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Till Death do us part - The ethics and evolution of human relationships
Joe Nickence   Sep 4, 2013   Ethical Technology  

This essay contains spoilers from a book I’ve read, “Memories with Maya” by Clyde DeSouza. I’ve read it a few times now and each time I did, I’ve picked up a different outlook on just what it means to be human in today’s hyper-paced technological world. In composing this article, I had to make myself think about not just my own perspective, but what others will consider in really just a few years from now.

Everyone is familiar with the human urge to meet that special someone in their lives. We either consciously or subconsciously check out members of the opposite sex and make mental notes of things we like physically. The protagonist in the book, Dan, starts out in the story by using his phone to focus on his close female friend, Maya, checking out her cleavage. Just a bit later in the book, we learn that Dan and Maya are a casual couple. Much of the story is interwoven with their relationship. What makes their relationship unique? Technology. What makes any relationship unique today? Technology.

Many years ago when I was dating, the landline telephone was instrumental in maintaining my relationship with my girlfriend. Most times we only had an hour at best to set up our daily lives in high school. There was no Internet. Most dates were mainly copying each other’s homework, in between watching a 19 inch tube TV. In “Maya”, the world is very contemporary. Cameras in cell phones, large screen televisions, and remote controlled petting many miles away from each other.

What will pass for maintaining a meaningful relationship in the future? According to Clyde, It will all be down to us “transhumanizing ourselves”. In the story, it is technology in the form of a device called the Wizer. A visor with basic AI installed. There are several devices from companies in various stages of development currently. Everyone is familiar with Google’s Glass. Vuzix has been doing AR glasses for a number of years. And a company that is quickly taking the lead is Meta-View, or just Meta, with their new space glasses technology.

So how does this happen? In “Maya”, you have a 3D depth camera called a Fish-Eye mounted on your wall, which maps the room so the Wizer images can navigate. In our world, it would be the Kinect camera. The space glasses have the Kinect built into the eyewear themselves. Once you put them on, you see your mate’s digital surrogate, or Dirrogate in the room with you. But why go through all the expense and hassle?

As far back as anyone can remember, people have needed to travel, often for long periods of time. That meant leaving loved ones at home. The creation of the telephone helped immensely. But you still couldn’t see that person. Finally, when video calls were perfected, it made sense to see each other in your call. And now visors and glasses will put that long distance person back in the room with you, even if it’s in avatar form. Imagine sharing your meals together, taking in a video, or even just a simple call to say “I miss you”. The psychological well being of couples improves exponentially.

So, what happens if after all that togetherness over the years, one of the two is taken from the other, often times in death? This is what happens in the book. Dan is devastated. It prompts him to devise a way to keep Maya’s memory (a deliberate play on words by the author) and eventually her personality, present and meaningful.During the process, Dan often questions the validity of his efforts. Is he being selfish in wanting to keep Maya “alive”? Krish, Dan's associate, himself is taken aback at first after learning of the new project, but realizes also that it’s more of an honoring of a vibrant spirit, than the dishonoring of the dead. As a point in fact, author and inventor Ray Kurzweil says that he expects to revive his own father in possibly a similar manner some day.

I once believed that death was the point where you went on to another plane of existence. Many religions call this “heaven”. While I still believe in that theology, I’ve since expanded my thinking to include many new and unexpected beliefs. Much of it learned from the Internet. Why shouldn’t you be able to keep your loved one with you as the avatar or dirrogate they used “on this side”? The continued mental well being of the partner left behind is just one example. A person bed-ridden can use his or her Dirrogate to interact with a partner is another example. Or, as Ray Kurzweil, the love of a child for a parent. I’m sure you can point out many widows and widowers that had lost the will to continue after the death of their love.

Someday, we’re going to have all manner of Dirrogates in our daily lives. Both living and past. And possibly some that no one ever expected. Many forward thinking Japanese think nothing of maintaining relationships with avatars from Anime and Manga based games. Even to the point of marriage. I’ll speculate that a good portion of the global population would be entirely comfortable with a human/AI relationship, if not in such a union themselves.

“Maya” ends with a simple epilogue: “Winter Solstice 2012 was a day I remember well. Not because of Xanadu or hearing Maya's voice. It was all that too. I remember it as the start of a new era for us. An era where time didn't matter anymore. Many moons had passed since Maya posted her first seven o'clock sunrise picture. At times I used to wake up to watch her do that. At times… I still do.”

Indeed, the world is changing. We need to evolve with it.

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