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The Data-verse Seance - Getting in the spirit

The entertainment industry contains many forms of insight into provocative questions, but they are not intended to definitively answer questions. Instead, they raise intriguing topics to promote further discussion, engagement and community.

It is said that nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes. For taxes, my accountant links me with the tax code and after I file my taxes, I know what comes next; I pay taxes. But after death, not so clear for me. This is not a religious post. We explore data topics, decision-or-consequence management, ESG (environmental, social and governance), data support, augmentation, automation, etc. But for today, the topic is around the ethical treatment of data, psychic-mediums and data, and could today's Ouija board actually be your keyboard?

Paranormal societies have seemingly been around forever. Psychic-mediums are said to connect people to the great unknown and have been part of entertainment in a wide range of media. Step right up! Join in our Séance!... See yourself sitting around a table, the candles, the slight breeze moving the drapes to my left. And the debunkers, exposing the truth about these charlatans, would quickly point out that you did not see the fish-line tied to the curtain or the assistant in the cupboard to my right pulling on that fish-line.

Books, movies, television, and streaming services continue to share the spectrum of perspectives in modern times. Here are a few:

  • 2000-2004 Crossing Over with John Edward; a psychic-medium gave readings to people in the audience.

  • 2003 Penn & Teller - 'B.S. their Episode "Talking to the Dead"; exposing psychics who claim to speak to the dead.

  • 2008 Murdoch Mysteries Episode "Elementary, My Dear Murdoch"; set in 1895, includes a paranormal society that exposes psychics as frauds.

  • Since 2011 "Black Mirror" has many episodes that explore harnessing the consciousness after death.

  • Since 2020 "Upload" is the funnier side of all those types of explorations about interacting with—and as—a deceased person, for a price.

Websites may also try to provide these spaces for the living, and in some cases, now it seems the connections to afterlife or the life-once lived.

But it is the 2013 Black Mirror episode "Be Right Back" on which I cannot help but dwell. My colleague Corinne told me of a potential product where for a fee you could connect to people who have passed through their harnessed data footprint from the data-meta-verse. The Black Mirror episode, in general, is about a host robotic companion in the image of the deceased, where the totality of all the content ever posted was embodied in this being. From photos and videos, you got the facial expressions, and based on algorithms, you got speech patterns and the like - until a certain point.

How do you think about your data? Is it fixed in time with context from the range of perspectives? For a spectrum on this topic, I am extrapolating a reference from the book "My Own Words" (Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Hartnett and Williams) there is a reference to "Speaking in a Judicial Voice" and further, I am using my own spin which I call “All things: data-patterns you can't unsee."

  • You have "Originalist of data": Data created by the original generator of that data, and it is fixed for all time.

  • or the "Living data" … whose fundamental principles should be interpreted in light of changing circumstances the generators of the original data could not have imagined.

If a company’s algorithms are using a '20-year-old me' and pushing content, or making decisions on my behalf automatically, believing that my preferences and abilities are fixed, they could provide a "Séance-Product”, gathering all my data up from that time and have me interact with my future relatives who could ask the simulated me questions about today’s relevant topics. Is that ethical? Would it tarnish my memory, my legacy? Is it in "my" own words if it is extrapolated and interpreted with an algorithm? Is there a disclaimer at the end of every sentence "I did not approve that message", or did I approve it with a "% of accuracy which makes it 'legally plausible due to past intent and past behavior’”? What is the business rule on that going to look like? What future case law will arise when the debunkers of such products get their hands on that proprietary algorithm?

And THAT is what made the AI in black mirror's "Be Right Back" so…. compelling. And for the purchaser who bought this product at great expense (financially and emotionally, I can imagine) to connect, share and grow. Then 'He' (the AI) became irrelevant; and 'it' (the AI) became stale… that fish line on the drape of a "step right up! Get your living AI of your beloved" was in clear view.

So come back to today in the data-meta-verse. Could this be the new psychic-medium on the block or fish-wire on the drapes, using algorithms and parsing sound bites? And if this is dawn of the new charlatans, who will be their debunker group? Can we debunk it ourselves? Is it the Ethics of Data Council's role to tackle and put up the guardrails of using your data after you die? Or did data inadvertently have new type of value? Maybe data is not the ‘new old’, but rather the ‘new organ’ that we need to allocate for donation? You can't take it with you, there are no thumb drives or USB ports at the cemetery.

Is this the new item for your driver's license, is this an item for my living will? Am I donating my data to science?

So, all my content will be studied, every post, every medical test, every “OK Google”, every onboard computer of every car I ever drove. Every traffic cam, ATM-cam, Point of Purchase cam, swipe, and click. For the greater good, or for the greater-séance-product? That clipboard in the ER is getting really big and maybe more uncomfortable to ask for HIPPA Disclosures, Power of Attorney, and now: Did your mom have a data-directive on file with us?

What do you think? Let this topic prompt further thought on your footprint, no longer in sand but now in data. Post comments, reshare this post for engagement and community.

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