At Brave New World, Bruce Duncan talked about the LifeNaut project. From their website:

 LifeNaut.com is a web based research project that allows anyone to create a digital back-up of their mind and genetic code. The ultimate goal of our research project is to explore the transfer of human consciousness to computers/robots and beyond.

https://www.lifenaut.com

It is an interesting idea: create a back-up of your self, so you can live beyond life in a robotic form. As a proof of concept the foundation running this project, created a social robot called Bina48. During Duncan’s presentation the audience got the chance to interact with the robot. It was funny, creepy and disappointing at the same time. Funny, because the answers were of the philosophical kind. Creepy, because it was a robotic head, sort of thinking for itself. Disappointing, because it was clearly not a true conversation in the social convention of human kind.

The LifeNaut project is interesting, but I would never take part in it. Sharing my most private details, such as my DNA and inner thoughts, with a tiny privately owned foundation is not my idea of taking care of my own data. However, there was one idea Duncan talked about that got me excited. It was the idea to be able to talk to people living now, like you and me, three hundred years in the future.

I immediately thought of family stories. I grew up in a family with very little stories of previous generations passed on to me. Whenever I talk to people who grew up in story sharing families, I’m amazed how much they know about their family history and know how to characterize family members without ever having met them.

Telling stories that travel through generations is how we shared knowledge before the invention of the printing press and it still is an important skill humans rely on. The downside of telling stories through generations is that they will be transformed with every retelling. So wouldn’t it be cool to have a family story box, that records stories for eternity? That a relative ten generations down the line could listen to my stories without the interference of the nine generations before them?

I would have loved to listen to stories of my grandmothers, who both died before I was born. I would have loved to hear them tell what they loved to do, on a daily basis. Hear my grandmother tell how she was sowing a skirt for my mother. Or what my other grandmother felt like when she sent my seventeen year old father off to university. And hear them talk about life’s lesson’s. What mattered to them? What inspired them? What made them angry? What made them sad? What made them happy?

Talking to a robot carrying my grandmother’s face in silicone would not fill in the gap. I would be too aware of interacting with ‘not-the-grandma’. What I would love instead is to see how my grandmothers would move around their house, interact with their kids (amongst them my parents), hear them talk to their husbands. Most of all, I would prefer to listen to them. If only they’d recorded something of the lessons they learned coping with life, before they died.

So ditch the idea of robots and AI to create a mind file. Instead, I think we can be way more attentive to capturing stories that we want to pass on to next generations. And there is no technical barrier to start right now. We are the first generation that have a magic story tool within arm’s reach all the time.

One life event that I experienced was the Enschede fireworks disaster, 13 May 2000. I never captured my experiences. When I think of it, how cool would it be if Daughter’s grandchildren (if they happen to exist) can ask a box to play back my story of my experience being in Enschede when the disaster struck. It would be way more compelling than my Daughter’s retelling of my story, and way more interesting than reading the news archives. And how cool would it be that they cannot only hear me tell my version, but the Man tell his version of the experience as well.

I started writing letters to Daughter ever since she was born. There’s already more than 130 of them. They range from my struggles dealing with her crying during the first few months to capturing short dialogues. These letters are a start for a collection that I intend to pass on to future generations. After yesterday I realize I need to add voice and moving image to those letters as well. Not only from me, but from more members of my family.

The only technical challenge we face is storing them in a way that ten generations from now, the stories can still be heard, seen and read. But that’s something AI will have taken care of by then.