My grandmother was an artist. She loved capturing the natural world in its best light. She loved to travel, and would often disappear on road trips where she’d take mental snapshots of the different landscapes, and then paint them to keep the memories alive forever.
She grew up in Cuba. She wanted to pursue art, but was discouraged by the elders of the family, and ended up married at 15 years old. Her family operated a trucking business, and when the government began arresting people and seizing property, she left Cuba alone with two daughters, the younger being my mom. My grandmother was only 20 years old.
She flew to Mexico and moved into a small apartment above a storefront. There, she met coyotes who tried to escort her and her two little girls across the border into the US. They were discovered, arrested and jailed. Eventually, my grandmother got a visa to come to the States legally. She always intended to go back home to Cuba, but she never made it.
My grandma worked hard her whole life, remarried, and put herself through art school. Not only did she paint landscapes. She also painted portraits and still life, and made pottery. She loved to sing and listened often to Nat King Cole, which is probably why I love him so much. She was a great cook. She even had a knack for interior design, and made every space she occupied, no matter how small, a haven.
Although she was an extremely talented artist, she never believed that she was, and she was always too shy to share her work publicly. Instead, when she became a grandmother, and a great-grandmother, she gifted her art to everyone in the family.
At 65, she lost an ongoing battle with cancer that lasted half her life. Not only did I lose my grandmother, but also my friend. I still keep her art with me to remember her by, but I can’t help but wonder what’d it’d be like to talk to her, laugh with her, and go on a road trip singing to Nat King Cole with her just one more time. Today, seeing Cuban citizens protesting in the streets takes my mind back to her wish to go back to the island and to see all the friends and family that she left behind. I wonder what she’d say if she were alive to see what is happening there now.
With the rapidly advancing capability of AI, someday in the near future, we’ll be able to ask our deceased loved ones questions again. In places like Somnium Space, we’ll even be able to spend time with them in virtual reality. Of course, it won’t actually be them or their souls- not quite- but it’s predicted that with enough data, collected during anywhere from several years to a lifetime, AI will be able to preserve and regenerate something like photographs of personalities which those of us still living will be able to interact with.
Somnium Space plans to offer this kind of personality data collection to their users in the near future. With “Live Forever Mode”, users can opt to have their data discreetly recorded and preserved for personality regeneration later. (Large tech companies like Facebook and Apple already collect our data. The difference is that we don’t own it or have any control over what happens with it.) I, for one, would love for all the things I’ve learned, dreamt of and experienced throughout my life to be available to my loved ones after I’m gone if it means alleviating just a fraction of the grief that comes with death.
This technology may sound unorthodox to the public now, but many private enterprises are already developing and working with it. There is no doubt that AI, like a powerful super-camera, will be able to save all of our personalities and freeze them in time someday. Somnium Space, with its focus on building a realistic virtual world with total immersion, plans to pioneer offering this “life-saving” technology to the public and to serve as a “fountain of youth” where we will not only be able to see, hear, and even feel our dearly departed again, but also be able to stay here for our loved ones once we die.
Though it may be too late to preserve my grandmother’s personality, I know that she lives on within me, in the love that we shared, in my pursuit of art and beauty, and in my stories about her. Sometimes, I imagine her spirit smiling down on me from heaven or wherever she is. I secretly hope she’s drinking mojitos on the beach in Cuba, with a canvas propped against an easel, painting the ocean landscape. As illogical as these daydreams might be, they bring me a lot of comfort.
“If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die.”
I love to paraphrase Mik Everett’s quote above as, “If an artist falls in love with you, you can never die.” Like my grandmother immortalized so many beautiful things with her art, I look forward to the day when AI, like an artist painting with astronomical amounts of code, will immortalize us, and Somnium Space will be more than a picturesque VR dreamland where we work and have fun. It’ll be a place where we, and the people we love, can live forever.