I have a clone and it lives in the cloud. Many people have such a clone.
I climb aboard the bus and swipe my bus pass. It bleeps and the green glow of the circular light confirms I can board. It’s 15:56 at Tenniskeskus, bus stop number 5043. In a database somewhere in the cloud the link is made between me, my journey, my address, my payment details and contact information. Here are all the details of my travel by public transport. In my pocket the GPS of my phone and the mobile phone masts confirm the same journey.
I am at the checkout of Prisma (a large supermarket chain, like Tesco’s or Walmart). Each item scanned and totalled, the frequent customer card swiped and the data detailing what I have purchased, when and where is captured and in a database somewhere this logged and connected to my profile and payment details.
I am on the internet using social media to stay in contact with friends and family. As I scroll through my stream, neatly configured by my previous use so as to try to ensure my addiction and engagement, by a ‘blackboxed’ algorithm. I slow to read a post, the cookies note that I slow and read, that I liked, or expressed some other emotional reaction. Perhaps I comment or post a gif. Captured. To the cloud. Logged. Tracked.
A friend emails me on Gmail and I reply, we discuss health and world affairs and family matters. The algorithms scan the mail, looking for the key words so as to build and develop the huge library of data being stored. Sold to advertisers, part of the surveillance economy and the data exhaust of the ‘free’ use of these technologies.
My writing for work is co-authored on Google Docs, collected and stored, then, when submitted and posted to databases, further logged and collected. Details of who reads it, where they are located, captured and noted.
Images of me are tagged by friends and family and attached to my profiles for work, bureaucratic and social purposes. Facial recognition software recognises me. Someone starts a meme posting photos with a ten-year age gap, so that the machine can learn how we change as we age. Another friend does a quiz of social media to see what kind of dog they would be and the fact that they are my friend is collected and stored along with so much else.
I could go on and on, but the point is made. There exists this huge, almost unimaginable set of data points about us, our choices, our behaviours and opinions. What we read, what we borrow from the library, who we connect with, our friends and family. Our smart TV captures what we watch and when. What we write and post and how we react. Everything we have ever searched for on Google – think about that! That data might know me better than I know myself – or want to know and admit to myself.
Some of this data is already connected and aggregated. As a thought experiment, imagine if it were fully and seamlessly integrated. That the data was then plugged into bots and tools that would continue to post, comment, email, write and teach my online classes. Using machine learning and AI to replicate my style, my ticks and errors, my humour and cynicism. To generate “uncanny valley” pictures of me, perhaps doing new things, in new places with people I have never met, or perhaps even ones with people who do not actually exist in the real world. How long would it be able to fool people? It could even virtually duplicate journeys I did not actually make. It could post and reply to WhatsApp and text messages.
For everyone except those who see me face to face, my data clone would, I believe, pass the Turing test pretty well. My data clone lives in the cloud and knows so much more about me than I can remember about myself and about my life. Details of key dates and anniversaries and so much more. Can you recall in detail what you bought at the store on February 23rd, 2018 at 16:43? It is there, the data is there, logged and tracked.
A clone who lives in the cloud, a ghost in the machine? I am not the first to consider these ideas. There is a science fiction podcast called LifeAfter that consideres how a digitally created loved one might serve as a comfort for the bereaved. There have also been those who seek to deliberately create the quantified self, but I think most have us have created clones without being aware that we were doing it.
I wonder how my clone is today, is it well, did it log and record this post and add it to the datafile? Was it me that wrote this, or my clone?