

Fans of Charlie Booker’s Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’ will recall several episodes that present variations on this hypothetical situation, and suffice to say, none end well. The Channel 4 series ‘Humans’ also investigated some of the avenues of what it means to be human and where the boundaries of artificial intelligence and real emotion/humanity lie.

Whether any of that leads to a dystopian future, or a welcome virtual interaction with loved ones we never got to say goodbye to, may depend a great deal on the choices we each make as we navigate our brave new digital world. Some of those choices will increasingly be found in the Wills that help shape our digital legacies.

Whether you are an actor, or you are intent on ensuring that if an actor every plays you, that actor is never Alexa, we can help draft that Will properly.

Jack Haskew – rhw Solicitors llp

If you need a Will (and, yes you do need one) or need a review of an old Will, come and talk to us at rhw, for up-to-the-minute thinking on your Will and estate planning. Call 01483 30200 or complete our contact form.