The survival of our digital being raises ethical questions “which we are just beginning to think about”, admits Ralf Jox, bioethicist at the CHUV participating in an interdisciplinary study on “Death in the digital age”.
Today, a market develops from the data that we sow throughout our lives. “The digital afterlife industry is growing rapidly,” attests this specialist. We are witnessing, for example, the appearance of QR codes on graves. “When I saw it for the first time, I was stunned,” says the bioethicist, who nevertheless understands the interest of the approach. “If the QR code, which leads to photos, texts or videos of the person, facilitates mourning…”
But that’s not all: “It is even possible to ‘resuscitate’ the deceased through artificial intelligence and to interact with post-mortem avatars,” says Ralf Jox. Companies thus offer to “chat” with the avatar of their deceased loved one. What to think of such an offer? “Personally, I can’t understand the attractiveness of such communication,” he says. “If I believe in existence after death (eternal life, afterlife, etc.), I can enter into a dialogue with the deceased person internally, in my thoughts, my emotions, my memories. If I don’t believe it, I’m still painfully aware that the other is no longer there.
If he says he is against “a regulation of mourning”, he nevertheless takes a critical look at this mirror of larks. “If I can ‘chat’ with an avatar that splices snatches of expressions from yesteryear, how can I forget that it’s not the person who answers, but a machine? We lie to ourselves: we want to believe that the deceased spoke to us, but in truth he did not and we know it.
On these questions, “all human actors have a responsibility to shoulder, and web companies in particular because they have enormous power”, he asserts. “It is highly desirable that they reflect on these questions, dialogue with each other and with users, the public and experts in ethics, and give themselves an ethical charter.” A bit utopian faced with the attraction of the market? “The question of specific regulation by national laws and international conventions also arises.”